1 Attend homeschool days
So many attractions, from museums to theme parks to historical sites offer special homeschool days throughout the year. These days often have extra activities and, almost always, deep discounts.
2 Use those museum memberships
ASTC (science centers), AZA and other groups have negotiated free or reduced admission for their members across the country, and sometimes internationally. We've often made turned these attractions into brief stops when traveling. For example, on the road to Legoland we usually stop at the Jacksonville Zoo to stretch our legs and take a break from driving along I-95. During cold or rainy weather pick an indoor attraction, like Dayton's Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, which was another diversion for us. Make the most of those memberships!
3 Coffeepot oatmeal
Free breakfasts are usually junk, but we still gobble up the whole fruit and oatmeal. If there isn't a free breakfast at your hotel, pack oatmeal to make in the coffee cups using hot water from your coffee maker.
4 Hotel points or Priceline
I cash in my husband's hotel loyalty points whenever I can, but in the big cities, Priceline is my best bet. Last month we stayed two nights at a Westin for the same price as a Days Inn using the "Name Your Own Price" tool. Most nights we stay at a motel where you can drive right up to the room, because it's easiest to get in and out, and this type of room almost always has a microwave and mini-fridge.
5 Stop at Trader Joe's or a grocery store
Convenience foods are of course more expensive than cooking from scratch, but they're still usually cheaper than eating in a restaurant. I typically pick up fresh fruit (bananas and then cut up fruit in the refrigerated produce section), salad (our family can polish off a bagged salad no problem) and carrot sticks, then something full of protein that we can heat in the microwave for dinner. After a big day of exploring I prefer eating in the room (or even better, at a hotel courtyard or pool deck) where the kids can eat quickly then get back to playing.
6 Reusable water bottle
My rule hasn't changed I'm years: we don't pay for bottled water. Not if we can help it. The expense is just unnecessary and it can be hard to find places to recycle plastic bottles on the road.
7 Eat out for breakfast or lunch, not dinner
It probably sounds like I hate eating out, but truly I love trying new cuisine and dining at iconic restaurants. With a toddler, though, dinner is the hardest meal for us to eat out. Instead we go out for a late breakfast or 11:30 lunch at restaurants that locals would put on a "can't miss" list. Breakfast and lunch tend to move along faster and cost less.
8 Go on a factory tour
Are your kids curious about how things are made? We've seen the inside of so many factories, like Louisville Slugger, Jelly Belly, Hershey and Tom's of Maine. There are so many more on my list of places I want to take the kids, like BMW, Sweet Candy or another salt water taffey place, and Boeing. Many tours are free, memorable, and educational.
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