Budget Planning For An Affordable Road Trip Through America

Planning Tips

Fuel adventures, not nightmares with four budget planning ideas for a wallet-friendly American road trip with your group

Budget planning for a road trip can help ensure your adventures across America are more fun-filled and less financially stressful. From fuel to food to lodging and more, our budget planning methods for road trips can help prepare you for any and all expenses.

Once you hit the highway, it’s all about making memories and following adventure.

Americans have always been willing to cross vast distances, whether to reunite with family or for fun opportunities. It’s a trend that has built the nation and driven development over the centuries.

The American road trip is iconic.

Whether it’s a summertime family vacation or a long weekend getaway for fresh air, a road trip in the U.S. is a staple family activity. Buckle up and start budget planning for your next road trip with these easy steps.

What’s Inside Our Road Trip Budget Planning Guide?

Every road trip budget needs to include a variety of costs. Knowing these potential expenses is the first step to navigating these budget planning challenges. There are many tools you can use to help plan your budget, as well as to minimize your expenses. This guide will offer multiple options for tools alongside suggestions for creating and sticking to your budget. According to the United States Travel Association, food and lodging are the two largest expenses for travelers.

Food (which includes restaurants, groceries, and drinking establishments) accounts for approximately 25% of total traveler spending in the United States.

Lodging (which includes hotels, motels, B&Bs, vacation homes, and campgrounds) accounts for approximately 20% of total spending.

That means that nearly half of your destination reunion budget will likely cover just food and lodging … but there are still many other categories of costs you need to remember.

As you plan a road trip budget, consider those large expenses, but don’t forget all the little ones that certainly add up. Of course, these costs will vary greatly based on a number of factors, so this is meant to be a guide for you to apply as appropriate to your situation. Let’s get into the details.

Considerations When Budget Planning

Planning ahead will ensure an enjoyable and wonderful adventure without the stress of last-minute, unnecessary costs. While a spur-of-the-moment jaunt someplace can be a fantastic idea to inspire family memories, you’d likely stay fairly close to home and not incur many expenses.

A longer road trip that may lead to a national park adventure, or to a beachfront getaway, or to mountainside bliss — those will certainly require more planning in advance.

Let’s go through the various costs involved in your road trip budget planner so you can start filling in the big items and start saving.

Lodging on Your Road Trip

A road trip budget generally starts with the biggest item: lodging. Wherever your journey takes you, there will ultimately be a destination where you will stay at least one night.

In fact, based on how long your road trip will be, you may have a few one-night stops en route before getting to the final destination.

When budget planning, consider the costs of lodging along the way and once you arrive wherever you’re going. There is dramatic variety in these costs, of course.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you traveling by RV or campervan so you can sleep in your own transport? Consider the costs of campsites wherever you go.
  • Will you be camping out in your own tents? That’s a lot cheaper. But you may still have small campsite fees.
  • Will you be staying in hotels? Estimate the cost based on location. Motels along the way can be cheaper options for a night of sleep before another long drive.
  • Can you all stay in one room or do you need multiple rooms?
  • Would a vacation rental make more sense when you arrive at your destination?
  • Can you stay with family or friends along the way or upon arrival?

Consider all the lodging options before deciding what works best for your family and your road trip budget.

Road Trip Fuel Expenses

Budget planning must account for an estimate of your fuel costs so you can plan accordingly. Note that fuel prices will vary based on location, but you can get an average cost for your route to plan ahead.

First, you need to estimate your total mileage. Use trip planners like Google Maps to estimate the distance you will be driving, but then add in a little extra, just in case. To estimate the fuel costs, you can look at helpful apps like GasBuddy and do a bit of research around any area you’ll be staying in for a few days or more.

Second, you’ll need to know your vehicle’s mileage per gallon, so be sure to double-check that for better budget planning.

Once you have these details, it’s simple math. Divide your total miles by your miles per gallon, and then multiply that by the average cost of fuel. It’s helpful to do this in separate chunks if you’ll be driving through places with widely varying fuel prices.

Budget Planning for Food and Drink Costs

Don’t forget all those road trip snacks. This is an optimal way to save on your road trip expenses. You can plan ahead and pack all the snacks and meals you might need for your trip. Or you could stop several times en route, but that could become costly. Thus, it’s important that the cost of food and drinks aren’t ignored.

You’ll save a ton if you plan well, but part of the fun of a road trip is grabbing the random gas station snacks you find along the way. Find a balance between healthy (and cheaper) packed items plus the occasional fun bonus treat.

Miscelaneous Vehicle Costs

Don’t forget to get your car checked before your road trip. A last-minute tune up never hurt.

From your oil and brakes to headlights and wipers, a trip check can give you peace of mind for the journey.

And, of course, there are all the regular expenses that you’ll want to make sure are updated and inclusive! These are car insurance and AAA or other roadside assistance policies. Make sure they apply wherever you’re going.

Don’t forget to look into the discounts and deals you can utilize along the way. If you’re a member of AAA or AARP or other organizations or unions, you might be able to save some money on lodging, fuel, food, and more.

Find more ways to save money on family and group trips by subscribing to the current issue of Destination Reunions today.


By Amanda Walkins

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