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It’s that time of year again, Labor Day, and you and millions of your closest friends are hitting the road to soak in the last fun of the summer.

Family vacations are fun, stressful and expensive. From hotels, rental cars, airfare, souvenir and food costs, the expenses from a family vacation can add up. But don’t let this stop you from creating long-lasting memories this summer. In 2006 AAA claims that for a family of two adults and two children averaged $261 a day for food and lodging.  We anticipate that will be slightly more now considering current economy. We’ve come a long way since 1950 when a family of four could get hotel and food for $13 a day.  

Instead of a staycation or flying to the Caribbean or visiting a commercialized theme park, consider traveling to a location closer to home on a family road trip. Even with rising gas prices, a road trip can often be an extremely affordable option.

Although planning a cheap road may seem like an art, it is not as difficult or time consuming as it seems. Here are five easy ways to save money on a family vacation, without skimping on fun or excitement:

1. Pack Your Lunch
Eating out can be expensive, especially when you are with the entire family. Avoid fast food at road stops and pack fun and healthy snacks and meals.  The money you save  can be put towards enjoying local grub once you arrive at your final destination.

2. Shop Early
Instead of waiting until the week before you leave to purchase items you need for your vacation, start reviewing GroupOn, RueLaLa and LivingSocial for deal items like sunscreen, beach bags, GPS devices and bug spray.

3. Travel during Off-times
If your work schedule is fairly flexible and you are able to take a few days off of work, consider leaving on a Sunday and returning on a Wednesday. This way, you will not only avoid the weekend rush of tourists, but often, prices for hotels are cheaper.

4. Find Free Ways to Entertain Your Kids
While there are many coloring books, crosswords and games you can purchase to keep you kids entertained on the road, there are also many free options online you can print out to save money. Also consider visiting the library and taking out some books on tape the whole family will enjoy.

5. Adjust Your Driving Habits
Stopping and accelerating suddenly and speeding are not only dangerous driving habits, they can also affect your car’s gas mileage. With gas prices so high you want to be as fuel efficient as possible.  Smooth driving will also extend the life of your car’s engine, transmission, brakes and tires so you won’t have to visit Penske dealerships so frequently.

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