Road Trip 2017: Final Random Thoughts, Budget, Tips, and Tricks

Our road trip was thoroughly amazing. I was kind of holding my breath, because with that many days on the road, something was BOUND to go wrong. But NOTHING did. And I mean NOTHING. Nobody got sick or injured; we had zero car trouble; we didn’t get bed bugs; nothing went wrong with any of our hotel bookings; the kids didn’t even get sick of being in the car; and it didn’t even rain on us! I am still in amazement with how perfectly everything went. I am giving almost all of the credit to how well Jake planned everything- he is a master road trip planner always, but this time he outdid himself!! 

We did the whole trip, all 19 days, for about $6,000. We thought that was pretty good, considering that a family of 4 can spend that on a week at Disney. So here is kind of a breakdown of how we spent the money: 

Hotels:

-Jake booked all of our hotels about 6 months in advance. Next time, though, we will book the nights in the national parks even further in advance- I would recommend at least 9 months to a year, because we *almost* didn’t get a place to stay in Glacier or Yellowstone. They book up QUICK. We did not get super cheap hotels anywhere (but also not the fanciest, of course). He used TripAdvisor reviews to pick where we stayed, and it was pretty spot on most of the time. We were pleased with almost everywhere, with the exception of just a couple of weird things at a few places. We stayed in cabins at Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton. We stayed at two Great Wolf Lodges (indoor water park hotels) for the kids. And those were definitely not the cheapest hotels, but they were great for the kids, and they are pretty good deal considering what you get out of it! We also stayed one night with friends in St. Louis.

Food: 

-We budgeted $20 a day for groceries, and $40 a  day for restaurants. Almost all of the hotels we booked had continental breakfast (something we made sure of when we were booking the hotels), and if they didn’t (like in the parks), we bought Pop-Tarts and Cliff bars and things like that to eat in the car or in the room. We also packed a cooler, but NOT with cold things. We just put the food in the cooler to keep it from getting crushed. We packed it with lunch stuff that didn’t need to be kept cold- peanut butter, Nutella, chips, nuts, pudding, beef jerky, dried fruit, crackers, cookies, Beanie Weenies, etc. Almost every day we found a place to eat a picnic lunch, and just ate the things from the cooler. A good tip for this- grab a banana or apple to go from the hotel breakfast to eat at lunch. Also, jelly packets from the hotel breakfast make eating peanut butter sandwiches more enjoyable. 🙂 We became master scavengers. For dinner, we would use our restaurant budget to eat out. 

Now I definitely didn’t use the $20 of grocery money each day, because I didn’t need to replenish our stores every day. So the surplus just rolled over into the next day, and we would occasionally use it to eat at a nicer restaurant, or get ice-cream for dessert, etc. 🙂 All that money was just coming from our “trip” fund anyways, I just kept separate totals in my log book so I could see how much we had left. I LIKE to budget. 

Because I kept totals, we were able to do some restaurant lunches on the way home, because I knew I had leftover grocery money. This was good, because it helped break up our long drives a bit, and at that point we were all kind of tired of our picnic food. 🙂

One more food tip: we each had a Yeti or Thermos bottles that we took in the car. I would fill them up with ice every morning in the hotel at the ice machines, and if they had a water bottle fill up station (which all the National Parks did), I would also fill them up with water. If not, we kept some cheap bottled water in our car for that purpose. This saved us a LOT of money, not having to buy drinks everywhere, and the nice cups kept ice all day long. (YETIs are SO expensive, but worth the money in the long run, in my opinion-especially if you catch them on sale like I did).  

Activity:

We also budgeted $100 a day for “activity money.” This could be used on anything special we did; tickets for boat rides, admission to parks, souvenirs (t-shirts, pins for the kids, etc.), random shopping, tram tickets in Jackson Hole, etc. We didn’t use all the money every day, so we just rolled it into the next day’s fund, and kept a rolling total. I am SO glad we did this, because we were able to do some fun stuff, and buy souvenirs, without feeling guilty. We even used this to buy special desserts some nights, and went antiquing on one of our last days with this fund.  This part of the budget actually allowed us to do a second night in a Great Wolf Lodge, because we weren’t planning on doing that, but had so much left in the activity fund at that point in the trip, that we knew we could! 

One good tip for this: if you know you are going to be visiting lots of National Parks/monuments on your trip, go ahead and buy the “America The Beautiful” pass for the year, and you won’t have to pay additional admission to get into the parks. This ended up saving us money, since we were going to several parks, and going in and out of the parks several times, too. 

Gas: 

We didn’t set aside a special number a day for gas, but just estimated our total mileage, and then budget $2.50 a gallon. We knew this was not going to be a perfect estimate, but we have gas money in our regular monthly budget anyway, so we weren’t worried about it. We are lucky that my car gets such good gas mileage (which is the reason we took it anyways)!

And here is another random list of “notes” that Jake and I compiled during the trip. Some of these are just goofy. 🙂

-sheep are way cuter in Wyoming
-we were SO glad we didn’t bring our camper, but if you are camping in the Black Hills, book a spot next to a lake, because they are beautiful
-the Black Hills forest is strange because of all the grass growing in the forest
-the Badlands were way prettier than we expected, and it comes out of nowhere!
-Illinois roads are awful
-Highway (NOT interstate) speed limit in Montana is 70 mph!
-A detour through Wyoming and Montana construction areas means a rough dirt road.
-For some parts of our drives (looking at you, Montana), it was a really good thing that we had already planned to picnic and had our food in the car, because there were NO restaurants.
-Mexican restaurants west of the Mississippi (and north of Texas and Oklahoma) do NOT serve chips and salsa.
-Before you hit the time zone change, it starts getting dark really late-like past 9:00. So if your kids need to stick to a bedtime schedule, be aware.
-If you feel like you need to see everything in Yellowstone, you need about a week. If you are good with just hitting the main spots, 2-3 days is fine.
-when you go up into the mountains, be careful opening sunscreen and Pringles cans-the altitude makes them explode!
-Kansas-the land of clumped cattle. Seriously, we passed a LOT of cows, and they were always huddled together, although they had miles and miles of space to spread out.

We absolutely loved our road trip, and can’t wait for the next one! So many people have asked us SO many questions about our trip. If you would like our itinerary, just message me and I will send it to you. 🙂 Like I said, Jake is a MASTER planner, and he did a great job! 

Leave a Reply