A Very ALDI Road Trip - 10 Tips for an Affordable Vacation

Our family is headed to North Carolina that won't and Tennessee to explore Great Smoky National Park for an eleven day vacation. While we are really excited, I am also challenged to stay on a budget. This is our third summer of road trips with two kids and I am by no means an expert, but I am going to share a few of my strategies for keeping a lid on vacation expenses.

1. Plan ahead: I may be a tad bit of an over-planner, but I always make my packing list, meal plan, and to-do list at least a month ahead of time. Doing so allows me to keep my sanity and see where I can save money before we even hit the road. For example, I am borrowing a child carrier for hiking from a friend (Thanks Laura!) which is saving me atleast $100.

2. Shop at ALDI: I have been looking over my meal plan and shopping list and smuggling in any dry good items that I can keep until the trip. That way I won't have huge grocery bill stocking up at an expensive resort location grocery store and most of our food expenses are spread out a month before the actual vacation. Not only am I shopping at my local ALDI, but there is actually an ALDI en route that we are going to stop at to stock up on refrigerated items for our week in our cabin. Hello- Asheville ALDI on Patton - can't wait to meet you! It is reassuring knowing what I can expect to see in the way of prices. I would say 90% of the groceries we will be eating will come from ALDI:)

2. Limit Eating Out: One of our major money savers for vacation has been booking cabins and condos for our lodging so that we can easily do breakfast, pack a picnic lunch for being out and about, and save our vacation budget dollars for eating out at dinner time (when I most enjoy it). I estimate that limiting eating out to one meal per day will save my family of four approximately $500 over the course of our ten day trip.

3. Jazz up your picnic lunches: My husband does not have fond memories of soggy sandwiches on road trips from his childhood, so while he is a fan of saving money, I know he won't pass on fast food for your typical bologna and cheese that's been sitting in a cooler for six hours. I have to give props to Carolyn for some new ideas on making our picnic lunches a little more exciting:

  • Don't make your sandwiches until it is time to eat them.
  • Switch up sandwich bread for deli rolls, pretzel buns, or tortillas for wraps.
  • Mimic a favorite restaurant sandwich (Turkey, avocado, and cream cheese for us from Quinton's TAC)
  • Try gourmet chips or crackers instead of your typical lunch chips.
  • Don't serve anything similar to your normal sack lunches for work- it's vacation - do something different!
  • Go with easy to eat fresh fruit- no canned fruit cups. We are taking bananas, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and nectarines.
4. Cash in on those credit card points: While I am not usually a credit card advocate, we do occasionally have need of them. We are using points from one of our cards for three hotel nights for our drive there and back. Last summer, we used some leftover credit card hotel points for a fuel gift card. While this isn't usually the best buy for your points, we weren't in need of that hotel chain for that particular trip.

5. Fake it 'til you make it: We are headed the Biltmore in Asheville, NC one day and as much as I would like to pretend to be one of the Vanderbilts, tickets combined with dining at one of the estate restaurants would be a big hit to the overall budget (Although, the quinoa and kale salad sounds like my kind of thing!) Instead, we are packing a "Bilmore-Worthy Lunchable" of Smoked Summer Sausage, Brie, Havarti, Gourmet Crackers, and Fresh Fruit. There might even be a bottle sparkling grape juice in the mix - watch out Biltmore! Total Savings: $60+  

6. Stash the cash: We use a cash budget from week to week. At the end of each week, I empty my wallet into my little secret cash stash. I also smuggle extra checks that appear throughout the year, garage and online sales money, and some birthday dollars into the same stash. This year, I have been saving since before Christmas and have accumulated a painless $500 which will be a huge help towards spending money on our trip.

7. Prep the kids and learn to say "no":  Our 6-year-old is pretty used to not asking for extras, but before entering a place where there will be lots of "extras" available, like an amusement park, we have a quick conversation about this being a special thing that costs money and we are there to ride rides or see a show, etc. and that it is not okay to ask Mom and Dad for something extra like sweet treats or toys. If he would like to spend his own money on those things, he may.

8. Request a travel guide: Ahead of time, my awesome husband thought to request a travel guide from the local visitor's bureau and they sent a travel guide with scads of coupons for restaurants and activities that we could use.

9. Tripadvisor: We are big fans of Tripadvisor.com for looking into where to eat, where to stay, and what to do. Seeing ratings and reviews from other people really has helped us to avoid bad restaurants, tourist traps, and dirty hotels. Reading the reviews have also given us some great tips for savings, when and when not to go, and additional things to think about when vacationing in a new place.

10. Layout a budget: Ahead of time we have a spreadsheet with estimated costs for everything from lodging to meals, activities to dog boarding. Doing so helps us to have a ballpark for how much we need to have set aside to have a great trip without making it a financial hardship when we get back.

What kind of tips do you have for making vacation affordable?


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