The Great American Road Trip #2

Road trip, lego car, lego familyThe Preparations

Later today we’ll be setting off on our 15 state tour of America. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’ve been looking forward to this since I first conceived of the idea just under a year ago.

The initial goal of the trip was to surprise my brother on his 40th birthday. However, it has evolved since then and has turned into The Great American Road Trip…part 1. There is still a lot of the US to see and if this goes well, I can see adding a part 2 in a few years time.

Now that the departure day is upon us, I wanted to share the preparations that have taken place over the past few months to get us ready for the trip.

The Plan

The Plan has gone through several iterations since it was first conceived. It started as a simple drive to California (where my brother and his family live). Then why not swing through San Antonio on the way back to visit my wife’s sister and her family. Then we reversed course and added a few more stops along the way.

The final iteration is ambitious, but I’m hopeful the adjustments will make it more enjoyable and memorable. After solidifying the final itinerary in March, we began the financial preparations.

Finances

The financial plan turned into a three-pronged approach. The first prong was to get my first credit card in over a decade. One of the reasons for this was to attempt my maiden voyage into travel hacking. I’ll write a summary of the result once we return and the results can be tabulated.

The second prong is budgeting for the day-to-day expenses of being on the road. This includes food, gas, and any activities we come across along the way. We’ll be gone for a total of 18 days. The first tier of coverage for these expenses is our normal grocery and gas budget for that same time frame.

The second tier of coverage is additional cash I’ve squirreled away over the past couple of months. I’ve taken $20-$40 cash out of our normal grocery/gas budget over the last couple of months and put it aside. It meant a slightly tighter budget than normal, but we’ve gotten by just fine. And it has turned into a few hundred dollars to help along the way.

The final tier will be to dip into our travel fund. I don’t expect us to need much more money than the first two tiers will provide, but we have a travel fund that should cover the short fall. Whatever we don’t use on this trip will be kept in the travel fund for future travel adventures.

Bigger Travel Expenses

The final financial prong we’ve had to account for is the larger travel expenses: hotels and the rental car. This is an area I’m hoping the travel hacking will pay the most dividends. But I’ll save the details for a future post.

In the meantime I’ll give you a preview with my travel hacking junior tip. I’ve applied this skill numerous times in many different circumstances, but I’ll give you the details as it applies to our rental car.

Rental Car Travel Hack Jr.

My first step was to find the closest rental car company to our home. After providing the necessary information (i.e. travel dates, type of car, etc.), I discovered that we were looking at a cost of $592.01. $92.01 more than I had budgeted for.

I checked the next closest location. Two minutes later: $578.17, a savings of $13.84. Not bad for two minutes work. Still over my budget. Another two minutes on another site and I get down to $485.31 with a pay now option. Now we’re talking. I’ve saved $106.70 in four minutes.

Time to apply the secret weapon. A quick Google search for the name of the car rental agency and the term ‘coupon code’. The first result gives me a coupon code, which I copy and past into the rental agency’s website. I’m now down to $437.51. In less than ten minutes I’ve managed to save $154.50.

I applied a similar approach to the hotels we’d be staying at. First looking for the best deal in the area we planned on staying. Then looking for any coupon code options that may discount that deal even further. Several hundred dollars saved.

Finally, I took advantage of the magic month of March. Since both my wife and I get paid every other week, this means two months out of the year will have an extra paycheck. March happened to be one of those months.

Rather than digging into the travel fund, I simply used this extra paycheck to cover as much of the hotel and car rental expenses as I could, and then dipped into the travel fund to cover the rest. By the end of March the majority of the big expenses had already been paid for, leaving me with the entertainment challenge.

Entertainment

By my calculations, we’ll be in the car for just under 80 hours. That is a lot of time for anyone, yet alone two boys with seemingly boundless energy. My first attempt at bringing sanity to an insane venture is to avoid unnecessarily long stretches in the car. If all goes according to plan, we’ll spend no more than 3-4 hours in the car before getting an extended break; and with one or two exceptions, not more than 6-7 hours in the car on any given day.

That’s still a long time, so I’ve devised some entertainment options. If you remember from my road trip plan post, I’d like to limit the screen time on this trip as much as possible. This left me with a lot of time to fill.

So here is the Entertainment Plan:

  1. Audio Books–
    1. Harry Potter
    2. Charlotte’s Web
    3. Sherlock Holmes
    4. The Magic of Thinking Big (this is for me, but think it might be good to expose my kids to the ideas in this book)
  2. Podcasts
    1. The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
    2. Brains On! Science podcast for kids
    3. Stories Podcast
  3. Music (Kid friendly adult music – thanks to all my twitter friends who made suggestions.)
  4. Coloring Pages – each State has it’s own set of coloring pages featuring the State itself and any major landmarks in that State. For example, Missouri has the Arch, South Dakota has Mount Rushmore, and Arizona has the Grand Canyon.
  5. Toys – We’ve put together a few packages for the kids to open up on the way. These are primarily filled with their own toys (i.e. Lego’s, cars, etc.)
  6. Car Games – Eye Spy, the Alphabet Game, you know the classics.
    1. Special Thanks to Tim over at High Income Parents for suggesting the Skittle game (closing your eyes and trying to guess the color Skittle you’ve been given through taste alone). I’m looking forward to trying it out!
  7. Old Fashioned Conversations

So there you have it. This is what the last couple of months have looked like. I’d love to hear if you have any road trip suggestions for me? How do you entertain yourself or your kids on a road trip?

14 Comments

  1. Sounds amazing, have a great trip! How long will you be gone for?

    I hope to be able to fully retire before my kids are too old so I can take few months to travel one summer. I’m thinking when the kids are late elementary or middle school might be the sweet spot: old enough to handle long stretches in the car, but not too many summer obligations yet.

    I’d be interested to hear your kid friendly adult music list at some point. I have a “toddler dance mix” of my own that we break out after dinners on occasion. R.E.M.’s “Stand” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” are the current favs.

    1. We are on day 2 of 17 total. So far so good. We had some REM cranked up today as well as some U2, Cat Stevens, some 90’s grunge, even some Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. I try to expose them to a lot of different styles, so we’ll get to the jazz, classical, and bluegrass later in the trip.

      I have similar hopes for our kids as they get older. Ideally by middle school we’ll be able to take larger chunks of time off during the summer, and I’d love to spend 5-8 weeks living in different areas for longer periods of time. Expose them to different cultures in a non tourist way.

  2. Sounds fun MSF! Nice savings on the rental car. I think you’ve got some great ideas for the car. Audio books are great and even some out loud reading can be fun too. Random questions like what animal would you like to be? Who in the family would make the best clown?

    Tell stories about your brother and you growing up. And your wife can tell stories of her sister.

    Look forward to hearing about the trip when you return. Drive safe and happy birthday to your brother.

    1. Thanks Amy! Trip is going well so far. The kids have been troopers and there has been plenty of story telling so far. I like the clown question. I just asked them and they initially said me, but then quickly changed it to My Sons Mother (MSM). I’d have to agree, she’s way more fun.

    1. Thanks! On the trip as we speak and so far it is going great, but haven’t started the Magic of Thinking Big, yet. Maybe on one of our longer drives, I’ll give that one a try.

  3. Oh man, it sounds awesome! Road tripping is one of our favorite things to do as a family (by the end of this summer we’ll have hit 46 states through 4 trips in the last 3 years).

    I’d put good money down that you are going to come away from this trip completely bitten by the road tripping bug. It’s such a great way to bond as a family. My wife and I have had some of our best conversations on the open road with our kids asleep in the back, watching a movie, or singing at the top of their lungs 🙂

    You’re bound to have some challenges along the way but that’s part of what makes the experience. Wishing you all the best and safe travels. I’m a bit behind on my reading right now, so I’m going to go check out your next roadtrip update since it’s already up 🙂

    1. 46 States in 3 years! I think there might be a road warrior award in your future, that is impressive.

      I’m loving the trip so far. We just got done with our longest day of driving and have one more long one tomorrow and even that hasn’t put a damper on my enthusiasm. It might be a year or two before we get to our next one, but I’ve already got a vague outline of where I want to hit up next. Maybe we can get the kids to all 50 states before they graduate high school. Sounds like you’ll easily hit that goal.

      I’m assuming Alaska and Hawaii are 2 of the 4 you haven’t been to, what are the other two?

  4. We went on a lot of 2 and 3 week road trips. I think my parents philosophy was that if it was on the continent we would drive there.

    Right now a 200 mile drive with our kids is so difficult that I can’t imagine doing what my parents did with us. Maybe in 5-6 years when all are much older (and potty trained and reading) we’ll give it a try.

    We definitely took some epic trips. MO to southern TX to Cali to Miss back to MO. MO to Canada to NY through the Appalachians back to MO.

    1. Sounds like some great trips. I agree with the potty training. I don’t think I would have tried such an aggressive trip just a few years ago. But so far our kids have done well, so we may have stumbled upon the perfect ages to take them.

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