Completing a cross country road trip is not free, unfortunately. The things I experienced, the memories I made and the beauty I witnessed came at a price. Creating a budget, abiding by the budget and adapting to a simpler lifestyle will allow you to get the most out of any road trip without breaking the bank. Here’s how I applied it to my cross country journey.
I began researching how much this type of trip would cost by calculating how many miles it would take to travel the country and estimating the cost of gas. Theoretically it was the perfect way to gauge a large portion of our spending but it provided us an unrealistic and limiting figure. As I mentioned in Part I of this blog series, our plans changed just three hours into our trip. Had we relied on the estimated cost of gas to make the trip happen, we would have struggled financially in the long run.
Instead of creating a budget with an overwhelming amount of structure, my travel partner and I prioritized certain expenses. This allowed for a bit of wiggle room with spending but also provided stability when it came to dealing with unforeseen expenses. While there were certain set-in-stone expenses, such as a month of housing in Oregon, much of the money we would be spending varied from state to state and purchase to purchase.
We totaled up how much money we each had and discussed what expenses we knew were coming. Knowing national parks were a priority on this journey, entry fees add up and we made the decision to purchase an annual pass ($80). The ad we placed on Craigslist before our departure, looking for housing, was answered about a week into the trip and we finally locked down a place to stay in Bend, Oregon ($1,100 for one month). Although expensive, this allowed us to explore the nooks and crannies of the beautiful “Beaver State”.
As I mentioned before, gas is a major cost on any road trip and certainly adds up when traveling cross country. We tracked each tank fill-up and adjusted our other expenses according to the varying gas prices. If gas is $4/gallon in California, we were less likely to buy a gas station snack. In order to evenly split the cost of gas and other group costs, we would each withdraw cash from ATMs to create a “group fund”. The group expenses covered things like campgrounds, gas and the occasional hotel. Individually, we kept track of our personal expenses and kept an open line of communication about how we were holding up financially.
As we mapped out our route across the country, we contacted friends and family in varying cities about crashing with them for a night. This was one of the best money-saving tools at our disposal. It meant a free night, a warm shower and a familiar face. Camping was another big way of saving money, not to mention, one of the best ways to truly connect with the region we were exploring.
A majority of the time when preparing to make a purchase, I asked myself “Is this a need or a want?” Once in a groove of the trip, I was able to decipher needs vs. wants quicker and eventually the thought of a $5 coffee from Starbucks was almost revolting; the $1 coffees from a local gas station got the job done just fine.
A budget is something you have to create on an individual level as different things work for different people. Personally, I exercised discipline when dealing with money on my trip but for many people, a budget with more structure may be more successful for someone else. It’s extremely important to track expenses in order to get the most out of your adventure. Live freely, but understand your financial limits.