Friday, May 14, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday: Frugal Car Trips

Tell me you don't recognize this scenario: You, your husband and three of your children got into your car to go to an appointment. It should have taken you about an hour to get there, may-be about a half hour wait before you got to see the doctor, dentist or who-ever, and then an hour home. You should have been home well before dinner time, so you made no preparations for otherwise.
But the directions to the place weren't as clear as you thought they were. Or there was a detour. For whatever reason, your hour trip became an hour and a half and because of this, you missed your scheduled appointment. After waiting almost an hour, you finally are seen. On the ride back home, there is an accident. Or road work. You're stuck in traffic, and everyone is hungry. Or thirsty. And the diabetic in the car really should have a shot of protein.
You know that if you stop for a burger for one kid, you will buy for everyone, after all, it's been a long day, and it doesn't seem it will be ending anytime soon.
You shudder to think of what this trip will do to your budget, but it can't be helped. Or could it have been?
There is no more sure way to see your money dissipate than to stop at a fast food joint or a gas station mini-mart. The first danger of course is your hunger, thirst or both. The second danger is how attractively packaged the food is, and how quickly you can get your hands on it. The answer is to bring it yourself.
I heard a groan. Was that you? C'mon, fess up. It was you wasn't it? Because you were remembering the smooshed peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches, stinky tuna and warm Yoohoo! from when you were a kid.
Well, you're all grown up now. You are in charge, and with a little preparation, you can both save money and pack a nice roadtrip snack. I am writing for a roadtrip that will last an afternoon, so approximately 4 to 6 hours.
1st: who are you packing for? Yourself? Two people? A whole tribe, more than 4 people? Toddlers? Anyone with a medical condition? These are all important questions and will determine how and what you pack.
2: The amount of people you need to pack for will determine the size of the container you will need. For one or two people, a soft-sided, personal cooler would probably be large enough. For up to six people, a zippered, insulated cooler that you can get inexpensively from stores like WalMart will probably suffice. For a bigger crowd, a large Coleman cooler that fits into the hatchback will be your choice, or, if your kids have their own insulated lunchbags from school, you could use these, with extra food in a large insulated bag. I really can't emphasize enough how important it is to have these insulated bags to prevent food getting warm and possible food poisoning. They are really worth the investment.
3: You can buy cooler packs that you put in the freezer the night before. Supplement this with juice boxes that you freeze the night before, or better, bottles of water. Make sure you have enough cooling power!
4: The actual food. Take into consideration the dietetic needs of your riders and specific likes. For example, for my diabetic husband, I will pack a few hard boiled eggs and a little packet of salt we got at a previous stop at a fast food place. He needs the high protein, low carb count of eggs. However, someone in our family absolutely despises eggs; the mere wiff of one can start this person vomiting, so I'll have to pack something different for this person.
Some foods to consider packing: hard boiled eggs; fresh fruit like apples, pears, bananas ;small citrus like clementines and tangerines; crackers with a ziplock of peanut butter or cream cheese; small bagels spread with butter, cream cheese or peanut butter; washed, peeled and chopped into sticks carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower with a small container of salad dressing for dip.
5: Drinks. Bottled anything can be expensive, not as expensive as buying the same drink at a fast food or convenience store, but still expensive. We keep bottled drinks to a minimum. If we are using our big Coleman cooler, then we fill some Rubbermaid/Tupperware drink containers with icetea, lemonade and even a fruit punch. Depending on how long your trip will be, you could buy bulk bottled drinks at a warehouse store and cool them in your refrigerator the night before. You might consider buying steel bottles for family members, and refilling from a larger bottle as needed. You might argue, why not reuse plastic bottles that beverages have already come in? It certainly would be cheaper, but so much evidence is coming out that unhealthy chemicals leach from plastic that you may want to start phasing out your plastic water bottles. (For more info on this you might want to check out these websites: , )

6: Prepackaged food. Even if you buy all prepackaged food at the supermarket or warehouse store, you will still pay significantly less money than if you bought it at the convenience store or mini-mart. This is one option. Another option is to buy large bags of chips, pretzels and popcorn and re-package them into ziplock bags or small food containers (margarine tubs, Rubbermaid, Tupperware). You might also consider buying cereal bars or dried fruit rolls. Again, buy large quantity boxes, bags or canisters and repackage nuts, caramel popcorn, dried fruit, granola.
7: Items that prevent the ick factor: your small bottles of water can be used with napkins to wash off sticky hands. So can a container of baby wipes. Other "ick factors" can be an upset stomach, so remember to include things like Tums, Pepto and Gas Ex, just in case.
All these things can be bought ahead, and stored in the home. A few cooler packs and/or bottles of water kept in the freezer don't take up so much room that they are detrimental. A little thinking and preparing ahead can save you a ton of money!
For more quick takes :


Lily said...

All good and sensible ideas!! This reminds me of a post I've been meaning to write!! Thank you!! I have an idea for those long drives you will just have to see!

Mary Bennett said...

I can't wait to see it! :)


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