Planning a road trip and trying to figure out the total cost? You need to have a road trip budget planner to get organized! I am beyond excited to share with you a road trip budget planner that I put together that has been an helpful resource for planning our upcoming 10 week long summer road trip throughout the US and Canada. I LOVE to take road trips. There’s something about heading off down the road with a full tank of gas that makes me feel totally free and ready for an adventure. And a road trip is generally a pretty cheap way to travel. With careful planning, even long road trips of a month or more can be a budget friendly travel choice. But expenses can add up when you take into account meals, gas, a place to sleep, and activities, so I’ve learned over the years how to make an accurate road trip budget which I am going to share with you here in my helpful free road trip budget planner that you can print at home.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Gas
The three largest expenditures in my road trip budget planner are usually gas, food, and lodging. I will start with gas as that is pretty much a fixed expense since if you are driving a regular car, you have no other choice but to buy fuel to get to the places you want to visit. With a few simple tools, it’s also fairly easy to determine the amount of gas you will need for your trip.
Using your favorite mapping website, determine the mileage of where you are planning to travel. I like to use Google Maps when planning my initial route since I am a creature of habit. It’s what I’m used to and you can add destinations to your itinerary and easily modify your desired route. But you can use whichever mapping website you like. Once you’ve entered in all of the destinations in your planned itinerary, you have your total mileage. Make sure you add any additional mileage that you will be driving while at each location since this can easily add to the total mileage. This is especially true in National Parks and other wilderness areas simply for the fact that things are much further apart from each other. For example, when we visited Joshua Tree National Park, we added a lot of mileage to our road trip driving back and forth to the Visitor Center to fill up our water containers. Once I’ve added both the initial driving mileage and the additional mileage from driving at our destination, I round up in order to have a slight cushion in my budget.
If your road trip is taking you across the country, gas prices can vary widely, but it’s easy to determine the cost of gas at various destinations by using GasBuddy which is available as both a website and mobile app. Simply enter the cities you will be driving to and find out the average price of gas there. GasBuddy also has a useful Trip Cost Calculator tool to do the math for you to figure out your total gas cost which works great for shorter trips. Since some of our road trips are too long and complicated for the trip calculator tool, I just figure it out myself based on our car’s gas mileage. So let’s say our trip is 1000 miles and we get 25 miles per gallon and the average price of gas is $2 a gallon, our total gas cost is $80.
If on a longer trip, I do this calculation for each day of the trip so that my total gas price in the road trip budget planner reflects regional differences in gas prices. So if I’m driving 500 miles throughout California, where gas prices can be high, I determine my gas costs for that portion of the trip and then add it to the gas costs of the 500 miles I’m driving in Nevada where gas is a bit cheaper. This helps keep my gas budget accurate for the whole trip. After I have added up the amount of driving I will be doing each day and calculate the estimated cost for that day’s gas, I generally round up the total gas cost by about 10% to account for variables in gas prices that inevitably occur after my budget has been planned.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Lodging
You have lots of options for lodging when on a road trip, and the cost of a night’s sleep can vary widely. Sometimes we camp, sometimes we stay in hotels and we also stay with friends or family at times. When we are reserving all of the places we are planning to stay, it’s easy to keep track of the total cost of lodging since we already know the total price. But there are times we like to wing it and hit the road without reservations, so I just check out typical lodging costs for the region on a mobile app (I usually use Trip Advisor or Travelocity) to estimate this daily expense. If we are planning on camping, but we are just not sure which park we will be stopping at, I look up campsite costs in the area to get a general idea of their fees so I can more accurately estimate our costs. As with gas, I also round up each night’s estimated cost to account for unforeseen lodging expenses such as firewood at the campground or unexpected parking or internet fees at hotels.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Food
To plan an accurate road trip food budget, you have to be honest with yourself about how you plan to eat. If your budget is based on stopping at rest areas for picnics throughout your trip, but you can’t find a supermarket and you find yourself stopping at restaurants, you will have badly under budgeted. For us, we plan on doing some of each throughout our road trips. On extra long driving days, I know that at least one of our meals will sadly be bought from a drive thru window, and we budget accordingly. And if we are in a city, we want to eat some of the local favorites so budget for that it as well. With a little planning, an accurate road trip food budget is easy to determine to include in your road trip budget planner. If you can’t pre-plan your meals each day, ou could also choose to just set a fixed amount for a day or week and stick within that budget.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Activities
Like most road trip costs, this budget item can vary significantly based on what you are planning on doing during your road trip. Clearly, the activity costs for a Disney World road trip will be much different that the costs for a camping road trip to state parks throughout a region. Just check out the costs for what you are planning to do and include them in your road trip budget planner. For us, this budget line may include entry fees to state and national parks, planned canoe or kayak rentals, ferry costs, museum tickets, etc. This is another budget item that I round up on since you don’t always know you want to do something until you are actually there.
Road Trip Budget Planner- Souvenirs
We keep things pretty basic when it comes to souvenirs and plan on a bumper sticker and magnet and a very occasional t-shirt from each national park we visit and maybe a regional food item to take back to friends. But when the kids were younger, we used to splurge a bit more and these costs added up! Souvenirs can definitely be pricey, so if you want to buy things to help remember your road trip, decide on an amount you want to spend and include it in your road trip budget planner.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Extras and Other Costs
Even with the most careful planning, the unexpected happens so we now know to just plan for it. Sometimes the extra expense is for a good thing, like eating at a special local restaurant you come upon which is outside your planned food budget or an opportunity to participate in an activity you didn’t know existed when planning your road trip but you just can’t miss. And sometimes it’s a bad thing, like a broken down car or malfunctioning camping gear. We’ve had multiple flat tires, Dave once got a speeding ticket in Montana which had to be paid for ON THE SPOT, and we’ve fled from campgrounds to hotels when weather got especially bad. Depending on the length of the trip, we usually put aside about 20-25 bucks a day extra, so when the unexpected happens, it’s no big deal and already included in our road trip budget planner.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Upfront Costs
When planning for a road trip there are usually some upfront costs that occur before you even pull out of your driveway. You should always get your car tuned up, the oil changed and tires inspected before taking off. Other items that you may need to purchase include a First Aid Kit and a Jump Starter. You might need a new cooler for meal breaks, an atlas, or a AAA membership. Whatever items you need to purchase to prepare for your trip should be included in your road trip budget planner.
Road Trip Budget Planner – Daily Log
To best organize my road trip budget planner, I figure out costs organized for each day. This is because long driving days will have higher gas costs but probably won’t have any activity fees. And days hiking in the backcountry will have wilderness permit fees and some food costs, but no gas fill ups, and so on. Organizing my road trip budget planner by day allows me to account for these vast differences in daily costs. Once I have each day planned, I write it in the road trip budget planner with the true or estimated costs for the categories listed above. And once all of the days for our road trip are filled out, I simply add them all up and our road trip budget is complete!
Click HERE for your free printable road trip budget planner to help plan the expenses for your own road trip adventures.
I hope it helps you with your road trip planning as much as it has helped us. I print it out along with enough copies of page two for however many days our trip is going to be and put them in a three ring binder with all of our other necessary permits and documents. This way it is easy to keep everything organized!
Planning an upcoming road trip? I’d love to hear about where you are headed!