Gianetta Palmer is a writer, copywriter, and essayist. Her work has appeared in, Healthline, and The Dyrt Magazine. She is the author of Scrunchie-Fried and writes a lot about car insurance in her spare time.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florid...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Nov 15, 2020

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Taking a road trip is generally regarded as a cheap vacation option, as it can save you a lot of money on airline tickets and fees, but there are many expenses involved that can make it a bit pricey, such as food, gas, and lodging, so people often end up spending more than expected.

Adding up Everything Becomes Expensive

With restaurants, hotels, toll fees, fuel, and entertainment, road trips may cost up to $2,000 – $3,000, which makes traveling by car more expensive than flying, but very few consumers are aware of this fact.

A survey that was recently conducted by RetailMeNot, the online coupon service, showed that most Americans spend much more money on their road trips than they have originally planned.

Showing a red pin on a map for planning a future road trip
Long roads may need planning. Image used under Creative Commons: Red pin on a US map by alegri.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with The Omnibus Company, with 95% of respondents saying that they believe that people don’t stay within budget during their road trips.

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Typical Expenses of a Road Trip With Different Vehicles

 Honda PassportMotorhome / RVToyota Prius
Gas2,000 miles divided by 25 miles per gallon times $3 per gallon = $2402,000 miles divided by 8 miles per gallon times $3 per gallon = $7502,000 miles divided by 45 miles per gallon times $3 per gallon = $133
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72% percent of respondents said that food/restaurants was the highest expense associated with road trips, while gas topped the list of expenses for 62% of them. Food and gas were followed by hotels (40%) and entertainment (40%).

Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor for The Real Deal by RetailMeNot, said that 38% of those who took part in the survey intend to go on a road trip this summer.

Seligman Arizona sign showing the birth place of route 66 and to go on a road trip
Seligman Arizona The Birthplace of Historic Route 66 very cool place to go on a road trip.

Driving May Seem to Be a Road Trip Cost Saver, but Usually Isn’t

“While the cost of traveling by car may seem cheaper compared to the cost of airfare, there are a variety of other factors to consider when budgeting for a road trip, like souvenirs, food costs, fluctuating gas prices and even car maintenance issues that often arise,” she added.

Another interesting finding this survey provided is that almost everyone who took a road trip last year intends to do it again this summer and expect to spend at least as much as they spent on their 2016 vacations.

Parents are much more likely to spend more money on road trips (particularly European road trips) this year than those without kids, and are twice as likely to stop at least once an hour.

California’s Pacific Coast Route one
California’s Pacific Coast Route which go through the coastal forests of Big Sur. Pretty awesome.

Making stops while driving significantly increases the overall cost of people’s road trips.

73% of respondents said that they make stops every two to three hours, with most of them usually stopping to eat or to do some shopping.

33% of respondents stop to buy a souvenir from a local attraction, 41% stop to eat at local restaurants, and 39% like to eat at famous chain restaurants.

Almost a third of those surveyed make stops for an interesting activity, and 28% go shopping at retail stores along the road.

As far as what aspect of their road trips they are having most difficulties with, 50% of respondents cited staying within budget, followed by affordable gas (38%), and finding restaurants with affordable prices (17%).

Some of the Most Beautiful & Best Road Trip Places in America

RankCheapest Road Trips in America
1Historic Route 66 in Middle America
2Mount Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire
3Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon
4U.S. Route 1 in Florida
5Black River National Forest Scenic Byway in Michigan
6Route 100 in Vermont
7Pacific Coast Highway 1 in California
8Arkansas Highway 7 Scenic Byway
9Hana Highway in Hawaii
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Even though traveling by car can be expensive, there are a lot of ways to cut costs and stay within budget. 

Here are Some Cost-Saving Ideas:

 Road Trip Cost-Saving Ideas
1Pack Food When Possible
2Use Airbnb instead of Hotels
3Go Camping
4Stay With Family or Friends
5Locate Free and Affordable Attractions
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You can use a smartphone app to locate the cheapest gas stations along the way, avoid eating at famous restaurants and bring a lot of healthy snacks and sandwich fixings, instead, and try to drive as economically as possible to reduce fuel consumption.