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Summer equals fun; there’s no disputing that. But in our house “summer fun” does not typically mean beach visits and backyard BBQs. Our version of family summer fun is: Road Trips!
Over the last dozen years we’ve concentrated our travels on the fine state of Minnesota and specifically on the beauty and history that our State Parks offer. We also have a “thing” about zoos since we are all animal lovers :). Our trips have mostly been limited to day trips or weekend get-aways, but this year we went all in and planned a week-long adventure in beautiful South Dakota. To say we were excited to go was an understatement.
A South Dakota Road Trip
I spent hours pouring over guidebooks and websites plotting our trip and ways to stretch our Not-Huge-Trip-Budget further. Our itinerary included Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Badlands National Park. Our week-long trip was split into two different lodging locations and we brainstormed ways to save money and cut corners without cutting the fun. I booked both hotel/cabin stays in advance (the biggest expense of the trip) and was rewarded with the peace of mind that the places where we would rest our heads were set before we left. And then…we were off.
In case some of you are unaware, the drive from central Minnesota to southern South Dakota is lloooomnnnnggggg. And pretty unexciting. But we made it in a hair under 12 hours and we still even liked each other once we got to the Best Western Golden Spike hotel #kiddingnotkidding.
The five days that followed were simply amazing. The beauty and peacefulness of the Badlands is forever etched into my soul. We also enjoyed stops at cool places like Badlands Petrified Gardens, Bear Country and Reptile Gardens.
It was a busy (and expensive) five days. On the equally lllloooonnnnggg drive home, it gave me a chance to reflect on ways we could have stretched our travel budget even further.
Here are some tips and hacks to help you do the same:
5 Simple Summer Road Trip Hacks to Ease the Squeeze on your Pocketbook
1. Bring a toaster: With 2 incredibly picky eaters on board, one of whom is a 14 year-old boy who is always hungry, a toaster would have saved us $$ and time. Neither lodging location had toasters and being able to make toast, bagels and Pop-tarts would have saved us some money for sure.
2. Bring more microwavable foods: Having one child who only eats about five things makes life difficult on the road. But, if we would have brought more microwaveable foods, it would have helped her eat healthier and relieved the frustration for us. I would also advise prepping some “make ahead” meals that could be microwaved/warmed up too. Eating out is fun, but when you are on the road for 5 days it can get expensive for a family of four.
3. Know where the Wal-Mart’s are: Let me just say that if you are in the middle of nowhere (like the Badlands) there are not stores to replenish supplies with. BUT, on the first leg of our trip, there was a Wal-Mart in Rapid City, SD. We could have/should have made a quick run to stock up on things that could have saved us money and avoided impulse gas station purchases.
4. Clamp down on impulse spending: These “gas station impulse buys” were a huge budget-eater for us. Every time we had to stop for a potty break everyone (except me) seemed to think it was “I Need a Treat” time. That drove me NUTS. Next time there will be some strict spending parameters laid down about purchases during biffy breaks.
5. Know your coupons and discounts: I should have haunted sites like Groupon, BackHillsBadlands.com, TripAdvisor and TravelSouthDakota.com. We were lucky enough to be able to get comped tickets for Reptile Gardens – a $50 savings for us!
As you hit the road this summer to experience adventures and create memories, take some extra time to make sure you are using your travel funds wisely. The bottom line is, would you rather have a handful of gas station candy bars, or extra money to invest in a new experience?
The choice is yours. Happy traveling!
P.S. Our favorite South Dakota Guide Book, Black Hills Family Fun Guide is available on Amazon!