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April 9, 2010

Guest Post: Traveling on a Budget Part 1

As you may have read already, we are getting ready to make a 3,670+ mile trip in a few weeks. Traveling long distances is not new to our family, as we have done this for a number of years now. Throughout our travels I've tried a number of different things to keep the cost down and everyone happy at the same time. Here's what I've discovered works best for my family.In this post I will share with you my planning strategies.

Planning Ahead
Planning ahead is vital to having a successful low-cost trip. As soon as I know our family will be traveling I start the planning process-sometimes I will know months to a year in advance. I begin by watching for good deals on food and other items that I plan to take with us. About a month before the trip I look at the stockpile that I accumulated so I know what I am lacking.

This time around I only had a months notice, but thankfully I already had a lot of snack foods purchased at rock bottom prices. I cannot emphasize enough how much money purchasing ahead saves me!

A Written Plan
A month before the trip, after I've checked my stockpile, I create and write down my plan. I include all the meals we will need to prepare for and snacks as well. I like to use Microsoft Word when preparing my plan. This is what my plan looks like.

Creating a plan helps me visualize what we are going to eat and what areas need improvement. I then write a shopping list of those things I need to purchase. Throughout that last month I watch for these items to go on sale and purchase them if they do. A few days before the trip I take one last trip and purchase the fresh items and anything else that I haven't been able find a good deal on.

After I've made all the final adjustments I print the plan, two copies in case one gets lost, and put one in my suitcase and one in the glove box. I will explain how I execute this plan in next week's post.

Foods in My Plan
Variety keeps everyone happy. Having a variety of food helps keep my family happy and not so bored. This also keeps us from eating out as much or buying things on the go.

Use the microwave. I purchase microwaveable foods for example, Hot Pockets, Cup of Noodles, Easy Mac, Warm Delights, etc. We do our best to only stop when it's time for gas, so when we stop for gas we eat too. Everyone piles out of our van and into the gas station. We use the gas station's microwave and cook our meal and eat. I pack along a blanket just in case there are not tables and chairs to sit at.

Foods to Keep the Driver Awake. My husband is the main driver in our family. We take turns driving but I can't stay awake as well as he can. My husband loves sunflower seeds and this happens to be an excellent food to eat while driving. I pack extra plastic cups so hit can spit the shells without making a mess-he goes through a lot of these on our trips.

I also buy Mountain Dew and Pepsi when we travel. We are not regular soda drinkers, nor do we purchase caffenated drinks, but when we travel long distances these two sodas work wonders. Mountain Dew helps to keep my husband awake-I don't like this stuff at all. I do like the Pepsi though, it helps calm my stomach from all the driving.

For the Kids. Suckers and candy are always fun for the kids. I try not to give them too much, but when they start getting antsy for something new I'll hand them some candy it keeps them preoccupied for a time. I like to pack bags of cereal for an early morning snack. We do not drink milk during our trips, even though we go through 6 gallons of milk every week. We have had car sickness issues so I just stay away from this all together and it usually eliminates any sickness incidents. My three boys are all under the age of 6 so I keep really sticky-messy foods out of the food plan-it's not worth the cleanup hassle.

Healthy Foods. I do my best to incorporate some healthy foods as well. Foods I've had good success with are carrots, apples, oranges, pears, string cheese, yogurt, nuts, granola, jerkey, and fruit cups. I usually always make my Grandma Brown's Chicken Salad Recipe. It is absolutely delicious, serves well cold, and keeps for a few days after it's made.

Other Items I Include
I try to plan ahead and purchase before hand everything we might need on our trip. I know that if I take a last minute stop somewhere along the road I'm going to pay a fortune for that item.

Wipes. These are a must! We have little kids so we go through a ton of these. I like to get at least one tub of the antibacterial kind to wipe the eating area when we sit down to eat.

Hand Sanitizer. I have the small bottles of sanitizer that I fill before we leave. I got the small bottles for free one day and have kept them ever since. When they are empty I fill them back up again. I place a bottle by each door so that every person has access to one easily. This helps to keep those nasty germs away.

Ziploc Bags. I pack a variety of sizes in the front where I can access them at all times. I use the sandwich/snack bags to give each child a snack without passing back the whole package.

Vehicle Emergency Kit. This is a must when traveling. I take extra care when traveling long distances to plan for an emergency. My food plan consists of more food than we can eat for the purpose of being prepared for an emergency. If it's a winter trip I be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing and blankets for everyone. If you would like to know what to include in your kit look at the following sites here, here, and here.

Water. Since we can't live without water I be sure to stuff as many water bottles as I can find space for in our van. We have a lot of cup holders so each one is filled with a water bottle when we travel. I also use frozen water bottles to keep our cooler cold.

Plastic ware. Since we are eating on our own most meals I bring along plenty of plates, spoons, forks, bowls, cups, and napkins. I also like to keep paper towels in our van for spills and such.

Natasha is the creater of Saving a Bundle.  She began couponing out of curiosity in 2008.  She soon saw how much she could save for her family of 5.  Now she is eager to share her knowledge of couponing and frugality with others through her blog at Saving a Bundle.

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