Driving across the country gives you a lot of time to think, makes you feel very small but also very connected to this country. I absolutely love driving across this amazing country. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to do this FOUR times already with Bret. The first drive was born out of a small travel budget to visit Bret’s family ($1300+ to fly, under $1000 to drive, with a few hotels AND having a car out there), but it has turned into a passion. I LOVE driving across this country!
Whenever I mention I’ve driven cross country, people almost always say “I’ve always wanted to do that!” Then they say something about “one day….once I retire….” I don’t know if I just think about things differently or my life experiences have shown me another way but I just don’t understand how people think it will be so long down the road. I understand it costs money and takes time away from a job and responsibilities. I get that. But what I don’t get is the lack of planning to get there. Driving across the country IS a possibility for you. Even if it takes a while to get to that point, you can get there.
Ok, here comes the honest Jen. We spent over $2000 on this past trip. Way more than we planned, but it was a great trip. The lesson learned is to budget higher than we expect AND reallllllly stick to that budget.
Anyways, let’s use $2000 as a base number. We did a 3 week trip, but spent about 2 of those weeks staying with family. Let’s give you 2 weeks and a hotel/cabin/camping every other night. We’ll also give you a “to California and back” type route. So you’ve looking at about 7,000 miles. This cost us about $450 in gas. We rented a car, so I’ll toss that in too.
A breakdown of expenses:
Gas – $450
Rental car – $600 (we used a discount for teachers, so ours was about $450 – look for discounted options)
Nights in hotels/cabins/campgrounds – 7
Average price per night – $50. Camping is normally cheaper and there are a ton of options for free or nearly free (check out this website for some great options!) We stayed in a KOA cabin for about $50 and a hotel for about $85 in Moab. So I think $50 is a good average, if you can handle camping.
Total needed for lodging – $350
Total for packed meals for two – ~$250 – I bought groceries here and in California before we left. I took time in California to look at ads, look at ibotta and checkout51 deals. This also includes some for ice along the way and the ice chest we purchased. Looking back, I’d maybe spend a little more for a better ice chest OR pack better. I WAY overpacked on my cold foods on the way out, and I think I went through ice faster because of it. It seemed like the way back was better on ice usage. If you’re staying in hotels, you can get some from the ice machine as well. Since we had a small ice chest, I only used 1-2 buckets of ice. If you’ve got a big ice chest, I do NOT recommend this tactic. But, given my history, I’m not one to break rules.
America the Beautiful pass – $85ish – if you want to see the national parks, this is a must. You can pick one up at some of the national parks, but only if they have one on hand. I ordered mine online and did a rush because a typical mailing was too close for comfort to our leave date.
Various fun meals on the road, souvenirs and fun side trips – $300+ – we did fun safaris, got nice local meals and souvenirs. I would make sure this budget is higher than you think you need it to be.
So here’s what we’re looking at:
Gas – $450
Rental car – $600
Total needed for lodging – $350
Total for packed meals for two – ~$250
America the Beautiful pass – $85ish
Various fun meals on the road, souvenirs and fun side trips – $300+
This totals $2035. Some things are flexible – the rental car, doing extras, meals, lodging, etc. But $2000 seems to be a good number.
Let’s look at this from a saving perspective. If you saved $10 every paycheck, you’d have $2000 in 8 years, you’d have enough to go. Not exactly a short amount of time, but if you’re around my age, that’s a LOT closer than retirement.
Let’s say you can save $20 every paycheck. Well sir, you’re taking your trip in 4 years.
But check this out, if you can save $40 every paycheck, you’re taking your trip in two years. TWO years!
So next time I talk to you, you better not say “oh when I retire someday….” NO! You CAN take this trip sooner than that! 🙂
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