For many ‘The Great American Road Trip’ is a dream trip. After years of imagining my own road trip with inspiration from Mary Kate and Ashley’s movie Getting There and Jesse McCartney’s hit song Beautiful Soul my dream was realised in 2013. Since my trip I have had plenty conversations with other road trip dreamers. The one question that rarely gets asked is how much does it cost. Politeness usually gets in the way but it is such useful information to have. So how much does it cost to road trip America? I’m here to tell you exactly how much I spent.
After 2 months travelling around the United States with a tent only used twice, over 13,000 miles driven, a much needed luxury Vegas rest, and a suitcase full of presents. My road trip to the USA cost a total of £5191 ($6,729), or £83 ($107) per day.
This total included everything! Return flights, car higher, gas, accommodation, food, presents etc.
Now for a break down:
Flights (return flight from the UK): £560
ESTA (online visa application): £10
Car Hire (my contribution based on 4 people sharing): £440 ($570)
Gas Money (my contribution based on 4 people sharing): £355 ($460)
Toll Fees (for 1 car and a journey of 2 months): £115 ($150)
Accommodation (approx based on 62 nights and 4 people sharing): £1,480 ($1,919)
Gifts (souvenirs and presents for myself, family and friends): £460 ($600)
Misc (food, water, shampoo, deodorant, tours, cinema visits, attractions and Sat Nav ): £1,771 ($1,366)
Whilst £83 ($107) a day is expensive I think it is a true reflection of a 23 year old going on a once in a life time, I want to do and see as much as I can, kind of road trip (and what an epic road trip it was!) It could however be done for a lot less.
Ways Where I Could Have Saved:
No Mall Trips – If I had not shopped at places like Pandora, Converse, American Eagle and many more I would have saved about £390 ($505).
Don’t Do Luxurious – If in Vegas we hadn’t lived like Palazzo Princesses for a few nights and instead stayed at a cheaper hotel I would have saved about £150 ($194).
Get The Campfire Started – If we hadn’t sucked at camping and used our National Park Pass to it’s full advantage I would have saved about £320 ($414).
With just these 3 changes that’s £860 ($1,114) off the original total of my trip.
How To Save Money On Your Trip
Camping – At the top of many money saving tip ideas you’ll find camping. When it comes to pitching a tent for the night in America you are spoilt for choice. You just need to be a bit better at it then we were (which wouldn’t be hard). Side note – don’t be scared about the toilet subject, both places we stayed at came equipped with toilets and one camp site even had WIFI. Sleeping in your car is another way to save the pennies. Walmart car parks seem to be a favourite choice. (Typical cost $0-$20 a night to pitch a tent).
Motel – Super 8 and Motel 6 are cheap and cheerful and very reliable. You will always be able to to find one. Pretty sure we drove past half a dozen each day, They are everywhere! (Typical cost $80/a night for a standard double room with two double beds).
Hostels – Not being everyone’s cup of tea they are cheap and full of life. Privacy is a nice thing and although sleeping in a room with strangers can be daunting at first it is a great way to meet other travellers. You can share travel stories and even explore together. You’ll save a little bit of money but not much as many motels have competitive prices. One place I’d love to revisit is HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel. (This cost me $113/ for four nights in a shared room of eight).
Air B&B – This is another one that might not be to everyone’s taste but again has competitive prices. I think Air B&B works best when you are staying for a few nights. When comparing it to a hostel and a shared bedroom of eight you may find that for the same amount of money you can get your own private place. What makes Air B&B fun is you have your own ‘home’ for your duration of your stay. Living in someone’s house you get a real feel of what life is like where you are. It has the personal touch plus your instagram feed will look cute and arty.
If you cook your own meals you will save a ton of money. However you will miss out on great food. A little bit of cooking here and there is a good option though. Camping nights could also be cooking nights. Hostels have kitchens you can use so if you are there for a few days you can make yourself at home, plan your meals and do a food shop. The dreaded fast food should be the last option. We did not too bad on our 2 month long trip. I only consumed 1 Chick-fil-A, 2 McDonalds, 1 KFC, a few Subways, Starbucks and Panda Express, 1 Taco Johns (never again). Actually this list is longer than I thought. Fast food is cheap and sometimes just can’t be helped and it’s the meal equivalent of a Motel 6.
Bus tours – Bus tours are a great, hassle free way to be shown around and learn about the place you are in. It’s easy but you could skip the bus tour, read up on your history on Google and then take to the streets yourself after breakfast. This could save you around $30-$40 per bus tour.
Free Attractions – There’s a lot of free attractions and road side stop off points you just need to keep an eye out for. Searching for them before can help plan road routes from state to state. An obvious one but one that may be forgotten, open mic nights! Fun cheap way to spend your evenings and get some down time.
Student Card – Don’t leave your student id card at home! You can save a few $ with student discount. If like me you happen to leave it at home get someone from home to send a photo of it. Showing a picture of my id worked for me. My accent might have charmed a little too.
Group Travel – Travelling in a group can cut cost down. You’ll split everything equally saving you all money on car hire/payment, gas money and accommodation.
Flights – If when booking your flights you don’t mind having a connecting flight or two you might find it’s a bit cheaper. Booking in advance can save you money too.
Park Pass – If camping is your thing or you are willing to give it a go then buy a National Park Pass for $80. This covers your car and passengers for a year and you get access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. The last National Park shut down was in 2013 hence our fail at camping and not being able to see Grand Canyon. The one before that was in 1995. I’d play it safe and not buy one in 2031 just in case!
ICE Travellers Cashcard – Choosing to get a travel cash card was such a good idea. Issues with cards not working abroad even though you have told your bank you will be out of the country is a hassle. Another issue is the charge they put on each time you take out your money. I registered with ICE and received my free pre paid card in the post a few days later. There are lots of different pre paid travel cards too choose from but here’s why I went with ICE. Free to register, free backup card, free to use, 1.5% cash back and easy online use. Simply just send money from your bank account to your cash card and you are ready to spend. Not only will you be spending but you will be making money too!
Withdraw The Limit – Even though using the ICE cash card was free in my experience many ATM machines actually charge you when withdrawing money. Expect to pay $2-$3.50 each time you withdraw money. Keeping to banks is the best way around not paying a fee but depending on your location do expect to be charged a little. Best thing is to take out the limit the cash machine will allow to save on all those $3 charges. Most machines have a limit of $200.
America is such a broad place to visit with so much to see and do. Whether you are going for a month to a year I hope this gives some insight on how much your road trip may cost.
Are you planning a road trip? I’d love to hear your road trip plans in the comments below!