Picking up snacks and drinks at typical gas stops during your family road trip is what those convenient marts are counting on. However, you can still stay on budget and enjoy your trip with just a bit of extra planning. Here are my best tips for overcoming budget pitfalls in the area of food costs.
Pack a Cooler for Drinks
And for mother’s sanity, don’t get those little pouch drinks with straws poked in the holes where one squeeze sends juice squirting all over the inside of your vehicle and leaves your kid sticky. Give everyone a minimize-the-mess bottle in advance of the trip…be it a no-drip style sippy cup for the car seat crowd, or a pop top or straw bottle for the teens or driver. Everyone needs their own beverage container. Then you can pack jugs of water or juice in a cooler. It is always cheaper to refill (not to mention kinder to the environment) than to have throwaway bottled water.
Pack non-crushables and items that won’t melt in containers — like a sturdy box that fits under the seat, or in the cooler. Good road snacks include trail mix, dried fruits, roll-ups, dry cereal like Cheerios, nuts. Small portion bags, even at a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco will still cost you more per ounce than a larger container where you portion it out and refill your own baggie or small container. Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, apples, small cutie oranges, and other fresh produce are excellent and healthy additions to the cooler. Choose snacks that are easy to eat on the road.
Think Outside the Drive-Thru
Warehouse clubs are also economical lunch stops. When my daughter and I made a recent road trip to Chicago, we stopped at a Sam’s Club in-route and ate lunch at the club. She had a hot dog and drink combo and I got a pre-made salad with chicken. Both cost us much less than a hot dog alone would have been at a gas stop or a salad selection at a typical fast food restaurant. What we saved even let us enjoy an ice cream and fruit parfait at Sam’s that was excellent. We could stretch our legs, enjoy a reasonably priced lunch, grab a couple items we needed, and get back on the road quickly. And their gas prices are not bad, either. Of course, you must have a Sam’s Club membership to use this tip, but you could also stop at a regular grocery store, as well.
Treats are Okay, Too!
Our weakness is ice cream; our family loves it. During hot weather summer road trips, ice cream can be very refreshing. We will often do this one at the golden arches and add in the bathroom (they ARE known for some of the most clean bathrooms according to my husband whose on the road sales route made him in-the-know in this area). We have been known to eat our own sandwiches in the Mickey D’s parking lot, and then reward ourselves with a sundae or cone. Another way we have indulged an ice cream at better than gas mart prices, has been to pick up ice cream at a Dollar Store or General Dollar. They have the same coolers and selections as most gas stations at about half the cost for your drumstick or Fudgecicle fix. We admit, ice cream is a frill, but in our family it can almost be its own food group.