Family vacation on $250 a day?

Route 66 Recap
By Amy Graff

On June 29, my family embarked on a great adventure -- driving Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago. In fact, I appeared on The View from the Bay before we drove off and shared our plans with viewers. We took 15 days to do the trip (read all about it at onthegowithamy.com) and we gave ourselves a budget of $250 a day -- a total of $3,750.

So, did we meet our goal? Barely. Our final total was $3,659.52 (Darn, I should have ordered that chocolate pie in Tulsa!) We had some help. My parents met us in St. Louis for two days and picked up the restaurant bills, and a friend sent $40 for a bottle of wine in Chicago. But generally we pinched pennies.

Money-saving family road trip tips
In my previous segment, I shared some money-saving tips. But now that I have completed the trip, my tips have changed. Here's my latest and greatest advice on pinching pennies on a family road trip:

1) Leave the SUV at home. If you own more than one car, opt for the auto that gets the best gas mileage. It costs less and it's better for the environment. (If we survived 15 days in a sardine can, you can too!)

2) Lighten your load. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent. (My husband packed only one pair of shorts, one pair jeans, and a few shirts.) If you have cargo to haul, put it in the trunk instead of on a roof rack, which can decrease mileage by as much as 5 percent.

3) Inflate your tires. Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and decrease fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.

4) Drive gently. Excessive braking and accelerating reduces fuel economy, as does driving faster than highway speed limits. Teach your kids to read the speedometer; they'll enjoy making sure you stay under 70 mph.

5) Invest in a cooler. Fill it with healthy snacks such as dried fruit, crackers, salami, cheese, and yogurt. Also, pack a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and honey. (Tip: Sunflower seeds are a bad idea. My son threw these all over the car.)

6) Carry refillable water bottles. A family of four can easily spend $20 a day buying water in plastic bottles. We invested in eco-friendly Klean Kanteens, which don't leach chemicals, toxins, or funky flavors.

7) Split entrees. Unless you're eating at a hoity-toity place in the big city, restaurant entrees are typically humongous--and easily feed two hungry people.

8) Enjoy free entertainment. You can play I-Spy, 20 Questions, or Name that Tune without spending a penny. Also, borrow Books on Tape from your public library, and download free printable car bingo cards from www.aaa.com/roadtrip

9) Go for hotel freebies. Bed down at places that offer extra value: free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking.

10) Dive into the hotel pool. Take a break from the amusement parks and shopping malls where you're bound to overspend. We stayed at Best Western hotels and nearly all of them had pools.

11) Take advantage of discounts. Your AAA card can save you money at hotels, restaurants, and attractions (www.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). Also, ask about hotel rewards programs.

12) Avoid big-name destinations. The Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Chicago -- these popular spots will bust your budget. If money's tight, plan to visit these places at a later date when you have more money to spend.

13) Opt for cheap souvenirs. My son collected rocks along Route 66 -- most of them he just picked up off the ground. My daughter put together a great postcard collection.

Four favorite car toys for kids (and parents)
I packed two buckets full of toys for the kids to entertain themselves on our road trip. Some worked, others (such as the jigsaw puzzle with lots of little pieces) didn't. Here's a rundown of my kids' favorite car toys:

1) Tangoes Jr. It's hard to explain how this works in words but basically kids use shapes to create images on a magnetic board. $25, www.rexgames.com.

2) Crayola Color Explosion Glow Board. This super cool toy is designed for use in the dark-i.e., nighttime driving. Using markers with glow-in-the-dark ink and the "light board," she created pictures that lit up and flashed like neon signs. For a demonstration on how the Glow Board works, watch a demo on You Tube $24.99, www.crayola.com.

3) SmartLap Lap Desk. A portable desk so kids can draw in the car. My daughter packed stickers, pens, glue, scissors, and paper into the roomy storage compartment. $24.99, www.containerstore.com.

4) Books on Tape. These saved us on our trip; every time the kids started to complain, I'd turn one on. Paris especially liked Felicity: An American Girl. My son preferred Peter Pan. My favorite is Ramona's World. You can get Books on Tape at your library.

Five favorite stops on Route 66
Our family's philosophy is to stop every two hours. This allowed us to check out a lot of the sites along Route 66. Here are our five favorite stops:

1) Bottle Tree Ranch, Helendale, Calif. When Elmer Long inherited his father's bottle collection, he decided to turn it into art. He created bottle trees by welding branches onto an iron rod and sticking bottles at the end of them. His glass bottle forest sits right on Route 66 in California's Mojave County. bottletreeman.blogspot.com.

2) Angel's Barbershop, Seligman, Ariz. Angel Delgadillo is the guy who revived Route 66 in the 1980s when the government decided to shut down the highway and remove the signs. He's also the one who helped Pixar with the concept for their recent Cars movie. And he's still cutting hair in his tiny barbershop and selling Route 66 memorabilia in Seligman. www.route66giftshop.com.

3) El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, N.M. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn stayed here during production of The Sea of Grass; Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick were guests when they made The Hallelujah Trail. The list of Hollywood stars who bedded down at this old hotel goes on and on. Built in 1937 by R. E. "Griff" Griffith, brother of movie mogul D. W. Griffith, the El Rancho's rustic charm was attractive to the moviemakers and stars filming in the surrounding red rock canyons. www.elranchohotel.com.

4) Mediocre Music Makers, Erick, Okla. No doubt, the most memorable part of our road trip is our time spent with the Mediocre Music Makers, Harley and Annabelle Russell, in Erick, Oklahoma. In a former Meat Market, now known as Sandhills Curiosity shop, the Russells entertain Route 66 travelers from all over the world with songs, dance, and cold beers.

5) Ariston Café, Litchfield, Ill. The Ariston Cafe may be the classiest place along Route 66. Here at this restaurant in a small Southern Illinois town, you'll find crisp white tablecloths and fresh flowers at every table, a menu featuring a delicious Greek salad, and a dessert cart holding homemade pie. Founded in 1924 by Greek immigrant Pete Adam, the Ariston is believed to be the oldest restaurant on Route 66. www.ariston-cafe.com.

>> See Amy's original appearance on The View from the Bay here.

Amy Graff Bio:
Amy Graff is the community manager for Bay Area Moms, a place where moms from around the Bay can seek advice, trade tips, brag (and kvetch) about their kids, and catch up on the latest news from the parenting world. A true Bay Area gal, Amy grew up in Los Gatos, went to college at Berkeley, and now lives in San Francisco with her husband, Anthony, and her two kids, 5-year-old Paris and 3-year-old Dante. A longtime magazine writer and editor, Amy made her blogging debut with the launch of The SF K Files, the story of her search for a kindergarten for Paris. Amy's also the family travel spokesperson for Best Western; check out her blog at onthegowithamy.com . Thanks to the polar opposite natures of her kids, Amy's first-hand experiences as a mom have run the gamut: Paris was two weeks late and finally extracted with a vacuum; Dante was two weeks early and popped out in an hour. Paris was colicky; Dante slept through the first year of his life. Paris craves sugar all of the time; Dante can take one bite of a cookie and set it down. Paris is terrified of dogs; Dante crawls around woofing. Luckily, opposites attract and at night they fall asleep holding hands, leaving Amy free to share her latest local discoveries and head-scratching dilemmas with you.

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