road tripping

Six Weeks on the Road: How We Did It

Now that I’ve wrapped up our six-week, 12-state road trip coverage—with a few Photo Fridays reserved for the future—I thought I’d take a break to tell you how we did things logistically, and most importantly, how we funded it all.

We rented our apartment to friends. A couple from Boston we know was moving to the Bay Area and rented out our place for two months. We charged them rent plus our cable, Internet and electric bills so we would break even. Savings: $5100.

We self catered…for the most part. We found in most states that grocery shopping is so much cheaper than it is in San Francisco. We would have been paying for groceries—and let’s be honest, paying to go out to expensive dinners two or three nights a week more often than not—were we back in California, so we actually saved money as far as food was concerned due to lower prices and simpler meals. Savings: Unknown, but lots.

We bought the annual national parks pass. For $80 (plus $5 handling fee), we got an annual pass that admitted the two of us and Ella to almost every national park we visited. This would have saved a lot more had the weather been better and had we been able to visit more parks, but it’s good for a full year and I suspect this isn’t the last national park we’ll visit until May 2012. Regardless, we visited eight parks at around $10 each so it will still be a deal if we continue to use it elsewhere in the United States. Savings: Broke even.

We traveled during off-season. While I always knew our weather might be questionable—but never realized it could possibly be as bad as it turned out—we wanted to avoid the bulk of the summer crowds, which start mid- to late-June when schools let out. Plus, the timing just worked better with our schedule. Most of the high-season rates in Wyoming and Montana started around June 10, so we saved quite a lot on our daily campground fees by planning nearly four weeks of our route to fall during the shoulder season. (Plus, the weather was no better in July, so I’m glad we didn’t skip our family cruise and push our road trip further back into the summer.) Savings: Unknown.

We weren’t paying parking bills or exorbitant meter fees. If you live in San Francisco, you know exactly what I’m talking about and I don’t have to say anymore. Who knew that the rest of the country had novelties such as free parking or, in “extreme” cases, 5-cent meters?!  Savings: $400(ish).

Some nights we got the full hook-up, others we went bare bones. Full RV hook-ups were much pricier than I would have thought—anywhere from $28 to $70 a night, depending on the town. After awhile, we realized that water and electric was all we needed—our tank is so small we couldn’t go two days, conservatively, without filling up so dry camping was out of the question—as every campsite has a dump station out front and many also come with free wireless and cable. A partial hook-up often saved us anywhere from $10 to $20 a night. I worked out what we pay daily in rent back home, and it’s around $70 so partial or full hook-up, we were still paying less than half what we’d pay in rent. Savings: $1,856.40 (camping vs. an apartment).

We tried to curb the shopping urges. One thing one RV couple told us prior to our trip was not to stock up on everything we thought we’d need before we left. The trailer would just get too cluttered this way. And they were right, of course: Everywhere we were going was either a good-sized town or nearby a city, so there were Wal-Marts, Targets and the like all along our route that we could easily pull over to whenever we ran out of essentials like toothpaste or dog food. We did invest in a couple big ticket items, like a new lens, a couple filters, a portable external hard drive and a new Canon camera bag to hold both DSLRs before we left, but we would have done this prior to Semester at Sea anyway. Savings: Unknown.

I kept track of our total expenses in terms of accommodation and transportation. (Food and entertainment would have been pushing it.) Here’s how it all shook out for our 42 days gone:

  • Total mileage: 5744.3 miles
  • Lodging fees: $1084 total, $25.8 per day
  • Gas fees: $1912 total, $45.52 per day
  • Gas used: 498.75 gallons
  • Average gas mileage: 11.5 miles per gallon

In all, our daily living expenses wound up being far cheaper than had we stayed in San Francisco during those six weeks. Gotta love the ability to travel while saving money—it’s the best of both worlds! After all, we both worked while on the road so we kept our income stream steady, and we even managed to pay down some credit card bills (finally) while at it.

What else we learned:

  • Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. We ran into countless roadblocks, especially where weather was concerned—sleet, hail, rain, snow, flooding; we saw it all—that thwarted many of our plans. In the end, we just had to throw up our hands and let Fate take the wheel—and plan to return to all the spots we missed or that were closed. This is particularly difficult for me, as I plan every second of my life. You should see the Post-its on my office desk and the spreadsheets and Word docs on my laptop desktops. They are never ending and all lists about something or another. But putting your neuroses aside is often a good thing. I learned to be a bit more laid back while on the road.
  • However, in certain national parks (Yellowstone) during peak months (June through August), you do need to be a planner. It’s best to book a campsite as soon as you know your dates—particularly if you want the cheapest deal out there.
  • For similar international trips, we might want to invest in travel insurance—with the luck we have and all that tends to go wrong for me, that definitely would be wise.

So we’re done. At least with this area of the United States. On Sunday, we’re off on yet another long drive—this time to the other side of the country—that will take us around 2,885 miles over the course of nine days. Then, we leave two weeks after that for our next adventure: four months on the open sea, sailing around the world! One day, we’ll become grown-ups. Maybe. In the meantime…

Any questions for us? Are you planning a similar road trip and need logistical help? We’re happy to share anything and everything that we learned!

*****

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COMMENTS
  • July 25, 2011

    Great, comprehensive information! So glad that the trip was a success. :-)

  • July 25, 2011

    I plus-oned you! Great post. So fab you actually SAVED money while traveling – renting our your apartment was brilliant. (And holy crap 2 months’ rent and cable/internet/etc. is $5100? I knew San Francisco was expensive… but I really didn’t have a handle on it til you quoted that figure.)

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, my friend! Much appreciated.

      Also, in my experience San Francisco has been even pricier than NYC! I had mad savings while living in Manhattan, and that account has been drained after nearly four years in California. And the worst part? We actually have a really great deal for our apartment as we hit when the rental market was low, so we’re not even paying nearly as much as a lot of other couples we know out here!

  • July 25, 2011

    Well, now I know where to turn for advice for my next roadtrip! Thanks for taking us along on your adventure!

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Molly! Next up in service-y info: How to live on a ship for four months and not want to kill your significant other. Heh.

  • July 25, 2011
    sid

    does it ever get tiring? is there ever a point where you think, “i just want to spend a full 3 months in one place?”
    btw when you get to india and you eat some curry, think of me.

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes, definitely. I keep telling myself I’m going to take, say, four months off to just rest up, but then an awesome opportunity like Semester at Sea comes along and I can’t say no! On the record, I’m going to take a bit of a break in early 2012 when we’re done sailing…at least that’s my story right now =)

  • July 25, 2011

    Love all the technical details & epic road trips! Thanks for sharing.

    Funny about the parks pass. It used to be such a good deal- now it’s more expensive and most of the smaller parks are free. It still makes a nice souvenir.

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      And then we were in Acadia on a cruise with my parents where I could have saved us $20 to get the four of us in, only I didn’t have my card on me and they wouldn’t look up my number! Drats. I’ll have to remember to keep that thing in my wallet from now on. But I was surprised it didn’t save us more money–then again, several of the parks like Arches were a one-time fee per car for seven days so even though we visited there twice, we would have only paid once without the pass. Oh well, lesson learned! And now we’ll just have to visit a ton of parks between now and next May to make our money back =)

      • July 25, 2011

        You must have been getting the winter rate. Grand Canyon is $25 and so are a lot of the big western parks. I figure four parks pay for the pass.

  • July 25, 2011

    What a great way to see so much territory. Have a safe trip to this side of the country!

  • July 25, 2011

    Are you sure it wasn’t…Jesus who took the wheel? (Hardy har har, now if only that were a T. Swift song.)

    (I’m a little loopy today; blame it on hanging out with someone who regularly shits their pants.)

    Anyway, I’m actually surprised you didn’t spend more on gasoline! I guess two grand IS a lot, but there’s no way you could do even half the time in another country that you’d have to fly to without spending more than that.

    Kudos!

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      The funny thing is that we did a random “estimate” before leaving and predicted we’d spend $2,000 (conservatively) to $2,400 on gas. Considering our route changed so drastically throughout the trip, I’m actually shocked we came in at that number almost exactly.

      Two grand is one month’s rent (without car insurance, bills, etc.) so it wasn’t all that bad for six weeks. Plus, like you said, anywhere else we went–like Europe or the Middle East–the same mileage would have probably cost us triple that in gas!

  • July 25, 2011

    That’s quite a journey! The weather out there can be ridiculous sometimes.

    Did you ever get a chance to try some Moose Drool ale in Montana? :)

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      I did, I did! Randomly enough, while in Whitefish I ran into a travel writer from the East Coast who I knew–he was there with a press group, so I met up with them in downtown one night just so I could leave the state having sampled the local delights =)

  • July 25, 2011

    This is so helpful! You guys really pulled off an impressive trip and I love the financial breakdown and tips. Crazy that 6 weeks on the road is so much cheaper than living in SFO.

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      I know, it was actually painful tallying all that up and realizing how much we actually pay just to live in this city! I’d never done the math before…

  • July 25, 2011

    Eeks!! 3,000 miles over the course of nine days?! And I’m nervous about 759 miles in one day (which I’ve done in the past month). You inspire me!

    • July 25, 2011

      Oh, and I have a question. If you can remember such a specific area 😉 , how was the drive on 97 from Bend, Oregon, to where you got off 97 to head to Medford? Considering that as part of our trip only instead of getting off to go to Medford continuing on to Weed, Oregon, or doing I-5 again.

      • July 25, 2011
        Kristin

        It was a really nice drive–we didn’t have any trouble at all! FYI, we were on 140 between Crater lake and Medford–is that the road you mean? It was eastern Oregon where it was sloooooow going; we didn’t have any problems once we got close to I-5.

        • July 25, 2011

          Yup, that’s the one I mean. Just saw your Oregon post with more details. So fun that you stopped by and canoed in Crater Lake! We wanted to stop by there SO bad on our drive back, but decided the quicker I-5 route would be worth it after 5 days of traveling with kids 😀 .

          • July 25, 2011
            Kristin

            We didn’t get to canoe in Crater Lake–that was the lake where we were staying, Lake of the Woods. (I’m saving Crater Lake photos for a future Photo Friday.) Even at the end of June, Crater Lake was snowed in and most of the trails were closed! It was still beautiful, but I think there’s only a two-month window (July and August) when you can take an actual boat ride on the lake itself.

  • July 25, 2011

    That’s an awesome trip. in 2007, I did 31 National Parks in the US and Canada along much of the same route. So much great stuff to see. Where’s next?

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      We leave on Sunday to drive across country and then on Aug. 20 to sail around the world! Fifteen stops/countries–kind of the opposite of a road trip…or rather a “road” trip by sea, I suppose!

  • July 25, 2011

    Congrats on making it, but more importantly documenting it along the way. I feel like your posts are going to inform my future road trip that I want to do and I have already referred back to several posts already – thanks for being my Lewis & Clark 😉

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      Speaking of Lewis & Clark, don’t waste your time going to the petroglyphs in Billings where Meriwether signed his name! (Scott said, “such an American thing to do…having to mark your territory by vandalizing nature!” So true.) Anyway, overrated!

  • July 25, 2011

    NEVER become grownups. Never. If you guys become grownups we’ll have to become grownups, and I’ll be damned if I let that happen.

    I love, love, LOVE this post. Thank you so much for all the helpful information. Though I doubt we’ll ever try to emulate your epic road trip, the husband and I do fancy ourselves outdoorsy people. We’re hoping to do a week-long (husband says month-long) camping trip in Yellowstone, and hopefully we’ll learn from a few of your mishaps!

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Always happy to have others learn from our disastrous mistakes =) And also, erm, when are WE going camping with YOU two? Just saying. We’ll supply the shaved mutt for entertainment; you can bring the booze and marshmallows.

  • July 25, 2011

    Enjoyed the virtual road trip, Kristin. To think you’re off again but then, that’s why I follow your blog – to live my travel dreams through you – virtually of course! C’est la vie. :-)

    By the way, I read all the dollar details with great care and finally focused on converting the miles to kms. Oh yeah, my jaw dropped in awe et al.

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      I know, it’s mind-boggling even to me! One day, we will rest. Until then…so many places to see! =)

  • July 25, 2011

    I’ve long thought it’s cheaper to live on the road. Maybe that’s because I’ve been doing it for 14 years now. You did learn a lot. And as a list maker and planner I do know how hard it can be to go with the flow.

    Sure hope you’ll still be posting while away to sea. Bon Voyage!

    • July 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Arches was $10, but that was for a seven-day pass. I think Canyonlands was about the same. Yellowstone was probably more like $20-$25 (can’t remember, just flashed our pass). We didn’t get to go into Glacier, so there was no need for use there. But you do remind me that we will get to use it again in just a week in the Grand Canyon so there’s that!

      • July 26, 2011

        You are coming to the Grand Canyon in a week? I sure hope it’s the North Rim. Let me know your plans.

        • July 26, 2011
          Kristin

          I would love to but it’s just too far of a drive from Flagstaff when we’re only going to be there for a day–especially in high season. But we’ll come back and see you another time, I promise! =)

          • July 26, 2011

            I can certainly understand that. I’ll be in Flagstaff this Thur, Fri and back home on Sat. Have fun elbowing your way to the SR lookouts. I’ll wave across the canyon. 😉

            • July 26, 2011
              Kristin

              Ahhh we are JUST missing you. We get in Monday afternoon/night and leave Wednesday morning. What terrible timing!

              • July 26, 2011

                Wouldn’t be the first time. Remember South Africa. But our trails will cross someday. Safe journey.

  • July 26, 2011

    just watched Vacation. The original. keep thinking of the line “Just took the whole tribe cross country. The smell from the backseat was horrible” hope yours was better.

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      HA. We didn’t smell (too bad), but we did run into A LOT of roadblocks–rain, sleet, hail, flooding, snow, rock slides, road and park closures, you name it.

  • July 26, 2011

    Wow – 5700 miles. That’s a lot of time to bond.

    Here’s to traveling AND saving money :)

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      Hahahaha. Good thing it worked out for us, eh? I’d hate to think we’d wasted the past six years only to find we don’t get along stuck in a car cab for 5,700 miles over 42 days 😉

  • July 26, 2011

    I love that living on the road is less expensive that staying at home!
    Is Ella going to the Grand Canyon with you? The entire South Rim Trail is pet friendly! 😀

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      She is! We’re only going to be at the South Rim for a day, and I wouldn’t have known that had you not posted about it recently!

      • July 26, 2011

        Sweet! I hope you guys have a great time and that the weather is better for this road trip.

  • July 26, 2011
    k

    I love going back and calculating how thrifty I was on vacation (roadtrips especially) – doing it right now for my trip to Alaska, although that unfortunately wasn’t all too cheap! When I did my xc trip in 2006, I had tallied up everything – gas, food, lodging – and had fun comparing it to my budget ($319 under budget over the course of 15 days). Back then a parks pass was only $50 so it was really easy to pay for it!

  • July 26, 2011

    At this point, it doesn’t make sense to “grow up” until you’ve seen the whole world . . . you’ve got to be at least 3/4 of the way there already! :)

    • July 26, 2011
      Kristin

      I think more like a third! I’ve been to around 100 countries, but apparently there are far more countries that exist now than what we were taught in school (which I believe was 192 or thereabouts)!

  • July 28, 2011

    I’m still so bummed we missed each other on the road! It sounds like you had a lovely time and if you ever come through Fort Worth, TX let me know!

    • July 28, 2011
      Kristin

      I was trying to make it through DFW next week on our drive back to Tennessee, but turns out it’s way out of the way! But yes, I will let you know when that happens =)

  • July 28, 2011

    Hey, you traveled in the shape of a butterfly!!!

    • July 28, 2011
      Kristin

      Ha, you WOULD notice that! Love it!

  • July 29, 2011

    I’m not planning to do anything like this anytime soon, but I love these kinds of super practical (and number sharing!) posts. It is amazing how living in a big city you can save money by just being… elsewhere. Last summer I sublet my apartment and by charging just a bit over my rent per month was able to finance my flight to Grand Cayman, where I was spending the summer!

  • August 7, 2011

    Ha!! I LOVE that you saved money and traveled. Brilliant. And, great info … I wish I was that organized where I can tell people how much I spent/saved.

  • August 8, 2011
    karen

    I’m not much of a traveler like this, but it is really informative to read about. You give such practical advice and suggestions. I love how you make it personal by sharing actual events.

  • May 27, 2013

    I am such a planner myself and you gotta love post-its now don’t you! hehe. Road trips are the cheapest kinds of travel and without planning I’m sure it’d fall out. I did a 2 week road trip around UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What fun! Its the best way to cover everything :)
    tashsn recently posted..Career equality: Is that a thing in relationships?My Profile

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