Curious how much people are spending on their vacations? Don’t know where to start to save for an epic vacation? Check out this blog post to find out how to create your USA road trip budget.
A road trip around the United States is on sooo many travelers’ bucket list but the cost can definitely prohibit those dreams. Let’s face it: the US is EXPENSIVE. But how expensive are we talking?
Over the summer, my husband and I quit our jobs (it was planned, we’re not that impulsive!) and took 8 weeks off to travel and explore. We spent about a year planning and saving for 1. Our honeymoon in Belize, followed by 2. An epic road trip out west. We were inspired after spending one week in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park and knew there was so. much. more to see!
So we set off and were very fortunate to not have to worry about expenses too much. We had saved so diligently we both felt confident in loosening the reins on our budget for a bit. Don’t get me wrong–we weren’t staying at 5 star hotels and eating at Michelin rated restaurants every night! We lived “within our means” while on the road somewhere in between budget and luxury.
If you’re nosy like me you want the REAL numbers. And I’m sharing it here. I went through all of our credit card statements and combed through expenses from our trip. I left nothing out! Below, you’ll find a guide of how much we spent road tripping that will help you with your USA road trip budget.
DISCLAIMER: Before you even get to accommodations, I’ll go ahead and say we were so lucky to be able to borrow (yes, really) a camper! My sister graciously allowed us to pull their camper around all summer so none of these costs factor in the expense of having to rent an RV/camper if you go that route.
Gas was absolutely our biggest expense on our USA road trip. Especially being out west, gas prices were so much more than we are used to! One place in the middle of the desert in California had gas for $5.89 a gallow, but we had no choice but to get gas. If you’re not from the US, though, the gas prices might be a pleasant surprise. It just depends where you’re starting.
Something else to keep in mind is what you’re driving. If you’re pulling a camper or driving an RV, you’ll get waaaaay less gas mileage. Our average was about 9 miles to the gallon! (Sorry, environment) But if you’re zipping around in a sedan, you’ll get much better gas mileage. In addition, the terrain makes a big difference. The first half of our trip we were in the flat desert. The second half was spent climbing and traveling across huge mountain ranges which is a much bigger drain on gas.
For 6 weeks, you should plan for about $50 per day on gas. Some days you’ll average more and some days you’ll average less.
So how much did we spend on gas? Our grand total for 7 weeks was $3,457.31. Woof.
For us, we cooked in the camper a lot! This keeps expenses relatively low for food. Oatmeal, PB&Js, and Hamburger Helper (don’t hate) were our staples. If we were closer to a city or town we’d heard great things about, we’d eat out but tried to keep this to a minimum.
Again, where you’re road tripping will impact this. The style of dining will also make costs vary. Love steak dinners and sushi? Dedicate a larger amount of your budget. That’s pretty self explanatory, but be sure you are very realistic about what you’ll eat and how much you’ll cook. It doesn’t matter how optimistic I am about cooking 100% of our meals it’s inevitable that I will be too lazy one night and spend money eating out.
Our grand total for food: $2,522.91
I am actually really surprised by this amount. This definitely wasn’t a “foodie” trip. Our priority was sightseeing. However, we did have a few nice dinners here and there. I also included all the wine tastings we did in Napa and Sonoma, which added up quickly. But I don’t regret any of it! Just know your priority and funnel your money to that category!
With 6 weeks on the road, you’re bound to have some car maintenance come up. We drove several thousands miles over the course of 2 months which means a lot of wear on the vehicle.
We also ended up having to replace all of the brakes a couple weeks into our trip. Obviously, this was a non-negotiable because we needed brakes on the steep roads with a 5,000 pound camper behind us! I’m so grateful I included a huge cushion in our budget for emergencies like that and highly suggest you do, too.
We needed 2 oil changes and new brakes. And I feel very lucky that we didn’t need to replace more things! Although my husband would probably say he wishes we didn’t have to replace my cell phone while we were in Sonoma……..
Our cost of maintenance was $1436.68. It’s hard to predict if something in the car will break or need repairs, so I’d budget a minimum of $1,000-$2,000 extra for any unknowns. You’d be remiss not to prepare for unexpected things when planning your USA road trip budget.
As I’ve mentioned several times already, we had a camper so our accommodations were much cheaper than they would be if we stayed in hotels or airbnbs. With the exception of about one week, we mostly stayed in RV parks. We did splurge on Airbnbs for a few places we had friends visiting us.
Originally, I had planned to do a lot more “dispersed” camping. This means you’re basically parked in a patch of dirt without water or electric hookups. But then the West Coast ended up having an extreme heat wave with temps stay well in the 100s that made that unsafe for us and our pup, Benny. Dispersed camping is free, so having to scratch those plans increased our costs by a little bit.
The worst part for us wasn’t the cost, though. We were traveling to a lot of national parks, which are notorious for campers and heavy summer crowds. So, it took some extra searching and sacrificing to find RV parks that had availability at the last minute! If you think there’s a chance you’ll have to stay at an RV park, I’d go ahead and book as soon as possible.
It’s also worth noting that very few National parks have full hook ups. Many have water hookups but not electric. Most full hookups are very hard to get or exist only in places outside the parks. However, for all your major parks you’ll find plenty of private RV parks with full hook ups not too far outside park gates.
Anywho, I digress. The long and short of it is cost of accommodation will vary widely based on what you’re looking for. Empty campsites are cheap, nice hotels in big cities are very expensive. I’m sure you know there’s a myriad of ways to save money like Airbnbs and loyalty points.
For camping at full hookups, you can expect to average ~$60-75 per night. Some bigger parks, like KOA in Glacier, will run you a bit more but you can certainly find cheaper places with less amenities and a further trip to the park gates.
For our trip, our accommodations totaled $2490.04. This included about 30 nights at various RV parks with full hook ups and 12 nights at airbnbs in 3 different cities.
Not bad! I imagine this number would be doubled or tripled if we did only hotels or Airbnbs.
What’s a big road trip without the experiences?! Our expenses in this realm were kept low because for the most part we were hiking. But we did shell out for a few unique things! This category also added up because of all the random snack purchases at gas stations, odds and ends we needed, and Hawaiian shirts for our Christmas card photos (a necessity, really).
First things first: if you’re hitting more than 2 national parks BUY AN AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL PASS!!! For $80, you get access to every national park, forest, and land for one year. Usually, park entrances are about $35 each so this is a no brainer.
We also paid 1 or 2 state park entrance fees. And day passes to a pool in Palm Springs, which I HIGHLY recommend doing if you want to feel bougie for a day.
Our “miscellaneous” expenses came to $816.42.
I decided to make this its own category because it ended up being a good chunk of our expenses. We bought quite a few of our own souvenirs and some for friends and family, too. Also included is all the wine we bought in Napa and Sonoma which is honestly a hefty chunk 😉 Souvenirs ended up being $1,145.68 of our total expenses.
The grand total cost of our road trip around the US for 7 weeks came to $11,864.14. This comes out to about ~$242 per day for a couple (so $121 per day per person). Several other blogs, like Nomadic Matt have also laid out similar content that says you can spend about $50 per day. This is definitely doable but I think $100 per day is more realistic.
We originally set aside about $14,000 for our USA road trip budget, so we came in under that. I always OVER prepare, though because I really don’t want to go into credit card debt! Be super honest with yourself about where you will spend and where you will save. If you’re planning to ball out in EVERY category that’s going to make for a very expensive trip. But you most likely can choose if a really nice hotel or a few nice meals is more important to you.
I mean really, an opportunity like this is truly priceless but it does take a lot of saving and budgeting!
If you ever get the opportunity to road trip across the US, do it! Even if it’s not for 6-7 weeks like we did, even a week or two will be such a unique experience you’ll never forget. So many people flock to Europe or Asia when they have a long stretch of time off… which is great, don’t get me wrong! But we also have so much to explore right here in the US. Especially during times with the pandemic, getting to international destinations can be tricky.
When planning your USA road trip budget, be sure to be realistic and over-prepare! Hopefully this can serve as a guide for you since I shared our real numbers!
Have you road tripped across the US? How much did you budget for and save?
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