If you’re going to go on a road trip to travel around the United States, then you’re probably doing it for two reasons, namely: (1) it is fun, and (2) it is cheaper. As far as the second reason is concerned, you are indeed correct, albeit not completely. This is because poor planning and failure to anticipate travel costs can make you end up with a situation where you actually pay more on the road than you would have if you just took a flight to your destination. It’s a bit complicated at first but it will all sound simpler in the end if you learn to manage your expenses.

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Of course, the most important part of costing in road trips is the gas cost. Sometimes gas can get so expensive that it’s cheaper to fly by plane. But here’s what you can do to ascertain that the road trip is really the cheaper option.

1. Calculate Your Gas Mileage

Answer this question: how many miles per gallon (MPG) does your car run on? To answer this, you can either do the math yourself or make use of a mileage calculator.

Doing the calculation yourself will require a bit of data gathering. Fill up your car and take note of the odometer reading before taking a drive. Once the gas is empty, read the odometer again to figure out the number of miles you covered on that full tank. Just subtract the miles you had before driving from the actual reading after to get the total miles.

Tip: To save yourself the trouble of calculating, you can reset your odometer back to zero by pushing the knob under the meter or to set that option if your console is computerized.

Now that you have those numbers, divide the number of miles by the number of gallons you used to fill up your tank. The quotient is your miles per gallon or MPG. Keep this number in mind.

2. Calculate the Distance of Your Trip

Next step is to determine how far your trip will be, specifically in miles. To do this you simply need to refer to Google Maps or AAA. Plot the start and finish points on the map and make sure you plot any stops along the way because these maps often choose the closest route by default, which would lead to an inaccurate reading. Once done, the maps will give you an approximate distance, which you need to take note of.

Note: Make sure that you’re taking not of the distance in miles and not kilometers or other measure. If you do, then just convert it.

Try not to worry too much about getting an accurate number. Sometimes it’s naturally hard to determine the actual distance because you’ll be making way too many stops and detours. Just try to get the closest estimate as possible, since you can just make room for some margin of error. This will come in handy especially if your road trip will last for more than just a couple of days (i.e. you’ll be making way too many detours and side stops).

When in doubt as to whether you’ll be making those side trips or not, just include them in the calculation, so that you know the maximum cost of your road trip. Now that you have more or less the total distance of your trip, take note of it right next to your MPG.

3. Determine the Current Gas Price

The third step is to know how much the gas costs at the time of your trip. Keep in mind that gas prices do tend to fluctuate, so don’t assume that you’ll be paying for the same amount of gas even if you’re taking the exact same trip the second or third time. AAA is a good resource for knowing the current or approximate gas price. Otherwise, you can just Google it or look it up on the newspaper. Take note of the rate and jot it down, along with your travel distance and MPG.

4. Calculate Your Trip’s Total Cost

Now that you have all three pieces of information you need to determine the total cost of your next road trip, you’re going to need to do some math. What you need to do is the divide your trip’s total distance with your miles per gallon (MPG). This will result in the total number of gallons you will need to gas up with for the trip. Take that result and multiply it with the current gas price, and you have your total trip cost. In other words, do this formula:

(Distance/MPG) x price per gallon = Total Trip Cost

Here’s an example:

If you drove around for 200 miles with a full tank and went back for a refill and got 10 gallons, you’d have to divide 200 miles by 10, resulting in 20 mpg. Assuming you’ll be traveling for 850 miles in total and that average gas prices will be $2.34, you’ll get the following solution:

(850 / 20) x $2.34 = $99.45

You’d roughly be spending $100 for the gas on the road trip.

Don’t forget to factor in other costs for your trip!

Surely, you won’t just be spending for gas money. There are other considerations for your next road trip as well. Here are some of the essentials:

- Meals: Road trips can take a while, so people will get hungry and you’ll have to stop by a diner some time. The number of meals you’ll have to account for will be affected by how long the trip will last as well as the number of people who will be joining you.

- Road Tolls: You might be passing by bridges and other paths that ask for a toll. Make sure you’ve accounted for those expenses as well. Tip: bring spare change so you can make payment without hassle.

- Emergency repairs: While you should make sure that your car is perfectly tuned up before hitting the road, you might encounter some problems along the way. Make sure you’ve got cash for that too.

A proper calculation of the total cost will at least make sure that your next road trip will be have fewer complications and a lot more fun.