When you’re planning a road trip, obvious expenses include gas, lodging and admission to paid attractions you intend to visit. Don’t be caught off-guard by the cost of food. The fact that you have to eat even when you aren’t on a road trip doesn’t mean the cost is the same. When you are on a trip, it’s much harder to whip up a quick, cheap stir-fry or bowl of pasta. Plan ahead and prepare a food budget so you aren’t left stranded and hungry.
Make a tentative schedule of where you plan to eat on your road trip. This does not need to include specific foods or restaurants, but should specify whether you intend to eat at a restaurant or scrounge up some road trip food. For example, you might write, “Tuesday: breakfast at a restaurant, sandwiches for lunch, trail mix for a snack, dinner at a restaurant. Wednesday: free breakfast at the hotel, assorted snacks for lunch, gas station hot dogs for dinner.”
Prepare an estimated cost for each item on your list. For example, if you’re content with diner food, estimate that a restaurant breakfast costs $10 per person. If you prefer the finer things in life, your estimate for a breakfast out might be $20 per person. A gas station hot dog and a soda could cost $5, while a dinner out could be anywhere from $10 to $50 or above depending on your desired dining habits.
Add extra money for snacks. When you’re on the road, it can be easy to go through bags of jerky, chips, trail mix and candy quickly.
Include money you expect to pay for drinks. If you crave caffeine, you may have to stop for soda or coffee several times a day and spend $2 or more each time. Expect to buy plenty of juice, water and other non-caffeinated beverages to help you stay hydrated. In the evenings, you may wish to have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. Include all of this in your budget.
Add several extra meals’ worth of money to your food budget just in case. You may miss a hotel’s free breakfast if you sleep in, for example, or you may find that it consists of little more than green bananas and stale muffins. Alternatively, you may see a restaurant that’s slightly fancier than you had planned, but sounds too good to pass up. Having extra money for food gives you the flexibility to change your plans without worrying about whether you can afford to eat.