This summer, travel writer Amy Graff and her two kids and husband are piling into the car and embarking on a great American road trip. Graff and her family will be driving Route 66, from Santa Monica to Chicago, passing through eight states, covering over 2,400 miles.
They will drive through baking hot dessert, climb majestic mountains, and make stops in a litany of fabled towns: San Bernardino, Flagstaff, Gallup, Albuquerque, Tucumcari, Amarillo, and Joplin. They'll see the Grand Canyon, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Meramec Caverns. They'll follow in the footsteps of dreamers, ramblers, drifters, and writers: John Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Kerouac. And they'll be making family memories along the way.
Sound wonderful? Well, there's a catch. Amy and her family are on a budget of $250 a day. This might sound like a lot to those who traveled around Europe on five dollars a day, but keep in mind that the daily allotment must cover four people. It includes lodging, gas, rental car, attractions, food, and the American Girl doll her daughter hopes to buy in Chicago.
How will they do it? Over the next three weeks, Graff will be writing about exactly how in her On the Go with Amy blog at www.bestwestern.com/tripplanner and her Mommy Files blog at www.sfgate.com/moms. She promises to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and offer up practical tips on how you can travel on a budget.
Graff's best tips on family road tripping:
- Leave the SUV at home. If you own more than one car, opt for the one that gets the best gas mileage. It will cost less and it's better for the environment. Don't have a fuel-efficient ride? Rent one.
- Lighten your load. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent. If you do have cargo to haul, use the trunk instead of a roof rack or carrier, as using these can decrease mileage by as much as 5 percent.
- Inflate your tires. Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and can decrease fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.
- Drive gently. Excessive braking and accelerating reduces fuel economy, as does driving faster than highway speed limits.
- Invest in a cooler. Fill it with drinks, sandwiches and snacks and dine at a park or rest stop. Also bring along refillable water bottles. A family of four can easily spend $20 a day buying water.
- Enjoy free entertainment. You can play I-Spy, 20 Questions, or Name that Tune for free. Also, borrow Books on Tape from your public library; both kids and parents will enjoy the Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, and Ramona series.
- Go for hotel freebies. Bed down at places that offer great value: free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking. For example, you'll receive free Internet access at all Best Western hotels (www.bestwestern.com).
- Dive into the hotel pool. Take a break from the amusement parks and shopping malls, and hang out at the pool, where you don't have to pay admission.
- Take advantage of discounts. Your AAA card can save you money at hotels, restaurants, and attractions (aaa.com). You can pick up discounted amusement park tickets at Walmart (www.walmart.com) and Costco (www.costco.com). And if you're planning to visit several national parks, consider an annual pass ($80, www.nationalparks.org)
Amy Graff's favorite products for family road-tripping:
Britax Frontier Safety Seat
Colorforms The Very Hungry Caterpillar Fold & Play Travel Set
Clif Kid Bars
Price: 12 bars for $9.99
Color Explosion Glow Board
En Route: A Journal and Touring Companion for Inspired Travelers
Modular Hauler System
Price: $14.99 to $19.99
Road Trip Bingo
Price: download for free
SmartLap Lap Desk
Stickerific Activity Book, over 100 stickers and more!
Trash Stash Car Litter Bag