If you’re a millennial like me, you already know we’re a different race than previous generations. We are a generation who always strive to make memories, seek adventure, visit new cities and always strive to live our lives with what we love.
Well, to live up to that mantra, my fiancée Kimberly and I recently went on a road trip across the United States. We traveled about 4,300 miles in about 90 hours from Washington, DC to San Francisco, California.
This was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had and despite the time in the car, I would definitely do it again. If you want to know more about our route, the places we saw and my thoughts on this life changing journey, read on!
In this particular post, however, I want to focus on the things that would have been useful before the trip! I’ll also give you an estimate of how much we spent so you can get an idea.
I totally understand that we can be as spontaneous as we want, but sometimes it comes at the price of not being prepared and you may spend too much time figuring things out (which is not good if you only have a limited amount Lot of it). For the sake of planning, I have made this short guide with a few things to consider if you too want to go on a long, extraordinary road trip.
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Disclaimer: I know we all have different backgrounds, financial situations, and different priorities when it comes to spending. What I’m saying is you may have a different view of how to spend your money and that’s fine. Perhaps you have the idea of cheap travel by renting a U-Haul truck and sleeping in it at night. These are my experiences from my adventure and my tips so that you will be just as good or better! Don’t feel cramped.
To make this a simple and easy to understand guide, I’ve broken it into two categories, essentials and non-essentials.
Basics Include things such as accommodation, rental cars (if you are only traveling one way), fuel and food.
On the other hand, not absolutely necessary will mostly involve entertainment (well, other non-essential items could be soap and shampoo, but I hope you at least know that you need to take your toiletries with you when you travel).
Most importantly, the goal of this post is to prepare you to have a good time and not have to worry about «should-avoidable» issues.
1. Rental car and fuel:
Our trip lasted 15 days and we rented the car for 14 days. However, I have to say that even though we paid a fair amount of money for the car, we were very happy we did because the rentals are relatively new, so we’ve never had any problems or got stranded.
After analyzing several ways to save money, we were fortunate enough to receive an offer through CarRentals.com and We paid around 1000 USD for 14 days (This wasn’t a bad deal compared to some other companies who tried to bill us at least $ 1800-2000 for the same car and time). Gasoline cost about $ 500 but we saved with gas apps.
Tip for saving money: You can also consider driving someone else’s car for an overland trip, or renting an RV with many of your friends and sharing the cost. It gets cheaper the more people you take as you can share the cost! Also, don’t forget to take out rental car insurance.
This part was difficult because we were trying to save a bit of money but also be comfortable (which helps on long trips!)
We decided to stay in both campsites and hotels. We stayed at campsites in Ohio, South Dakota, in a cabin in Wyoming, in hotels in Wisconsin, California, and at a friend’s house in Utah.
The breakdown is something like this:
- Camping: We paid roughly 150 USD for five nights Total.
- Cabin: Since this was cozy and comfortable, was it a little expensive and we roughly paid? 500 USD for five nights.
- Hotels / hostels: The one night in Madison, WI cost us 100 USD / night and in San Francisco (the most expensive of them all) we paid roughly 300 USD / night for two nights.
- In total, we spent about $ 1,020 on accommodations.
Tip for saving money: A good way to save is to camp all the way and bring more people with you so that the accommodation space can be divided up. The more people, the less you will spend. Another, less convenient option is to sleep in your car (but you need your rest to drive long distances, so choose your battles wisely!).
Food is relative for everyone because some people can literally go one day without food. In our case, we like to eat a lot.
In order to save some money, we bought some groceries for the long stretches of the trip, but we never shied away from eating in good, local restaurants with a view of a valley or the harbor.
As for the numbers, we assumed we were spending about $ 10 per meal per person, so about $ 80 per person per day (the money we spend in restaurants got through the days we bought groceries , pretty balanced), so we spent about $ 1,200 on food for both (That seems like a lot, but we ate relatively well.
We ate in local eateries and ate relatively healthy food because it was important for us to maintain our energy levels!)
Tip for saving money: One way to save money here is to shop for all meals and eat fewer meals each day. Sandwiches go a long way, but they get tired very quickly. Another tip is to take the leftover food with you to the restaurants you visit so that you can have it in the car later in the day.
4. Return flight:
We paid back then 150 USD / person.
So all in all for the bare essentials, for two people it comes about $ 4,020 (For two people).
You may be thinking now, “Oh Lord, that’s a lot of money! This is crazy, ”but if you can handle this price, you’re almost there! And honestly, the more people you take with you, the better because you can share the cost of accommodation, fuel, and rent (if you have one with you).
Nevertheless, the essentials make up the largest part of the budget. The non-essential items are mainly entertainment and souvenirs. So if you are really having problems, you can adjust them as needed.
But remember that some landscapes and national parks are just worth paying for! Not to mention the souvenirs that will make you reminisce every time you look at your Christmas tree or dining table (yes, we bought Christmas tree decorations and coasters! Don’t laugh).
Tip for saving money: You may be able to get better deals with the Hopper app or credit card points far enough in advance by using the best credit cards for travel.
Our non-essentials AKA Entertainment
This part of the budget is very relative to what you want to get out of your trip as there are options for everyone. Nightlife, sightseeing, indoor / outdoor activities, etc. However, our favorites included visits to the national parks (Badlands, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Lake Tahoe).
You can literally stay in these places for days and turn any of them into entire trips because there is just so much to see!
They are huge marvels of nature. Other things to see and do include museums, safari zoo, sightseeing tours, zip lines, amusement parks and much more.
So I hope that by now you have not had a heart attack and caught up with the money, but the opportunities that you can do and experience with someone or by yourself.
Often times we get caught up in the details, the money, the logistics, the schedules and blah, blah, but sometimes we just have to be able to pull the trigger and do it. That’s exactly what we’ve done here, and regardless of the money we’ve spent, we’ll never regret it.
We’ll never look back and say, «I wish I had spent less money on rent» or «I still wish I slept in my car and saved a thousand dollars.»
In contrast, we’ll look back and say, “Oh my god, I remember hiked and been to Mount Washburn” or “I still remember the food we ate in Wyoming. The brunch we had there was amazing! ”And that’s exactly what this post is about. The insight into the expenditure is of secondary importance.
If you want a few tips on how to make quick cash, check out this list:
1. When you rent, make sure you have insurance, or rent it with a credit card that offers insurance for the car! Insurance companies always try to add coverage to your rental, but you most likely don’t need it. Call your credit card company to do a triple check (I know the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card has this benefit) Oh, and never, ever, ever rent a car with your debit / debit card.
2. Along with the tip above, when you rent a car, some credit cards limit the number of days you can rent a car before ending your benefits! It’s very, very important. My credit card no longer has any benefits after 15 days! Fortunately, my lease was only valid for 14 days, so I was able to get started. This timeline also depends on where you are in the world. These benefits change when you are in Europe or elsewhere. If you have a Visa credit card, please see here for more information.
3. If you are camping, make sure your mattress will fit in your tent. As fun as it sounds, we bought a four-person tent and a queen-size inflatable mattress that basically almost tore the tent apart when it inflated because it was too big. Yes I know. It was a rookie mistake.
My goal is to give you a perspective on the things to consider for a trip of this magnitude, and not to scare you with the potential cost!
Remember, the money you spend is recoverable.
The time you spend thinking «what if» or «I wish» cannot be restored, so let’s go out there and let it happen!