Car travel is often a much cheaper option compared to flying. However, the expenses can quickly add up with all the expenses for motels, gas, and groceries. To free up budget space for road trip snacks and ease anxiety, let’s learn from some experts how best to plan and budget for in-car trips.
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How Much Money Should You Spend on a Road Trip?
The answer depends on how far you travel in the journey. If you’re traveling one state further, you might not need to budget for as much money, but if you’re crossing five states, you might need to budget more to set aside a larger amount of money.
“In general, people should budget around $1,000 for a long road trip,” said Kyle Kroeger, founder and CEO of travel website ViaTravelers. “It’s how you make sure you have enough money to cover all of your expenses, with some budget left for souvenirs.”
Unless you’re planning a long trip, a good rule of thumb is to budget around $150 a day. Broken down even further, that budget would look like $20 per day for snacks, $30 for gas, and $100 for hotel expenses, according to Kroeger.
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What should be the focus of a road trip budget?
When budgeting for a road trip, the most important factor is where you want to go. From there, you can find out how much to budget for the trip and what factors to consider.
How to budget
In order to gauge how much money you should set aside for the trip, it’s important to consider all of the factors you need to incorporate, starting with the cost of groceries and fuel. Additionally, you may need to consider hotel, motel, or RV expenses.
Budgeting for fuel
One of the largest parts of your road trip budget will be the cost of gas. To estimate how much gas your trip will cost, there’s a simple four-step process you can follow to optimize your budget planning.
The first step is to use an app like Google Maps or Apple Maps to plan where you’ll be going on your trip, said Joshua Davis, founder of OutdoorFamilyHQ, a website about traveling and enjoying the great outdoors.
“Use an app like Google Maps to chart a course between your home and your destination, and make note of which states you’ll be traveling through and the total mileage for the trip there and back,” Davis said.
According to Davis, the next step in the process is to use a travel website like AAA to get an estimate of the price per gallon of gasoline in the states you’ll be traveling through.
The next step in the process is to get into the car you will be using for the trip and check the vehicle’s average fuel consumption. This way you can get an idea of how much gas your car uses compared to the kilometers it has driven.
“Finally, grab a calculator and do some quick numbers,” Davis said. “Divide the round-trip mileage by your car’s fuel consumption and multiply by the average fuel price. For example: 2,000 miles ÷ 16mpg x $4.49 per gallon = $561.25.”
Budgeting for groceries
After the cost of gas, food is probably the second most expensive factor to plan for when planning a road trip.
“If you’re traveling with an RV or camping with cooking gear, you’ll save a significant amount by making your own meals instead of eating out,” Davis said. “On average, if you cook for yourself, it costs about $4 per person per meal.”
Using this cost estimate, you can advance your planning by multiplying $4 by the number of meals per day you cook at home and multiplying that number by the number of days the trip will take.
“On the other hand, if you’re planning on eating out, things get significantly more expensive,” Davis said. “The average fast food meal price per person right now is $6.50, and for higher quality food expect $13 per person per meal.”
Budgeting for the unexpected when you’re on the go
From car breakdowns to being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no signal, a lot can go wrong while driving. Experts recommend traveling with some quarters just in case you don’t have access to a cellular signal and need to use a pay phone. Also, allow for about $200 extra for the trip to account for any unexpected expenses that may arise.
Does renting an RV really save money?
When considering travel plans, it helps to know all the transportation options to find the one that works best for you. While the idea of staying in an RV rather than a hotel may seem like a cheaper option, it comes with additional factors to consider before renting a vehicle.
“Unless you’re planning on staying somewhere remote or where hotel prices are astronomical, it probably wouldn’t make sense to rent an RV, especially if you have little to no experience staying in one,” said founder Melanie Hartmann the travel website Dreams Built In.
Staying in an RV when traveling can bring some freedom; However, it comes with many responsibilities and often requires learning new driving skills and mastering water tanks and electrical systems.
“Depending on how far you travel, the cost of renting an RV and paying the increased fuel costs is the same or more than staying in motels or hotels,” Davis said.
If you’re weighing the options and looking for a road trip experience with more freedom and time outdoors than staying in a hotel — without the added expense and responsibilities of an RV — you might want to consider camping.
“One way to save money on a road trip is to plan your route around open campgrounds,” Kroeger said. “This can be a great option if you’re comfortable for a few nights.”
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