Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: When on my roadtrip, I came up with a list of money-saving tips for travel. These saved me time and time again ....
1) Pack a small, soft-sided cooler -- no ice pack necessary -- to keep foods cool on the road or in a plane. Fill each day with yogurt, fruit, carrots, etc. Most hotels we stayed in had a small fridge, so I could just put the whole cooler in there at night if we had any leftovers from the day. Also, a soft-sided cooler can be packed in a suitcase or stowed in a backpack.
2) Bring water bottles for each child (and ideally each adult, too). If we had a room fridge, every night we would empty, rinse, fill with fresh water and refrigerate for the next day. If we didn't have a fridge, we would do it in the morning. Each child was in charge of their own and had it in their cupholder or backpack all day long. We were at amusement parks and attractions where a bottle of water went for $3!
3) Don't overlook gas station minimarts -- we picked up fresh fruit, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt and turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread for a fraction of what we would have paid in a restaurant. Grocery stores are usually better priced and have a better selection, but are often not as easily found when on the road. They also make for a longer stop.
4) Give your child a budget at the beginning of the trip. Rather than debate each purchase endlessly, choose an amount you are comfortable with and tell your kids at the beginning of the trip. I decided to give my kids $20 each for a two-week trip. They could supplement with their own money, and they could keep whatever they didn't spend. If they wanted to buy $20 worth of Silly Putty, I held my tongue. If I wanted to buy them each a special souvenir, of course I could, but no one was expecting anything -- which put a much more pleasant spin on all those gift shops encountered while traveling.
5) Research before you go. Look for coupons online for all the attractions you plan to see. To me, there's nothing worse than arriving somewhere and having to pay crazy full-priced admission and then finding out there was an easily available "buy one, get one free" coupon. If you're hitting a bunch of national parks, see whether the annual pass would be a better deal for you. If you have museum memberships, see if they have reciprocity with any museums you plan to visit, or vice versa. I ended up buying a family membership to an attraction hundreds of miles away from home when I realized that not only would we all get in free for the day, but I would be able to use the card all year at a museum and another garden near home.