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 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.
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.
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:
- Audio Books–
- Harry Potter
- Charlotte’s Web
- Sherlock Holmes
- 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)
- Music (Kid friendly adult music – thanks to all my twitter friends who made suggestions.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- Car Games – Eye Spy, the Alphabet Game, you know the classics.
- 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!
- 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?