Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Frugal Family Holiday Travel

By: L.A. Kohl
Nov. 7, 2004(published in the Wednesday, Nov. 17 2004 edition of the “Bull’s Eye”, Vol. 1, No. 4)

In our mobile society, traveling during the holidays is almost unavoidable. Over the years, we’ve traveled as far away as Des Moines, IA, Houston, TX, and Orlando, FL either for Thanksgiving or Christmas family get-togethers. At a time of year when you already feel over-loaded with expenses (gift buying, end of year property taxes, etc) adding travel expenses on top of it all can be a budget breaking experience.

We’ve tried a few things that have helped us cut corners. Some of it is just common sense, but perhaps some of you will appreciate the ideas. One of our biggest cost cutters is in the area of food.

With a large family, eating out while traveling can add up to a lot of money in short order! We try to limit ourselves to one meal out per day when we’re away from home. It’s really not difficult. Almost all motels have a continental breakfast, and if you spend a little time, and perhaps just a little more money, you can find many that serve full-blown breakfasts. For us, spending an extra $10.00 a night at a motel that serves a full breakfast is definitely worth it.

Packing food along for the trip is also a money saver. The makings for sandwiches, various bags of chips, and some fruit packed in amongst the suitcases, and you’ve now avoided having to eat out for lunch, too! Bottled water (or a water bottle for everyone) sodas, juice boxes/pouches, and the like all travel well, and they’re much cheaper to buy in the case at the grocery store ahead of time, rather than individually at a restaurant or convenience store.

Hmm, did I say juice boxes travel well? Shut up! Any mom out there knows the hazards of handing a full one of those to a little child...squeeze and SQUIRT...half the contents of the box are all over their shirt before you know it. We usually resort to handing the juice box to a big sister, who holds it for the little sister, until she’s drank it down about halfway.

Back to the topic...snacks are great to pack along, too – to avoid the temptation of buying that tiny $4.00 bag of chips when you stop to fill up with gas at the convenience store. We try not to go totally junk food, though. We also pack some trail mix, “carb bars” (recipe follows) whole grain cereal bars, mini carrots, dried fruit, grapes and other fresh fruit.

When we do stop and eat out for a meal, everyone knows that they’ll be ordering a glass of water with their meal. At an average of $1.50 per soft drink, our family saves several dollars per meal. Besides, we’ve got $0.20 sodas in the vehicle if they really want a “jolt” of sugar/caffeine!

Another thing that can help cut traveling expenses is traveling together. We’ve taken parents along with us to family get togethers, and it helps in many ways. Two of the main ways are, they help split the cost of gasoline, and they’re great at helping entertain the kids.

If you’re traveling to meet family, one thing that can help trim expenses is to agree ahead of time not to purchase gifts for each other, since you have the expense of traveling. After all, just being all together as a family is a great gift in itself, right? Christmas time has become the only time of year that our extended Kohl family is all together at the same time, so we treasure it.

Or, maybe just giving an affordable family gift (like a board game or a video) rather than individual gifts for everyone could be an acceptable compromise. Rather than begrudgingly buying gifts for relatives – be honest and open with all the family and discuss some other options.

In closing, try to remember that the holidays are an exciting time for your children, and you’re making lots of memories. Get them involved in as much of the travel planning and preparation as possible. You can get off to a fun start by mixing up a batch of these travel-friendly “Carb Bars." (Note: these are called “Carb” bars because they’re full of ‘em – they are NOT low carb!)

1/4 cup margarine
1 (10 oz) pkg. of miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups crisp rice type cereal
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
1/3 cup wheat germ (optional)
Your family’s choice of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any or all of the following:
chopped nuts
chocolate chips
raisins or other dried fruits
candy-coated chocolate pieces

Mix cereal and other dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a large (3 quart) pan, melt butter, marshmallows and peanut butter over low heat, stirring often until all is melted and blended together. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour immediately over ingredients in bowl and stir together quickly. Turn into a well-greased 9” x 13” pan. Cool and cut into bars. Store in airtight container, and keep cool if they contain chocolate. ENJOY!

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