Holiday Travel Tips (Driving or Flying)

Traveling during the holidays can possibly be the most stressful of all travel experiences.  There are so MANY travelers during that short 4-7 day time span and the complications weather can bring can be a recipe for stress.

I always say that PREPARATION is the #1 stress ‘alleviator’….and with that in mind, here’s a few tips to decrease the stress of holiday travel, whether at the airport or on your drive.

1.  Make reservations early.  Because of the high volume of travelers during a very small window of time, prices are higher.  (Law of Supply & Demand)  The earlier you make your reservation, the better deal you will probably find.  As soon as your holiday plans are finalized, make those flight or rental car reservations. Review  Finding Bargains on Rental Cars for tricks on getting the BEST rate on these. Hotel reservations for drivers should probably be made 2-3 wks in advance unless you are traveling through a very busy area.

2.  Plan flights to minimize the effects of weather (i.e. delays, cancellations, etc…).  If possible,  choose a flight with a layover in a city that gets minimal or no winter weather (Houston, Phoenix, LA, etc…)  The drawback to this  (you HAD to know there is no perfect solution)  is that if that city DOES get winter weather, they will be LESS equipped to deal with it than a northern city, but I still think your chances are better in the south.

3.  If driving, have 2 routes (or more??) mapped out.  Make your choice based on the weather forecasts.  Let someone know the route you are taking and be sure to call them if you change that route for any reason.

4. Weather apps can be very helpful when traveling, especially for drivers.  As wonderful as accuweather or 1weather may be, I actually prefer apps from local news stations en route to my destination.  The information is more ‘location specific’ and therefore (imho) more accurate.  If you don’t have a GPS that gives traffic information, you can get that info from local news station apps as well.

5. Pack your carry on with items you would need for an extended ‘stay’ in an airport.  (It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it)   Pack an extra change of clothes, toothbrush/paste, hair brush, AND some protein snacks and empty water bottles. I always take snacks in my carry on, but if traveling in winter, I bring a little more than I normally would. An inflatable pillow is a nice item to have on any long flight, but becomes INVALUABLE during a night spent in an airport.

6.  If driving, make sure there is WATER and protein snacks in your car.  WATER is probably the most important item as it is not readily available on the side of the road. 🙂  Don’t forget it!  I’m reminded of a blizzard in our area a few years ago that left travelers lined up for miles on the interstate for 36-48 hrs. because of multiple jack-knifed semis. (The local news stations sent out helicopters to view and film the sight.) Have blankets, gloves and basic tools in your car as well.  I’ve even been known to throw a roll of toilet paper into the trunk…  You may laugh, but I wonder what those people did sitting out on the interstate for 2 days in that blizzard.  🙂 🙂

7. Flying at Christmas with gifts/packages can add to airline baggage fees.  If you will have a significant number of large or bulky gifts, remember that Southwest and Jet Blue Airlines have no baggage fees.  Otherwise, you might want to compare shipping costs to baggage fees.  ONE MORE NOTE: Take all of this into consideration AS YOU’RE SHOPPING if you know you’ll be flying. (Now THERE’S an argument for gift cards!  ha)   Also remember that you will probably be flying HOME with gifts as well….and hope everyone else was thinking about this too…. haha!

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee

8. Keep an optimistic attitude. Everyone is trying to do the same thing as you are.  It’s as important to every other traveler to make it home as it is for you.   The airlines are doing their best to get you to your destination – even working the holiday so you can travel.  A little kindness goes a LLLLOOONNNGGG way!!!  Arrive at the airport early.  Expect long lines and waits.  Expect crying children.  Comply with the requirements of TSA so as not to bring their attention to you, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and basically just be polite.  It will improve your outlook AND your treatment most of the time.

Yes, travel during the holidays is stressful, but you CAN take some steps to lessen the stress on you and yours.   Happy Traveling!!  🙂


Packing Tips to Save Space and Money

empty suitcaseIf you’re flying, it’s all about keeping baggage fees to a minimum and making your trek through the airport as stress-free as possible.

If you’re driving, it’s all about making sure everything fits in the car and there’s no undue weight to decrease gas mileage.

Most people over-pack….  Case in point, I think I spent a great deal of the time I was raising babies and toddlers over-packing the diaper bag!!! With every trip I take, I’m becoming a lighter and lighter packer.  🙂  This brings me a great sense of accomplishment!

GUIDING PRINCIPLE:  Ask Yourself:  What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t bring this item?  If the answer is ‘I would die or suffer unbelievable pain’, then by all means, BRING IT.  If the answer is not  ‘I would die or suffer unbelievable pain’, then consider NOT bringing it.  That formula has worked pretty well for us the last few years as I’ve tried to pare down our luggage on trips.

Here’s a few more packing tips:

  • Even when packing for a 10-12 day trip, we pack 5-6 days of clothes.  Doing laundry is NOT difficult!! (I use 2-3 machines at once and get it done in an hour)   Traveling with multiple suitcases IS difficult!!!
  • Choose a color pallet of 2 basic colors and 1-2 pieces in an accent color  (possibly 1 shirt and 1 scarf or statement necklace)  Everything goes together.  You can get by with 3-4 bottoms,  5-6 tops, a jacket  and a few accessories.  From that, you can put together multiple outfits with nothing ‘repeated’.  🙂
  • “Roll clothes” as you pack them.  I had never really believed this, even though many people said it.  THEN, I tested it!!  Amazing!!!

    Photo Credit: Diane Cordell CC Lic.

    Rolling clothes really does take less room in the suitcase. CAUTION:  Don’t do this with clothes that wrinkle easily.  In fact, unless you have a very good reason to take that easily wrinkled item, it’s probably best left at home!! (imho)  In our suitcases, some things are rolled, others aren’t…it conserves a little space.

  • Use the straps in your suitcase to compress items.
  • If flying, weigh your bag before leaving home. Luggage scales aren’t that expensive, but you don’t have to have one.  Use your bathroom scale. Weigh yourself…then hold the suitcase and weigh again. Subtract the two numbers and you’ll have the weight of the bag. When we’re doing this, I keep the suitcase under 47#  to allow for differences in scales.



  • Pack shampoo, lotion, etc… in travel size bottles. Though you can purchase travel sizes of many products, I prefer to purchase travel size bottles from The Dollar Tree and fill them with my own ‘favorites’…or use the sample bottles that come in thetravel size bottles mail or are in hotel rooms.  It’s cheaper…and I get the products I want!  The bottles can then be reused on future vacations.   If you’re concerned about spillage or leaking, make a “bottle stopper” by placing a small piece of plastic (from a plastic shopping bag) inside the lid before closing it….OR simply put the bottles in a Ziploc bag (or do both).  You will probably have acquired a plastic bag at some point in your trip that can be used to ‘seal’ the bottles for your return trip.
  • A TicTac box will hold many different things…from bobby pins to stud earring to ???   Keep a few throughout the year, rinse them out and put them with your travel things.  When you begin packing, you WILL find uses for them.  If you don’t, throw them away then…   I always find a use for them.   🙂
  • Shoes: Because everyone in our family is tall and has feet on the bigger side, we MUST ‘restrict’ the number of  shoes each person brings. A good ‘rule of thumb’ is  1 pair good walking shoes (sneakers), 1 pair good walking sandals and 1 pair flip flops/water shoes for a beach destination or hiking shoes for a ‘hiking’ vacation per person. Even with this restriction, we’re still taking TWELVE pair of adult size shoes!! At least this formula keeps things from getting FAR out of hand and enables us to do most anything we want on a vacation with proper shoes.
  • Pack shoes along the outside edges of the suitcase to provide protection to more delicate items on the interior of the case (especially if flying).  Place delicate or breakable souvenirs INSIDE shoes for added protection.  Never put anything delicate or breakable along the edges or on the top or bottom….nestle them in the interior.
  • Don’t waste the space inside those shoes – Pack items like socks or underwear in there.
  • Place the heaviest items (typically shoes or toiletry bags) at the BOTTOM of the case.  This puts the weight at the bottom eliminating that ‘topple’ syndrome.
  • If we plan to do laundry, we always take laundry soap – to avoid paying the inflated prices at the laundromat.  I HIGHLY recommend the Pods/individual packets of soap.  Powdered soap need to be packed very securely (in a Ziploc bag THEN in a  plastic Rubbermaid, Glad or Dollar Tree version container because of the strong chemical smell. That smell permeates everything in the suitcase. We don’t mind our clothes smelling like laundry soap (haha) but on one vacation we arrived with our microwave popcorn, granola bars, Altoids, gum, etc   almost inedible because they absorbed the chemical smell and ‘tasted’ like soap. When the soap is contained, there’s no scent.

Photo Credit: Mandy Jansen on Flickr CC Lic.

The Main Point here is to pack light and pack tight. It saves you money. It saves you time.  It saves your back!  🙂


Kids and Road Trips Part 2

Part 1 of this topic is here:  Kids and Road Trips Part 1: Planning.

Photo Credit: CC Lic. Paul Cooper

We ALWAYS make stops at the Travel Information Centers at state borders. Many maps – (Yes, we still use paper maps in conjunction with GPS….Rand McNally) show these locations, but as a general rule, they’re on Interstate highways right inside state borders. They’re typically  cleaner (especially the rest rooms), staffed (safer and someone is there to answer questions) and they often have coffee. 🙂   If we are planning to spend time in that state, I will check the racks of brochures/tourist info for information and even coupons (though coupons are rare…).
These Travel Centers/Rest stops are great places to expend a little energy if you have young children as many locations have added playground equipment.  There are always picnic tables if it’s time for lunch. Sometimes there are grills. It’s a multi-use stop!  🙂

Rolls of quarters: When I stumbled upon this idea it made the WORLD of difference in our road trips. At the beginning of the vacation, each child got a roll of quarters ($10)  That roll of quarters was theirs to spend as they wished on the last vacation day…with just one little clincher….  Mom or dad could ask for a quarter anytime there was a ‘problem’.    If the children fussed over “backseat real estate”, we could ask for a quarter.  If they didn’t follow instructions or family rules, we could ask for a quarter.  If we told them it was time to stop giggling and go to sleep at night and they didn’t stop giggling  etc… we could ask for a quarter.  They soon realized that it was in their best interests to ‘get along’, obey cheerfully, and basically be pleasant company on our trip.  I’m happy to report that after we started doing this, behavioral issues on our trips took a nose-dive.  We had obedience without punishment…in situations where they might have been in danger otherwise.  It produced peace and peace of mind.  Since treats on our vacations were usually a rare thing, being able to spend their ‘balance’ on WHATEVER they wanted was a HUGE reward to them.  The few quarters we did actually confiscate were used for the coin laundry on laundry day.   “…Two birds with one stone” 🙂

I recently came across this…..  shared just for the humor benefit, unless  of course, you think it might ‘work’ for you  🙂

◊  One year, when my kids were in middle school, we had a vocabulary word every morning of our vacation.  I chose/planned these before vacation  and chose words that not only ‘fit’ each day but also appealed to the middle school sense of humor….words that were “interesting”, intriguing and just fun to know and use.

BUT…..WORDS THAT PERTAIN TO ONE’S LIFE ARE REMEMBERED!!!! Photo Credit: Ken Whytock on Flickr CC Lic.

What happened next was not part of my “plan”…it just “evolved” (as can often happen when dealing with middle school boys).  It became a game (challenge) to use the word throughout the day…..the funnier the context, the better.  We were often sent into giggles when someone would creatively drop the word into conversation during the day.  By the end of vacation, everyone was searching for ways to use multiple words in sentences/conversations… and it often brought either hysterical laughing…..or GROANS!!  🙂   This activity had added benefits that I never intended.  To this day, my children still know these words and I’ll hear them dropped into conversations… I know EXACTLY where and when they learned it.

Photo Credit: Loren Javier CC Lic.

When we arrive at our destination:  My kids almost always want to get in the pool when we get to the hotel.  If we’ve been sitting in the car all day long, the pool is great to relieve cramped muscles.   If we’ve arrived at  our final destination, we also like to go to the Visitor Center that evening to gather information, get our bearings, buy tickets if we need them…or come up with a plan. That gives us a head start on the next day.

Back in the hotel room that evening, we might pull out a deck of cards for a family game.  (I usually discouraged individual computer games…vacations are about ‘family time’.)  We might pop some microwave popcorn in the microwave and find a movie on television…we almost always pull our clothes for the next day and get suitcases repacked to make things a little easier the next morning.  Perhaps we’ll read through brochures picked up at the Information Center to prepare for the next ‘event’ on our vacation.  At any rate, we’re usually VERY ready to turn out the lights by 10 pm —especially our driver!    We enjoy our evenings in the hotel as much as any other part of the vacation.  🙂

Some may think that structuring things like this (and the suggestions from Part 1 of this article) are “anti” fun.  I would never presume to say what works for everyone, but I will say, this worked best for my family.  My experience with children in the classroom (I’m a teacher by profession) is that they thrive on structure and knowing what to expect.  They typically NEED that.  Of course, take from this what works for you, in whole or in part….but consider the advantage to be gained from structuring at least parts of your traveling/vacationing days.

Dealing with Motion Sickness

Photo Credit: CC Lic.

There is quite possibly nothing worse than motion sickness….you feel absolutely dreadful; you don’t have your bed to lie down in…in fact, lying down at all usually makes the motion sickness worse, and the only REAL solution is to STOP the car  –which you CAN’T do if you ever want to get to your destination!!  It’s a Catch 22 situation!!

I was a child who struggled with this and I had a child who would often need one of those “infamous bags” on trips.  Through those experiences, I learned several tactics for dealing with the situation.



WHAT is motion sickness?  Why does it happen?

Motion sickness is caused by the brain trying to sort the mixed messages it is receiving from the eyes and ears.  When you look around the interior of the car (airplane, cruise ship) your eyes do not perceive motion because the things around you SEEM to be still. The eyes send a message to the brain that you are NOT moving.  The inner ear, which establishes equilibrium, senses the movement of the vehicle (plane, ship) and sends a message to the brain that you ARE moving. The brain tries to process these mixed messages and can’t determine if you’re moving or not. 🙂  THAT leads to the nausea.

That explains why the methods below work.  However, we’re all unique individuals, so we respond differently.  Use trial and error to find what works for you or your child.

  •  Focus on the Road in Front of You:  Sit in the front seat to watch the road (especially winding roads) to straighten out the conflicting signals being sent to your brain. The front seat removes many of the stationary things in the car out of your line of vision (like the back of the seat, car interior, etc…) allowing the eyes to focus ONLY on the MOVEMENT. In our family, we play ‘musical seats’ putting the person who is ‘sick’ in the front. Obviously, reading or other activities that cause the eyes to focus on something stationary, is the worst thing to do.
  • To Eat or Not To Eat:  For some, an empty stomach makes motion sickness worse….for others, it’s the ONLY way to avoid the nausea.  Each person has to use trial and error to find out what HIS/HER body responds to.  My daughter figured out at a very young age that NOT eating was best for her.  She would bring along a bit of dry cereal (carbohydrate) or fresh fruit (contains enzymes that help with nausea) and eat it when she felt she needed to or was able to. For me, when I was a child, an empty stomach was a recipe for disaster.  A child of 6 or 7 yrs will usually know instinctively what he/she needs with this.  At first, I tried to insist that my daughter do what worked for me.  It was much better when I was able to realize that she needed to do things HER way…even at the age of 6.  :/  (one of those “light-bulb” moments for Mom….)
  • Fresh Air: Turn on the a/c or open a window and let the air/wind blow directly into your face.
  • Medications:  Most who struggle with motion sickness are familiar with Dramamine.  It works by addressing the inner ear issues.  It’s only drawback is that it makes you (VERY) drowsy.  That COULD be exactly what you want…unless  you’re the mom (or the driver). 🙂 The generic for Dramamine is Dimenhydrinate and is the exact same medication. Another common medication is Meclizine – again available in a generic form. These generics are very economically priced.  Look for them right beside the name brands in your drug store.  If you have any doubts, compare ingredient lists on bottles/boxes or ask your pharmacist.   WORD OF CAUTION:  Asthmatics should check with their doctor before taking Dramamine or it’s generic form.  It’s not totally contraindicated, but check with the Dr. as a precaution.
  • Transderm Patches are an EXCELLENT option, but they require a prescription

    Photo Credit: Missy Schmidt CC Lic.

    (and Dr. visit).  This is applied behind the ear 4 hrs before travel and a patch lasts 4-5 days.  These, too, address the inner ear issues. They are excellent for cruises, because of their longevity and the constant stream of medication.  We’ve actually never used them for road trips as that constant stream of medication sends mixed messages to the brain when you AREN’T moving –such as at nighttime or at ‘stops’.  That can make a person feel a little ‘strange’ at those times. haha!   However, if you’re traveling for several days back-to-back or have a child with SEVERE issues it might be worth consideration.


  • Ginger:  This comes in many forms.  The best part is that since it’s not a medication, no worries about interactions, and it tastes good (if you get a good one)
    • Candied ginger:  I get it at Sprouts
    • Ginger Tea or Ginger Ale

      candied ginger

      From Sprouts

    • Ginger Snaps – I don’t know how affective this would be, but they certainly taste good.  🙂
    • Prego Pops:  These are marketed for morning sickness (good option if pregnant) and are available at Babies R Us (and probably similar stores).  I’ve never personally used this, but heard they taste pretty good.  🙂
    • Ginger Root capsules:  Herb –  CAUTION:  These are a ‘natural blood thinner’ so be aware if you are on any other meds or have medical conditions contraindicating this.
  • SeaBands  Wrist bands that apply pressure on pressure points on the wrist.  They’re meant for sea-sickness, but work for any motion sickness.  I’ve never personally used this so can’t testify to it’s effectiveness, but it IS a commonly used remedy.  .
  • Green Apples: There’s something in the green apple that can help with nausea.  Cruise ships always sail with a large supply of these for that purpose.

Family Games on Road Trips

Photo Credit: Parityytirap CC Lic.

These are suggestions of games for long road trips and they actually came from several sources:

  • Games I played as a child
  • Games or printables I found online and wished I had known about when my children were younger
  • Games from a Travel book when my children were young

An internet search for car games for kids will bring up a million computer type games for purchase or download.  Those are NOT what I was trying to do with my kids all those years.  I was looking for interactive…family orie10259708_757905987567166_6039741453846557731_nnted…games.  That’s what I’ve listed here.

Basic supplies:  The beauty of these is that they don’t require you to bring a huge tote.  I bought:

  • 3×5 spiral notebooks….one per child –I purchase these in multi-packs at the local discounter (Big Lots often has them)
  • pencils and a handheld sharpener (preferably one that ‘contains’ all the shavings)
  • Printable pages if you want them
  • A clipboard may come in handy for the pencil/paper games??

With this list, you’re set!!


Idea From Pinterest:  If you need dice for a game, put them in a small clear container.  It can be shaken and the die “read” while staying contained in the container…no getting  lost or flying all over the car.

  • Car tags:  This is one I grew up playing – as did my kids.  We do this on EVERY vacation!!!  We list all the states we find on car tags throughout the vacation…The goal is to get all 50.  Here’s a printable checklist of the 50 states.  Print one for the family or one for each child.      Our Twist on This:  At the beginning of the vacation, everyone chooses the state they DON’T expect us to find.  From that point on, everyone is trying to find the states picked by others…the person who successfully chooses the “unfound” state is the winner.  What do they win?  Absolutely NOTHING but bragging rights.  🙂  Hint:  The person who chooses Hawaii or Alaska almost ALWAYS loses!!!  Shocked?  I’m telling the truth!!!
  • Car Bingo.  This is the game my kids had when they were young.

    Photo Credit: Dory Kornfeld on Flickr CC Lic.

    Here’s a printed version:   Car Bingo printout
    Another variation:  Scavenger

  • One Minute of Words  Use the 3×5 spiral notebooks for this one.  Pick a letter of the alphabet, set your phone timer while players write as many words as they can starting with that letter.  The winner is the person with the most legitimate words after 1 minute….
  • Make Me Laugh:  One person is the “jester” and the rest are “stonefaces”  The “jester” tries to make the “stonefaces” laugh or smile.  The jester can make faces, funny noises, tell jokes, do anything BUT touch (or tickle) the stonefaces.  The last stoneface to hold out is the next jester.  (My kids LOVED this game when they were 7-8-9 yrs old!  ha)
  • Word Stretch:  Choose a phrase like “Are we there yet?” or any phrase your kids use frequently  (“How many more miles” was a popular one at our house…).  Everyone makes as many words as they can from the letters in that phrase.
  • I Spy:  This game is fairly short-lived as you’re limited to items IN the car. (Outside scenery is constantly changing)  However, young children (ages 4-7) typically love this game and it’s good for about 20 min. of play.   The person chosen as “it” chooses an object, and says “I spy with my little eye something red.” Players guess what it is.  The one who guesses correctly gets the next turn.
  • Name That Tune: Players take turns humming songs….first with only 3 notes….then with 4…or 5+  until someone can

    Photo Credit: J_Alvez on

    “Name that Tune”. The one who answers correctly gets to hum the next song.

  • Tic Tac Toe:  This is a timeless game…and until kids figure out that it’s almost impossible to win, they really like to play (Shhhh…that’s our little secret)  Perhaps a printout is a little silly, but if you’re interested, it’s here:  Tic tac toe Boards
  • Rochambeau:  We probably all played this as kid…it’s the old “Rock, Paper. Scissors”.  All players clap fists together to the beat of Ro-Sham-Bo  and on “bo”, each player forms either rock, paper, or scissors.  (Form a “rock” with a fist; “paper” with a flat hand; “scissors” with first 2 fingers shaped like scissors).  Rules to determine the winner:  Paper covers rock.  Rock breaks scissors. Scissors cut paper.    We keep score to determine the winner.  🙂
  • The House on the Hill:   Make up stories about the people in the houses you pass.  Where do they work?  What are their pets and their names?  What are they having for supper tonight?  Where do they go on vacation? The better the imagination and the more details, the more fun/funnier the game is.
  • Lyrics for silly songs!  Only get this out if you’re ready for LOTS of giggles!!  🙂  Here are lyrics for several of these paradies:  Silly Songs for the Car.   Here’s some lyrics of some real songs that kids love to sing too:    Why not have the kids try their own hand at writing (or rewriting) their own lyrics to a song…get the creative skills flowing.  🙂
  • Thumb Wrestling  Boys love active competition games….but “active” in the backseat can go sour very quickly.  Thumb wrestling helps with the competitive spirit while still keeping things manageable.  🙂  Players hook the four fingers of their right hands together so both right thumbs are sticking straight up. The object is to pin down your opponent’s right thumb using your own thumb.
  • Color Safari This game works well for all ages!  Choose a basic color then list as  many items as possible of that color.  Variation:  Give each child a different color…
  • Lines and Dots:  This game is “old” but always a winner.  You can make your own sheets of dots or print one of these.   There’s one for the “big” kids and one for the “little” kids.  Lines and Dots Game  Take turns connecting 2 dots.  The person who ‘completes’ the square gets to put their initial in the box.  The one with the most boxes wins
  • City Train:  This was one of our favorites – it’s fun AND educational.  Take a ride on the ‘City Train’.  Start by naming a city

    Photo Credit: AMProSoftDesign on CC Lic.

    (expand this to include other places/locations):    Example:  Houston   The next person thinks of a place that begins with the last letter of Houston, – “N” New York….which would be followed by a “K” – Kansas City and so on.  Any player who can’t come up with a city has to get off the train.

  • Secret Highway Messages   Using the 3×5 spiral notebook write down the first letter from each of the  first 5-6-7 road signs you see.  Crack the code of those letters.   Each letter stands for a word. Example:  letters D, S, C, S, and A  stands for the secret message “Drive slowly, construction starts ahead.” Of course, someone else might come up with  “Dad, stop candy store ahead.”
  • Creative Competitions and Games:  With a little creativity, games can be created from just about anything.  If you need to get rid of the trash in the car, see who can smash it into the smallest paper ball, then throw it away.  If you want quiet time, hold a 5 minute quiet game.  If you need the back seat to be “cleaned up’ before the afternoon stop, race to see who can clean their section the quickest.   Children love competitions…use that to your advantage.

Gasoline: Is it Possible to Save?

Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin via Flickr

With the average price of gasoline soaring, you may be feeling the sting; but don’t lose hope for that summer trip just yet.  When I began this article, it was for the purpose of sharing places to find discounts on gasoline, then as I did some online research, I came across ideas for conserving fuel once you have purchased it. I’ve compiled the info from several reputable sources to help you save some money. Some you may already know, but I’l list them all anyway.

Obviously, some aspects of fuel costs you CAN’T change – cost of fuel, number of miles you have to drive, etc.  however in the midst of all these variables, there are still  a few things you can control.


Gas Price Websites and Apps:  Use a website/app to find out gas prices in your destination BEFORE you go.

Why would this information be important?  While the actual price for the gasoline doesn’t vary much, the state taxes DO.  Sometimes, crossing state lines will show a change of  .10 – .20  (or more) per gallon.  These apps will alert you to these spikes or decreases in fuel taxes, giving you the opportunity to choose what side of the state line you purchase your fuel.

Also, there are times when just getting out of a metro area will save you  from .10 – .30/gal.

Knowledge give you the ability to make good budgeting decisions.

There ARE Discounts for the Savvy Shopper:

  • Cash Discounts: Since businesses are charged to process credit card payments, they offer discounts to customers paying with cash.  This can be .03 – .10/gallon.
  • Cash Back for Credit Card purchases of gasoline:  These would be with your regular credit cards but the offers change quarterly (or monthly).  Check the websites for your cards.  Also, check the frequency they pay out.  Quarterly payouts will give you the most value for your dollar.
  • Gas Company Credit Cards MAY offer savings when you use their card:  They may begin and stop at different intervals, so do your research to find this savings!
  • Costco & Sam’s Club sell gas at a discount. Consider their annual fees as you determine if they will be a savings for you.  Experts tell us we need to drive more than 12,000 miles/yr. to come out ahead on these.
  • Wal-Mart Murphy’s gas stations offer a discount when you use a Wal-Mart gift card at the pump.  It’s an  immediate discount at the pump of  .03 – .10/gal.  There’s no waiting for a check to arrive.
  • WalMart Credit Cards offers an even greater discount when using that card.  Weigh the discount against the financial pitfalls of using a credit card.  If you don’t pay the bill completely when it comes in, the interest will negate any discount you might have gotten.  This is a nice discount, IF you use it wisely!!
  • Some hotels are beginning to offer gas cards to families who stay with them – to encourage families to travel in spite of higher gas prices. These will be advertised on their website.  Evaluate the costs of the hotel with the savings to make sure it’s really a good deal.  These offers come from higher end hotels.

NOTE:  Applying for multiple credit cards will have an effect on your credit score so make wise decisions in this area…chose carefully and sparingly.


Photo Credit: on Flickr CC Lic.

TEN Tips to Improve Fuel Economy    (Sources: Driving Skills for Life – Ford Motor Company;;   ALL trusted sites!

  1. Slow down and watch speed – estimates that for every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph, you will spend an extra .20/gal on fuel. (decreases gas mileage)  Pumping the accelerator or jack-rabbit driving costs you money.Use cruise control (on flat roads ONLY) and aim for a constant speed when possible.
  2. Accelerate and brake smoothly – Accelerating smoothly and braking softly conserves fuel. Fast starts, weaving in and out of traffic and hard braking wastes fuel. Maintain a safe distance between vehicles to allow for more time to brake and accelerate gradually.
  3. Limit the idling when possible – Today’s engines don’t need a warm up before driving.  Even in cold weather, idling for 30 seconds is enough. When Consumer Reports left a Buick Lucerne idling/warming up for 10 minutes, it burned about 1/8 gallon of gas.  According to the CA Energy Commission, you can warm an engine just by driving it gently.  Idling in traffic is also a fuel waster.  For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses the same amount of fuel as a mile’s drive.  Certain GPS units study traffic trends and can help improve your route to minimize idling in traffic.
  4. Check your tires – Properly inflated tires (refer to your vehicle’s manual)  increase fuel economy.  For every 1  psi drop in pressure, gas mileage decreases by .3%, ( The Toyota Camry,  according to Consumer Reports, experienced a 1.3 mpg loss in fuel economy when its tires were under-inflated by 10 psi.   NOTE:  This becomes even more crucial as the weather gets colder: For every drop of 10° F in temperature,  tires will lose one pound of pressure  (NPR Car Talk). Replacing a worn tire when  necessary could save you more than $100 a year in fuel as well.  (  Bottom Line:  Check the air pressure in your tires before heading out on a trip.
  5. Be kind to your vehicle – Proper maintenance will increase fuel efficiency
    • Keep the engine tuned-up
    • Keep wheels aligned
    • Replace air filters
    • Check and top off fluid levels
    • Replace worn shocks  (Personal Note:  The last time we did this, we immediately noticed a SIGNIFICANT increase in gas mileage.)
    • Replace the oxygen sensor   The sensor monitors the amount of oxygen in  the exhaust and adjust the air/fuel mixture accordingly. If it’s functioning improperly, the car will run poorly and waste gas  (as much as 40 % on gas mileage)  (
  6. Read & Follow Your Owner’s Manual:  Use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer to keep the engine performing efficiently.  Not all vehicles need the high-octane fuel with its extra additives. It’s .10 – .30/gallon more expensive so don’t buy it if your car doesn’t need it. The same thing applies to the oil.  Using oil that is too thick (wrong grade) will will cause the engine to function less efficiently.  The Federal Trade Commission suggests finding motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the performance symbol.
  7. Travel light – A fully loaded trunk will decrease gas mileage.  An extra 100 lbs in the trunk reduces a typical car’s fuel economy by 1-2% (approx. .04-.08/gal)  A fully loaded roof rack can decrease fuel economy even more – by 2-5%.  This Is Significant on a long trip!!  Even a decrease of a few pounds can make a difference.
  8. Selectively use the heater or air conditioning – Using heating or a/c only when you really need it will reduce the load on the engine. I’m not saying to be uncomfortable…I’m saying to THINK before automatically turning it on.  If temperatures allow, use the vent.  When you use the A/C, ALWAYS open the windows at first to blow out the hot air as this will decrease the “load” on the a/c and reduce fuel consumption. (
  9. Close windows at high speeds – Don’t drive with the windows open at speeds over 50 mph. This increases aerodynamic drag and lowers fuel economy.  NOTE:  If weather allows, opening windows at speeds below 50 mph can increase gas mileage
  10. Limit the number of stops:  Several short trips taken from a cold start uses twice as much fuel as one trip of the same distance when the engine is warm.  (Federal Trade Commission)  Avoid an excessive  number of stops when possible.

Using these tips is not going to decrease your travel budget by GREAT amounts, but it might save you enough to splurge on something else later.   Every penny counts when you’re on a budget.  🙂

Silly Songs for the Car

I wish I could take credit for these, but I can’t. They came from a Rand McNally Kid’s Atlas and Activity Book we bought for our children years ago. I always included them in the Travel Journals I made for the kids for every vacation (when they were young).  (Thank you to a commenter below who gave me a ‘source’ for this as our book was put in a garage sale years ago…all I had were the printouts in my children’s keepsake books.)  I reprint them here but want to be careful to give credit where it is due. 🙂


The Twelve Days of Our Trip
(to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”)

On the first day of our trip, this is what I saw– the baby throw up in the car.
On the second day of our trip, this is what I saw– two pick-up trucks and the baby throw up in the car.

Third day: three dead skunks
Fourth day: four minivans
Fifth day: five back seat fights
Sixth day: six broken headlights
Seventh day: seven miles of road work
Eighth day: eight cars a-speeding
Ninth day: nine railroad crossings
Tenth day: ten roadside rest stops
Eleventh day: eleven cop cars hiding
Twelfth day: twelve bumper stickers

Backseat Border Blues
(to the tune of “This Land is Your Land”)
This side is my side; that side is your side.
Let’s get along now; this is a long ride.
You see this line here-please don’t cross over.
One side for you and one for me.

I had my eyes close-faked I was sleeping.
So you got greedy and started creeping.
Try that again, Bub. and you’ll be weeping.
One side for you and one for me.

Just like I warned you-now you are crying.
And dad is angry – now you are lying.
You had it coming, there’s no denying.
One side for you and one for me.

99 Miles to Go on Our Trip
(to the tune of “99 Bottles”)
99 miles to go on our trip.
99 miles to go.
Step on the gas. I think we can pass.
98 miles to go on our trip.Road Trip by stevepetmonkey - Road over a hill with trees.
(Keep repeating until you get to “0 miles to go”….or until someone kicks you out of the car…whichever comes first)




Photo Credit: 3ric15 on Flickr CC Lic.

Don’t Get Out of the Fast Lane
(to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”)
Don’t get out of the fast lane.
Don’t let up on the gas.
I can’t believe all the cars we’ve passed.
Wherever we’re going we’re going there fast.
And its zoom, zoom, zoom down the freeway.
But don’t break the speed limit please.
Or the friend-ly Highway Patrol
Will request your keys!!

Are We Lost?
(to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?”)
Are we lost? Are we lost?
Yes we are. Yes we are.
Someone get a map out. Someone get a map out.
Find the way. Find the way

Battle Hymn of the Brat
(to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”)
Our minivan is loaded to the roof with games and toys.
We’ve all had snacks and found a station everyone enjoys.
The kids are all behaving well; we’ve hardly made a noise.
But something’s not quite right.

I’m not having any fun yet.
I’m not having any fun yet.
I’m not having any fun yet.
This trip is dragging on.

We’ve hit every tourist trap from Maine to Monterey.
Miami to Mount Rushmore. Plymouth Rock to Frisco Bay.
We wait in never-ending lines forever and a day.
It’s time to take a rest


Now you might think that I’m spoiled, that my attitude is bad.
You wouldn’t be the first if my complaining makes you mad.
In fact you’d be the third, behind my Mother and my Dad.
But I still feel like this:


Kids and Road Trips Part 1: Planning

Photo Credit: Brittany Randolph CC Lic.

Along with all the valuable aspects of a family road trip are the challenges that arise when families spend so much time together, in the enclosed space of a vehicle.  My experiences, both as the child growing up and as the mom responsible for vacation planning taught me quite a bit.

As the mom, I was determined to come up with a solution to the “riding in the car all day long” blues.  I developed quite an extensive list of “good ideas” and “really bad ideas that seemed good at the time”.  These ideas, both the good ones, and maybe a few of the “flops” may help you to make these days a little easier.

THE BIGGEST LESSON I LEARNED WAS: Planning and structuring that time minimizes the irritation points that can happen so quickly on driving days.

In this era of videos and computers in our cars, that might seem like an easy fix to the doldrums of a day in the car.  My opinion, however, is a bit more skeptical.  I really didn’t want the kids spending 10 straight hours watching videos.  I never allowed that at home, and I didn’t want it happening on vacation either. Not only does it turn brains to slush, but it also negates the family time of a vacation. My kids still got their video time…but it was  limited, not constant.

The old adage that I’ve used so often on this blog applies here

Fail to Plan…and You Plan to Fail.

The  Key is to occupy their minds.  An occupied child doesn’t whine, fuss with siblings,  etc…  but to keep them occupied takes a plan.

The Plan:

  • Leave at a time that is conducive to sleeping:  I’ve known families who begin their long trips at 10 pm….The kids sleep all night long and wake up the next morning

    Photo Credit: Emran Kassim on Flickr CC Lic.

    at their destination.  That’s great if it works for you…. but it would have never worked for my family.  Instead, we left home on the first day at 5 am.  Our little angels were scooped up and placed in the car, still in their pj’s, and they usually slept for the first 150 miles!!!  (Driving days are measured in “miles”, not “hours”.  )

  • Breakfast in a Bag.  We began this idea several years ago and it works great for mornings when we either have just left home, or stayed at accommodations without a breakfast provided. (National Parks, et al.) It also is a great “time-user” which is our goal in occupying minds.  🙂snacks for travel

    Breakfast in a Bag is a paper sack (though you could put it in anything) that contains various breakfast items such as muffins, fresh fruit, individual fruit/applesauce, cereal {my kids always preferred it dry} bagels, pop tarts or fruit/granola bars.  Personalize it to your family’s likes.  Everyone always had their water bottles, so that was taken care of.  I topped the sack off with plastic spoons (if needed)  and napkins, and we were set.

I have a few old cloth placements that stay in the glove compartment of the car, and we use those as lap towels when we eat in the car. When we’re finished, the crumbs can be shaken out the window and the car stays a little cleaner. 🙂

  • Finally…..I am “sold” on this idea, because of the success it has given us.  I LOOSELY schedule the day…  Should I repeat “loosely”?  I have a general idea of the “suggestions” I’m going to make to my kids on Monday morning….Tuesday morning….Wednesday afternoon, etc..  Though I don’t use a timer or stop watch, ha!  I know how long each activity will occupy them….and I’ve planned the day.  They don’t even know that I’ve planned it out.  They think that their ‘really cool mom’ just happened to come up with another ‘really cool idea’ at the exact moment  they were tired of the last ‘really cool idea’.   No need to tell them any differently.

What Sorts of Things Do I “Suggest”?

  • Read Aloud Time: I read aloud from a chapter book. If possible, I find a children’s classic that relates to our vacation (I’m an avid children’s literature guru, so I thoroughly enjoy this “hunt”) 🙂
  • Family Games on Road Trips:  This post describes quite a few car games.  Add this to your personal list of favorites.
  • Family “Bonding” Time: We may read from a favorite joke book (or Shel Silverstein poems) or just talk (great when they were teens and talking time was so rare) Sometimes we would get into a “giggle-fest” (an invention of our own making).  This can be anything you want it to be.
  • “Writing Stuff”:  Coloring books and colored pencils, (NEVER crayons that would inevitably be left in a hot car….) handheld pencil sharpener.

    Photo Credit: Barb Watson CC Lic.

    Travel Journals (I’ll write a post on that someday)    Puzzle books (I love Usborne books)

  • Card Games;
  • Pen and paper games like Tic Tac Toe  (bring a spiral notebook to keep the paper ‘contained’)
  • Tents!!! When my kids were younger, they LOVED to build tents in the backseat and would play in them for hours!!! It was ok with Dad as long as it didn’t obstruct his view 🙂 I always brought an old sheet on vacation.  (It folds thin and has MANY uses)
  • Individual Reading Time: Silent reading has been a regular part of our home since the kids learned to read. Though they were not always ‘readers’ by desire, I required it of them – and continued that during vacations. They always get a snack during this time, so that made the idea a little more appealing.

Photo Credit: Brecken Pool on Flickr CC Lic.

As I said before, I know the approx time each of these activities will “occupy minds” (reading aloud – 45 min.; puzzles —  30 min.;  a new car game is good for another 30 min.;  etc…) and I “loosely” schedule accordingly.

NOTE:  Many times, videos were pulled out right before lunch.  We were often looking for a rest area for a picnic and if we had to drive a little past lunchtime in search of one, the video would occupy them and keep those hunger pangs at bay.   (Just Fyi, during all those years and family vacations, though there were sometimes CLAIMS of ‘starving to death’  before the lunchtime stop, no one ever actually did.  We have a 100% “return home with everyone alive” rating.  🙂  )

After lunch was Quiet Time.  This lasts 1 hour and is something we have done in our home since the kids gave up naps around the age of 3.  We continued it on vacations.  Perhaps, it’s importance is magnified on vacation when we are with each other 24/7 and that “personal” time is sooo important.  They can read, ‘think’, stare out the window…whatever they want….they just have to be “quiet”.  It’s the all-important “down” time. Sometimes they (or I) would drift off to sleep – which made the hours pass even quicker.  🙂

The remainder of the afternoon was for videos –or backseat tents….unless I felt a need to “suggest” more activities.  As I said, everything is loosely planned/scheduled.

Schedule:  (I found this while going through my vacation records from years past.  This was a trip to FL when the kids were pre-teens.  It will give you a general idea of how I planned it.  Remember, this is a LOOSELY followed schedule… no stop watches or  timers.)

  • 5 am Leave home  (kids dressed in pajama pants and tshirts)
  • 7:30 (approx.)  Everyone begins to wake up!  🙂  (except for Dad who has been  awake since 3:30 this morning)
  • 8:00 (or when we find a rest stop)  Stop at a rest stop to get dressed and prepared for the day; go to restroom and get breakfast items out of the trunk
  • 15 min. later:  (OK…honestly, it usually took longer, but I can dream, can’t I??)   back on the road with breakfast in the car
  • 9:00 Puzzle books  (My kids LOVED puzzles/brain twisters at this age)
  • 9:30  Family game – car game
  • Sometime mid-morning – probably around 10:30: Fuel stop – everyone to the restroom (REQUIRED)  and to stretch legs
  • After Fuel stop:  Family Reading time – read 1-2 chapters out loud
  • 11:30 (time approx) Joke book (because of the age of my kids at this time, they were “in” to joke books.  We brought a couple on the vacation)
  • 12:00  (or until we find a rest stop for lunch)  videos or computer/phone games to fill the gap…
  • Lunch stop/restrooms/refill water bottles
  • 1 hr later??:  Back on the road – QUIET TIME for 1 hr.
  • 1 hr later:  Travel Journals
  • 30 min. later: Silent reading – with a snack
  • Videos or computer games until we get to our destination

This was just one day on one vacation, with age appropriate activities planned.  Of course I have no idea (memory) how closely we actually followed this schedule, but it was a guide that I assume we followed “loosely”.  🙂

They always got  to watch their videos or play the computer games.  They just didn’t get to be a recluse and non-communicative with the family for 10-12 hours while feeding their brains on mindless activities.  This idea of planning worked well for us for many years….  The plan was modified as they grew older and their needs/interests changed, however, the basic idea of mom having another ‘really cool idea’ up her sleeve never ceased.

Kids and Road Trips Part 2.

Weekend Getaways

Public Domain photo

The difference between a ‘vacation’ and a ‘getaway’ is distance. How far is it from where you live?  Walt Disney World is a ‘vacation’ to my family, whereas to someone living in Tampa, FL, it might be a ‘weekend getaway’.  🙂  Planning a weekend getaway is the same as planning a vacation…just on a smaller scale.  It’s less complex planning, involves less travel time and is certainly less expensive, but other than that…  the SAME!!

A Weekend Getaway may be the solution for families on an extremely tight budget  OR families who can’t get away from work or commitments for longer than 2 or 3 days.

If budget and finances are tight for your family, take heart! There are STILL ways to make these getaways financially feasible and travel without breaking the bank.

These tips can help.

  1. Choose a destination nearby.  You need to be able to get to your destination within 4-5 hours at the most.  Added financial benefit, the closer your destination, the less you’ll spend on fuel.  Getaways can be anywhere…a metro area…a state park….. a quaint little town.  Are you fortunate enough to live close to a National Park? (What luck!! 🙂  )   See a map of your area with a different eye than you’ve ever seen it before.  On the map, draw a circle at a 200 –  300 mile radius of your home.  Look within that circle for someplace with a few things to do and a place to relax and  enjoy with your family. Remember, you’ll only have 2 days there…it doesn’t have to be breeming with activities…a few options will be fine.
  2. Now, it’s time to look for a place to stay. hotel room- double

    Are you planning to “go and do” the entire time?  If so, then all you really need is a clean and safe place to sleep….  If your goal is to relax and enjoy time at the hotel, then invest a little more money on getting a few more “nice amenities” there.

  3. Tips for finding inexpensive accommodations:  Start at  Finding Frugal Accommodations to find an economical place to stay.  In urban or resort areas,  Groupon or  Living Social  may have deals worth considering.  These are typically for weekend stays as urban areas are trying to fill their rooms after business travelers leave.  Check out other local deals on Groupon too.  CAUTION:  Most people probably know this, but these are pre-paid and non-refundable.  After they expire, they can still be used for the purchase value, but you lose the ‘coupon’ or discount value.  Always read the fine print on the information page before purchasing.  For more information on vacationing with these check out Vacation By Groupon.
  4. Search online for coupons/discounts on activities and dining.  Just remember that a coupon only saves you money if it’s for something you were planning to do all along. Doing or buying something BECAUSE you have a coupon “costs” money.
  5. Finally,  Make plans for your days.  A ‘plan’ is how you keep the budget under control. Make your ‘plan’ fit your ‘budget’.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that amusement or water parks, museums, etc.. will cost more money than a state park.  For less expensive options, consider hikes through National or State parks, historical sites, long picnic lunches in beautiful places, or walks around the area.   Browsing through shops CAN be free…You control that one!  🙂  If your hotel has a pool, an afternoon or evening there is fun, great family time and FREE!

MEALS:  Meals are probably the one area where you control the budget more than any other.  How tight is your budget?  If you have a little money to work with, as mentioned above, Groupons/LivingSocial offers can help.  Also check online for coupons or offers.  If money is extremely tight, bring an ice chest with sandwich items and have picnics in beautiful places.  Make the picnic PART of the trip experience by spending the entire afternoon enjoying your surroundings.  If you need to bring along hotdogs that can be fixed in the hotel microwave or a camp stove or grill in a park, (if permitted) ….that’s ok.  Add a family favorite homemade side item and you have the makings of a very nice evening.   Maybe you’d rather bring meals you’ve prepared at home to heat in the hotel microwave or on a camp stove.  As I said, food/eating is the one area you have the most control over spending….    Honestly, any meals/food you bring from home isn’t really an ‘expense’ at all…. Wouldn’t you be eating if you had stayed home?  🙂  Just do whatever you need to do to this category to make the budget manageable and get your family on that weekend getaway.

I ALWAYS bring along snack items and 2 liter beverages, lemonade or drink mixes and of course, microwave popcorn (our family’s favorite snack) rather than stopping for over-priced treats at vendors or convenience stores.  I shop for sales on these items prior to our trip….even then, I have an eye on the budget.  🙂

Remember, family trips are really all about family time, not expensive activities or luxurious accommodations.  You CAN have a pleasant time, enjoy your family and get away from the stresses of your everyday life for a few days.  And you can do it on a  budget!!  🙂

Other Tips of Budget Travel