Do you love to travel but it’s just not in the budget?
In the last year our family of 7 has traveled all over the country, learning and making amazing memories–on a budget. In fact, we paid of 28k in debt WHILE visiting over 15 states!
How did we do it? Well, we’re a little unconventional, but if you really wanna know how we did it…here’s our secrets:
#1 Pack Your Crockpot
I know no one wants to cook on vacation (heck I don’t wanna cook when I’m at home sometimes, that’s why I double a lot of meals so I can #cookonceeattwice!) but food is often the biggest expense on the road and the place where you can save a ton of money if you’re willing to plan ahead!
I have a collection of meals that are easy to prep and freeze ahead of time, and require very little effort to heat and serve at our destination. Usually plugging in a crockpot and dumping in a ziploc bag of homemade goodness is MILES easier than herding 5 kids through a restaurant anyway! (find my top recipes here)
Toaster ovens, instapots, hot-plates–they all fall in this category. But I’ve found a crockpot to be the most flexible–I can reheat everything from soup to omelets to muffins to casseroles all in one appliance. Whatever you use, make sure you test your recipes and reheating methods at home before your trip so you know what works and meals on your trip can be simple and low-stress.
For more info on cooking ahead and how to pack food for flying or driving–check out my post on 3 tips for taking home cooked meals on the road.
#2 Grocery Shop from your Phone
Whether you make meals ahead or decide to simply do sandwiches, you will probably need some groceries on your trip. Instead of driving around trying to find a grocery store, or hiring an Uber if you don’t have your own wheels, try shopping online!
We just learned this trick and at first it was a little weird…strange to choose food in an online format, and wondering what shape it would be when it got delivered? Our first experience was super positive and we have been using it since to save time and effort and make our trips feel more like vacation even while we are saving money.
Amazon Prime Now is available in most major cities and lets you choose groceries sourced from local vendors they are packaged up in insulated bags and delivered to your hotel in a 2 hour time frame you choose, and if your order is over $50, delivery is free.
It’s as easy as ordering pizza, but a whole lot healthier!
When we fly, we bring the things that we make ourselves and can freeze and check in a cooler, and we order in things like lettuce, milk, and other perishables when we arrive.
When we drive, we do the same thing–order in the grocery items we don’t want to trek across the country, or anything we ran out of on the way: fresh fruit, eggs, bread, etc.
I for one don’t want to spend my vacation time navigating to and through an unfamiliar grocery store–that’s a chore when I’m home, how much more when I’m out of state? Ordering online and having the food delivered to my door saves time and the money I’d otherwise spend at a restaurant.
Finally, here’s the weirdest thing we do on vacation, but my most favorite:
#3 Share a meal with strangers
Recently we were invited to a family wedding in Texas just a week before a conference we were also registered for in another part of the sate. making both trips didn’t fit in the budget, but what if we could figure out how to stay in Texas for two whole weeks? We sat down for a brainstorming session, and that’s when I said to Mr. Holden–“it’s time to use the network!”
Candle in the Window is a Christian Hospitality Network that helps traveling families with a budget friendly, fellowship-rich way to eat and sleep on the road. The network connects families who are hospitality-minded who are willing to offer a home cooked meal, sleeping space, or both to other families coming through their area. Members find each other with an online directory that is world wide and offers a safe, private way to make contact and make travel plans. They have some great guidelines and parameters in place so that connections are smooth and members are not overwhelmed with requests or the effort to host.
It’s basically like Christian Couch Surfing, or a FREE version of Air B and B. It’s not for everyone, but our family has been blessed by it!
We have been members for 6 years, and typically get member requests 1-3 times a year. We have hosted families from as far away as Belgium, and have enjoyed getting to know our guests and been blessed to be a part of their journeys.
We have also used the network for overnight stays on trips to and from destinations. Every time we have used this unique opportunity, it has been a blessing and we have made life long friends in the process!
We looked at the directory and found there were multiple member families in the area of Texas where we would be ‘camped out’ between events, so we contacted several and soon had our itinerary set. We stayed at a hotel during the wedding weekend and the conference, but our trip out (which we did over two days) and the 5 days between events we stayed with 4 different families in the network.
Accommodations ranged from a living room over the garage with foutons, to a camper in the hosts’ driveway. One night we had a guest house all to ourselves, including laundry facilities to get caught up on 7 people’s laundry, at another stop our hosts rearranged their kids and gave us two whole bedrooms to ourselves. Everyone was so accommodating, emailing to ask about food preferences or allergies, making our kids feel at home, blessing us with home-cooked meals and tips for local attractions that would appeal to our kids’ ages and interests.
The best part was that at each stop we were guaranteed rich fellowship with prayer and family worship a part of each home we were in. Our kids got to meet new people, see how other families function, and practice the skills of being gracious guests.
Visit Candle in the Window to become a member!
So, that’s how we saved $100’s on our last road trip. If that last idea intrigues you, you might enjoy reading the story of a woman who stayed with over 30 host families in the network as the God led her on an epic trip around the country with her 4 children. That book is called “Journey to Somewhere” and is available on Amazon. It’s an amazing story (and you might get to read about what the author’s experience when she stayed in our bus here in Alabama!).