How to Budget Your Road Trip

This is a guest post by traveler (and fellow New Englander) Noella Schink who has written for a ton of great sites like the Huffington Post and Travelbelles, more info on her below, but take it away Noella:

This summer I am looking forward to a long overdue week of vacation time. Because money is tight this year, my husband and I have decided to stay (relatively) close to home by driving a loop of a few northeastern cities we’ve never seen in both the US and Canada (Saratoga Springs, NY, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, and Burlington, VT). The DIY nature of this sojourn stressed me out, so I had to work out a way to estimate all of the costs we’d be facing during the trip. I want to share my strategy for budgeting on a shoestring, so hopefully you can avoid some anxiety and hassle next time you set off on the road.

Map it Out

Map out your route for a general idea of where you are headed.

First thing’s first. With gas hovering around four dollars a gallon (and even more in Canada), it’s useful to have a route to follow. Now, I’m not discouraging detours when spontaneity strikes, but a rough mileage estimate will give you a good idea of how much gas you’ll use, and also how many nights you’ll need to spend away. Try to pick stopovers that are a maximum of 5 hours apart so you don’t get dragged down by long, boring days in the car. Sometimes it is, in fact, the destination rather than the journey that’s important. Our route is just over 1,300 miles long and we are hoping to stay a total of five nights in the five cities.

Five tanks of gas is a generous estimate: $200.

Choose your Own Adventure

Views from the CN Tower fit the theme of this road trip.

Set an over-arching “theme” to your vacation. Is this trip about non-stop fun? Check out the local bar scene in the cities you’ll visit to find out when there’s karaoke, dancing or whatever shenanigans you are into. Maybe you seek some culture? It’s easy to find information on the best museums, historical sites and famous landmarks. If you have a sense of how much money you’ll need set aside for attractions and activities, you can better decide on the next aspects of your journey. We love to walk and people watch, so it’s not hard to please us, but there are a couple key attractions we can’t miss! Our plan is to check out the view from the CN Tower, get up close to Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist and other than that, save most of our funds for food.

“Fun Fund”, with a little extra in case we find something unexpectedly awesome: $150.

Inn, Hotel or Campground?

Hundreds can be saved if you can rough it a few nights.

Depending on your general ruggedness, dependency on hair dryers and technological expectations, you can either save a lot or spend a lot on your accommodations. What will the weather be like? If it’s going to be pleasant and mild, camping may be a great option. Quality gear and preparation is paramount in this case, so if you aren’t already outfitted with sleeping bags, a tent and propane stove, you may want to opt for a small inn or motel. Many of these establishments are quaint and affordable where we are headed, but if you are unfamiliar with the region, you may end up shocked at the disrepair/filth/low quality. Larger chain hotels will offer all the comforts of home, but come with a price tag to match. Since we love camping, we plan to stay in our tent to save money. One night in a hotel in either Toronto or Montreal might be a pleasant treat, but we’ll see how the saving goes.

Five nights away from home: $250.

To Feast or Not to Feast?

Check out local markets to load up on groceries to avoid eating out every meal.

We love to eat, so this area is where we’ll splurge, if funds allow. Dining on vacation can add up quickly though, so it never hurts to pack a cooler full of goodies, whether you are camping or not. Plenty of beverages, granola bars, fruit, nuts, hard cheese and bread tend to travel well, but stay away from perishables like meat or milk. If you opt for a hotel, try to find one with a kitchenette so you can mastermind simple meals in the room. If you are camping, you can save a lot by shopping daily for meat and vegetables to grill. Restaurants are the worst budget busters, so opt for simple breakfasts at the hotel (or in your tent) and keep “fancy” dinners to a minimum. We will probably try a lot of street food, as it is affordable, portable and offers a little taste of the region’s local fare.

Filling the cooler, and our bellies: $200.

Barring any unforeseen, credit card crippling technical difficulties, that should about do it. For about $800 it looks like we’ll be able to have a great week! Apply these tips to your own adventure, and have fun!

Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine who loves a good road trip! Whether she’s exploring her home state, driving cross country or in a rental car in Europe, she loves the freedom of a paper map and an open road.

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