How Much Does it Cost to Drive Across the Country?

Aloha and hello! Today we’re talking all about how much it actually costs to drive across the country. Before we dive in, make sure you check out my video on this topic as well! Summer 2020 my husband and I embarked on a road trip from Georgia to Washington. We were on the road for 10 days with several stops and detours along the way, and I want to break down exactly how much this trip cost.

The four main categories we’ll be talking about are lodging, gas, food, and activities. I will preface by saying that we drove our own car (a Subaru Outback) which saved us a good bit on rental car expenses and also got pretty good gas mileage.
If you haven’t checked out the first part of this road trip series which talks all about big picture planning, check out the blog here and the video here!

Lodging, food, and gas are definitely necessities and should be the first things you budget for. Activities are where you’ll have some flexibility in how much you want to spend. Thankfully, there are typically a lot of free activities to do no matter where you are, but it can be fun to plan ahead and schedule some outings as well. Our overall strategy for this trip was to have fun and enjoy ourselves without going overboard on the spending, and I think we definitely accomplished that!

Lodging

We stayed in a variety of Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, and with friends and family. TIP: if you find yourself in a town where friends and family live, don’t be afraid to reach out and see if you might be able to stay with them! Of course you never want to impose or expect them to have a place for you, but it also never hurts to ask.
We did a lot of research comparing lodging options to make sure we were going to be in a clean, safe area for a reasonable price. We wanted a private room since we had a lot of personal belongings with us, but outside of that, we weren’t too concerned with how luxurious the room was!

Night 1: Airbnb in St. Louis, MO$91
Night 2: Airbnb in Sioux Falls, SD$89
Night 3-5: Grandparents’ house – FREE
Night 6-7: Hostel in Teton Village, WY$200
Night 8: Hotel in West Yellowstone, MT$117
Night 9: Airbnb in Spokane, WA$62

LODGING TOTAL: $559

Food

Our strategy for food was to buy groceries that would be okay in a cooler or not need refrigeration at all so that we could eat breakfast and lunch on the road and just splurge on dinner. Some of our favorite snacks were apples, peanut butter, Clif bars, beef jerky, tuna packs, trail mix, and sandwich supplies!
We bought groceries once in Georgia right before we left and then again in South Dakota about halfway through our trip. As far as eating out, we tried to enjoy local spots and we also treated ourselves to coffee almost every day which is, in my opinion, a road trip necessity.

Groceries: $100
Eating out: $400

FOOD TOTAL: $500

Gas

This one was a bit of a challenge to calculate because it will depend a lot on the kind of vehicle you have, current gas prices, and which state or area you’re currently in, but I did my best to provide an accurate estimate!

GAS TOTAL: $250

Activities

Most of the activities we ended up doing, such as hiking, checking out local parks, skateboarding, or walking through town, were totally free. We did, however, budget for some planned activities that were really special and created some great memories. Additionally, we do have a free annual national parks pass thanks to my husband being in the military, and we definitely took advantage of it!

Electric scooters: $10-$15
Hiking/national parks: FREE
Horseback riding: $130

ACTIVITIES TOTAL: $150

GRAND TOTAL: $1,459

Now, I won’t sugarcoat it: this is a lot of money. I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to take this trip, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. We did do a lot of planning and budgeting to make this trip happen, and I think we struck a good balance between enjoying ourselves and still being conscious of how much we were comfortable spending. I’ll also point out this total is for me and my husband over the course of 10 days, which works out to be $72.95 per person each day. I would say this is a pretty fair amount considering it includes lodging, food, gas, AND activities, and I don’t regret a penny that we spent.

Thanks so much for reading and don’t forget to follow the blog and subscribe on YouTube to stay tuned for my next installment in this road trip series!

Road Trip Like a Pro | Planning 101

“Why aren’t we flying? Because getting there is half the fun.”

National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983

Before reading this post don’t forget to check out the accompanying YouTube video!

So, you want to take a road trip… but where do you start? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I would consider myself a road trip pro: I’ve embarked on several multi-state road trips, from Georgia to Washington, Florida to South Dakota, Georgia to Colorado, and along the East Coast. All of these adventures have taught me some valuable tips and tricks for planning the perfect road trip that’s fun, low-stress, and budget-conscious. And now, I’ll be sharing all of my knowledge with you! I’m so excited to kick off this road trip planning series, so make sure you follow the blog and subscribe to my YouTube to stay updated.

Today we’re talking all about the first stage of planning your trip, aka the big picture stuff that you should, ideally, be considering a few weeks or even months before you embark on your trip. I have learned time and again that starting early and breaking down the process into stages will make it way more manageable and enjoyable in the long run. We’ll get more into specifics in future posts and videos, but today we’re just going to start with the basics.

What are your goals for this trip/what is your road trip style?

The first thing to consider is what you want to get out of your road trip and what type of road tripper you are. As far as goals, just jot down some preliminary ideas on what types of things you’d like to see or experience, and what memories you want to make along the way. Maybe you’re in a rush and don’t have the luxury of sightseeing, so you just want to efficiently get from Point A to Point B. Or maybe you have unlimited time and resources and want to see as much as you can!
Similarly, it’s important to think about what type of road tripper you are: do you want to travel leisurely and make frequent stops? Or would you rather crank out a 10-15 hour day and then take an off day to recover? For me, 8-10 hours is usually a good amount of time in the car per day before I start getting antsy and cranky. This also gives me the flexibility of starting early and making a few stops without getting to my final destination too late. But ultimately, it’s up for you to decide!

What route will you take?

We’ll get more into specific route-planning in another video (and I’ll even share some itinerary ideas!), but it’s still good to consider a general route you may want to take. Is there a certain region or area you have in mind? Do you have a set end destination but don’t mind taking some detours along the way? For instance, when we drove from Georgia to Washington, we had the flexibility of taking a bit of a roundabout route instead of cutting straight across the country. This gave us the opportunity to visit some national parks and see friends and family!

What’s your budget?

Again, I will have a whole video and post dedicated to road trip budgeting 101. But, it’s still helpful to start considering how much flexibility you have in your budget so you can start planning and saving. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency fund set aside in case of something unexpected like your car breaking down or an unexpected extra night at the hotel. I, personally, like to save way more money than I actually plan on spending during the trip so that I don’t have to stress about things being more expensive than I accounted for or situations arising that are out of my control.
Gas, lodging, and food will be your biggest expenses. Gas is probably the hardest to plan for because prices will vary greatly depending on the vehicle you have and where you are in the country. As far as food goes, I try to stick with breakfast and lunch on the road in the form of groceries I pack beforehand in a cooler, and then I’ll splurge and get dinner in whatever town we’re staying in. You’ll also potentially have some flexibility in your nightly accommodations which brings me to…

What kind of lodging do you prefer?

Lodging can be a pretty big expense, but it will depend a lot on how flexible you can/want to be. Hotels are the obvious choice, but there are also Airbnbs, hostels, campsites, and vans where you can just park and sleep. A lot of this will depend on your needs and what you’re comfortable with, so take the time to figure out what kind of lodging works best for you, and then start comparing prices. My mindset on lodging has always been that I’m pretty much just there to sleep and use the bathroom, so as long as it’s clean and safe, I’m not too picky.

STAY FLEXIBLE!

My final point is probably the most important because no matter how well or thoroughly you plan your trip, to be frank, sh*t happens. Sometimes it’s bad, like a blown tire, bad weather, or a road closure. In these scenarios, it’s important to keep your cool, and try to have a backup plan. A lot of times, though, I’ve found that unexpected changes create some of the best memories. Taking a detour to visit a national monument, meeting up with a friend who happens to be in town, and staying out to catch the sunset remain some of my favorite road trip memories, and they’ve all happened spur of the moment.
Similarly, don’t force yourself to do or see things just because you feel obligated to go. If you’re tired, take a nap! Cancel your dinner reservation! It’s going to be way more enjoyable if you do it when you have the energy and are in a good mood. Fear of missing out is definitely understandable, but you need to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs.

Thank you so much for joining me as I kickoff this series! Stay tuned for next time, and don’t forget to follow and subscribe!