Couple sitting in a car with a map planning a summer road trip.
13 July 2021

There’s nothing like an all-American road trip. Road trips are one of the top vacation types in the country and have been for decades. Some of the biggest appeals of road trips are that you can be in total control of your journey, and they can be the cheapest way to travel. As you plan for your big adventure by car, it’s important to remember that this style of traveling comes with its own unique set of costs. 

If you want to get away and a road trip is calling your name, here are some things to consider so you can save money and make the most out of your vacation. 


Create a Road Trip Budget

Though there is a sense of freedom that comes with driving cross country on a whim, making a plan ahead of time can keep you prepared and ensure that you don’t break the bank.

Road trip costs can add up if you're traveling for more than a day. Because of this, it's important to budget ahead of time and consider how much you're willing to spend and what's a reasonable amount for your family.

Take the time to arrange a trip that will give your family enough time to explore towns and cities that interest you while still keeping your miles down and your time succinct. Once you make a plan, here are a few things to add to your budget:

Cost of Gas for Trip

It helps to calculate how much gasoline your family will need to use, as this will be one of the more significant expenses of the trip. To get an idea of how much your total gas usage will cost, try using this simple calculation: Take the number of miles you plan on driving to your destination divided by the miles per gallon on your car. Once you have this number, you can then multiply it by the cost of gasoline. So, for example, if you’re driving 400 miles, your car gets 20 miles per gallon, and the price of gas is $3, then you would do 400/20 = 20, then 20x3 = 60, with the total cost of gas coming out to $60. One good tip is to add a few extra miles into your calculation to account for any extra driving or any of those fun and spontaneous moments that come up during your trip. 

By doing this ahead of time, you can then make room in other areas of the budget to accommodate your fuel costs since you know this likely won’t change too much. 

Destination and Lodging

Your expenses don’t just include your active time on the road. It’s important to also consider your final destination and why you chose this specific location. For example, many families with kids road trip to reach a particular place in the country like Disney World or Six Flags, knowing that the park will be one of the more significant trip expenses. On the other hand, some people may choose to have multiple stops comprising their road trip, making lodging and gas some of the highest costs.

Whatever the case, it’s important to make a plan for all the activities you’ll be doing and the places you’ll be staying. For example, if you know you and your family are going on a trip to an amusement park, you can search online for deals on hotels or vacation rentals. If you want to further maximize your savings, you can even look for places a little further away from the destination than most people would consider. Staying farther away can help you save money in the long run and even give your family the chance to get to know an area most tourists miss out on. But take note that this may add to your fuel expenses, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of this extra transportation.

Alternatively, if you plan on making multiple stops, you might choose a place to stay near any spots you plan on visiting so you can walk rather than drive while you’re there. Not only can this save you money on fuel, but it can give you a chance to explore areas you weren’t necessarily planning on seeing.

Cost of Food

Food is another big spending spot, especially for larger families. For the first leg of the trip, try to pack as much food for your family as you can. This may mean sandwiches for the first day's meals, which you could keep in a cooler. From here, try to have foods available that have a longer shelf-life. This doesn't mean that you have to get a ton of junk food; apples can be good for up to a week, and you can make fruits like oranges stretch even further.

Buying food from restaurants can be nice and will give you the chance to try cuisines from different areas, but it doesn’t have to be the only way you eat. Even less expensive fast food places will add up over time and result in you spending your food budget within the first couple of days.

When you arrive at your destination, stop at a store to buy groceries. Consider cooking one to two meals a day for your family, and then enjoy eating out for the other one to two meals a day. This will keep you fueled up for all your road trip excursions ahead, and is a smart way to save money.


Vacations Are Equal Parts Fun and Funds

While it’s important to ensure your family can afford a trip, don't let money rule your mind while you're out with them! Instead, budget ahead of time, invest in having fun, and try to be flexible if things don't go according to plan.

Road trips are a great way to see the country, connect with your family, and feel a sense of freedom on the open road. Thankfully, with a little bit of extra planning, they can also be a fun and budget-friendly choice for a vacation!