Smart Ways to Save On Your Summer Road Trip

How to keep your budget from steering off course.

How to keep your budget from steering off course.
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Frugal foodies use mobile apps like Yelp (available on Android and iPhone), which maintains an extensive database of restaurants throughout the country and enables users to filter by price. Budget eaters also like MenuPages (available on Android and iPhone), which compiles some 30,000 menus with prices per item in major metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Keep the kids entertained during the ride. Children tend to get stir-crazy, but you can engage your kids during the drive with no-cost activities. While many parents purchase DVDs for their backseat companions, Amy Graff and her husband borrow audio books from the library that the whole family can enjoy. "We want our kids to feel like they're part of planning the trip, so we let them pick out the books," says Graff, a San Francisco mother of two who blogs about family travel at

Meanwhile, travel writer Christopher Elliott talks to his kids about historical sites they pass, which he says makes the road trip educational without the children feeling lectured.

[See: Free Mobile Apps for Cheap Summer Travel.]

Nonetheless, too much time in the car can lead to trouble. "We always plan for vacations where most of the time isn't spent on the road," Elliott says. "If you're doing nothing but driving, the kids will be doing nothing but complaining."

Discover cheap entertainment. Taking to the outdoors for a family hike, picnic or a day at the beach are great ways to have budget-friendly fun. Looking for a taste of local culture? Time your trip around festivals, concerts and other community gatherings using websites such as, and, which offer city-specific event calendars and deals. You may be surprised by what you find, according to Graff. "We even came across a tractor parade one time," she says with a laugh.

You can also score discounts by "liking" a store or restaurant's Facebook page, following restaurants on Twitter or checking in on FourSquare. Also, "Don't be shy," Gavin says, as asking locals where you can find cheap entertainment is a great way to discover hidden gems.

Buy a reasonably priced keepsake. You don't need purchase an "I Love New York" T-shirt for each family member to remember you had fun in the Big Apple. After all, souvenirs are meant to conjure fond memories of a trip – not remorseful purchases. Amy Graff's kids, for example, collect pressed pennies at each city they visit on their road trips. "They're cheaper than other collectors' items, and you can find them pretty much anywhere," Graff says.