road trip budget

How to Create a Road Trip Budget (Estimate Costs Step-By-Step)

Last updated:

It’s far too easy to overspend on a vacation. Road trip costs can easily get out of hand, there are so many things to consider! Creating a road trip budget will ensure you only spend what you must whilst enjoying an amazing adventure!

This guide will help you easily calculate how much a road trip would cost so that you minimize spending without forgoing those must-see attractions.

We begin with a step-by-step guide on how to create a road trip budget.

This article also includes an itemized breakdown of the typical road trip expenses, followed by an in-depth guide on estimating the cost of a road trip you are planning.

You will then be free to use our printable road trip budget planner to keep a record of your intentions.

Towards the end of the article, we will discuss a few examples outlining the average cost of a road trip. In addition, we have included links to relevant and useful resources and how to keep your spending as low as possible.

In this guide you will find…

Road Trip Budget Infographic

How To Create A Road Trip Budget

How To Create A Road Trip Budget

Total Time: 2 hours

Create a document for your Road Trip Budget

The process for creating a road trip budget is simple. The final product should be a document with your spending limit broken down into each type of expense. You can use a spreadsheet, a notepad, or our printable road trip budget planner.

Set an overall budget and estimate the cost per day of essential expenses

Decide on a total budget that will form the basis for the rest of your planning. Next, set a daily budget for essential costs such as accommodation, food, and gas. Only add in the costs for food you plan to prepare yourself as restaurant expenditure will be taken care of later. Decide on accommodation costs based on the quality of lodging you prefer. If you are camping and preparing your own food, you can allocate more of your budget to exciting activities.

Explore potential itineraries and finalize your route

Explore some itineraries, and pick a few potential routes. Divide the total mileage by the average miles you wish to drive per day to calculate the duration of each itinerary. Choose a route you like, making sure that you have plenty of money left over after accounting for the essential daily costs.

Add the cost of must-see activities

By now, you should have planned your route and recorded a figure to cover your daily essential costs on your budget sheet. Next, outline all the attractions on your route which you absolutely must visit and calculate the total cost. You can research the prices online and look for discounts or tips. Add this figure to your budget.

Allocate some of your budget to eating out

Decide on an amount of your remaining budget to allocate to eating out. You could set a daily figure or a total for the trip, allowing you to be flexible if you find a few special locations on a single day.

Allocate the rest of your budget to miscellaneous costs

It’s important that you still have some budget left over for use in unexpected circumstances. This could be a fun attraction, or an unforeseen toll road charge. Having the flexibility to stop off and do something fun will really add excitement to your trip. Equally, being able to travel stress-free with spare cash allows you to relax.

Typical Road Trip Costs Explained

Road Trip Costs Infographic

Here is a list of the costs to consider before going on a road trip.

Budgeting for a road trip begins with outlining a list of common areas of expenditure. By working through this list hopefully, you will have accounted for everything!

Gas Costs

We have a separate article on this website explaining exactly how to calculate gas costs for a road trip. This is because factors such as your route, the weight of your vehicle, and gas price can influence the cost.

The simple way to calculate the cost is as follows. Establish the total mileage of your road trip route, divide this number by the miles per gallon of your vehicle and then multiply it by the cost per gallon.

The simplest way to reduce your expenditure on gas is to avoid aggressive acceleration and stick to a steady, moderate speed on the highway.

Check out our guide on how to save money on gas on a road trip.

Food and Drink

Food and drink is the easiest way for costs to get out of hand on a road trip. It is much cheaper to prepare food yourself than to eat out often, although visiting restaurants is a fun part of the journey.

That’s why we recommend deciding in advance what your budget is for eating out, then preparing food whenever possible

Tolls

After you finalize the route of your journey, plan your road trip using Google maps. Identify toll costs on the way and ensure they are accounted for on your budget sheet.

Accommodation

Accommodation is one of the unavoidable costs of your trip. Camping is a great way to keep the price low. Booking in advance will allow you to confirm the total cost before departure, which is nice for peace of mind.

Entertainment, Activities and Recreation

When you’ve established your route, it’s a great idea to budget for the must-see activities on the route. You will then encounter additional costs for spontaneous attractions you come across.

The great thing about a road trip is many of the associated activities are outdoor fun which is often free of charge!

Parking

Parking was one of the largest unexpected costs of my road trip around Europe. Parking costs are generally highest around inner-city areas. Be careful booking accommodation without making sure there is affordable parking.

Some hotels can offer cheap rooms only to have a very expensive car park charge payable when you arrive.

Maintainance and Repair

If you are planning a cross-country road trip, make sure you consider the cost of maintaining your vehicle. Common costs will include tire replacements, oil changes, and unforeseen breakdown events. A good breakdown cover policy can mitigate these risks.

How To Estimate The Cost Of A Road Trip

estimate cost of a road trip infographic

Here I will outline my suggested approach for calculating the cost of a road trip quickly and easily. I hope that you find this guide useful.

In this step-by-step guide, I’m going to show you exactly how to estimate the cost of a road trip that will create memories that last a lifetime. Once you are happy your trip falls within what you can afford, you can create a full road trip budget.

Estimate the cost of gas

Calculate the total mileage of your road trip route. Take this number and divide it by the miles per gallon figure of your vehicle then multiply this by the price of a gallon of gas. This will give you the total cost of gas for your road trip.

Estimate the cost of accommodation

Decide on the total days that you will need to complete your road trip route. From this number, establish how many nights accommodation you will require. Decide on a budget for accommodation per night and then multiply this by the number of nights you will need to complete your journey. Use the internet to establish a budget per night based on the cost of hotels, camping, or shared accommodation.

Set a budget for recreational activities

Identify the cost of the core activities that you want to do on your road trip by searching the internet for the prices. Add up the costs of your core activities and then add an additional budget allowance for unexpected fun opportunities.

Create a budget for food expenditure

Decide how often you plan to eat out on your road trip. Estimate the Cost for each meal and multiply it by the number of meals to establish your restaurant meal budget. Now estimate the cost of food that you will prepare and transport in the car for the rest of your trip and add the two figures together to create a road trip food budget.

Look for opportunites to save money by booking in advance

Look at your list of costs and then search for discounts that you may be eligible for by booking in advance. This is especially true for the cost of activities. Follow online guides on how to make your road trip cheaper to see if you can reduce the costs further.

Add a budget for miscellaneous costs

Once you have calculated the costs for gas, food, accommodation, and activities you need to consider unforeseen events. Add an additional small budget for unexpected miscellaneous costs.

What to Include in a Road Trip Budget

After you have come up with a rough plan for your trip, use the above guide to estimate the cost of it. If you need inspiration, check out some of our awesome road trip itineraries.

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.

Once you’ve done this you are ready to create a budget that you can follow on your actual trip.

Your road trip budget will include:

  • 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.

Printable Road Trip Budget Planner

Print this sheet off from your computer and use it as a road trip budget planner for your trip!

How To Minimize The Cost Of A Road Trip

Here are a variety of tips and pieces of advice to keep your road trip cost to a minimum.

Prioritize Must-See Attractions

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…

Establish Non-Negotiable Costs in the 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

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

Minimize Gas Costs

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 that 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

Reduce Accommodation/Parking Costs

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.

Keep Control Of Food Costs

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)

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.

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.

Prepare Your Car To Avoid A Breakdown

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 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.

Now it’s your turn…

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

You can now prepare to embark on a stress-free journey to your desired destination.

Leave a comment below and let us know!

Sharing is Caring

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!