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The Costs of a Trip to Texas


The comments section on this post were all over the place! I’d talked about making a trip back to Texas and about half of you were supportive of the decision….

Yes, a trip back home would be a good thing!

You can’t place a value on time spent with family.

There are no guarantees in life – spend time with your loved ones while you can!

….and the other half of commenters were not. In particular, many people voiced that they thought this was an impulsive and not well thought out decision. And guess what guys…..you’re right!!!

You are absolutely right that this was a knee-jerk reaction to having just seen my family and being dissatisfied with our visit (not the visit itself, mind you, but the lack of time I actually got to spend with my family). I was sad and mopey and my husband caved and agreed we could go back to our hometown (Austin) for a visit.

But after reading your comments (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for all of your comments – particularly the dissenting opinions! You give me a different perspective and force me to examine my thought process and behavior), I’ve decided an analysis of costs is in order.

But before I dive into the analysis, let me give you a little info on the timing of this visit so you have a fuller scope of information. First, we’ve decided not to go back for Thanksgiving. It’s simply too soon and we need a good solid month of work (for the hubs in particular) to try to build up some cash reserves. So Christmas time, it is. Several people suggested waiting until the Spring so we could visit at a non-peak travel time. Unfortunately, Spring doesn’t work as well with husband’s business. No one (very few people) wants to get his or her floors done during the holidays. It’s messy and dirty and costly and people just don’t want to deal with it. But as soon as the holidays end, the Spring season gets busy! So it makes sense for us to go during the holiday time because it’s already a time that’s slow anyway so there’s less of a missed opportunity cost in terms of missed income. In contrast, there’s a HUGE missed opportunity cost in the Spring because being gone for 7-10 days could translate to a missed job that would have netted us a thousand dollars or more! It’s not a chance we want to take.

So here’s my trip cost analysis:

Gasoline would be the biggest expense in this trip. In the past, my Mom has generously helped us to offset some of the gas costs, but I want to do my analysis without this added help because it is not a guaranteed thing.


I did all the math and, as you can see, we’re looking at about $400 in gasoline costs for the trip. Just FYI, at each step of the equation I was making conservative estimates (i.e., conservative estimate for price of gasoline, number of fill ups, miles per gallon, etc.).

The only other costs would be for food and if we decide to stop in the middle and get a hotel for a night.

In terms of the hotel, we should be able to find someplace for $100/night. One overnight on the way to Austin and one overnight on the way back to Tucson = a total hotel cost of $200

I think we could bring snacks and pack a breakfast and plan to only stop for lunch and dinner on the first day; breakfast and lunch on the second day. I would estimate these costs at about $60 (x 2 for the round trip = a total food cost of $120.

Here’s a summary for everything included:

Gasoline = $400

Hotel = $200

Food = $120

Total Expense = $720

All of these estimates are on the conservative side and there are so many ways that we could try to bring these expenses down (e.g., pack lunches so we only have to eat out for dinner; do something similar to our Utah trip and only stay in a hotel one-way, while opting to drive straight through the other way). If we work hard, and particularly if we end up being gifted with some gasoline money, I would think we can make the full round-trip for $500 or less.

A few people said not to travel at Christmas because we would then have to purchase gifts that we might not otherwise. This isn’t true in our case. Our families tend to shower the kiddos with gifts, but not as much with the adults (which is as I prefer it) so there’s not an expectation of gifts. Plus, we have an (albeit meager) Christmas fund, so we have some money saved up for any expenses that arise. This aside, anything we do while in Austin would come out of our regular budget. If we’re there for a week, for instance, we would use our grocery budget that week on food and/or entertainment while in Austin. In this way, we’re not saving money (which would, of course, be nice) but at least we’re not spending over and above our regular budget.

So there you have it.

I know many will still say that this is not a wise idea and should wait a few months. It’s fair for us to have differing opinions. But what I want to take from this is that I have really thought through all of the expenses and know in advance what type of investment we’ll be looking at. I’m a little embarrassed to say that we have NEVER EVER done this in the past! Even with our Utah trip this summer – we just kind of go and “wing it.” This is the first time I’ve sat down ahead of time to do some research and really figured out the costs of things up front. It seems so obvious and, yet, it’s just not something I’ve ever bothered with.

So this has been another learning lesson for me. Even for those who remain steadfast that this trip should not be happening, I hope you take some solace in the fact that you still rubbed off on me at least a little. Maybe I didn’t take your advice 100%, but now I’m not entering into this trip blindly. Instead of it simply being an impulsive knee-jerk reaction to being homesick, I’ve taken the time to really think things through on a financial level and to weigh the pros and cons ahead of time.

For that, I thank you!

How do you budget for travel when you go out of town?


  • Reply Cory |

    Your fuel calculation is way too complicated.

    900 miles / 21 (MPG) = 42.85 gallons of fuel
    42.85 x $3.50 = $150
    $150 x 2 (round trip) = $300

    Plus any fuel you use in Austin. I realize your calculations were “conservative” but no reason to convert to “tank fulls”.

    • Reply Ashley |

      fair : ) This is still conservative because gas right now is only about $2.88/gal, but I know some of the places in between here and Austin jump up in price, so I wanted to err on the high side.

  • Reply Sheri |

    They have a website that does those calculations for you and includes where to stop for the best gas prices. I forgot the name, but it would give you a better estimate.

    • Reply Jen From Boston |

      I use http://www.gasbuddy.com/ (well, the Boston version). They have a trip calculator that tells you where to stop for the lowest gas. However, I think it assumes that you will drive until your tank is nearly empty. Or maybe it just assumes that you will obey all speed limits 😉 Either way, I like to fill up before it suggests I fill up. However, you can view the route map and have it show all the gas stations and prices along the way. That will help you figure out where to get gas if you want to stop at different points.

      GasBuddy also has an app for your phone that will show you the prices of gas stations near your location.

  • Reply Jasmine |

    I believe Sheri is referring to gasbuddy.com. If not, that’s what I use. It can give you a trip cost calculator and let you know the cheapest stations to fill up at during the trip.

  • Reply Financial Fan |

    Go and have fun! That is a very reasonable cost for a vacation. Your girls are growing up fast, and it means a lot for family to see the little ones. I flew to see grandchildren when we really could not afford it, and 5 years later, I don’t regret it one bit. (And everything worked out well in the end anyway!)

  • Reply Carrie |

    Time with family is priceless! This is a good reminder for all of us of what really is important. Debt, sure. But time with family? Absolutely! It’s not an excuse to spend tons of cash, but certainly worthy of your budgeted funds!!

    Thanks for sharing, Ashley!

  • Reply Misti |

    I would really take a hard look at the food budget too and from. The first day you should easily be able to pack breakfast and lunch and do a cheap dinner ie $10-$20 on pizza. The second day if you stay at a hotel I recommend you find one that has free breakfast and then maybe a fastfood restaurant with a playground for lunch so your girls can expend some energy. I am not a huge proponent of fast cheap food but I believe it is a reasonable offset for this trip. Look at expedia or priceline and go ahead and plan out the hotel stay and get a cheaper rate maybe even name your price. then see if you can save money from your miscellaneous budget item to help offset the cost of the hotel. that way your hotel is prepaid for before the trip and you can better plan out a place to stop for lunch.

  • Reply SB |

    This is not meant to sound mean, but I find it interesting that your parents help you pay for your gas on your trips when you and your husband make a good living and could pay for it yourself. I believe you mentioned your dad paid gas on one trip (although I might be confusing it with another one of the bloggers), and then you mentioned your mom usually helps pay for it here. Do they do that because they know you are trying to reduce debt and they just want you to come so they help you offset expenses so that you will come?

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yep, that was me. My dad helped cover gas costs for our trip to visit him this summer (in Utah), and my mom usually helps cover at least a portion of gas costs for our trip to visit her (in Austin). I think they do it mostly to help offset the expenses of the trip so that we’ll be able to come. I’ve sort of glossed over this not wanting to make it into a big deal, but our families have been very, very generous in this regard. Even in my first couple years of grad school (before being married & way before babies), my Mom would often offer to pay for my flight back home to visit for the holidays. I certainly don’t want to take advantage of our families and don’t want this to be the situation forever (and we try to repay as we can – either taking out to dinner while we’re visiting, cleaning the house, offering to make dinner, etc.). Right now we’re graciously accepting the financial assistance but this is certainly not something we’ll be doing forever (i.e., accepting cash hand-outs from family). Hopefully when our debt is gone we can be more generous with our families. I’d LOVE to take us all on a cruise or some other family vacation where we (husband & I) foot the bill.

      • Reply Financial Fan |

        Our four grown children are all doing very well financially, but we still like to give to them. It doesn’t really ever change, even when they are adults. Last year, we paid for two of the four airline tickets so that our younger daughter and family could visit. And I will add that they have all been generous with us too. We will all do anything to be together as a family!

  • Reply Andrea |

    We always pack picnic supplies and stop at rest stops. By making the sandwiches when we need them, they are still fresh. And, it is easy to make extras if someone (our teenage boy) is still hungry. Kids spend time running around. Money saved, tired kids, healthier lunch vs. eating out. Win-win-win. We find the best rest stops are near state lines in our area.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’ve thought about doing this. There really aren’t any good fast food places with playgrounds on the way (some in El Paso, but that’s before we would stop for lunch), and there are actually some really nice rest areas. Seems like an ideal place to let the kids run around for a bit and picnic. Plus there’s the “pros” about it being healthier and cheaper, too. Love this idea!

    • Reply hannah |

      I second this, it is how I grew up traveling. My parents had mini travel fridge that plugged into the car, so we didn’t have to worry about ice in a cooler, but the ice+cooler idea still works great.
      My mom would use up the fresh food in the house in the days leading up to the trip, then would make a grocery trip the day before. She’d buy “fun” food – chips, cookies, nuts & raisins, as well as apples, bananas, cheese nd crackers, rolls, and several types of deli meat.
      Then on the trip, we could help ourselves to snacks in the car, or stop and make sandwiches at a rest stop, gas station, whatever. We’d refill when we happened to spot a grocery store.
      We never did eat fast food much at all traveling, and I don’t think we missed anything. Fast food isn’t the easiest on tummies, especially when traveling, and simple sandwiches and snack food is still healthier and definitely easier.
      Kids LOVE having special snacks to eat that they don’t normally get to have.
      My husband has rather gotten me used to eating hot food traveling ( fast food) so it can be a difficult switch back to “cold” food, but is sure is cheaper!

  • Reply Andrea |

    Another thing we did when our kids were young was make the trip there part of the actual trip. We’d find at least one free thing to do along the way to break up the drive. I started looking for National or State parks first. We never stopped more than an hour. Many times, it was our lunch break, too.

    Final hint – when we were staying at a hotel, we’d always eat dinner in the room. One of the adults would go get it while the other got the kids bathed and into p.j.s. Then, it becomes like a slumber party to them!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Last Christmas when we traveled we learned about eating in the hotel the hard way. Imagine: trying to go to a restaurant with exhausted, cranky, then-18-month-olds and food taking forever = recipe for DISASTER!!! We ended up asking for the food to be boxed up to-go and ate at the room commiserating over how that would SOOO have been the better idea all along!

  • Reply adam |

    I have done this exercise a few times over the years for trips back home, which is in the same ballpark for distance.

    Gas is a little cheaper right now so that helps. You can definitely do it all in one day with no hotel but it will be a long day. But if you start early, I guarantee you will WANT to drive through. You will get a few hours away from Austin and you’ll start thinking “no point in getting a hotel now.” We also have come to really appreciate rest stops for using the bathroom and getting a little break without spending a ton of $ on snacks and drinks at a convenience store/gas station.

    Don’t forget to consider all the money you WON’T be spending in Tucson by being away. You may find that it’s not that much more to take the trip:
    + $400 for gas
    – $250 for daycare
    – $50 for reduced utilities at home
    – $100 for groceries
    + $50 for food on the road
    and etc.
    = + $50 Net expense of trip

    Whatever the net expense is, maybe you could set that a savings or extra income goal and then you can say “we only make the trip if we save this much during november” or agree to save that much or try to make that much extra income over the course of a couple months when you return.

    One other idea – could you rent out your house in Tucson while you are away? Airbnb or craigslist or maybe post an ad through the JCC – lots of people travel this time of year and may appreciate the opportunity to stay in a home away from home, which could defray costs for you.

    Seeing family is important but the trip is expensive. So I could see you going either way on the decision, nobody will hold it against you. But there are several factors to consider.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I love how you’ve broken it all down! And I hadn’t even thought about trying to rent our place, but that’s a great idea! Thanks!

So, what do you think ?