Planning a ROAD TRIP on a shoestring budget

On the road again –
Just can’t wait to get on the road again…

Goin’ places that I’ve never been, 
Seein’ things that I may never see again…”

Read more: Willie Nelson – On The Road Again Lyrics | MetroLyrics

This is where my head’s been at for the last month. Spring is here and summer is just around the corner.  I have worked the last few months to replenish my savings account so I can head back east and north for the months of June to September.

I have loved spending the winter here in New Mexico with my daughters, but I am ready to travel full time again.  I will add my tentative itinerary at the end of this post for those interested. First, though, I thought I would share with all of you the process I have developed of planning a major road trip on a shoestring budget.

First, I make a list of people/places I would like to visit.  Of course this involves family, especially kids and grandkids!  Top priority there!  Add in extended family and friends, some whom I have not seen since college back in the 1970’s.  Looking at the atlas, I think about places I would like to visit if possible, and any celebrations/special events I know about that I would like to see.  I plan to travel to Arkansas, Virginia, New York, Maine, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Canada, and then back to Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Florida. Here is my initial list:

Rough draft list of possibilities

I have columns for location (and automatically put them in a logical traveling order), who I am visiting, any special events/places in the area, if I would be boondocking, mooch-docking, campground or hotel, dates I may need to be there (such as a birthday), and the approximate miles between locations.  I sit with this document for several days to let my brain simmer.

I like to look at a paper atlas at this point, in case I missed something.  I will also look at some blog posts I have saved from other people describing places I’m interested in, and also will spend some time on the laptop doing research. This trip I specifically would like to visit Canada in their national parks celebration, including the Tall Ships events and my childhood favorite – Anne of Green Gables. I also would like to visit Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando, which I missed last year.

After research and rumination, I do a second draft of the same list with my modifications so it isn’t too messy.  (This first rough draft is usually a mess after a few days of switching things around and adding/subtracting details!)  When the details look good, I get a good feeling.  Now this tentative schedule may get totally disrupted by weather, illness, money not stretching far enough…any number of situations.  But I am ready to head out with the big picture in mind, and a “take it as it comes” mindset. I am never too far from family or friends, and I don’t have a need to stick to every detail. I don’t have a problem with things changing.

To continue the planning, I now move to my expected expenses for the trip. On the back of this form, I will add up the total miles to figure out my gas costs – the biggest expense of the road trip for me!  This is money that has already been saved and earmarked for fuel.  This trip looks to be about 7000 miles, give or take.  Although gas is now about $2.20 per gallon, I will adjust to $2.50 per gallon to be on the safe side.  So fuel costs will be $1800-$2000.

Then I add the days when I am traveling and need to eat.  Since I am usually visiting with someone every few days, I eat very simply on the road – usually about $5 per day.  At this point, it looks like about 25 days on the road, so cost would be approximately $125 for groceries.  (Not bad for four months!) I double that to include supplies and such, bumping it up to $300 just to be on the safe side.

Next I would look at optional expenses – such as campgrounds, ferries, events, tolls, etc.  I know I want to take the ferry from Nova Scotia back to Maine and that is $200.  I would like to spend a couple of days in Orlando at Harry Potter World, so that is a huge optional expense. Campgrounds will probably run me about $300, so I place these optional expenses at $700.  If money is tight, I will change my plans and boondock, travel non-toll roads, etc.

So it looks like my costs for the four-month summer trip will be approximately $3000, barring any unknown calamities.  This is money already saved for the trip.  (I recommend people travel with at least $1500 extra -banked- for emergencies.) I will continue to work 10 hours a week while on the road (teaching Chinese children online English classes) to pay for my regular bills of insurances, Planet Fitness, and Verizon.

Now that I have the rough draft ready, I print out blank calendar pages to plot the day-to-day details:

The month of June – rough draft

The distance between two scheduled stops is figured (love to google: mileage from Albuquerque, NM to Fayetteville, AK, for example). I divide the total miles on that leg of the journey by 250 – that is the maximum I want to travel in a day.  Then I look in the atlas to see where I would be and figure where truck stops would be, or towns with Cracker Barrels or Cabella’s, etc. –any place I can sleep for the night in safety for FREE. I do have phone apps that tell me of boondocking places and campgrounds, etc. so I can quickly decide where to stay while on the road, even at the last minute.  I do my best to be at the overnight stop by 4 pm so I can check it out, get a “safe” feel or continue to another place, all before dark.

If I think I might use a campground, I look at some in the area.  I usually stay in State Parks, Federal Parks, or COE (Corp of Engineer parks), as they are less expensive than a private campground, they don’t care that my vehicle is older than 5 years, and they are generally more nature-inspiring!

After all this planning, I will let my family and friends know my tentative itinerary.  Always communicate that the dates may change based on weather, traffic, and who knows what else may happen on the road! I keep in touch with those I am planning to visit the week before I am due so they know if I am on target or will be earlier/later than scheduled.  At this point, some may not be able to host me and so I would revise my plans as they let me know.  I really do “fly by the seat of my pants” so this is the most organized I can possibly be!

Tentative Itinerary for June-September 2017:

  • 5/29 Mon. leave Albuquerque, NM — to Amarillo, TX
  • 5/30 Tues. –to Oklahoma City, OK
  • 5/31 Wed. — to Fayetteville, AR
  • 6/3 Sat. — to Memphis, TN
  • 6/4 Sun. — to Nashville, TN
  • 6/5 Mon. — to Knoxville, TN
  • 6/6 Tues. — to Clemmons, NC
  • 6/8  Thu. — to Buena Vista, VA
  • 6/11 Sun. — to mid-Pennsylvania
  • 6/12 Mon. — to Albany, NY
  • 6/26 Mon. — to York, ME
  • 6/29 Thu. — to Bangor, ME
  • 6/30 Fri. — to New Brunswick, Canada
  • 7/1 Sat. — to Pugwash, NB (Tall Ships event)
  • 7/2 Sun. — to Port Hawkesbury, NB (Tall Ships event)
  • 7/3 Mon. — to Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • visit (Anne of Green Gables, etc.)
  • 7/9 Sun. — to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 7/13 Thu. — ferry from Nova Scotia to Portland, Maine
  • drive to Dixfield, ME
  • 7/17 Mon. — to Sebago Lake, ME
  • 7/18 Tues. — to Raymond, ME
  • 7/19 Wed. — to Portland, ME
  • 7/21 Fri. — Sanford, ME
  • 7/22 Sat. — to York, ME
  • 7/28 Fri. — to Albany, NY
  • 8/20 Sun. — to Cochranville, PA
  • 8/22 Tue. — to Buena Vista, VA
  • 8/27 Sun. — to Charlotte, NC
  • 8/28 Mon. (my birthday!) to Myrtle Beach, SC
  • 8/29 Tues. — to Conway, SC
  • 9/1 Fri. — to Savannah, GA
  • 9/2 Sat. — Tybee Island, GA
  • 9/4 Mon. — to Jacksonville, FL
  • 9/5 Tues. — to Orlando, FL
  • 9/9 Sat. — to Tallahassee, FL
  • 9/10 Sun. — to Mobile, AL
  • 9/11 Mon. — to New Orleans, LA
  • 9/12 Tues. — to mid-Louisiana
  • 9/13 Wed. — to Houston, TX
  • 9/14 Thu. — to Waco, TX
  • visit MAGNOLIA store and town
  • 9/16 Sat. — to Lubbock, TX
  • 9/17 Sun. — to Roswell, NM
  • 9/18 Mon. — return to Albuquerque, NM!

I will be contacting people at this point to see if I can stop for a visit along the way.  I would request to park my van in their driveway.  I would love to share a meal or two with them, and see the family! If there’s something awesome to do in the area, I ask them to please let me know if we could enjoy that together.  If not, just hanging out is FINE with me!  Most family/friends will get back to me quickly and I highlight those that can host me, and which dates.  Now my tentative road trip plan is pretty much set.

I know other people may plan more, and do things differently, but this works for me.  I love seeing family and friends and doing cool stuff, but I am also fine with boondocking along the way on my own. As a confirmed introvert, I can easily go for da-a-a-a-a-a-a-ys without talking to another person.  I can always GOOGLE an area and find interesting things to do that don’t cost anything.  Nature itself is my favorite go-to, and America the Beautiful has so much to offer!

So, I hope my detailed process for planning a road trip is helpful to someone.  Please comment if you have other tips and tricks to planning a long trip!  Hope to see you this summer!  Happy trails!

—Scout, out!

From my bookshelf…

“There is a love and respect at the center of everything we do together. It’s not just business, it’s personal.  When you come to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart.  Heart sealed the deal.  That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective,with a professional code of honor….That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.”

From “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, 2016