How to Plan an American Road Trip on a Budget

Budgeting for your Europe trip? How about a budget trip to the United States? As Daniel Chew the Wanderer, here are some views to share.

From the Grand Canyon to the Corn Palace, there’s no shortage of amazing sights to see on a road trip across the United States. A grand tour of the USA can be accomplished on very little money, but you will need to budget for food, fuel, and accommodation. Whether you want to experience the country’s diverse cities, mellow beaches, or vast heartland the following tips can help you get started with your planning process!

grand canyon

Grand Canyon

Creating an Itinerary

To get started, you’ll want to start perusing free US maps online, many of which can be downloaded and printed out for your journey. It may be worth investing in an atlas and guidebook as well, particularly for long journeys. Think about whether you’re more interested in visiting cities, or sticking to the back roads. Both city and country destinations offer a bevy of free entertainment options, which you can research in advance to plan your itinerary. If you need to make contact with friends and family back home, it’s also a good idea to purchase calling cards like Lebara to save on long distance costs.

Corn Palace

Corn Palace

Food and Accommodation

Food and a place to rest your head after a long day of driving are two of the biggest expenses of any road trip. Although fast food and chain restaurants at rest stops may offer convenience, you’ll often get a better deal by taking the time to drive into small towns to find a cafĂ©. This also allows you to experience the differences in regional cuisine, whether it’s a steaming bowl of homemade gumbo in New Orleans or a massive plate of apple pie in Kansas. To save money, you can also bring along the ice chest and fill it with sandwich fixings and fruit.

Scrumptuous Apple Pie

Delicious Apple Pie

Just as you can combine eating out in restaurants with your own cold snacks, budget-minded travelers might want to mix camping with staying in roadside hotels. If you are traveling during the warmer part of the year, staying overnight in national park campsites can be a great way to really see the countryside. However, motels offer a warm bed and a hot shower, often with free breakfast thrown in. If you plan on camping, be sure to bring a sleeping bag and tent along.

Fuel Costs

Gas is one of the most significant costs to budget for. Before hitting the motorway, you’ll want to have your car looked at thoroughly by a mechanic. Properly inflated tyres and clean filters can boost your fuel economy. You can compare gas costs in advance with online calculators, or use free apps to find the lowest fuel costs in your area. Generally, gas will be cheaper at truck stops. Of course if you are game for adventure, you can also get a lift from strangers (do ensure that you take safety measures).

thor's well

Thor’s Well, a natural wonder

Entertainment and Sightseeing

Naturally, you’ll also need to budget for entrance fees to some of North America’s top sights. Buying an annual pass to the national parks can save a bundle, and it’s a good idea to stop at local visitor centres for further information on local free attractions. Many of these also provide discount coupons for local restaurants and museums as a bonus. Chatting with locals can be great entertainment in itself, but if you start to get homesick, your friends at home can use calling card to get in touch with you.

By taking a bit of time and effort to plan your journey thoroughly, you can save money and stick to your budget. This leaves you more time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Budget enough? I am thinking of traveling towards the northern part of the United States in the coming future (most probably in a year or two), somewhere along the coast of Canada. Well, how about you?


  1. Alyssa Jaren September 26, 2013
    • Daniel Chew September 27, 2013
  2. Tomas T. Morrison October 4, 2013

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