Preparing a travel budget is one of the most important parts of being a happy and successful traveler and even though road trips can be less expensive than other travel options, that doesn't mean you don't have to prepare a budget. In fact there are several unique variables here that need to be taken into consideration - not the last of which is fuel price and consumption rate.
To help better predict the total cost of a road trip, I created a spreadsheet template years ago that I use for each major trip. It helps me plan out the dates of where I'll be on what dates (and then updated with various reservation information) and it also serves as a worksheet for tweaking various budget factors.
Create a Fuel Budget
Luckily, there are tools to help you find the best prices out there, but I generally find that highway-exit stations tend to all be about the same price anyhow. So that's where Shell and the *Fuel Rewards® program comes into play since they are giving everyone who signs up between June 5 and the end of 2017 "Instant Gold Status", which means that you get $0.05 off per gallon (up to 20 gallons per visit). Plus, their app even lets you find the locations and cost of gas at Shell stations along your route.
Of course, gas price isn't the only factor that goes into predicting your total budget cost. Unlike buying plane tickets, your fuel cost is variable. Factors to consider include: MPG of the vehicle, Price of Gas, and Miles Driven.
Calculating Miles Driven
I generally plan out the trip using Google Maps and then take that route and add estimated additional miles. For instance, if the route takes me "To Yellowstone" I know that I'm also going to drive at least another hundred miles inside the park ... so make sure to add that to your budget too.
Calculating Fuel Economy
For a rough estimate, it is easy to use your vehicle's EPA number but in practice, factors such as additional weight of people and gear, terrain, weather, speed, and type of driving can have a significant impact on that number. For instance, while the combined highway / city number for the Ford Explorer that we drove on our epic western road trip was rated at 20 MPG, in reality the average number was closer to 19 (despite 90% of the travel being on highways). The biggest factor for us in this situation was that the speed limits in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are all greater than 70 MPH and that high-speed travel tends to reduce fuel economy. Similarly, the terrain being driven was mountainous, had lots of twists and turns, and on multiple occasions we were going off pavement too! Despite the long distances driven though, it kept us incredibly comfortable the whole time.
Determining Fuel Line Item Estimate
Once you've determined those gas-related variables, it's simply a matter of solving the equation: miles driven x miles per gallon x price per gallon.
Creating a Lodging Budget
Probably the largest line item in your budget is going to be lodging. In my travel budget worksheet, I pick a target number and then compare that against the actual numbers once accommodations are booked. There are lots of ways to save money on hotels but that's another post. However, Shell and the Fuel Rewards® program can help you here too since you can earn rewards by booking specific hotel deals.
During our trip for instance, I tried to book with Choice Hotels properties where possible, since I could earn up to $0.20 off per gallon based on my stays with them!
Create a Food, Entertainment, and Snacks Budget
Unfortunately these budget items related to food, entertainment, and snacks are going to be more complex since there's almost no way to predict the costs accurately. Instead, I try to look at these numbers as "what am I willing to spend" and then extrapolate that on a daily basis. For instance, I might estimate that our consumption of food and snacks is $100 per day. As the trip progresses, that means that if we want to splurge on one day then we need to make it up on the following day. The same goes for entertainment.
Monitor Your Budget as You Travel
As your trip progresses, make sure to keep an eye on your budget an update it accordingly with actual numbers vs estimates. This will help you better predict in the future - but it will also help you identify issues if you are over budget.
Plan and Prepare, but Keep Travel Fun!
I love to travel and I love to share ways to make travel as affordable as it is exciting. I suppose that is one reason why Shell invited me to be an ambassador for them this year. Over the next several months, I'll be sharing tips and tricks as well as adventures that I've taken where I've been able to make them better because I'm a Fuel Rewards® member.
If you haven't already registered, make sure to do so today. Simply visit the Fuel Rewards® website and signup. It's free and easy. You'll be able to start being rewarded instantly. Then load the app on your phone for even more benefits such as being able to locate participating stations and see how much you can save there, as well as offers from various other participating merchants such as rental car companies, retailers, and even restaurants.
* Restrictions apply.
To qualify for the Gold/Silver Status offers, you must be a Fuel Rewards® member and swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID when you fuel at a participating Shell station. With Gold Status, you will receive 5¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings on every fill-up. The 5¢/gal reward for Gold Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. If you are an existing Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status from 6/5/2017 through 12/31/17, the "Existing Member Introductory Period". If you are a new Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status for the initial month you join through the last day of the month, 6 full calendar months later, the "New Member Introductory Period". The last 3 months of the Existing Member Introductory Period or the New Member Introductory Period (collectively the "Introductory Period") is the "Qualification Period". You will retain your Gold Status during the Qualification Period, but you must make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to qualify for Gold Status for the next 3 months, the "Benefit Period". During the Benefit Period, you must continue to make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to maintain your Gold Status for the next 3-month Benefit Period. A qualifying fuel purchase is any fuel purchase at a participating Shell station in which you swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID and fill up with at least 5-gallons of any grade of fuel. For example, if you are a new Fuel Rewards® member and register on 6/15/2017, you will receive Gold Status through the New Member Introductory Period (i.e., 12/31/2017). You will need to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the Qualification Period (i.e., 10/1/2017 and 12/31/2017) to maintain Gold Status during the Benefit Period (i.e., from 1/1/2018 to 3/31/2018). Thereafter, if you continue to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the successive 3 consecutive month Benefit Periods, you will retain your Gold Status. If you do not maintain your Gold Status, you will receive Silver Status. With Silver Status, you will receive 3¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings. The 3¢/gal reward for Silver Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. Redeem Fuel Rewards® savings with your Fuel Rewards® card or Alt ID at participating Shell stations. Fuel Rewards® savings are limited to 20 gallons of fuel per purchase, per vehicle, or fraud limits placed by Shell and/or limits placed on your financial card by your financial institution, each of which may be lower. Fuel Rewards® savings must be redeemed in a single transaction. Once you begin to dispense fuel using your Fuel Rewards® savings, you must dispense to the 20-gallon limit or you forfeit any remaining discounted gallons of fuel. For example, if you only pump fifteen (15) gallons of fuel, you would abandon the remaining five (5) gallons of discounted fuel. If you have a rewards balance greater than the current per-gallon price of fuel, the price will roll down to the maximum capability of the fuel equipment, and your remaining rewards will be saved for a future fuel purchase. Dispenser may require a price of up to 10.9¢/gal. It may not be possible to combine multiple discounts and/or rewards in a single transaction. For purchases of $75 or more, please go inside to pay. Unbranded diesel and alternative fuels may not be eligible. The Fuel Rewards® program is owned and operated by Excentus Corporation. Offer may be modified or discontinued at any time without notice. Not valid where prohibited by law. Please see fuelrewards.com for complete Fuel Rewards® program details and Terms and Conditions. Other restrictions may apply. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. To learn more, visit fuelrewards.com/gold or call (888) 603-0473.