Planning a Road Trip Vacation on a Budget

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Planning a successful road trip on a budget is all about planning.  There are four things to consider:  transportation, food, lodging and entertainment.


While not the most inexpensive choice, renting a car for your road trip is often a wise decision.  You can rent a car that will comfortably fit your family and your travel items, and if the car breaks down, you don’t have to worry about trying to get it fixed in the middle of Kansas.  At night.  In the rain.  Rental cars also sometimes come with GPS systems that make navigation a breeze.  These can also be rented from car rental companies for their rental cars that don’t have them, or for your own vehicle.  Make sure your insurance will cover you while driving a rental car, and you can safely decline the rental company’s driver protection package.

If you choose to drive your own vehicle, you’ll need to make sure you’ve had an oil change, had your tires checked, filled up the washer fluid and topped off the tank.  You may want to consider getting an emergency road-side service membership with a company like AAA in case you run out of gas or need to be towed.

Gasoline prices fluctuate constantly and, during the summer especially, they can be quite high.  Always estimate on the high side when budgeting for fuel.  This sample budget explains how:

How to Estimate Gas Costs


Miles to be traveled:  800 miles

Size of gas tank:  10 gallons

Miles per gallon: 20mpg

Estimated Price per Gallon  $3.00 per gallon

Estimated Total Fuel Cost: $120.00 to travel 800 miles

Formula:  Miles traveled ÷ (tank size X mpg) X tank size X price per gallon


You’ll have to eat, and while fast food restaurants are quick and easy and they offer reasonably clean restrooms, you can save time and money by packing a cooler.  Partially fill your cooler with frozen bottles of water and ice cubes and then add well-wrapped sandwiches, cheese sticks, apples, grapes, yogurt and other quick, filling snacks.  These items will keep in a cold cooler for a few days, so try and pack enough to get to your final destination.  Most hotels offer free continental breakfasts which are surprisingly good, so see what your hotel has to offer before heading out in the morning.  You can drain your cooler in the parking lot and replenish your ice from the hotel ice machine.


Where will you stay along your trip and how can you save as much money as possible?  First, it’s important to know where you’ll be breaking for the day to spend the night in a hotel.  Planning this in advance allows you to ensure there is a hotel room available for you and gives you time to research the best price.  Generally, you’ll get the best price on a hotel room by checking their website online.  If you have any discount memberships or coupons from the Entertainment Book you can get additional deals (also good for car rentals).  Choose budget hotels that you’ve heard of unless you find enough positive feedback online to trust locally owned lodging options.

Make sure you allot yourself enough time to get from your starting point to your hotel.  Start bright and early in the morning so you won’t be nodding at the wheel when you arrive after midnight.


Entertainment options on a trip really depend on whether or not there are kids involved.  For adults, good options for staying entertained if you’re driving are audio books.  You can borrow them from your local library if you will be back in time to return them.  Another option is to rent them from places like Cracker Barrel restaurants.  You pay full retail for them when you pick them up, but they credit that back to you minus a modest rental fee when you drop it off at any of their locations across the country.  Creating a music play list or bringing along a comedy CD or digital pod cast can make any trip a little less dull.  When mapping out your trip, find out if there are any local attractions along the way that will provide an opportunity to stretch your legs and see a bit of the country!

For the kids, it’s a great idea to have small toys with few parts and books to entertain them.  In addition, you can play favorite games like “I Spy” or “Which State’s License Plate”.  Perhaps make a scavenger hunt list of things your children can look for while on the road.  One clever idea is to buy inexpensive toys at a dollar store, and wrap them like gifts to be opened periodically along the way.  This will keep children engaged and not put you in the poorhouse!

Have Fun!

Planning your road trip ahead of time will give you the peace of mind you need to know that you can complete your trip on your budget.  Spending mindfully will always save you money over the quick and easy alternatives.  So, throw the cooler in the trunk, pop in an audio book and follow your map to a safe, fun and inexpensive road trip!


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