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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    South Central Orange County

    Default How much planning do you do to estimate your trip budget?

    When I had more money to spend and lived alone, I didn't mind "winging it" and taking trips with only destinations in mind. I didn't check on restaurants or gas prices (of course, this was before this information was available in near real-time on the web).

    This month I am going to experiment with a thorough budget including all probably costs (i.e. gas, lodging, food, tolls, entrance fees, souvenirs and incidentals) to see how close I can come to my actual costs on my family trip. I will post my findings here.

    How robust is your pre-planning? Do you work out details on schedules, destinations, dining, lodging, etc. before you set out, or do you leave some wiggle room for spontaneity in some of those factors? Or do you leave most categories open and just hit the road?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I don't have to sweat the costs - within reason. I'm a no-frills hotel kinda person (Motel 6, Super 8, etc.) and I do get a bit annoyed if I have to pay more than $75 a night for a room. I don't work out exact details, but I try to get a general idea where I'm going to be from day to day and research lodging costs so I at least know my options. I don't sweat gas and food, those are generally pretty stable factors. I eat fast food off the dollar menu for lunch and a restaurant meal for dinner. Bottom line - I spend what I spend, but I do try to stretch out my buck the best I can without taking any extraordinary measures.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Only in the Broadest Sense

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Basically my deal is this: I've traveled enough to know my general style and what it costs. Like glc, I have my preferred motel chains, and I actually prefer to pre-book all my stops since I can comparison shop better from my easy chair before I leave than from the driver's seat when I'm tired and it's getting dark. I generally can find a good mid-level room for about $60. I generally eat just two meals a day on the road, a late breakfast and an early dinner, and there are enough family style restaurants out there competing for this segment of the market that I'm not paying that much more for sit down, waitress service (and a bottomless cup of coffee) than I would for a supersized 'value' meal full of fat and empty calories at a fast food joint. Gas is actually relatively easy to budget for. Just use the national average for per gallon cost, the known number of miles to be driven (plus some wiggle room), and the car's fuel efficiency to get a cost for the trip. But, as I say, I don't actually do any of that math. I have found that I can do almost as well buy just guesstimating $100-125 a day to travel plus entrance fees - and I tend to enjoy the cheaper stuff anyway.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    South Central Orange County


    Unfortunately for my budget, my wife asks that we stay in nicer accomodations to make up for the long hours I drive. While I got a night at a Holiday Inn Express for under $65 (including taxes and other fees) from a discount site by prepaying, the night in Virginia City, NV will cost us $85 for a night and our two nights in Sonora will set us back $220 for two nights. It looks like we'll save the most in meals by partaking of the free breakfasts at our lodging, taking a sack lunch with us, and eating reasonable suppers. Gas for the whole trip should only cost around $150.

    When I lived in Japan and planned a group trip to the states, my employer asked me to break down the itinerary to 15 minute segments (meaning instead of penciling in "1 1/2 to 2 hours" I had to write down whether transportation or an activity would take 1 1/2, 1 3/4, or 2 hours). I think this is overplanning, especially when going to new destinations, but it helped me to appreciate that sticking to a schedule will keep me from arriving way late to my lodging.

    I'll post my estimates for fuel, food, lodging, entrance fees, souvenirs and incidentals before I leave and compare it with actual expenses after I'm back.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2009
    SF Bay Area

    Default This will confirm a lot of folk's suspicions....

    I plan the heck out of my vacations. I think I get as much fun planning and researching as I do executing. I don't script every single activity, but I have a list of things to do, as the mood strikes us.

    I've also reached the point where I prefer to know where I'm sleeping, so I now prebook almost everything.

    Here's my dark little secret: I use Excel to plan each trip. I create a multi-sheet workbook (starting with the last vacation's book) with individual tabs for:

    Calendar (looks like a calendar page, with locations for each date)

    Sun and Moon (using the Naval Observatory website, I find out when the sun rises and sets each day in the location I'll be in, and the moon phase so I can plan when I need to shoot photos to catch the good light)

    Itinerary (one line for each day showing the from-to-distance and things to see on the way)

    Reservations (rooms, flights, rental cars, any entertainment tickets e.g., Ashland plays)... this sheet is where I tally up the expected cost

    Contacts (lists of where we'll be with phone numbers so the folk back home can contact us)

    Housesitter (instructions for the housesitter, four pets in the household, so we either dragoon an offspring or hire someone to take care of things)

    Gottados (things that need to be done before we leave)

    Packing List (you tell it number of days and a few other parameters, it spits out a first cut packing list)

    Yeah, I know; anal.

  6. #6

    Default Plan everything!

    I'm gong to agree with Cal here. Planning the road trip is just as much fun as going on the trip itself. Here is what I do...

    Since I typically do speed runs (trying to get to states rather than seeing the sights) I list the states I plan to get to in a week, punch it into google maps and see if it's possible and tweak and fine tune for weeks. I check out pictures of the roads from google and AAroads. I check for rest stops (Pilot's, TA, Flying J, etc) for quick gas off of the highway. Many of these places have sit down diner style eateries.

    On our first trip we did a continental breakfast, followed by a fast food lunch, and a sit down meal at dinner. I found that the fast food lunch gave us a ton of empty calories and didn't give us that mid day boost. So we are going to go for a sit down meal at lunch to take a nice rest and then a quicker dinner. I'd say $30 a day (with the coffee, drinks, snacks along the way) is a good estimate

    I pre-book all of my hotels as soon as I'm sure of where I'm going to stop each night. Depending on the area I spend roughly 55-65 a night. I also stay at the chain hotels.

    Gas is a constant but I go to and punch in my basic route to get a rough estimate of the gas prices.

    With the change in time zones from East, to Central, to Mountain I will also be checking out the sunrise/sunset times for each day to maximize driving time during the day.

    I am going to be using a GPS this time around but I'm still going to have 3 or 4 copies of my google maps text. A GPS is just going to get you from point A to point B in the shortest (in miles) or fastest (in time) distances so just plugging in my hotel address isn't going to work this time around. I used google maps itinerary on my first trip and followed it like a college syllabus. It's good to have a backup also. I don't want to get lost in Wyoming.

    I strayed a bit from the topic but you can look at gas possibly being up to $40 depending on how far you go/what kind of car you drive, 30 for food, 60 for a room which will bring you to $130 a day. It's pretty cheap as far as vacations go, though.

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