15 Tips for Budgeting for a Road Trip in 2021

If you’re going on the road in 2021, budgeting for your trip might be a little trickier than it has been in the past. Fluctuating prices, shifting health and safety concerns, and your own changing situations can make it difficult to plan ahead. 

But fear not: There’s still plenty you can do to set the stage for a great road trip without breaking the bank, whether you’re staying close to home for a weekend jaunt or traveling cross-country on an extended adventure. 

Read on for some of the steps you can take to ensure your vacation is a success. 


woman with head out of car window


Hope for the best, prepare for the not-so-good  

When you’re getting ready to hit the road, the last thing you want to think about is the potential for a crisis or emergency. You probably think about that enough in your day-to-day life as it is, and vacations are meant to get away from it all. 

Still, it pays to be prepared. Emergencies are expensive, and they can strike just as easily when you’re on vacation, especially for an extended trip. Consider using the following as a rough checklist. 


  • Check your insurance. Be sure you have enough insurance to cover you if your car breaks down or you’re in an accident. Balance deductibles against monthly costs and adjust your coverage based on your priorities, expenses, the distance you’ll be driving, and potential wear and tear on your car. 
  • Know what to do if you’re in an accident. Try to keep a large enough financial reserve to cover the cost of repairs, rental cars, etc., before you hit the road. Then know the steps to take if you’re in a crash, whether a fender-bender or something more serious. 
  • Consider roadside assistance. Many insurance companies offer roadside assistance as an add-on, or you can purchase it separately. There are several options from which to choose. Before you spend, make sure you’re not already covered.  
  • Have your car serviced. Even if you’re only halfway through the life of your oil service, you might want to get an oil change before you go if you’re planning a long trip. Check to see if you’re due for a tune-up or a filter change. Have your tires rotated and checked for tread wear, and be sure your brakes aren’t on their last legs.  
  • Have a tool kit on board. It’s a good idea to have on board a kit that includes jumper cables; a jack and tire wrench; a flashlight and flares; and basic tools to make minor repairs. In winter, you might take along an ice scraper, tire chains, cat litter, a warm blanket, and tire chains. 
  • Pack a first-aid kit. Include bandages, disinfectant, gauze, tweezers, scissors, anesthetic, and antibiotic cream. If you’re planning a trip to the beach, don’t forget the sunscreen. If you’ll be navigating winding roads and any of your traveling companions are prone to nausea, take along motion-sickness medicine, too. 
  • Have personal information handy. Be able to access your medical records, health insurance information, medication names and dosages, and prescription numbers in case you need them. 
  • Download traffic and weather apps. You’ll want to know what roads to avoid (because of congestion, accidents, construction, etc.) as well as how to prepare for harsh weather and dangerous road conditions such as black ice. 

If you’re traveling in an RV, inspect your batteries; test your generator and appliances; and check your waste tank valve, propane tanks, etc. 


group of friends taking a selfie


Make sure everything’s secure at home  

If you manage to get through your vacation with smooth sailing, the last thing you want to do is return to find an emergency waiting for you at home. Here are some steps to take to make sure that doesn’t happen.  

  • Stop your deliveries. You don’t want to miss an important piece of mail, so have the postal service pause delivery to your home while you’re gone. If you subscribe to a newspaper, pause those deliveries, too: A bunch of newspapers piling up in the driveway is a clear signal to potential burglars that nobody’s home. 
  • Set your lights to timers. Another way to make it seem like there’s someone at your house is to set your lights with timers, so they come on in the early evening and switch off late at night. 
  • Set up a generator. If the power goes out, an automatic transfer switch transfers your home’s electrical connection to a backup generator automatically. This can keep you from coming home to a refrigerator full of spoiled food. 
  • Consider a storage unit. Maybe you’re thinking about using your RV frequently, long-term, or even permanently, but you don’t want to sell everything in a yard sale. Renting a storage unit can be a great option to preserve your necessities, irreplaceable memories, and treasured items affordably. 


Budget, budget, and budget some more 

Before you head out, be sure you have enough cash on hand to make your trip not just feasible, but stress-free.  

Start budgeting for your trip well before you plan to hit the road, setting aside a little each month so you’ll have enough to play with. (The sooner you start saving, the less you’ll have to put away each month.) 

It’s important to have enough credit, too. A credit card is a great backup if you don’t want to carry around too much cash, and you’ll absolutely need one if you have to rent a car in a pinch.  

Even if you have credit problems, you can put money away to help with that, too. By setting aside a dedicated amount to secure a credit card, you’ll keep from overspending and also build your credit at the same time. 


couple in a car


When putting together a travel budget, consider the following steps:  

  • Monitor gas prices. Petroleum prices fell through the floor during the worst of the pandemic, but they’re rising fast as summer approaches. They’re different, too, depending on where you’re headed: State taxes and proximity to oil refineries make them higher in places like California and Pennsylvania than in Mississippi or Texas. 
  • Look for deals on accommodations. If you plan to stay in a hotel, consider rewards programs offered by travel websites and hotel chains. Or, if you’re camping out, research campgrounds and RV parks. Vacation rentals offer other alternatives worth checking out if you’re so inclined. 
  • Shop ahead. Instead of paying extra for essentials at convenience stores, stock up on items like snacks, water, soda, toothpaste, pain reliever, and deodorant ahead of time. With the virus still a potential threat, purchase sanitary wipes, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer ahead of time, too.  


There’s a lot to consider when planning to head out on the road. But the more you plan, the less you’ll have to worry about once your wheels hit the pavement. When you’ve got everything good to go, you can kick back, explore, and enjoy the scenery.  

About the Author: Molly Barnes

About the Author: Molly Barnes

Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.