American Road Trip Budget Planner
Planning ahead will ensure you and your family can enjoy a wonderful adventure together
A road trip budget planner can help make sure your adventures across America are more fun-filled and less financially stressful. From fuel to food to lodging and more, our budget planner for a road trip should help you plan your expenses so you’re prepared.
Once you hit the road, it’s all about making memories and finding adventure.
Americans have always been willing to cross vast distances, whether for family or for 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.
ROAD TRIP BUDGET PLANNER
Your road trip budget needs to include a variety of costs. Knowing these potential expenses is the first step to navigating these budgeting 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.
BUDGETING FOR ROAD TRIP COSTS
Planning ahead will ensure you can enjoy a wonderful adventure without the stress of last-minute, unnecessary costs. While a spur-of-the-moment adventure 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.
ROAD TRIP BUDGET: LODGING
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.
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. But here are some things to consider:
- Are you traveling by RV or campervan so you can sleep in your own transport? Consider the costs of campsites wherever you go.
- Are you planning on camping out in your own tent? 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 cheap 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 budget.
ROAD TRIP BUDGET PLANNER: FUEL
You want to estimate your fuel costs so you can budget accordingly. Note that fuel 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.
You’ll also 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.
ROAD TRIP BUDGET: FOOD & DRINKS
Don’t forget all those road trip snacks. Whether you plan ahead and pack all the snacks and meals you might need or you stop several times en route, the cost of food and drinks shouldn’t be 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.
ROAD TRIP PLANNING: VEHICLE COSTS
Don’t forget to get your car checked.
From your oil to brakes to headlights and more, 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!
Amanda Walkins is a digital content strategist and freelance travel writer. Originally from the Boston area, she has lived in 6 other countries and loves creating connections in communities around the world. She shares insights into her expat life and adventures overseas on www.amandawalkins.com.