How the heck did I afford to go on a 62 day solo road trip of the 48 states? Why, I’m so glad you asked ! 😉
It all began when I scratched a travel itch to just go camping for a few days. I threw my camping gear in the Prius [her name is Priscilla] and headed towards Arizona from Southern California to seek some adventure.
I really had intended on just staying for a weekend or so. But once I explored Arizona for a few days I thought, “Well, New Mexico is just right there. I’ve never been there before, might as well check it out!”
Then after a couple days there I realized, “Colorado is just North of here and it is gorgeous…maybe I’ll stop there for a bit.” And obviously it quickly escalated from there.
And thus began my quest. However, because I only intended on originally camping for a few days, the budget was super tight. I decided to get creative with my money to prove that it really doesn’t take much to go on an adventure of your own.
One night, I paid to camp in Colorado’s beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. As I was sleeping in my tent it began to rain. I moved all my gear to my car and ended up sleeping there for the night instead.
In the morning I realized that the car was much more comfy than the tent. It was climate controllable AND bug-less. Even better than that though…IT WAS FREE!!!
So with 48 states explored in 62 days and 16,023 miles driven I spent a total of less than $2,900 U.S. dollars. Here is the breakdown…
CAR RELATED COSTS
Money Spent on Gasoline: $1,093.72 [thank goodness Priscilla is a hybrid with kickass mpg!]
Seriously, if you have a gas-guzzling vehicle why not switch to a hybrid or something similar? As you can see, the savings are incredibly significant. If I had an SUV that averages 15mpg this trip would have cost me $3,645.73!!! So crazy!
Also, car maintenance is important especially if you are racking up the miles on a longer trip. Priscilla requires synthetic oil that’s recommended to be changed every 5,000 miles. So I did that. I stopped in Oklahoma, Ohio [ironically both were cheaper than what I pay at home in Cali] and now with my return home will have to get a 3rd based on the number of miles driven. [Oklahoma oil change + needed filters = $83.49 and Ohio oil change = $67.56]
And if you read my New Mexico travel story, you know that I got a flat tire on only my 4th day into this trip. Which, upon further inspection, resulted in needing 4 new tires. Again, I saved money because I did this in New Mexico versus in Cali but this was an unplanned expense. [New Mexico tires = $312.45]
Money Spent on Car Maintenance/Repairs: $463.50
Soooo…regardless of how much you prepare for a road trip adventure unforeseen things can pop up. It is best to have an emergency fund set aside just in case and make sure you know what to do should these moments arise. Budget properly for gasoline based on your specific vehicle and anticipate any necessary maintenance costs such as oil changes.
Money Spent on Sleeping: $326.28…yup that’s it!
Priscilla was not only my bus/train/taxi but also my hotel room as often as possible. Due to a very tight budget AND the need to be in nature [this hippie girl loves the great outdoors] I basically lived out of my car on this trip.
I camped sometimes [which is about $10-35 per night] and am so lucky to have friends and family willing to allow my usually dirty self to sleep on their couches [and use their showers thank goodness]!
Other nights I just slept in my car and once in a great while, usually when in a large city where I needed to park Priscilla overnight and explore on foot, I would get a hotel with my credit card points [or via hotels.com when paying] or a hostel.
Nights Spent in a Tent: 6
On a Couch: 12
At a Hotel/Hostel: 7
& in Priscilla [my Prius]: 36!
So bottom line if you are willing to rough it, and really it is so much fun I swear, you CAN travel for long periods of time on a small amount of money. And if you are traveling with friends you can split these costs! Even better!
The cost of food is very controllable while traveling. I spent just shy of $1,000 on food for this trip.
I LOVE food so I do tend to splurge on it sometimes. As tempting as it is when you pass ga-zillions of cheap fast food places on a U.S. road trip I made a promise to myself to completely avoid eating any fast food on this adventure.
Fast Food Eaten: NONE!! Goal = Absolutely Zero…Zilch!
I could definitely save some money by eating it but value my health way too much. After all, fast food isn’t actually real food and I needed proper nutrients to provide my body with plenty of energy for hiking/walking, exploring and driving hours each day.
In addition to this vow I also chose to avoid large chains as much as possible. This means no stops at restaurants that I can eat at back home, no large chain stores for necessities and even no Starbuck’s (this was the hardest by far as it is basically guaranteed to have wifi and a restroom…two constant needs of mine).
“Why?!?” (you say)
I have nothing against large-ass companies and think they are capable of providing great services as well as having bigger ways of giving back due to their resources…but I want to support the small businesses instead.
My hard earned money going to a small ‘mom and pop’ shop or small farm-to-fork café just makes me feel good about my spending. As I create the small business of my dreams I want to support others who took a leap and are doing the same.
From a budgeting standpoint I also made most of my food. I would find a local market or farmer’s market for fresh produce and brought a few pantry staples from my home to make sandwiches and what not. I kept a tiny cooler in my car that I filled with ice as needed and brought a 3-gallon water container that I filled with filtered drinking water regularly.
Sure this might take more time than fast food and be inconvenient sometimes but the savings were significant and I stuck to the rules I gave myself.
Because of all of this, when I did eat out I enjoyed my experience so much more!!
When I was in a city with local cuisine that is a ‘must try’ I would splurge and try it. I love eating and local food is a huge part of the travel experience in my opinion. In fact, I was raised completely vegetarian from birth but while traveling I always try meat! Hence why I refer to myself as a hypocrite vegetarian. Again, it is part of the experience for me and trying new things is one of my favorite parts of traveling!!
Soooo…when budgeting for your own trip first decide your food goals. If you love fast food and plan on eating it often you will definitely save a lot of money [but may not live quite as long…just saying].
I would guesstimate $5-$15 per day per person. If you plan to eat out in restaurants often [this really depends on the city you are visiting combined with how fancy your food requirements are] this budget quickly doubles or possibly triples per day per person.
I, personally, had days where I spent $0 because I stopped at a local market days earlier and days where I ate out 4 times in 1 day spending $132.76! [I could NOT stop eating in New Orleans & New York…I seriously had to make myself leave so I would stop].
I recommend sticking to a tight grub budget and then spending more in the places where the food interests you.
Local staples are popular for a reason so whenever possible give them a whirl! Lobster in Maine, crab cakes in Maryland, BBQ in Texas, shrimp n’ grits in Lousiana, maple candy in Vermont etc. Just remember…alcohol is expensive compared to food and can add up very quickly. Limiting your intake of the booze [and recreational drugs LOL] is a simple way to save a lot of money.
Budget according to your taste/health preferences.
Grand Total of all of the above: $2889.73
Like all travel, if you are able to setup work that can be location independent you are able to travel for much longer simply because you have money coming in while traveling. For this trip I did work part time [drive time and lack of wifi didn’t allow full time work].
I worked on the AHC blog, did a lil’ freelance work online, spent time on my website business & even helped at my family’s pizza shop in Ohio.
The gasoline and car expenses are what they are BUT the food & lodging is controllable based on how adventurous you are willing to be.
So even if you can only spare a weekend of free time I highly recommend a road trip with the family or with friends. And if neither are possible make it happen solo!
Please don’t let money be a reason NOT to go. As you can see there are lots of ways to make your dollar go much further!
You will meet the nicest people along the way and create an unforgettable journey no matter the length. International destinations and foreign lands are amazing adventures but don’t forget about your own backyard. It also has a lot to offer if you just take the time to explore it!
Thanks for reading! Have you been able to budget while on a road trip? Have any road trip destinations you are dying to explore? Please let me know in the comments below. Cheers!
Amy’s 48 state road trip route [starting @ home = Southern California] to: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming [again], Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada & UTAH!