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4 Tips to Stay Within Your Road Trip Budget

Posted by MoneyKey on May 6, 2019
Someone going on a road trip on budget

As stressful as life can be, we all need a well-deserved break from time to time. You may have dreams of escaping to a tropical island for a couple of weeks, or maybe you’re looking to work your way through Europe. Either way, one common thread that ties most vacations together is the high price you have to pay. When you have to worry about the cost of rent, groceries, bills, and whatever other financial responsibilities you’re dealing with, the idea of taking a vacation may feel like a far-off dream. This is especially true if you’re just trying to make ends meet. While flying off to some remote location is great for some people – and we have some tips to help you manage these travel costs! – it isn’t your only option if you’re looking to take a vacation. If you’re armed with the right tips and tricks, you may be able to put together a road trip budget that works for you!

This isn’t always easy, as a road trips can get pricey if you don’t properly plan. So let’s take a look at some ways for you to reduce your road trip budget and have a fulfilling vacation without breaking the bank.

Plan your route

If you want to have complete control over your spending, you’re going to want to have a clear picture of what your road trip budget will be ahead of time. The first step in this process is to map your route out and figure out roughly how many miles and days you’ll be travelling. Once you’ve figured this out, you can start to put together a budget for food, gas, accommodations, and any other road trip essentials. You’ll also have a better idea of what you’ll need to pack.

Once you know your final destination, check your route on Google Maps. You’ll be able to see any gas stations, hotels, places to eat, and banks along the way. You can try using AAA TripTik to see if there is any construction on your route that might hold you up, and it’ll also show you where to find the best gas prices along your route. Finally, you can use Yahoo Trip Planner to help plan your route between different cities based on how long you want to be travelling for.

mapping out your low budget road trip

While these sites can give you a leg up when it comes to planning your low budget road trip, you’re going to need to plan your route according to your specific needs. For example, if you want to avoid driving in the dark, you’ll have to plan accordingly. If you’re bringing your kids along, you might need to mark a few more rest stops along the way. Whatever your needs specific needs are, make sure you’re aware of what they are and keep them in mind when mapping your route.

It’s also important to remember why you’re taking this trip in the first place – to have fun! As important as it is to stick to your schedule and your road trip budget, if you see something you’d like to explore along the way, don’t hesitate to make the occasional unexpected stop. Take breaks, stretch, stop to eat, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make your next destination at the exact time you’ve set out in advance.

Create a road trip budget

Once you have a clear idea of how many days you’ll be on the road and roughly how many miles you’re travelling, you can start to put together a firm road trip budget. You’re going to need to figure out how much you’ll spend on gas, food, accommodations, and any planned excursions.

Start by figuring out exactly how much you’ve saved up for your road trip. If your finances are tight and you’re trying to figure out how to save money on a long road trip, you’re going to have to prioritize. What are you looking to get out of this trip? Are you looking to visit the best food stops along the way, or explore natural landscapes? Do you want to stay in luxurious hotels or are you comfortable camping out in nature? Where you allocate your dollars within your road trip budget will in part be determined by your answers to these sorts of questions.  

Calculate the cost of gas

Cost of gas is an important part of your road trip budget

If there’s one expense you can’t escape, it’s the cost of gas. Figuring out how much you’ll need to spend on fueling your car will largely determine how much you can spend on the other parts of your road trip budget. To help you get an idea of how much you’ll be spending, use the AAA Fuel Calculator. All you need to do is put in where your trip is starting, your final destination, and the make, model, and year of your car.

While it may feel like you have little control over how much you end up spending on gas, there are a few simple tips that can help mitigate the cost of this part of your road trip budget:

  1. Pack as light as possible. Heavier cars typically get worse mileage.
  2. Try to minimize aggressive stopping and starting. Accelerating and braking suddenly will burn more gas than if you were to maintain a steady speed. To maximize fuel efficiency, use cruise control as much as possible and try to keep your speed under 60 miles per hour.
  3. Make sure your tires are adequately inflated. Deflated tires can hurt your gas mileage.
  4. Use smartphone apps to seek out the cheapest prices on gas in the area and along your route. You might also want to try looking for gas stations that aren’t on the highway. Gas stations that are on or directly adjacent to the highway will often be a little pricier, so as long you don’t have to travel too far, finding a gas station that isn’t directly on your route may save you money.
  5. You’re going to want to avoid rush hour traffic for plenty of reasons, but idling your car for an extended period of time can be an unnecessary drain on gas, so try to avoid it as much as possible.

Pack Wisely

When you’ve got an entire car worth of space, it’s easy to feel like you have an obligation to fill it up. After all, you don’t want to be 100 miles from home and suddenly realize you forgot something important! But as previously mentioned, adding unnecessary weight to your car will raise your gas spend, and an overstuffed car might make you feel cramped when you’re spending several hours on the road every day. The key to avoid over-packing is to stay as organized as possible. Here’s a look at some of the things you may need.


Pack and prepare your food to stay within your road trip budget

If you’re looking to put together a manageable road trip budget, preparing your own food is a great way to cut back on costs. In order to make this sustainable for a lengthy trip, you’ll need some specific tools. Things to consider bringing are:

  • A cooler and ice packs
  • Water and snacks
  • A small grill (and charcoal or fuel) if you’re going to be camping
  • Tupperware or plastic baggies
  • Dish towels and soap
  • Plates, utensils, a cutting board, and a knife
  • A can and bottle opener

You’ll also need to make sure you don’t go overboard when it comes to shopping for your trip. If you have trouble keeping your grocery bill low, take a look at these tips to help you save at the grocery store.


You’re not going to want to overdo it when it comes to packing clothes. Depending on the nature of your trip, you’re going to have to pack accordingly, but as a general rule, aim for comfort and breathability. You’re going to be sitting for large parts of your day, so you’ll want to make that as comfortable as possible. As a baseline, you should aim to have one pair of clothes for each day – unless you’re trip is long, in which case you might have to plan for a stop at the laundromat – a pair of comfortable shoes to walk in, and a pair of sunglasses.


Consider cash you carry a part of your road trip budget

Aside from the items we’ve gone over, there are a few random items to remember:

  • Cash, in case you run into any tolls that don’t take credit
  • Your phone charger, specifically one that works with your car
  • A first aid kit, particularly if you’re going to be camping
  • A map, in case your phone loses signal in a remote area

Use these tips to lower your road trip budget

As enjoyable as a vacation to a remote location may be, road trips are a great alternative when you’re looking to get away but don’t want to pay hundreds – sometimes thousands – of dollars for plane tickets. Do your best to stay within a well thought out road trip budget and consider the tips we’ve mentioned keep your costs as low as possible. Just remember to plan accordingly, stay safe, and have fun!

Do you have any tips to keep your road trip budget as low as possible? Share below!


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Holiday Tips

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