Calculating your fuel costs and overall budget

Image: Outback Queensland Tourism

The main concern most people have when planning a road trip away is the cost. Especially in a country such as Australia which is known for being on the pricey side and with it’s land size placing it as the sixth biggest country in the world, there’s a lot of ground you can cover. In rural and remote Australia fuel is usually a lot more expensive than the coast and breakdowns in these areas can really hurt your wallet and your travel itinerary. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of people having to stay a week or so in a location while they waited for a mechanical part to be brought in from the closest major city.

Items To Budget

When I begin planning our trip, I focus on the following areas:
* Fuel
* Accommodation
* Main meals and grocery shopping
* Main attractions
* Spending money per day for the group / family

Kakadu, NT

Fuel Budget

There are countless online calculators you can use to figure out your predicted fuel consumption and costs for your trip. For me, it tends to stick in my mind a lot clearer and easier if I work it out with a pen and paper.
This is the formula I use. It may not be for everyone, but for us, it never lets us down, i’m always under budget and it gives me peace of mind.

1. After deciding on the route I calculate the distance in kilometers that I intend to travel. I do this by adding up each travel leg’s kilometers or using a mapping program (such as WikiCamps) where I have plotted my journey. Don’t forget the return trip! For this example, I will calculate just the one way. 

WikiCamps showing my route and total klms and travelling time.

2. I divide the total kilometres I plan to travel with 100 to get the $ per 100 kms amount. Based on the above example it would be $27.68 for every 100 Kilometers I will travel.

3. I then make note of my vehicle type, how many litres per 100 kilometres my vehicle can do. My car is a Kia Sportage 2011 Diesel which consumes 6.4 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres.

4. I then find diesel prices per litre in the major locations I will be travelling. Websites/Apps such as Fuel Map are an easy way to find what price fuel currently is in each area. I then find the average (add them all up and divide by the number of locations). This will give me the rough amount I will pay per litre of fuel e.g. $1.35.

Fuel Map showing all fuel stations with diesel available around Cairns, QLD

5. I multiply the litres per 100 kilometres amount e.g. 6.4, with the price of fuel per litre e.g. 6.4 litres X $1.35 per litre.

6. This gives me the cost of fuel per 100 kilometres I will travel. For our example, this is $8.64.

7. I then multiply this amount with the initial distance amount in point 1, e.g. Distance traveled is 2768 kilometers (divide by 100) = 27.68

$1.35 per litre for fuel
6.4 litres per 100 kms
6.4 litres x $1.35 = $8.64 per 100 kms
8.64 x 27.68 = $239.15 total fuel cost for trip.

As a personal rule, I then round this figure up and add another $100 so I would budget a minimum of $340 for my fuel costs. This will also cover additional excursions and trips once I have arrived at each stop.

Accommodation Budget

After you have selected the towns in which you will stop over for the night and have found the best value accommodation make a note of the rate you are being charged per night plus any additional fees such as extra people, linen charges, port-a-cot fees or any discounts e.g. membership discounts and get the final figure for each night.

Add up all your accommodation stays and get a total amount for your accommodation for your entire trip.

Again, round up this amount in case of anything unforeseen occurs.

Meal Budget

When we travel we like to try and keep the costs down but still not sacrifice experiencing everything the area has to offer and is known for.

When it comes to meals, we try to book accommodation that is self contained or has access to a camp kitchen so that we can prepare our own food when needed. Our first stop when arriving at a major town is the supermarket where we stock up on bread, milk and food for main meals.
Investing in a portable fridge / freezer is a great idea. On our last trip through outback Queensland, this meant that we were able to enjoy lovely picnics during the day along river banks and in parks. It also saved us a fortune.

We still eat out a fair bit enjoying the odd parma or counter lunch at an iconic pub or enjoy a dinner show when we see one (because seriously what Mum wants to cook every night when on holidays!) but by doing a bit of BYO it really takes the pressure off your budget, especially when you are travelling with kids.

Remember when you are shopping you won’t have the fridge and freezer storage you are used to or the room in your car so you probably won’t be able to do a normal weeks shopping. If you work out what your dinners usually cost and then add cereal, bread, milk and lunch foods then budget for the extras such as nappies, drinks or nibbles for the drive this should give you a good basis to begin with. The cost of food in more isolated areas may be quite high compared to what you are used to so give allowance for this. I would look at doing a shop like this every three or so days.

I tend to budget around $50 per day for eating out. Obviously for a family of 4 that wouldn’t usually cover a meal out but most days we would be eating from our groceries and having bbqs so the daily budget rolls over and you will find that is plenty.

Do a calculation on the number of shops you will do and rough cost of each shop and then add your daily budget figure to this. This will be your food budget for your trip.

The Road train burger, Nindigully Pub, Qld.
Image: Outback Queensland Tourism

Spending Money Budget

When planning our road trip there are always standout activities we definitely want to do when visiting the area. Do your research, look at the cost and take into account any discounts or deals you may be entitled to. Make a note of each activities cost and then add them all up to create your basic activity budget.

I then budget $100 per day for other activities / spending money for our family of 4. You might not be really interested in souvenirs and knick knacks but you might decide to participate in an activity that you didn’t know about or buy your family a round of ice creams. Add this amount to your activity budget for the final amount.

Charlie in his element looking at dinosaur bones. Winton, Qld.

Now that you have all your fuel, accommodation, meals and activity budgets worked out, add them all together.

Tadaa! Budget is done and dusted.

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