There was a time when – you might remember – if your family was feeling cooped up, you could throw some things into the car, buckle the kids in, and take off on a spontaneous family road trip. Those days are paused for a while now, as everybody learns to deal with the new realities brought to us in 2020.
Road trips in 2021 require more preparation, both logistically and financially.
Most of us, parents and kids both, are sick of being stuck in one place (ironically, so we don’t get sick by heading out). Thankfully, that looks like it’s changing, especially now that more than half of Canadians over the age of 12 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Now, if you’re ready, willing, and able, you can afford to get back out there and safely road-trip on a budget, whether you plan to stay on the highway or head out on an off-roading adventure. Here’s how:
Save and build your credit first
Anticipating all possibilities has gained a couple of new layers of complexity in 2021. So before you get going, make sure you have enough money in the bank and enough credit to cover unexpected emergencies.
This requires planning ahead, so get started early. At least a few months before you’re scheduled to head out, begin setting money aside regularly. Remember: The sooner you start planning, the less money you’ll have to dedicate to your travel plans each month.
Building your credit takes time, too, so find out where you stand. By law, you can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from all three reporting agencies, so take advantage of the opportunity.
If your credit needs help, think about establishing a secure account with a few hundred dollars that can serve as your credit card limit. You’ll be able to keep your spending in check and build your credit at the same time.
Plan for the unexpected
It’s natural to think of a vacation as an escape from your troubles, but Murphy’s Law is still in play. Even before the pandemic, it was pretty common for a child to come down with a fever during a trip or sustain a “vacation injury” by playing extra hard.
And of course, vehicles can still break down, weather can be unpredictable, or pipes can burst at home while you’re gone. Making room for the unexpected is imperative before you leave.
While budgeting for your family road trip, make sure you have adequate health insurance for the whole family. Also, check to see that you have proper insurance on your vehicle, and think about adding roadside assistance.
Have your car serviced and get the tires checked and rotated before you leave. Getting the oil changed before your trip can save you from getting stuck when the oil light goes on in the middle of nowhere after you’ve driven 1,000 miles.
Also, if you or your kids are on medication, make sure you have enough for your trip. And have remote access to everyone’s medical records, as well, just in case.
Learn a money-saving lesson from COVID
Odd as it may seem, the pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson about how much you can save by shopping ahead of time for things you might have purchased on the road before.
Whether it’s granola bars, favorite family road snacks, bottled water, over-the-counter pain relievers, or motion-sickness pills for the weak of stomach, those things can cost you an arm and a leg at a roadside convenience store – but less at your local grocer. Plus, you can add to your savings by clipping coupons or using loyalty cards.
During the pandemic, it’s made sense to stock up early on these items, as well as masks, hand sanitizer, etc. – if only to avoid having contact with more people in more places along the way. Stopping at one local store beforehand results in a lot less exposure than numerous stops along the road. But there’s a bonus: It costs a lot less money, too.
Consider a campground vacation for your family road trip
Another way to save money, and reduce exposure to others, and the virus, is to spurn the hotel room and stay at campgrounds. Many kids might endorse this approach if you entice them with classic camping activities like fort-building, s’mores, and stories around the campfire. The novelty of renting and traveling in an RV can also make for great stories afterward.
Lodging was cheaper last year, as hotels and motels offered discounts to lure travelers in the midst of the pandemic. You can still find discounts online and in loyalty programs, but they likely won’t be as deep or as plentiful now with more people traveling again.
Even with those discounts, the average hotel room in July and August 2020 still costs more than $100 in the U.S. You can stay at an RV park for half that price — or at a public campground for even less.
You won’t get that free continental breakfast, but who needs a cellophane-wrapped Danish when you can cook like a gourmet over an open fire? (If you still want some electricity, or if the weather’s harsh where you’re going, think about adding a generator to your preferred list of amenities at your destination.)
Family vacations can be expensive, but they don’t have to break the bank. With a little planning and some money-saving strategies, you can make it through your family road trip without winding up in the red, and you and your kids can enjoy every minute worry-free in the meantime.
By Molly Barnes, Digital Nomad Life