6 Tips to Save Money While Traveling America with Kids
People have asked us how much it costs to travel to every state in America and it is a hard question to answer. For us it costs almost the exact same that living in a 2300 square foot house cost. It might seem like we are living a really expensive lifestyle because we see so many great places, like museums,zoos, and historical sites, but in reality we spend very little on our family fun. Playgrounds and capitol building tours are always free, which is why we visit them where ever we go. Packing a lunch costs the same in a large house or in Washington DC. Yes, we have found the cost of goods is close to uniform across the country, so if something is a little more expensive in one place, then something else is probably a little cheaper. The reason it is almost impossible to answer the question how much does it costs to travel to every state in America is because it largely depends on the traveler. If you are the type to try to save a dime anytime it is possible, then it will be cheaper than for someone who spends without a worry. Since we are frugal travelers, who like to save money, we thought we would share some of our money saving tips we use while traveling America with kids.
1 Discount Cards- We use Goodsam and Passport America on our adventure. Originally we decided to only purchase the Goodsam card because although it only saves you 10%, it works all the time with almost no restrictions plus it can save you money on purchases at Camping World. After missing the Passport America discount two or three times though we decided to buy this discount card too. It has restrictions and can’t be used sometimes, which is different for every camp. Since it saves you 50% though you only have to use it once or twice for it to pay for itself. One camp let us use it everyday for a week and we saved $122 at the one camp! The other type of discount card we get lots of is Grocery Store cards. Each store has a different card and we have a ton of them now after grocery shopping in half the states, but we still get one at each new store because we like to save money.
2 ASTC Membership- If you are going to travel extensively with kids, then getting a membership at a museum close to you could save you thousands of dollars. Check your local museums websites under the membership section and look for the benefits. It should mention reciprocal entrance to other museums, or look up ASTC directly and find a museum close to you on their list. With one of these memberships you will get free entrance to hundreds of museums, as long as you are more than 90 miles from your home and the museum where you purchased the membership. There can be restrictions (like only four free people when you are a family of five) and sometimes the list changes and a museum might drop off. If you followed our adventure then you have seen us visiting tons of museums across America and after visiting museums in more than half the states, we have only been turned away from one museum! Don’t forget to visit local free museums as well (because we get in free to all these museums we try to make a small donation or purchase a souvenir from the gift shop). This is probably the best membership we have purchased with the greatest savings for the amount of fun and education we get from these museums.
3 Zoo Membership- This one isn’t as good as the ASTC membership because you still have to pay half price to get into the zoo, but half price is still a good deal. When we were visiting Yellowstone I wanted to let the kids see grizzly bears and wolves without the danger of finding them in the wild. Luckily there is a Wolf and Grizzly Education Center located just outside of the park. They take in the habituated animals that would otherwise have been put down, then they educate people about the animals and even have the bears test bear-proof items. Well I purchased the membership because I thought it was such a good thing for them to do and was pleasantly surprised to find out they also had a reciprocal membership list. We love visiting zoos and this membership has gotten us into several zoos at half price. We don’t go to zoos often, but are glad we got this membership when we do.
4 Saving on the Campsite- We don’t particularly like boon-docking in parking lots and usually just get a campsite. This doesn’t mean we just randomly pick one though. We look around for a good deal, call several for prices, look for free campsites, check Goodsam and Passport America, and then decide on a camp. Sometimes we stay a full week to take advantage of a good rate or if an area is pricey we shorten our stay a little. It is important to be flexible when you are traveling, so try to save a little at each camp and it adds up. If we are going to stay only few days then we don’t pay for full hookups and instead opt for just power and water, sometimes we even just dry camp (if it is available) when we are planning to be gone most of the time. Don’t be afraid to ask for savings either, at one camp I asked to work on their website and take some photographs and we received a free week. At another state park I asked at the last minute about Goodsam and received 10% off even though they had just joined and didn’t even have a sign or sticker saying they were part of the network! You never know where the savings will be.
These two camps were completely free!
5 Eating at Restaurants- I have done the math and it is cheaper to eat at home than at a restaurant, but that doesn’t mean we never go out to eat. We used to go to a restaurant every week or two before we started our adventure and we still do. It will save you lots of money though if you plan ahead and pack a lunch. We do this almost everywhere we go and on travel days. Yes it is tempting to just pull over and grab a bite to eat, but if you really want to save money then bring a lunch and some snacks. We search the internet looking for great local businesses to visit and love eating local, but if there isn’t a great looking restaurant we just make dinner. If you have kids then they will constantly be asking for food, so we always have some snacks handy. While we were walking around in New York City we could have eaten out all three meals, instead we ate a packed lunch and some snacks. Of course we did choose to get pizza in the city for dinner and it did cost us $40, but eating all our meals for the day in the city would have been more than a hundred dollars! We just load up our hydration packs with water and food, then we take the road less traveled!
TETON Sports Oasis 1100 2 Liter Hydration Backpack Perfect for Biking, Hiking, Climbing, and Hunting; Bright Blue
TETON Sports Trailrunner 2 Liter Hydration Backpack Perfect for Biking, Running, Hiking, Climbing, and Hunting; Black
6 National Park Pass- We love visiting the National Parks and if you are planning on seeing more than one of them it makes sense to get a pass. The America the Beautiful Pass will pay for itself after just a few visits to these wonderful sites. We lucked out though and took our adventure with a fourth grader, so he has an every kid in a park pass that was free! If you are military, a senior, or disabled there is a special pass that can be acquired. No matter how you get your pass, it will pay for itself with just a few uses and you might get hooked on visiting these amazing places. After just a few National Parks we started looking for any National Park sites near us to visit and have yet to be disappointed by one. From the North Cascades to the Wright Brothers Memorial we have learned something at every one. Most offer a free junior ranger program, but some do charge a couple of dollars for the book. It is still worth it though because the kids learn so much and the adults enjoy getting out to see the sites.
Well those are some of the ways we save money while traveling across this great country. Some of these things have saved us more than others, but I think the ones that have saved us the most are the ASTC membership and the National Park Pass. One museum we recently visited would have cost us $130 to visit, but instead we got in free! All of these savings tips have helped us save money on our adventure and we hope that they help you too. If we missed some epic savings technique please let us know because we love saving money. As you plan your travels or explore this great country, just remember it’s the experiences that count, not how much you spent to get them. Spend less and travel more, just don’t forget to stop to smell the flowers occasionally which is free.
Here are some links to the things we mentioned:
Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums
Free Campsites an online tool we use
National Park Pass site
Disclaimer- All of the opinions offered here are just the authors opinions and shouldn’t be misconstrued to be advise or legal consul. It is important that you do your own due diligence and research because things change and it is up to you to make sure that the museums, passes, and reciprocal memberships still work. Furthermore the author takes no responsibility for what happens on your trip or during your travels and it is up to you to protect your families finances and safety. All of these opinions are given freely as just opinions though there is a material connection between some of the links and the author of this article. If you click on some of the links and make a purchase, then the author does receive a commission as an affiliate marketer. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps to support the running of this website.