So you want to get out of town, but money is rather short, and you are not so into camping. What is the first thing you should be doing? Convincing your friends that they also want to get out of town. This is a crucial step, as RoadTripping in a group is not only more fun, it is also cheaper per head. Much like buying food in bulk, buying shelter in bulk also pays off. The more people you have staying in one location, for the more nights, the cheaper it will be.
Secondly, start brainstorming locations that are at least two hours drive away from the nearest big city. Accommodation is always cheaper when it takes a fair drive to get to it, but petrol is expensive as well, so try not to go too far out. A two to three hour drive away probably minimizes the price.
Third, with this brainstormed list, jump onto the internet and start looking at vacation rentals. Sites like Homeaway and Stayz will become your new best friends. Be persistent, and once you have a short-list, be sure to read all the reviews, both of the location, the property manager, and, if possible, the actual house or apartment. Be sure to check if the location comes with bed-linens - its okay if it doesn't, but you'll want to know so that you can pack your own.
Fourth, if you need to rent a car, be aware that not all rental lots are created equal. Even if owned by the same rental company, two locations 10 kilometers away from each other can have different selections and prices. Websites dedicated to finding the cheapest rental car can be helpful, but do not be over-reliant on them. If you search "Melbourne", they will not always turn up a cheaper rental place a few kilometers out of the city. So if money is really important to you, you'll have to go down a list of rental locations one by one, on each car rental company's website, searching for the cheapest one.
So, that's it for long term preparation, but still not quite all that you need to know. When it comes time to pack for the trip, what should you bring?
First, you need to figure out if you'll be providing your own entertainment, or if the natural surroundings of your rental house will provide enough entertainment for you. If you'll be providing your own entertainment, start considering what games, books, and movies to bring.
Second, if your group is of the sort that drinks alcohol, find out the cheapest place to buy alcohol between your starting destination and your ending destination. Buy as much of it as you think you'll need, because buying alcohol at a discount store can be much cheaper than buying it at other bottle shops.
Third, don't forget about food. Plan out a budget for food, but, assuming there are stores where you are going, don't bother to actually buy the food until you get there. (Food will quickly fill up a vehicle, when combined with all the other things I have suggested bringing).
If you follow all these pieces of advice, you should be set for having a week long road trip that costs less than $500 a person per week - for shelter, petrol, food, alcohol, and entertainment.
I strongly recommend that aspiring budget road-trippers join the Youth Hostel Association or other backpacker organisations, as it's possible to get really cheap and comfy accommodation in hostel dormitories. Hostelling is also a great way to meet interesting people from all around the world. If you're travelling in a group, it's often possible for you and your friends to get a whole dormitory to yourselves. It may not be for everyone, but it is a lot of fun...and keeps the travel expenses down!