Yet again, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have engaged in frugal weirdo behavior of relatively epic proportion. This time, it was in the form of a road trip. A very long road trip. Did you know you can rent a car at 10pm on a Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC and return it the very next night at 10pm in Boston, MA and only be charged for a single day? Well, you can.

And I’m certain some of you frugal bosses have in fact done this before, but this was news to us. As soon as we were in possession of the knowledge that we could pay for a single day of car rental for a 901-mile journey, we were possessed with the idea of doing it. Ever the opportunists for money-saving hacks, we smelled a grand adventure.

Pretty pleased with this photo I took. It cancels out the 1,407 blurry, terrible shots I took.
Pretty pleased with this photo I took. It cancels out my other 1,407 blurry, terrible road trip pics.

Tools: The Need For The Drive

Before I delve into the gory details of our road travails, allow me to first explain exactly why we felt the need to embark on this car-fueled jaunt. Mr. FW’s wonderful parents live in Charlotte, NC and are in the process of downsizing. They’re on much the same clutter-annihilating binge as yours truly and are systematically attacking their closets, attics, and sundry storage locations.

Tools: the reason for the drive
Tools: the reason for the drive

As part of this laudable pre-move organizational surge, they’re allocating to Mr. FW and his siblings their respective belongings. Additionally they saved quite a few baby items, which they’re sweetly passing along to us for their first grandchild, aka Babywoods. Thus armed with the goal to collect the trappings of Mr. FW’s youth, we booked supremely inexpensive one-way flights ($78.10 per person) down to Charlotte and hatched the plan to drive back.

Sidenote on using credit card points (of which we have many saved up): our friend Brad from Richmond Savers educated us on the redemption value of points and the wisdom of not utilizing points when you can secure flights as cheaply as we could for this trip. It’s not worth it to waste points when you can purchase a flight for so little cash. If you ever have any travel hacking questions, I highly recommend Brad’s stellar advice. The bonus is that we know him (in real life!) and he’s a truly awesome guy.

Mr. FW proudly displaying his trophy
Mr. FW proudly displaying his trophy

We spent a few days at my in-laws’ earlier this week sorting through Mr. FW’s childhood books, trophies (including 1st place for being an “accelerated reader” in 5th grade), several tuba mouthpieces, a bag of change, his Bert & Ernie dolls from babyhood, and assorted accouterments. Tellingly, much of the ephemera from his youth mirrors his current interests.

We found camping knives, tents, books on astronomy and computer programming (“25 Exciting Games Written In Basic” anyone?), and an art project he did at age 7 proclaiming that his favorite food was pizza, his favorite animal was a dog, and that he wanted to be a truck driver or architect when he grew up. Apparently Mr. FW has been pretty clear on his life goals from the start ;). It was fun to uncover these trinkets of his past and I’m thrilled to bring these tidbits back home to someday show to Babywoods.

Mr. FW showing off his inherited tools
Mr. FW showing off his inherited tools

Most importantly, Mr. FW recently inherited a handmade wooden chest of carpentry tools from the late 1800s, including: planes, chisels, augers, saws, squares, etc, which belonged to his great-great grandfather. This chest, which is over three feet long and tremendously heavy, was residing in his parents’ garage.

Mr. FW is touched to inherit these tools in part because he’ll actually use them. It’s pretty incredible to have such a robust set of tools that his great-great grandfather employed in much the same manner as he will: to build and repair wooden things. All around quite nifty and definitely worth the trip.

To Ship Or To Drive? Also, Why A Rental Car?

Our sweet 19-year-old beast
Our sweet 19-year-old beast

We investigated options for shipping the tool chest to our home in Cambridge and quickly discovered that the cost would far outstrip that of a rental car. Plus, given both the sentimental and practical value of the tools, we weren’t eager to risk the potential perils of shipping. With the addition of Mr. FW’s childhood effects and the hand-me-down baby items, driving seemed the only sane option.

Now we do love and revere our one car, the venerable Frugalwoods-mobile. However, she’s a 19-year-old, 206,000+ mile vehicle and we honestly didn’t want to risk her life on an 1,802 mile round-trip trek from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Since Frugalwoods-mobile is dirt cheap for us to own and operate ($400/yr insurance… need I say more?), we’d like to continue driving her for as long as motor-vehicularly possible and this adventure seemed like it might prematurely hasten her demise. Given this interest in prolonging Frugalwoods-mobile’s lifespan, we decided that a rental car would be the safest option.

Mr. FW driving with aplomb
Mr. FW driving with aplomb

I imagine that a non-frugal weirdo would likely assess the length of this odyssey (901 miles, to be exact) and elect to make it into at least a two-day sojourn, replete with a hotel stay and restaurant meals peppered in. But as you know, Mr. FW and I generally do the exact opposite of what normal folks do. Makes life more interesting and saves a ton of dough.

Sure, we could’ve incurred the additional expense to stretch out our outing, but here’s the thing: mild discomfort is temporary; losing money is permanent. One day after the trip—regardless of which option we’d chosen—it’s forgotten about. It’s a finite amount of time and a finite amount of challenge. In the grand scheme of things, driving 14.5 hours in one day isn’t that big of a deal. And since we’re optimizers to the core, finding a way to hack this expedition was a delightful endeavor for us. When you turn everything into a frugal efficiency game, life becomes a great deal more enjoyable and, as a byproduct, a great deal less expensive.

Cows. Moo!
Cows. Moo!

Let’s Do The Numbers!

I know, I know, this is your favorite part! No one else would care exactly how much we spent and exactly how much we saved, but I know you all do. And that’s why I love writing for you! Where else can I wax poetic about the merits of packing all of one’s own food for a 14-hour drive!?

The Frugalwoods Road Trip Stats:

Total distance: 901 miles
Total time: 14 hours, 30 minutes
Number of days on road: 1
Number of stops: 6
PB&J sandwiches consumed: 6
Number of times we heard an NPR report about the Pope’s visit and/or Yogi Berra’s death: 29
Number of This American Life podcasts listened to: 7
Number of states driven through: 7

The Money We Spent:

Car rental for 1 day (defined by the Alamo car rental company as a 24-hr period… I doubt they expected us to take the 24 hrs so literally): $153.39
Gas: $71.94
Food and drinks: $0
Tolls (forgot our EZPass, dang it!): $5.65
Our total cost: $230.98

Now, just for funsies, let’s compare our actual total with the projected total of extending our junket to two days and going the more traditional route of purchasing meals.

Estimated Amount Saved by Traveling like Frugal Weirdos:

Car rental for 2 days: $306.78
Gas: $71.94
Estimated cost of lunches, dinners, snacks, and drinks: $75
Tolls: $5.65
One night in a hotel (I priced out hotels in Harrisburg, PA, which is roughly the half-way point): $124
Total estimated cost: $583.37
Total amount we saved: $352.39
Gas stop! I really did take pictures of everything...
Gas stop! I really did take pictures of everything…

I don’t know about you, but I’m elated to save $352.39 just by buckling down and getting this voyage knocked out in a day. Plus, I imagine this type of power trip might not be possible/wise once Babywoods is born, so why not take advantage of our current no-kid status?

For the record, Babywoods and I did just fine in the car at exactly 31 weeks (aka 7.75 months) pregnant. She contentedly kicked along and when I wasn’t driving, I sat cross-legged in the passenger seat (with my seatbelt on, don’t worry), which made my hips very happy. Thank you yoga for keeping me in shape!

How We Did It

Look at all these dials! I mean seriously.
Look at all these dials! I mean seriously.

While the principal hack for this trek was simply determination, there were a few strategies we employed to pull it off. I was going to say “without a hitch,” but there was that time pulling out of a rest area when I accidentally turned the car on in ‘accessory mode,’ which looks deceptively like actual driving mode, but doesn’t allow you to accelerate beyond approximately 3 miles per hour… superb moment for me.

There have apparently been quite a few innovations in car manufacturing since 1996 (Frugalwoods-mobile’s birth year) and this car turned on with a button, which I somehow managed to press incorrectly. In my defense, this rental car had more lights, buttons, dials, gauges, screens, and displays than a fighter jet cockpit (as if I’d know, right?). We found the whole apparatus pretty hilarious since we do just fine with our simplified, ancient car. Sometimes (ok, actually often), more is decidedly not better. However, I will say that I very much enjoyed the heated seat option early in the morning. Hot buns, anyone? Ok, back to the hacks:

  1. Our trip started and concluded in the dark
    Our trip started and ended in the dark

    We picked up the rental car at the latest possible moment the night before: 10pm. We knew we’d need to get a solid night’s sleep, but we didn’t want to hem ourselves in on the other end by picking the car up too early. Hence, 10pm seemed like a reasonable balance. Turns out, we returned the car at 8:30pm the next night, so we gave ourselves a nice little buffer.

  2. We stacked and organized all of the stuff we wanted to schlep ahead of time. After returning to Mr. FW’s parents’ home with the car on Tuesday night, it took us a mere 15 minutes to load the vehicle. Quite quick indeed, which enabled us to jump in bed with great haste.
  3. We executed what we term “hike day morning” (aka the strategy we follow when we make the 3-hour trek to the White Mountains for a day of hiking). We awoke at 5am, showered, dressed, packed up our food and coffee, and left the driveway at 5:27am. Prepping everything from sandwiches to socks the night before enabled us to roll out the door rapidly. We wanted to avoid Charlotte’s morning rush hour by a wide margin, which we were happily able to accomplish.
  4. We felt so welcome
    We felt so welcome

    We packed all of our own food. This is one of those double-edged benefits for the road-tripping frugal weirdo. In addition to the at least $75 saved on food itself, having on-board meals allowed us to ration our stops and save tons of time. We pulled off the highway a mere 6 times for restroom and re-fueling breaks. A huge thanks to my in-laws for providing us with peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, coffee, scones, granola bars and more for the road. Our parents are incredibly generous and we deeply appreciate it!

  5. Mr. FW mapped a route that circumvented all major east coast cities, with the goal of avoiding any and all rush hours. Thus, we added some mileage to our total journey, but cleverly skirted Washington, DC (especially crucial given that our sojourn coincided with the Pope’s visit), New York City, and other miscellaneous medium to large cities on our route. We instead enjoyed rather bucolic countryside scenery replete with cows, trees, mountains, and horses. Moo!

It’s All About The Mindset

View from the road
View from the road

Finally and most crucially, we viewed this quest as an intriguing frugal challenge. Instead of dreading it or fretting over it, we considered it just another exemplification of our extreme frugality mode of existence. The ability to derive enjoyment from our frugality is a key element to leading a hilarious, fulfilling, and luxuriously frugal life.

Mr. FW and I looked at each other when devising this plan and said, “why not cram 14.5 hours of driving into one day?” We honestly couldn’t think of a single reason not to. We knew we could do it safely with two drivers and ample snacks. And, as I’m fond of saying, you can do just about anything for a short amount of time.

This trip is by no means the most extreme feat of travel ever performed in the name of frugality and efficiency, but I think it serves as a prime example of life optimization. Enduring short-term challenges to reap longer-term financial gains are almost always worth it. Plus, we now have a story to tell Babywoods about that one time mommy nearly tried to merge onto the highway in a rental car that was in neutral…

What travel adventures have you undertaken to save money?

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  1. Love the story! It reminds me a lot about my childhood- I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out my dad is a frugal weirdo too :). My parents were born and raised around Saint Louis and after a few moves ended up raising my siblings and I outside of Philadelphia. There are roughly 1000 miles between my childhood home and my dads childhood home. When it was time to visit the grandparents, my dad would pack us in the car at “o’dark thirty”- 3am- and off we went; six people and a dog (including triplets who were 18 months when we started our trips). This was before TV screens in cars so my dad built a stand for an old 10 inch screen tv they had as our entertainment. Being one of the triplets, I loved it! They were some of the most magical memories of my childhood. Waking up at 3am (actually I never slept the night before because I was too excited), snacks all day (we packed all our own food too), movies ALL DAY LONG, it was awesome! In the beginning we did have to stop regularly to get toddler energy out of our bodies – my mom encouraged sibling rivalry on those days and we had races around the rest area building. So once the she is too big to qualify as a “lap child” on airplanes you may be able to give it a go 🙂

  2. Wow, I had no idea y’all drove to Charlotte. But those are some pretty impressive numbers! In my old career, sometimes I would be traveling to a show that was losing money. So, I’d try to be as frugal as possible along the way. I always tried to stock up on food before the trip. And it really helped to avoid last minute binges!

    P.S. Does Mr. Frugalwoods still play tuba?

    1. He hasn’t played in years, but I bet it would come back to him… I still have my trumpet in our basement, though I similarly haven’t touched it in years. But, that coupled with our piano and your singing voice means we’ll have a few instruments to go around for Frugalwoodstock ;). And I think Mr. 1500 has a banjo? Or a guitar?

      1. Piano and guitar!

        Yes, FrugalWoodStock is going to be epic. And you know, I kinda hate it when people say “epic.” Just waaaaaaay overused. So when I say FrugalWoodStock will be epic, it will be epic.

        Kate, have you booked U2 yet or Mumford?

  3. Bravo! We roadtripped the Southwest for our honeymoon and put over 5,000 miles on a rental car in two weeks. Not the same all-in-a-24-hour-period blaze of glory like you guys, but I’d like to think we got our money’s worth! Also, much to Mr. P’s chagrin, we always take the first flight out since it’s usually the cheapest – even if it means getting to the airport at 3 or 4 am. That tool set it incredible to look at – at first I thought you stopped at a museum!

  4. The thought of driving that much makes me quiver. After six hours in a car, I start to go nuts. Thankfully, that’s about the farthest I ever have to drive. To get to Charlotte, I would’ve used some Southwest miles if I could.

    I can’t stand new cars either! Us young curmudgeons. Those screens are much less efficient than old buttons and knobs. To use a screen, you always have to take your eyes off the road to use it. To use knobs and buttons, your hands do the feeling, no looking required. Another screen is exactly what people don’t need inside the car.

    1. This is what makes me nervous about someday updating our car. I also don’t like the screens, and I’m mad that there aren’t options without. But I don’t know enough, personally, about cars and car repair to want to buy an old model.

  5. Sounds like fun! My parents live about a 9 hour drive from us (with stops) and we do similar things. I always pack my “car snacks” and generally we only need 3 stops for the bathroom, refuel and to stretch our legs. I always find the way down ok, it is the trip back 5 days later that feels long lol! We are currently looking at a long road trip to the States (we live in Canada) next spring. We are looking at rending an RV van, so we can save tonnes of money on hotels. We will see what happens!

    1. BTW, that’s not me commenting. I’m the real Norm! That happened recently to me on this blog where I went to comment, and it auto-filled the last commenter’s name, email address and website. I caught it, but obviously it happened to someone else. So something’s wonky.

  6. I have done the MA to NC drive many times and it is super impressive that you did it in one day! We’ve only done that once, through the night no less, and it was quite exhausting. Often we stop in New Jersey along the way, where we have family and can stay for free.

    The best part about driving, I think, is not having to be so exacting about what you pack. We often go to the beach in NC, and when we drive we can pack extra towels, beach chairs, games, etc. It saves a lot of money, not having to buy/rent those things there.

  7. A tuba player like me! I’m not very sentimental (and I find it easy to get rid of stuff), but I wish I still had my tuba mouthpiece.

    I imagine you won’t be travelling much right after the baby is born, but next year you should consider checking out Tuba Christmas in NYC.

  8. We just drove to and from Chicago to Charlotte a few weeks ago! It was a beautiful drive once we got to Kentucky, especially driving through the mountains made the road trip itself SO worth it! 🙂 Road Trips are fun….even with our antsy 1-year-old in the backseat lol!

  9. We took a similar trip when I was 7 months pregnant with our daughter. The best part of traveling by car during pregnancy is that you can stop whenever you need to “go” or get out and walk around. We always pack sandwiches etc. on road trips too. It’s crazy how much money you can spend when you don’t prepare.

  10. I’m digging that Belmont Central Elementary trophy. Who knew that school would produce the modern day frugal geniuses of Mr. FW and me? 🙂

    That epic car trip sounds crazy. Good thing you skipped DC and other big cities. I’ve made the drive all the way to Canada from NC and nothing compares to DC traffic in my experience. Even NYC was relatively tame.

    1. Haha, we totally thought of you when we unearthed that trophy :). There must’ve been something in the water (or the blackberries) down there to produce you two nearly identical frugal dudes…

  11. Haha you guys are awesome!! I love this! I can get down with this kind of frugality 🙂 My husband and I are huge road-trippers. Before kids, we went on numerous trips to CO (from AZ) that were about 12 hours one way. We also did that in a day, because, why not? Now that we have kids, the longest we’ve spent in the car was 12 hours in a day, which seems kind of crazy looking back. We drove down from NC to Boca Raton last April. It took 10 hours to get there (in a day) and 12 hours to get back because of traffic. But we saved a ton of money by doing it in a day! However, I won’t do that again with kids as it WAS too much for them. My youngest was also sick the whole way back which made it extra hard.

    We also drove from AZ to NC with the kids in 5 days, the longest day being 14 hours. We’re nuts haha, but road trips rock!

    1. That’s impressive! Glad to hear you’ve been able to continue the road-tripping with kiddos. That’ll be a great option for us down the road (hah!).

  12. We drive down to Florida and back for “winter” – may not seem frugal but let me tell you the cost of renting a place vs. paying heat (we shut our house down completely) is pretty comparable if not cheaper! Anyway I remember coming back last year and opting to drive through vs spending a few hours in a hotel with lousy sleep – we did it! And slept very soundly in our own bed. I really enjoying the NPR stat – ha ha! – which is why I don’t listen or watch the news very often.

  13. Impressive. Also – very impressive to do that pregnant. I couldn’t stand a long car ride at that time… but it is true – discomfort is only temporary. I wonder if I can use that phrase on my kids? I am impressed with the forethought of timing the rental for only a day!!!

  14. FWIW, an over-night probably wouldn’t have added quite as much to the expenses as you thought. Over the years, Mr PoP has sold me on the concept of dive highway motels, as in non-chain tiny motels usually run by families that live there. We never book before we get there, just start googling for motels along the highway when we start to get tired of driving and tend to find them well-outside major cities. They’re not pretty, usually don’t have online booking, and aren’t particularly clean most of the time, either. But they are cheap and we can get a solid night of sleep there before moving on the next day. I think the most we’ve ever paid was $45. Usually it’s around $35. =)

  15. We took a Megabus (that’s the name of the company) from LA to Las Vegas for $25 round-trip. The Megabus is a big blue double decker bus that travels to major cities. It was super comfortable comfortable too. That was a few years ago, prices may have gone up but it is still super affordable and a frugal way to travel.

  16. Hey! I was a 1st place Accelerated Reader when I was a kid too. Must be a “Frugal” thing. 😀

    Also, I am amazed 14.5 hours of driving took you through 7 states. I have definitely driven 14+ hours before and never even left the state of Texas!

  17. You also missed the cost of using an extra vacation day if you took two days to drive back. Vacation days are quite valuable IMO 🙂

    I’m not usually a big road tripper (or driver!), but we drove around New Zealand, 3000 km in 3 weeks this past winter and it was an amazing trip!

  18. Nice trip! only $70 for gas — good deal! We travel in our “new to us” minivan (fitted out as a mini-camper when we travel), gets great gas mileage and usually combined with a work trip so we can be reimbursed for gas and tolls. Love frugality. Thanks for the positive blogging.

  19. I’ve done a 14 hour trip in one day before! My close friend from college, my hubby and myself drove from Atlanta, GA to Galveston, TX in one day. It wasn’t that bad. With two spoonies in the car (my friend and myself both have chronic illnesses) we had to have a lot of stops to stretch our legs and take meds but it ended up being a nice break for the lovely driver/hubster as well.

    The only thing I wish we packed more of was vegan meals. Both my friend and I are vegans and it was a pain to find food that we can eat in the South. Still though, it was a pretty fun trip and it was nice seeing the various states along the way.

  20. Wow, well done! I’ve made the trip from New England to North Carolina several times over the years as we simply love the Outer Banks, but we usually go crazy and simply drive through the night to avoid the cities. There’s nothing worse than being on a long car trip and being stuck in traffic.

    I’ve also seriously considered renting a mini van or something and doing long-haul trips with the family by car in and effort to save money and wear and tear on my own car. Clearly there’s math to do to figure out if it’s worth it but glad to know you guys did it and had good success .

    It was a pleasure to meet you guys in person!

  21. Congrats on the successful trek back to the home. Just wanted to give you some comfort after Babywoods makes her appearance…

    We did a single day trip from South Carolina back to our home in New Jersey with our two year old. We were not as fortunate as you and did get hung up in DC and Philly traffic, however, our son did remarkably well (he better than his old man). We only made 4 stops over 12 hours – credit goes to my wife with the strategy. Even though we packed lunch and snacks, we did find a McDonald’s (also got some ice cream as a treat) with a playground area and let him stretch his legs/run wild for 30 minutes, before a diaper change and strapping him back in the car. The three “frugal” things that seem to work well: (1) Read-along books on CD’s for children rented from our local library (nothing better than “Green Eggs and Ham”), (2) cheap coloring books, crayons and craft kits from your local discount store (usually $0.99 for multiple hours of craft entertainment) and (3) when he was really starting to get fussy near the end, we utilized a free app on my wife’s phone (covering ABC’s, 123’s and animal sounds) for 20 minutes of calming activity – for all of us. Don’t usually like to resort to that kind of activity, but he deserved it after being so well behaved after being stuck in a car for over 11 hours at that point.

    I was dreading the trip, but made me realize, kids are resilient and there are several things (inexpensive, aswell) you can do that don’t require watching multiple hours of movies to sedate their behavior. Also, Barnes & Nobles are great places to stop for children. All the books to read and usually they have a Train table in the Kids section. The only problem is getting my son to leave as he has a lot of fun there.

    Best to you both over the next few weeks – have thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the SoMoney Interview. Stay frugal my friends.

  22. Super-impressed that you brought all your own food! We’ve never done that much in one day–I think we maxed out at 12. We used to drive from either St. Louis or South Georgia to my parents’ home in VA a few times a year in one shot.

    But here’s our feat and a story I never get tired of telling: We drove from Pennsylvania to Colorado, separately, with two toddlers. Mr. FP drove the moving truck and was accompanied by Kitty Paragon in her carrier. I drove my 1999 Accord (fully checked over with new tires) with a two-year-old and three-year-old buckled in the backseat. As adults, we could possibly have completed the 1700-mile drive in two days, but with the tots, we took 3., especially as we each had to drive THE WHOLE WAY. At least Mr. FP didn’t have to do it while tossing handfuls of Cheerios at the backseat monsters and listening to “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” over. and over. and over. (I had my iPod in one ear playing Call the Midwife, too.)

    We did eat at restaurants for many meals, although we did have a wide array of snacks and I made several peanut butter sandwiches (especially for the boys, to save on kids’ meals). And we stopped at kind of a lot of Starbucks. there was one in Kansas in the middle of nowhere that I was so happy to see, I almost started weeping.

    The second-cheapest option we considered was uPack. In the final analysis, we saved $1300 by driving our own truck! You can do pretty much anything for 3 days to save that kind of money!

  23. “You can do anything for a short amount of time”… That’s how I manage all natural labors. I’m sure it will serve you well soon, whether you go natural or not! 🙂

  24. My girlfriend lives in a different state. I was traveling for work a few months ago, and it was actually cheaper (no idea why) for me to take a layover for the the weekend with her in her state for no money out of my pocket. Visiting the GF is great, but even greater is when it’s for free.

  25. I don’t know how you guys did that drive post Charlotte as I was exhausted on a PLANE no less! When it comes to saving money, you guys take the cake. I can’t believe you didn’t win best frugal blog. I don’t think anyone is as frugal as you guys! 🙂 Great meeting you both and I can’t wait to watch the today show! When is it??

  26. Sounds like an awesome escapade and I love the ‘driving in neutral’ part of it. It reminds me of that time I tried the same with the emergency brake partly on.

    My family and I have tried this before when skiing and we’ve saved some serious dough. We ended up driving a 15 passenger vehicle from Miami to Montreal in about 36 hours with a single stop in North Carolina; my down under cheeks were on fire!

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  27. Great news about the tools! I wish you two lived closer. It would be fun to help tune and sharpen those tools back to usable status. From what I can tell, all that is missing is a couple handsaws that would have been secured in the lid. You’ll be amazed how much you can build with that set.

    1. There are actually a couple of saws down in the box. I too can’t wait to get them all sorted through and back to working order! It’s like christmas morning, only better and with chisels.

  28. Firstly
    – I’m impressed that a pregnant lady managed that trip with only six stops

    – Great job skirting the cities, especially DC

    “Plus, I imagine this type of power trip might not be possible/wise once Babywoods is born, so why not take advantage of our current no-kid status?”

    Yes, this is a huge one. My husband and I drove west (when we were engaged) in about 5 days. Essentially 12 hours of driving a day. Stayed with family, friends, and hotels when necessary. But we were young and kidless.

    Nowadays we happily spend more when it seems more comfortable. Our summer vacation was a 2 week trip to the East Coast (from California) to visit family. We used air miles (from 4 years of business trips) for our tickets, so we got 4 round trip tix for $200. We opted to take the train for the trip between families. Normally it’s an 8 hour drive, which really means 10+ hours with kids and bathroom stops. As the “transfer day” was my spouse’s birthday – he decided he’d rather take the train. (Actually, we’d originally booked our tix for 2 weeks earlier, and had a rental car for $69 one way. When we changed the flights, the car on the new date was $175. Train tix were $174 for 4.)

    Of course there was an extra cost in there. The train leaves 2 hours from my family and at 7 am. My stepdad opted to go up the night before. He paid for hotel rooms as a birthday gift, and we paid for dinner out. One of only 2 meals out the whole 2 weeks (both were social occasions.)

    The only “unexpected” cost came in the form of a last minute hotel room. The weather was beautiful for those two weeks. No rain, cool, not humid. I know what you are thinking – Northeast in July/August?? But yes. Alas, we got all the bad weather juju on the trip back. Storms delayed our exit from Albany for a few hours. We missed the 2.5 hour connection. After a few phone calls and some time in line, got rebooked on a later flight out of Newark. Which was also delayed a couple of hours. In the end, we landed in Los Angeles later than expected – and we missed the last shuttle to the parking garage for our car. (Which goes until 2 am, but the guy left early at 1:50 am.) A $20 cab later (just spouse and older child), we pulled out of the airport at 3 am.

    Now, mind you, this was CA time. We had awoken at 7 am East Coast time (aka 4 am). With the rebooking of the flights, we were lucky enough to sit together, and even in the Economy Plus section (xtra leg room), but sadly, right in front of the exit row. AKA, the seats that don’t recline. So while our progeny slept on that flight, the adults did not.

    One hour out of LA, (and one hour driving still until home), after having been awake for 24 hours, we pulled off and got a hotel room. $179 (plus tax) for about 5 hours. (Thank goodness for smart phones – was able to call ahead). Half of my friends said “good idea” and the younger half “but you were only an hour from home!” Considering the general frugalness of the trip, it was worth it for me for my entire family to NOT die in a fiery crash.

    I got about 2.5 hours of sleep, but then the kids woke up, so we went to the breakfast room for a leisurely (and free) breakfast where I downed coffe and they ate their weight in bacon. My spouse got about 4 hours.

    Our next trip is a week in an Air-BnB in Utah. We are hoping to hit a bunch of National Parks. This year there is FREE admission to National parks for the entire school year for 4th graders and their families. Why thank you very much, from this mother of a 4th grader. The trip from here to there is about 8 or 9 hours with no stops. So we haven’t quite figured out if we will drive it all at once or stop mid-way.

  29. Roadtrips are the best! We just got back from a 4650 mile trip to camp and hike in 8 National Parks, and we take a similar trip to a different area each fall. It’s great to have the room to pack whatever you want and be more flexible with the schedule. We drove our car since it’s reliable, but another perk of your rental car is that you don’t have to clean it when you get home 🙂

  30. “I imagine that a non-frugal weirdo would likely assess the length of this odyssey”

    Too bad you didn’t take the Frugalwoodsmobile or that would have been the perfect pun. However:

    “I’m elated to save $352.39 just by buckling down and getting this voyage knocked out in a day.”

    BUCKLING DOWN. Awesome! Also bonus points for “without a hitch”.

    Punniness aside, I’ll be on a similar trip soon, although opposite in direction: South Florida to Charlotte. The 50 mpg of my motorcycle is hard to beat, even by the cheapest of airlines!

  31. We do 815 miles in a single day twice a year, once each way to visiting my ILs. That’s with kids! I think we were able to do it single day ever since the younget was about 18 months.

    Stops vary. Some years we take it slower and do more stops, but there have been a couple times we’ve done that trip in just 3 stops (combined refuel and bathroom).

  32. I grew up going on epic road trips with my incredibly frugal parents and two sisters. We drove all over the country, stayed with friends where we had them, and my dad often drove through the night to avoid paying for a hotel. We packed a lot of our own food, but when we were on the road for weeks at a time, we sometimes got fast food. We were only allowed to eat Whoppers from Burger King because they were 99 cents, and had vegetables! 🙂 We lived in AZ, and used to make the trip to Arkansas to visit family a couple times a year… 20 hours, straight through. I blame my lead foot on doing all that highway driving with my learner’s permit.
    I also took the habit to college with me. When a bunch of my friends came to AZ for spring break, we did the drive from Chicago straight through – a little over 24 hours. That was kind of pushing it, to be honest. Now, doing road trips with my husband is like having doing them with a kid! He has to stop for way more bathroom breaks than I do, and feels the need to stretch his legs frequently. I have to admit that it was definitely an adjustment period for me, but now I (mostly) like his slower pace of traveling. And when we’re driving our own car and camping along the way, it doesn’t make too much of a difference, other than letting us enjoy the countryside we’re traveling through!

  33. When we were moving our little family out of Fairbanks (early this summer) I made the trek from Fairbanks to Soldotna (over 500 miles) with my Munchkin (then about 19 months) all by myself. It can be done! I thought it would be awful because we both had colds, but it worked in my favor because she slept most of the trip, and was content to be resting in her seat most of the rest of the time. A couple of bigger stops on the side of the road so we could eat together and change the diaper, but other than that it was fairly normal in terms of stops and took us about 10 hours total. You’ll be able to take Babywoods on your adventures fairly quickly, never fear! Just don’t let others tell you you can’t do it.

  34. Every summer, we drive from NC to FL to visit family. It’s about a 14 hour trip with a kid, 11 hours without. Running around breaks are necessary. Also many potty breaks. We always drive straight through, though, its just a lot easier. We leave really early in the morning, like 4am. That way our son will sleep till about 7 and we also take advantage of afternoon nap time. We tried driving all night once, but the downside to that is that we got there and he was all well rested and ready to play and we were wrecked.

    This past summer, our neighbors lent us their car DVD player and it made the trip with our 3 1/2 year old approximately 4000% easier. I highly recommend throwing all screen time concerns out the window when it comes to road trips with kids. We also stock up on fancy packaged snacks for him that we normally never buy. Totally worth it.

    Some babies and kids are just great in cars- my nephew would just sleep the whole way, from infancy to his current age of 15. So my sister thought hey, car trips with kids are so easy! Then his little sister came along. She will scream for 14 hours straight. Hopefully Baby Frugalwoods will be an awesome traveler!

  35. Back in college days, my friend Hollie and I did an 18 hour trip from Portland, OR to San Diego, CA. We saved on a hotel by staying with friends while there. However, I can’t imagine traveling 14 hours while pregnant! I struggled at 7 months pregnant with a 3 hour trip to the beach! When my husband and I were living 4 hours from our parents we would leave late at night so that we would miss the Seattle/Tacoma traffic. We saved a lot in gas and time by doing that. Would love to take a trip along the East Coast!

  36. Speaking as a mom to three young boys…it is fully possible to do this with a baby. Or…a 5 month old, a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 year old and one bada$$ husband. My in-laws have a lovely condo on the beach in Florida (paid cash…they are amazing with their money, very successful and very conscious of the value of each dollar) that they live in part of the year and loan out to family and friends for the rest of the year (the luxury of having lots and lots of cash and investments…they can be wildly generous and it makes no difference at all to their financial security). Every other year or so the husband and I trek down there from Indiana to spend a week and a half frolicking on the sand with our kids, going to parks and various free fun and our one indulgence…a day at Disney, with discounted tickets and a huge cooler of food. This latter fun time is possible because we do every other thing so frugally. We pack snacks and sandwiches and water bottles in Indiana, load the kids in the vehicle (reliable enough to make it to Florida, no car lives are at risk here) and start to drive at dinner time. The kids eat, then read or play with toys and at 11 or so (our kids are night owls) we turn on “night music” (Portishead, Sting or Morphine, in our case) and tuck them in with pillows and blankies. They fall asleep and sleep until we are in southern Georgia…which takes all night long. We give them fruit and muffins, stop for bathroom breaks, play car games and eat lunch…and by that time we are in Bonita Springs. For the cost of gas. We buy groceries in our typical frugal fashion and have a great time together. The Disney part always feels unreal…but it is a prominent part of our childhoods and we find it to be SUPER fun. Frugality gives us options. 😉 The first time we did this was in 2008…three kids, the youngest a breastfeeding 5 month old. It was surprisingly doable. 18 hours.

  37. Wow…..You guys were really making time! My math comes out to an average speed of +62 miles per hour WITH stops for fuel and restrooms. I have some recent experience with driving as I drove with DD2 to her new home out West. We drove 3.5 days and covered +2400 miles. We stopped every night at a good hotel with morning breakfast. It was pretty challenging for me anyway. So I tip my hat…we did about 750 miles one day and drove over 13 hours and we were exhausted at the end of the day. DW just flew out to visit DD and we were introduced to the crazy world of rental cars. As memory serves we spent about $360 for a 3 day rental not including gas. $360 was bad enough BUT what made it really crazy was there was a $150 fee included in the $360 because she picked the car up in one airport and dropped it off at another. This was not a large car but what they termed a “mid-size”….

  38. Nicely done! Your pit stops reminded me about the ‘rest stop’ app I downloaded before my last road trip. It was great for knowing when the easy on-off rest stops were if all you had to do was use the bathroom. Definitely saves time and gas when you’re not trekking into a town a few miles off the highway!

    1. We used that ap on our last road trip (a three-week camping expedition through the west and British Columbia.) That and Gas Buddy were great time and money savers.

      My husband’s parents live a 20-hour drive away. Too far to do without an overnight stop. And we’re usually travelling with two dogs, who need to stop more often. So put us in the category of find a cheap hotel and spend as little time possible there.

  39. Getting a $5 bus from bangkok to cambodia (about 15yrs ago when roads were still very rough). The, bus broke down twice, husband didnt get through the cambodian boarder before closing so we had to stay in ‘no mans land’ for the night, sans passports. In retrospect I would have paid $20, gone by boat-which I hear was very scenic and took about 4 hours!! Live and learn 🙂

  40. We are big fans of the one day car rental. We often use it when travel to CA to visit family. We search for the cheapest airfare from NY to CA and than drive form the CA airport to our detestation in a one day rental, saving us a ton of money, and not having to inconvenience our family to come pick us up.

  41. The longest I’ve driven in one day is Atlanta to Staten Island, 16 hours with stops. Growing up in Dallas, TX and having family in Southern California, Jackson, WY, Atlanta, GA, Raleigh, NC, and New Jersey, my dad would road trip instead of flying to save cash. To save even more money, we’d camp at state campgrounds or the occasional private campground instead of using a hotel. $15/ a night instead of $60 and you sleep in your own cooties. There’s always a clean shower in the morning and we camped in all sorts of weather. The only time it’s unbearable is high humidity heat–those times we might Springfield for a hotel or a/c cabin if necessary (I can sleep in cold, but I can’t get any sleep if it’s too hot and you need sleep to drive the next day!). Random McNally atlases always have campsites listed so it helped us plot our journey.

    Fun fact about camping… We’d always forget something like pillows or towels but we’d make it work. Having a pool growing up, my dad learned that those thick foam in-pool floating lounges made excellent sleeping pads on hard rocky soil (helped when the real camping pad died…

  42. DH and I saved up $500 for a vacation several years ago. We figured out how much we could spend on gas round trip if we kept a little for things like admissions and lodging, and threw a dart at a map to figure out where to go. The dart landed on Burwell, Nebraska, a tiny town in a state known for “why would anyone want to go there?”.

    So then we did a little research and set off to But well with links and snacks for the road. We enjoyed exploring Burwell and then went to Pioneer Village, which sold admission tickets that were good for two days. We stayed in the affiliates motel for like $29 a night for 2 nights and enjoyed talking to the motel people. The Pioneer Village was fascinating, we could’ve spent another week there. We headed home through Omaha, and stopped at the Omaha zoo.

    The best vacation ever, even though it was short. We had a great time and still made it home with a bunch of money left over-I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

  43. On the way home from our honeymoon, our flight had to land in st. Louis (we were headed to Chicago from Miami) because of some plane issues. When, after several hours waiting to board a new flight, they said the plane wouldn’t be fixed until the next day, we hitched a ride home with a guy we met waiting in the airport. He was headed to Chicago too and needed to get there that night like we did. He was our age and looked like a decent guy so we rented a car with him (his work paid for it so we got a free ride) and drove the 5 hours home with a complete stranger….we weren’t doing it to save money really but it just happened to work that way. Luckily he wasn’t a serial killer and we made it home safely. Of course if it was just me I wouldn’t have done this but since my hubby was with me, we went for it!

  44. How fast did you have to drive? Being that pregnant, I definitely would not have been able to drive (or ride) for 14.5 hours without some significant breaks.

    I’m also shocked at that high cost for a rental car. I think you could have done some comparison shopping and gotten a better deal. Maybe it’s the two state pick-up and drop-off? Or the late notice? But I’ve never paid that much per day for a car.

    Sorry to not cheerlead, but this is not my thing. And maybe other parents have done this to their kids, but there’s no way in heck I’d do this with my toddler. She does not like the car and hasn’t much since she was 6 months old or so (one of those “ymmv” things you get with babies). We’ve even curtailed the 5 hour car ride visits to the grandparents’ house. We either meet them in the middle or have them come visit us right now. We used to take road trips across the US while camping and cooking our own food, and those are on hiatus until she gets a bit older. I mean, we could still do it, but getting to the west coast in reasonable time means some 8-10 hour days. We’re unwilling to drive all night long for multiple days in a row to achieve that.

  45. When I was 9 years old, in 1986, my dad drove our family from Kansas to California. We got there in 24 hours, we did not stop and stay the night anywhere. There was only a 5 hour stretch or so where my dad didn’t drive, and he let my 18 year old brother drive us through the mountains of Colorado. I was never more terrified in my life! We were in our giant green 1970-something econoline van. He took out the seats and we made pallets in the back, oh the good ol’ days of no seatbelts, haha. We had a couple of ice chests for food and drinks, and we could sit on those if we felt the need to sit up higher. We did eat at a Burger King once on the trip. We had some leftover hamburgers that I don’t think stayed cold enough. My dad and I ended up with an epic case of food poisoning! Oh the memories 🙂 I did get to go to Disneyland though!

  46. Your used car mindset is spot on! I drive a 1997 Honda with 238,000 miles. I’ve owned it outright since day one and love it. Question : How do you only spend $400 a year in car insurance in Cambridge? I live in Central MA and can’t get mine below $500. Thanks

  47. We live in the Carolinas but our grown children live in Boston and Denver. We have driven to Colorado using points for two nights hotel each way. And our son has driven home in 28 hours – and still managed to stop for Kansas City bbq. When my daughter moved to Boston we rented a minivan, loaded it with her things, drove the 18 hours, unloaded and were on the road again in 3 hours. We returned the minivan within a weekend period. All of this is of course, dependent on good weather. None of these activities were what I would call fun but as you say you can do anything for a short period of time!

  48. I’m reading through your archives now, and I have to say- I apparently have way more frugal weirdo traits than I thought. It’s never occured to me NOT to make the Iowa to Texas roadtrip in more than one day: 1,040 miles. We always pack a cooler of food to snack on (though we usually split a $5 subway sandwich mid-day of the drive). Driving means we save the $300+ each to fly, plus we can bring the dog so no boarding. We do use our own cars, but I know that my parents rented cars for long trips to save wear and tear on their own. As long as the day (including stops) is under 18 hours, it is a one day drive!

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