road trip budget

How to Create a Road Trip Budget (With Gas Cost Calculator)

It’s far too easy to overspend on a vacation. This is especially true for a road trip; there are so many costs to consider!

Creating a road trip budget is important.

Why?

It ensures you don’t overspend and makes your trip stress-free. You’ve already accounted for everything!

It also tells you how much money you need to save for your trip!

Fortunately, it’s easy when you know how.

In this step by step guide, I’m going to show you exactly how to create a road trip budget.

What to Include in a Road Trip Budget

Before you can begin budgeting for your road trip, you’ll need to know exactly where you’re going, and how long for. In other words, you’ll need to plan out your road trip.

From this point, you can begin to look at how much things will cost and create your road trip budget.

In your budget you’ll need to include (but not be limited to!) the following:

  • Major Transportation (eg. Flight to destination)
  • Rental car (If not using your own car)
  • Personal car costs (If not renting)
  • Gas
  • Accommodation (and parking!)
  • Food/Drink
  • ‘Must-do’ Activities
  • Additional Activities
  • Unforeseen circumstances

This guide will show you exactly how to find out how much each of these factors will cost you.

Prioritization is Key in a Road Trip Budget

You probably have a good idea of your total budget for the trip. If you want to stay strictly within that, the key is to prioritize. 

For example, is staying in a fancy hotel something you’re unwilling to compromise on? Or do you want to take part in certain activities even if that means sleeping in your car?

Once you have calculated the non-negotiable costs (major transportation, rental car/car maintenance, gas, etc.), you can spread the rest of your budget across the other items (accommodation, food, and activities) as you wish.

Simple, right?

Let’s do it…

Traveling Abroad

A quick word on figuring out estimated costs abroad.

Budgetyourtrip is an excellent resource that allows you to search by destination and provides estimates and averages for costs during your trip.

Non-Negotiable Costs in a Road Trip Budget

Flights

Flights aren’t always necessary. For example, you might be taking a road trip in your home country. If this doesn’t apply to you, feel free to move on to the next section!

If you are flying somewhere to take your road trip, this could be one of your biggest costs. That’s why it’s top of the list. Search for flights around your dates to get an idea of how much they cost.

How do you search for flights?

Use this helpful guide:

Finding Cheap Flights – 11 Simple Hacks

Skyscanner is our favorite flight search engine, although as you’ll see from the above guide, it’s best to search across multiple sites.

Rental Car

If you’re renting a car for your road trip, you’ll need to factor the costs of this into your budget.

Use a car rental comparison site such as rentalcars.com to get an idea for prices (and the best deal). Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to pick up your vehicle from an office in town rather than at an airport.

Use the tips in this clever guide to ensure you get the best deal:

Rental Car Tips – Ultimate Guide to Saving Money

Personal Car

If you plan on taking your own vehicle, first and foremost ensure your car is ready for a road trip.

Quick Checklist For a Long Road Trip

  • Check all lights and features on the car are functioning correctly
  • Check oil, water, and tire pressure/condition
  • Check the washer and brake fluid
  • Give the car a thorough clean
  • Ensure you have a spare key and the owner’s manual
  • Check the air filter, windscreen wipers, and spark plugs
  • Check the coolant
  • Check you have the spare tire and changing tools
  • European driving kit available from amazon (if driving in Europe)

Whether you do these checks yourself or take the vehicle to a mechanic, you’ll need to include these maintenance costs in your budget.

If you’re taking a REALLY long trip (say, over 2,000 miles), budget to complete these checks again when you return.

how to prepare a car for a road trip

Roadside Assistance

You’re also going to want to include roadside assistance in your budget. This can be as cheap as $5 per month and can really help in the case of anything going wrong and causing you to break down.

A small monthly fee can save you from having to shell out megabucks to call someone out or get your vehicle towed!

HOW TO GET ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE

The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers a well-known and reliable breakdown cover.

Enter Your Postal/Zip code here to find your local AAA/CAA club and helpful roadside assistance.

If you’re in the UK, use Money Supermarket to find a decent deal.

Gas

Your gas costs will depend on how far you plan to drive during your trip and your vehicle’s gas mileage. Fuel is a non-negotiable expense on any road trip, and it’s important you include this in your road trip budget. That way, you’ll know how much money you have left to play with for food, accommodation, and activities.

As you have already planned out your route, you should have a good idea of how far you’ll be driving.

My advice?

Add on a few more miles when calculating fuel costs to ensure you stay within budget. What if you make an impulse decision to go and visit something cool while you’re on the road?

Resources for Calculating Gas Costs

Fueleconomy.gov is a helpful resource to help you figure out fuel costs.

It has a trip calculator that lets you enter your exact vehicle and the route you plan to take and will figure out fuel costs for you.

Likewise, the AAA Fuel Calculator can also give you a gas cost estimate. Simply enter your start and end destinations and your vehicle’s details.

How to Calculate Gas Costs Manually

To calculate your gas costs manually, follow this simple formula:

  1. “Total mileage for the trip” divided by “vehicle’s miles per gallon” = total gallons of gas needed.
  2. “Total gallons of gas needed” multiply by “fuel cost per gallon” = Total cost of gas for the trip.

But how do you find out fuel costs?

Gas Buddy

Simply enter a location in the app and it will tell you the fuel prices at gas stations in the area. This helps with shopping around and finding the cheapest.

Gas Buddy also has a good rewards system which lets you save money on fuel, as well as an in-app payment feature.

Phew, now the non-negotiable costs are out of the way, it’s time for the fun stuff…

gas costs should be included in a road trip budget

Variable Costs in a Road Trip Budget

Accommodation/Parking

When it comes to accommodation, you have 2 options. Book accommodation in advance or just turn up.

If you don’t have a concrete plan, Budgetyourtrip will give you rough accommodation estimates for your destinations that you can include in your road trip budget.

If you’ve already planned your route (or at least some of it), book your accommodation in advance. This is how to sleep cheap on a road trip.

How to Book Accommodation/Find Out Costs

Use a comparison site such as Trivago for this, or simply go to the larger hotel booking sites such as booking.com and Expedia and see what is available.

A good hack is to go to the hotel directly. They may have specials or discounted rates on their own sites.

If the hotel doesn’t have its own site, drop them an email or call them to get an idea of how much a bed will cost you.

Camping

Camping at night during your road trip, instead of getting a hotel room, is a great way to cut back on costs.

To find campsite costs, use Ioverlander.

It’s a great road trip resource that lists the price of the site (if there is one) as well what is available there.

Parking

When on a road trip make sure to search for parking and accommodation at the same time. Often you can face large parking costs, especially in major cities.

To find out parking costs, use:

  1. Parkopedia
  2. JustPark
  3. Park Me Parking

Our article on how to save money on car parking has more on this.

Food

Food is a tough one to budget for.

This is because food costs vary wildly depending on where you’re going, whether you cook for yourself or eat out, and the type of establishments you like to eat at. Most destinations have both budget eateries as well as higher-end restaurants.

For a general estimate of daily food costs, I like to use Budgetyourtrip. You can multiply this by the number of days in your trip for a very estimated budget for food.

Use Reviews

For a clearer picture of how much it will cost you to eat during your trip, use Tripadvisor and Yelp. Simply search for restaurants, cafes, etc. in locations along your route. There will be reviews from other customers as well as pictures of menus, which will give you an idea of the price of a meal.

Planning on taking your own food?

Use these helpful articles for inspiration and to ensure you don’t forget anything essential:

Best Road Trip Food Ideas (With Easy Home-Made Recipes)

Road Trip Snack Ideas [5 Home-Made Recipes to Impress Your Family]

Want to maintain a healthy diet whilst on your trip?

Get the low-down here:

How to East Healthy While Traveling (7 Easy Tips)

Activities

Make Sure to Outline Your ‘Must-do’ Activities in your Road Trip Budget

There are probably a ton of things you want to do and see during your trip. However, make sure you pick out your “must-do” activities and ensure these are factored into your road trip budget.

Why would you not take part in a Scuba Dive experience if the main reason you want to road trip through Australia is to see the Great Barrier Reef?!

You can make sacrifices elsewhere, by forgoing other activities or by eating cheaply (see above), but you should never compromise on your dream activities!

If you have any money left over after, you can add on any additional activities you might want to do.

How to Find Out the Cost of Activities

Getyourguide – A very useful option for booking tours in advance

Withlocals – Local experiences with local tour guides

Unforeseen Costs

including unforeseen circumstances in a road trip budget
Changing a flat tire on our road trip through Chile

Try to Budget extra for unforeseen costs.

This could include medical bills, booking cancellations, or general mishaps. Including this in your budget will ensure any hiccups don’t come as a nasty shock and ruin your trip.

Now it’s your turn…

Is there anything else you like to include in your road trip budget?

Leave a comment below and let us know!