How to Plan and Budget for a Trip

Planning a Trip

In order to plan a trip, you need to think about how much time is available for the vacation, what type of budget you have, who is going to go, the ages or physical abilities of the people who are going and what type of transportation you have.  To help you choose a park that meets your needs, there is a list of information sources at the end of this post.

How Much Time is Available?

This is an important topic because if your destination is far away and you don’t have much time, you are going to spend a lot of time traveling to the destination and very little time relaxing outside of the car.  Try to choose a trip in which you are going to spend more time outside of the vehicle investigating the natural world.  If you do not have much vacation time and have the desire to visit a particular location, sometimes it is possible to begin a trip very early in the morning.  If you pack the car the night before and leave the house at four in the morning you can drive while the kids are sleeping.  When the kids wake up, you can stop at a restaurant for breakfast and to get coffee for the driver or you could stop at a public rest area alongside the highway and eat rolls and fruit from your cooler.


The budget plays a role in every vacation.  If there is not enough money for you to enjoy a vacation, don’t go on that trip because you will become frustrated.  But, when you camp instead of staying in a hotel, you save money which can help you reduce expenses and can make a trip to a place likeDisneyworld possible.  In order to manage a budget there are various steps you can take.

  1. Bring your food or buy it at the supermarket near your destination.  If you regularly eat at fast food restaurants, you are going to spend a lot more money.
  2. Make blocks of ice at home using empty milk cartons.  To do this, fill a carton 80% full with water.  Put the carton in the freezer for three days.  This type of ice lasts longer than cube or crushed ice and it costs you very little.
  3. Begin your trip with a full tank of gas because gas is more expensive along the highway in remote areas.
  4. Bring snack foods and drinks for everyone instead of buying snacks and drinks at the gas station.
  5. Buy your film at home instead of at your destination because tourist areas tend to charge more for film.
  6. Use campgrounds instead of hotels for overnight accommodations.  Once in a while you are going to need a hotel, so bring some extra cash for this expense.
  7. Try to make most of your meals at the campsite instead of going to restaurants.  On the other hand, do not plan to have every meal at the campsite.  This is because there are times when it will be raining hard and everything is going to get wet, sometimes mom or dad will be tired of cooking and other times there won’t be enough time to make a meal after a long day.
  8. Look for coupons for the attraction that you are going to visit.
  9. If you are a member of AAA the American Automobile Association, there are many places that offer a better price to you for their goods and services.  This includes hotels and amusement parks.
  10. Prepare your car for the trip by checking the oil, the tires and the spare tire in the trunk.  Driving with fully inflated tires will help your car go farther on every gallon of gas.  Finally, car repairs are not cheap or easy in rural areas and sometimes you will need to have the car towed a long distance which is very expensive.  So make sure your car is in good working order prior to your trip.
  11. Investigate the weather for your destination to prepare yourself and your family with the appropriate clothing.  If you need to buy clothing in order to adjust to the weather, this expense is going to reduce the money you have available for other activities.  Prepare and enjoy.
  12. If you are going to visit a number of National Parks or a number of parks in one state, consider buying an annual park admission pass.  This card or pass can save you money on park entrance fees.  If you are not going to more than two parks in a year, then this card will cost more than the price of admission.

Common Trip Expenses

Gasoline-To estimate how much gas you are going to use on a trip, use the following formula.  Estimate the number of total miles you will be traveling and divide this number by the miles per gallon that your car gets.  The resulting figure will be the number of gallons of gas you will be buying and you can multiply this number by the price of gas.  For example:  I am going on a trip from Chicago to Denver and back.  The distance is 1000 miles each way.  My car gets 25 miles to the gallon.  I divide my round trip total of 2000 miles by 25 and get 80 gallons.  Let’s say the price of gas is $3.50.  So knowing that I need 80 gallons of gas for my trip, I multiply this number by $3.50 and find out that I need to budget at least $280 dollars for gas.

Food-As an initial figure, use your regular weekly grocery bill and add two restaurant meals per week.

Ice-You will generally need to buy ice while on the road at the supermarket in order to keep your cooler cold.

Souvenirs- Bring extra money for buying items on your trip that may not be available at home.  Some examples are books written about the parks you visit, t-shirts, baseball caps, gifts for family members watching your house and novelty items.

Admission Fees-Many attractions have admission fees.  Before your trip, investigate these fees and bring sufficient money to pay them.

Firewood-Many parks sell firewood which generally costs between six and ten dollars.  Remember, in most parks it is illegal to collect firewood from the forest.

Fishing License-Each state has its own fees for fishing.  Many times kids can fish for free and do not need a license if they are under a certain age.

Snacks-Kids like to buy candy at the park concession stand.  Sometimes you can bring candy so you don’t have to buy it.

Who is Going?

Who is going on the trip is an important part of the planning process.  Young children between the ages of four and eight years old get bored easily on long drives.  Therefore, short trips near home might be preferable.  Five hours in the car is generally the maximum that a young child can endure in one day.  Also, the activities that you plan will depend on the ages of the campers in the group.  For example, a young child of eight years old is not going to be very interested in visiting a brewery because it is not interesting to them.  Remember who is going on the trip and plan the activities accordingly.


The type of transportation you have will affect where you can go.  If you have a car without a trunk and all of the seats in the car are full of people, it is better to take a short trip near home.  This is because there is very little room in the car for both equipment and passengers.  If you want to take a trip a long distance from home, you could buy a roof rack to put your gear on top of the car.  If you don’t have a car, but have the money, you could take your gear (but not fuel) with you on a plane and rent a car at the airport where you land.  If your car does not work well, choose a destination close to home so you don’t suffer a breakdown on the road.  Finally, remember that there are many wonderful parks within two hours of most major cities.

Information Sources

AAA-The American Automobile Association or AAA is an organization that charges an annual fee for its numerous services.  Some of the benefits of membership are free towing, free maps, free campground guides, free TourBooks, passport photos and more.  This post focuses on their maps, campground guides and tourbooks.  A good source of information for an area is the TourBook by AAA.  If there is a town or areas of interest near your campground, use the TourBook in order to look for hotels or museums of the region, an historical monument or a tour of a local attraction like a cave or a candy factory.  These activities are educational for children and adults alike and offer everyone the opportunity to have new experiences.  Also, AAA provides regional maps for every part of theU.S.  These maps are good tools for planning a vacation.  Each map has symbols representing almost all of the public campgrounds in theU.S. and the distances between cities.  The CampBooks by AAA are simple, but very complete.  Each campground listed in the guide has a brief description.  Some descriptions are going to include the location of the park, the size of the park, the number of campsites within a campground, the dates of operation for a park, the price of staying at a particular park, the services offered at the park, location of the nearest hospital, recreational opportunities, park phone number and the altitude.

Government Brochures-The federal and state governments produce brochures for the campgrounds that they manage.  To obtain a brochure, call, e-mail or write the state or federal park you wish to visit.

Books-There are many books available about vacation destinations in theU.S.  If you go to the library or the bookstore, you will find many of these books.

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