We did a 10-week family trip this year with our 5 kids. We went to 11 National Parks, museums, Disney, State parks, and zoos. It was amazing on so many levels. It was inspiring, restful, adventurous and fun. In the end, our out of pocket expense was $1850. 

Trip Planning Myth #1: Perfect is the Goal

“Go big or go home.” “If you are going to do it, do it right.” That’s the exact opposite of my approach to trip planning or life.  Nike’s catchphrase is Just Do It. Mine might be, “Just get started.”

While we had an amazing trip, at points, it was also stressful, rushed, controlled chaos and horrible timing. It’s crazy hard to plan for a 10 week trip with 5 kids. There was a flurry of appointments, planning, packing, and prep to get done before we left. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was excited but also overwhelmed. In the moment it was stressful. Now six months after the trip, I don’t regret that stress for a second.

We lived and travel through Europe for over four years. We created a rule during our Europe travel that we would only see 1 sight a day. There is a temptation to do it all. 15 sights in 3 rushed days. Our one sight a day rule gave us two options. Spend more days in a spot (and inevitably have to skip cities) or skip sights. We did a lot of both. We traveled slower and skipped a lot of amazing sights.

Instead of being sad that the trip wasn’t “perfect”, we would just smile and say, “Guess we will need to come back and see that next time.” We left cities half unseen and explored knowing that we will be happy to return.

This trip was no exception. We skipped cities. We left things unseen and unexplored. We planned to return. Not everything was age appropriate for our kids. There were a lot of hikes, museums and tours that we simply smiled and said, “We’ll do that in 10 years.” There were also a lot of attractions and things we did that were really fun for our kids now but they might find boring in 10 years.

kids pass for science museum

Trip Planning Myth #2: Spending More Money = A Better Trip

Expensive isn’t an effective goal. 

I heard a great quote the other day: 

“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.”

― Tim O’Reilly

This is an amazing perspective on life, business and personal finances. But it also applies to creating amazing life experiences. The goal is an amazing experience. Spending a ton of money isn’t the goal. When we start with the focused goal, we can often find multiple paths to that goal.

Trip Planning Myth #3: Start with a Budget or Destination

When you planning an amazing adventure, know your goals. Know WHY you want to take a trip.

Don’t start with travel books or sites. Don’t start planning on the internet. Look at your life goals and your values. And see what need this trip fills for you. What you really need to get out of it? Are you looking for rest? Do you want to create space for creativity? Are you hoping to learn about new cultures and ways of looking at things? Do you need adventure and to push your boundaries? Do you need connection with people you love or want to meet new people? Plan your trip to optimize your goals.

There are a lot of paths to get that outcome. Spending more money isn’t the goal.

We had some really specific goals for this last trip: connection, adventure, rest, reflection, dreaming and planning. We planned our trip and budget accordingly.

Utah national parks camping

We are starting to plan out our 2019 trips and the goals are very different for 2019. The itinerary, accommodation, budget, and activities will reflect that.

Now to the numbers and a few frugal hacks!

Our total Vacation expenses included anything that was specific to traveling. Gas, camping fees, eating out, museums, snacks, parking costs, spare tire. It didn’t include anything we normally pay, like our cell phone bill or property tax (but you can see below all our other normal expenses that still happened during this trip.)

Our total trip cost was $4500. Note: we did manually enter all our expenses, and while I did doublecheck, I’m sure a few were missed!

10 week road trip budget


Frugal Hack #1: Renting our house: outcome $2650

While we traveled, we rented out our home fully furnished to a traveling nurse. It worked out amazing! She took great care of our place. The side benefit was that we had someone to take care of the yard and grass and keep an eye on things. I might have been a little nervous with our house sitting empty for 10 weeks. She paid us $2650 and we put that directly to our trip cost.

Frugal Tip #2: Christmas gift card $400

One family member gives us a visa gift card for Christmas each year so we can go do something fun with the kids. Between minimalism and having a small-ish home, we greatly appreciate experiences over more toys. This year we saved it to pay for a yearly membership to the San Degio zoo. We were able to do 4 days at the zoo while we were there. Our family member was thrilled their gift gave us all such a cool experience. It was my younger kids’ first time ever at a zoo! We had enough left over to do a few other fun things as well.

Frugal Tip #3: Credit card gift cards

One of our credit cards will let you trade points for gift cards and they give a better trade value. So $40 of points becomes a $50 gift card. We cashed out a few of our points for fast food casual places we like or coffee shops. If you plan to eat out more during a road trip, having a few gift cards can help.

Frugal Tip #4: Vary the price point of camping

Your camping experience doesn’t have to be all luxury campground or all state parks. We would switch it up. Some nights we would do the $50 campground with full hookups, wifi, a pool, playground, laundry and cell phone service. This was for the kids and adults. And occasionally we would do the $15-$20 a night state or National park campground. Because we traveled in a pop-up camper with 5 little kids, we didn’t do any free spots, or parking lots. But I met a lot of travelers with hard-sided campers and vans that would mix one of those in a week to save a few bucks.

Frugal Tip #5: Pop-up and Mini-van

Over the last 3 years, we have done over 150 days of camping. Plus we have used our camper as a guest house for another 50+ nights. Part of the reason we were able to afford that was that we bought a 20-year-old pop-up camper to start. Our current van was able to tow it so we didn’t need to buy a more expensive vehicle. Plus the gas mileage with a Toyota van and pop-up camper was amazing.

Was it a perfect set up? Please! Heck no. Far from perfect. But I wasn’t willing to wait for the perfect camper to get started. We had 150 amazing days of travel, adventure and time with friends and family over the last three years. There is no way I would trade those experiences. And I’m so glad that we didn’t give those up just because our sleeping accommodations weren’t perfect.

travel with kids in pop-up

Don’t plan for perfect. Just know what you are looking for and what you really need out of a trip. Then go get started. Do a night away. Or a weekend. Escape in a tent for a week to a big city (Yes, even big cities have campgrounds! We have camped in Amsterdam, Paris, Dubrovnik, Munich, Seattle, San Diego, and then some).

Here is a break down of all our expenses! Like I mentioned above, there might be a few missing. But this was my best attempt to capture all the vacation costs.

For conversation: Any adventures you are planning? What’s your main goal for travel?


summer road trip cost big family

cost of an epic road trip kids


camping with kids budget

road trip with kids cost

National park trip with kids

family vacation camping budget