What It Takes To Road Trip Around The U.S.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In February and March, I published a two-part Finding Your Spark interview with my friend Eileen, who quit her job last summer to go on a 90-day road trip around the U.S.

After each post went up, I received messages from people asking about the financial aspects of a trip like that. How much did it cost, how did she save and spend her money, etc. I hadn't asked Eileen any money-related questions through the interview because it can be a sort of taboo subject. At the same time, when you're talking about a road trip that lasted a few months and had a lot of spur-the-moment decisions and plans, it's not unusual for someone's first thought to be, I wonder how much a trip like that costs.

So I texted Eileen one day and asked if she'd be willing to share the financial details of her trip. Without hesitation, she agreed. She emailed me everything within a week, and not just how much she spent but all of it broken down by category, plus a few extra travel trips. She is amazing.

For any other questions about her trip or travels in general, you can contact Eileen at DistractedTourist@gmail.com.

Total: $6,830.59
(This does not include costs specific to Burning Man, nor money spent on souvenirs or general for-fun shopping.)

Accommodations: $2,522.18
This is the amount I actually paid. Some of the costs were shared by friends. If I chose to travel solo the entire time and stayed at the same places, I would have paid $3,107.31. On the flip side, if I had at least one travel buddy the whole time, I would have paid $1,812.54. Most hotels and Airbnbs can be shared with other people (duh), but hostels you pay per bed, and you are not allowed to share a bed. If you want to know exactly where I stayed, you can email me and I can send you the host link.

Gas: $979.34
This is the total that my car consumed, not what I actually paid. I traveled with friends for three weeks and they definitely shared the cost.

Extra transportation costs: $408.59
This is for Ubers, taxis, ferries, parking garage/lot fees, meters, etc. It does not include toll costs.

Yes, I had a car. No, I did not want to drive it all the time. Since THE best way to see a new place is to get out of the car and walk, YES, I parked it for a few days when I arrived in congested areas, like Seattle, L.A., Santa Fe, Austin, and Houston.

The bulk of the money here is from L.A. and Long Beach Uber rides, and parking meters in Seattle. I regret not taking the time to take the train that goes from L.A. to Long Beach and back. I could've saved around $70.

Ticket entries: $338.17
I should have purchased a National Parks pass.

Alcohol: ~$320

Car maintenance: $312.31
This is for tire rotations, oil changes, inspections, car washes, etc., all during the trip, not anything done beforehand.

Ice: $150
A lot of money was spent on ice to keep my groceries cold.

Food: Average $20/day

This average does not include the times I went out to pricey restaurants. I'm embarrassed I spent so much on food.  I did not food prep enough, and looking back, that would have saved me a ton. I would have eaten a lot healthier too.

Traveling tips:

  • If you are doing any kind of food prep (which is recommended, to save a ton of money), be sure to invest in decent Tupperware that LOCKS. I bought (and still have) the flimsy stuff that is certainly fine to sit in a stationary fridge, but not in a cooler that is constantly getting moved and bumped around. Invest in something that has a great seal so the melted ice doesn't seep into your food.
  • Don't buy a ton of food in Canada and cross the border into the U.S. the next day, or vice-versa. Most of your new food will be confiscated and if you don't declare a restricted item at customs, you will be fined big time. I had almost all of my produce taken away. I still miss those avocados.
  • Read the street signs and don't get a $75 parking ticket in Los Angeles like I did.
  • Book SOME stuff in advance, especially hotels and campgrounds, in an area you would love to see. Booking even one or two days in advance can also save you a ton of cash, especially with hotel chains. For instance, a Motel 6 is about $50/night if you book in advance, but $90 if you book upon arrival.
  • Watch out for Airbnb cleaning fees. Some of them are outrageous. For example, the cute trailer I stayed at in Yucca Valley was listed at $20/night, but I was actually charged $40 because there was a $20 cleaning fee. Cleaning fees are not usually this high! When searching for places, check out the extra service fees that come with your booking... before booking.
  • These tips are pretty simple and I honestly think most people know them already, but it's easy to forget and overlook certain things when all you want to do is drive and explore a new place. It's also very time consuming to find the "best deals" by yourself. Researching prices EVERY DAY is not fun. When I was tired and hungry, I pretty much said f- it and went with something convenient.

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