For many people, a cross-country road trip sounds like the perfect vacation. The issue is, figuring out how much it costs to drive across the country can be surprisingly challenging. As a result, you may not be sure how much to budget for driving-related costs. Luckily, it is actually possible to work it out. If you’re wondering, “How much does it cost to drive across the country?” here’s what you need to factor into the equation.
Traveling cross-country doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take a specific route. Where you start and where you end is up to you, as well as the roads you decide to travel along the way. That means you may end up driving a different number of miles than another person planning a trip across the country simply because your route plans varied.
If you want to estimate your travel costs, you need to outline your route first. This lets you get a solid idea of the number of miles you’ll cover and can help you figure out if there are any route-related expenses you need to contend with. For example, tolls can add up fast, so you’ll want to make sure you either factor in the cost or choose routes that let you avoid them.
Once you know how many miles you’ll be driving, you can use your vehicle’s miles-per-gallon metrics to figure out how many tanks of fuel it will take for you to complete the trip. However, you don’t want to count on that figure. After all, you may want to sightsee – causing you to take small detours – or you could end up idling in traffic, which does burn fuel.
Precisely how much extra you want to factor in can vary. However, planning for an additional two fuel tanks isn’t a bad idea.
After that, if you’re going to estimate your fuel costs, you’ll need to do some research. Gas prices vary all across the country, so you can’t rely on your local prices to accurately reflect how much you need to budget. Often, using an app like GasBuddy can help, especially if you want to find low-cost stations along your route. Just make sure to round up a tad, as prices do frequently fluctuate, ensuring you have a suitable buffer.
When you’re driving cross-country, you probably aren’t going to do it all in one go. Instead, you’ll usually need to make some stops, allowing you to get some much-needed sleep each night.
When you’re planning for accommodations, you first need to decide how far you want to drive every day. This helps you identify cities near the appropriate points on your route, giving you places to check out for accommodations.
Additionally, you need to decide on the type of accommodations you’d like. Hotels and motels are classic choices, but you may want to explore Airbnb properties, campgrounds, or other options that may be available. Consider what you’ll need when you stop for the night and use that to help you decide where to stay.
Cross-country trips take time, so you’re going to do a lot of eating on the road. However, you do have control over how you approach meals, drinks, and snacks.
For example, you could opt for restaurants the entire way. If so, you may need to estimate spending $10 to $20+ per person per stop, depending on the types of establishments you prefer.
However, you can also go in a different direction. If you have a well-made cooler, you could head to grocery stores for food instead. Essentially, you’d pack daily picnic-style breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, allowing you to avoid the higher costs of dining out.
With the grocery store approach, a bit of meal planning can help you estimate your costs. Just keep in mind that food prices do vary nationally, so you may want to check out local store websites near your stops to get estimates.
Ultimately, by looking at the points above, you can set a budget for your drive across the country. Just make sure that you factor in some extra cash for miscellaneous or unexpected expenses, giving you a safety buffer that can ensure your trip is a success even if something you don’t anticipate happens.
Have you ever driven across the country and, if so, where you aware of how much it cost to drive across country? Do you have any tips that can help someone save while driving across the country? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.