Affordable Vacation Essentials

Last week, the hubs & I did something we’ve never done before: took our 4 & 7 year old on a road-trip across 4 states. 

The hubs goes on a business trip to Iowa every 8 weeks for a week. With the kids out of school, we piggy-backed on the hubs’ trip, essentially turning it into a dual business-trip. Let’s be honest here, when you’re a Mom travelling with children, it absolutely qualifies as a business trip. More on that later this week. 
The hubs’ company allowed us to rent a vehicle instead of booking his usual multi-leg flight, so our transportation as well as hotel costs were covered. Yes, we were “vacationing” in Iowa… but money is tight, so right now, we’ll take what we can get. And this was definitely an affordable way to vacation. To the kids — it’s a vacation when we spend the night anywhere away from home. 
Even though we were taking a “vacation” I was still incredibly conscious of the pennies we had to spend. So I planned accordingly. If you’re looking to vacation on the cheap… whether you piggyback on a spouse’s business-trip or not… here are a few affordable vacation tips to help keep your sanity in check, and money in the bank. 
Pack a Cooler.

  • Most hotels will have a microwave & small fridge in their rooms. If they don’t state anything about either, ask before you arrive. Even if the hotel doesn’t offer a microwave & fridge in every room — many hotels will supply you with them upon request. 
  • Packing some easy-to-make meals can save you quite a bit of money, and may even be a healthier option for you & your kiddos.
  • Some selections in our cooler: 
    • Milk
    • MI beer (it was a challenge to find good beer in Iowa!) 
    • ham
    • american cheese
    • hot dogs
    • mustard
    • mayo
    • good cheese (for the adults)
    • Starbucks Doubleshots (way cheaper to buy in a 4-pack than individually at the gas-station) 
    • Juice-boxes (ditto)
    • Reusable water bottles, filled with frozen water (we love GR water, but this also kept things cold for longer periods of time) 
  • I also saved a little $$ by filling up the cooler with the hotel’s ice machine before we’d depart each hotel. Maybe that’s not kosher, but… I got over it. 

Reusable grocery bag full of snacks.

  • Placed in between our daughters in the back-seat allowed them to grab a snack when they felt the urge. I was a little concerned about them filling up on snacks during the course of the many hours we were on the road. However, possibly because it became a constant, they still respectfully asked before digging into the snack-bag. 
  • Here are a few things we kept in the snack-bag. 
    • Peanut Butter & jelly
    • granola bars
    • nuts/trail-mix
    • bananas
    • apples
    • fruit snacks (for the road)
    • fruit cups (for lunches) 
    • Red Vines (for fun)
    • Altoids (helped their tummies if they started to feel car-sick.)
    • bread
    • coffee/french press (saved us costly trips to coffee-shops) 
  • Something I forgot to grab, but stocked up at the first free-breakfast at the hotel. Stealing? Nah. I call it creative saving
  • I ended up having to make a Target run and picked up a couple of cute reusable plates for the kiddos… if you decide on reusable table-ware, make sure to add dish-soap to your packing list. Hotel bar-soap was not meant to wash greasy dishes. 
Zip-up storage bags.
  • As green as I try to be… I have to draw the line at paper-towels, wipes and plastic storage bags. These are essentials in this Momma’s life. Storage bags are the one plastic “thing” I still use, and I do reuse them until they get a hole and/or stink. So I suppose I’m not all bad. If you have a better, affordable alternative, please, comment below with a link to where I can purchase them! 
  • I use storage bags for everything when I pack. On this trip especially, because we would be sleeping in 3 different locations. Our first stop was at our friends’ house. So I packed a separate, smaller tote-bag of essentials — and ziplocked the following into bags with our names on them: PJs, an outfit, undies, toothbrush, etc. It was a genius idea that saved us from dragging 3 bags of luggage into our friends’ home. 
  • I also used these bags to keep all of our “wet” essentials safe as well. Lotions, shampoo, gel, etc. 
  • I even packed extra storage bags to keep souvenirs, wet swimsuits, or whatever else we accumulated protected, if necessary. 
  • I haven’t needed wipes in conjunction with diapers for over a year now (yeeha!) However, with two kids still coming to me with sticky hands… and one klutzy Momma… wipes are still an essential part of our life, both in & out of the vehicle, on vacation or not. 
  • I usually purchase wipes in bulk and distribute them in the reusable containers we’ve had for years. However, I found such an adorable travel 3-pack of wipes in RED that I was powerless to resist. 
Washable Markers/Pad of paper.
  • If you’re travelling on the cheap, these two simple things can keep your kids entertained for a nice amount of downtime in the hotel-room. 
  • I picked up a pack of 50 washable markers for $5. Best $5 I spent. Didn’t have to break up a fight over one child “hogging” a certain color once!! 
Travel-size fun.
  • Invest in something special for each child. It doesn’t have to cost much. 
  • Both of my kids enjoyed seeing their names on a travel-art-pack that included small sheets of heavy-duty paper, markers, and a case to keep them in & draw on. 
  • I also threw in a couple sheets of stickers for fun.
Local websites for affordable/free activities.
  • If you do a quick search for the city you’ll be spending time in, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon an awesome blogger who has pin-pointed some cheap fun. 
  • In Waterloo, I uncovered the Imaginarium, which provided a fun science-experiment about combustion and a lot of hands-on activities for both girls. $5 admission. 
  • In Des Moines, we visited the free Art-Center — which was FREE! 
  • If you’re looking for an awesome local blogger with excellent family fun in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I highly recommend hitting up Jen @ Big Binder and !
Portable DVD Player/DVDs.
  • Although my kids learned how to live without one of these bad boys over the last couple of months, we invested in a new one just for this trip. I’m considering returning it, because both of my kids seemed to care less about movies with all the other travel-activities and sights to see. Toy Story was on a constant loop for awhile… 
  • I still can’t imagine the 8hr (one-way) trip without it. 
Pillows/Blankets/stuffed animal(s). 
  • Yes, the backseat was packed full with both of my kids, 2 bags of snacks & activities… and this final survival essential: blankets & stuffed animals.
  • Since we rented a vehicle, it was newer, which meant the A/C worked really well. Both of my kids’ legs got cold, and their blankets helped them stay as cozy as they needed to be.
  • Stuffed animals = essential no matter where we spend an overnight. Sam the bear & Olive the owl provided a comfy spot to rest my girls’ heads as well. 
What’s the essential travel item you simply CAN’T live without? 

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