Published on: May 5, 2020
Contrary to popular belief, traveling across the US is pretty cheap by western standards. Once you get out of the big cities, the cost of things is cut by almost half. In some rural areas, you can even get a full day’s meal for less than 10$.
So if you’ve been putting off on exploring all 48 continental states due to monetary reasons, don’t. Depending on your creativity and self-discipline, you can do a 48-state road trip for a little over $3,000.
Of course, this depends on how long you plan to stay on the road, your eating habits, and various other factors. Take gas, for example. If you’re planning to hitchhike, you won’t need to worry about this. But if you’re driving your own car, then you definitely need to take this into your budget as gas prices change very often.
A DIY road trip is also cheaper than joining organized tours. Though the latter is safer and more convenient especially if you hate driving. Organized road trips can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 and usually lasts for over two months.
If you’re planning to take the more adventurous route and do the trip yourself, here are some of the cost factors you need to consider.
There are a lot of accommodation options all across the US. In big cities, you’ll usually have a large selection of hotels from the luxurious to run-of-the-mill type ones. In less urbanized areas, roadside hostels and family-run B&Bs are more common. According to Statista, the average daily rate of hotels in the US is $110.66.
But if you’re traveling on a budget, you can also explore Couchsurfing and Airbnb. Couchsurfing connects you with local hosts who are willing to let you stay in their place for free. While Airbnb lets you stay in people’s homes for a fee. It’s usually cheaper than hostels plus you have access to a kitchen and (sometimes) a private balcony.
Most national parks around the country also offer camping spaces. If you have the gears, it’s a great way of getting close to nature while saving money while on the road.
If you’re driving your own car and you’re a little low on funds, you can always sleep in it. It’s safe, free and you can adjust the temperature to your preference.
If you’re not a picky eater, surviving on less than $20 a day food budget is doable. Though in major cities, this can be quite a challenge.
For example, Investopedia estimates that a seven-day drive from New York to Los Angeles with three meals per day can cost about $222.09. In rural areas, this can be much lower.
Eating out in restaurants, especially expensive ones, can also raise your food spending significantly. A travel blogger shared that he spent more than $3,000 on food alone in his 116-day road trip across all 48 states. Much of it went to Starbucks and the sushi houses he passed along the way.
Some travelers share that eating at fast foods while on the road helped them save a lot of money. But we all know this is bad for your health in the long run. If you can, stay in lodgings with access to a kitchen and cook your own food. Get your food supplies at a local produce market. You can also bring a portable cooker with you.
Your gas expenses largely depend on what car you’re driving and the current price of oil in the market. In 2019, the average retail price of regular gasoline is at $2.60 per gallon. But in states like Wisconsin and Oklahoma, you can get this same quantity of gas for a little over a dollar.
So to save on gas, get a full tank in states with cheap oil prices. Though if you’re driving an SUV, the cost can still be significantly higher compared to sedan cars. Even the most fuel-efficient SUV’s can only get as much as 20-25 miles per gallon. But sedans can go as far as 30-40 miles per gallon of fuel.
A travel blogger who toured all 48 states in her Hybrid Honda Prius claimed she spent around $1,093.72. The same trip on an SUV can cost up around $3,645.
Don’t forget to change your oil regularly and bring some spare tires too. Unexpected car repairs can throw off your budget completely and you might end up stuck on the road for days.
If you’re staying in hotels, parking fees may not be much of a concern. But in the absence of free parking spaces, expect to pay an average of $1 per hour for on-street parking. While off-street “commuter” lots charge around $11 per day.
As with everything else, parking costs are much higher in major cities. In New York and Jersey City, the monthly cost of parking near City Halls averages at $732. While in Oklahoma, expect to pay only around $25 per month.
Most national parks in the country charge up to $25 entrance fee per person. So if you’re planning to visit a lot of national parks along the way, getting an annual park pass for $80 is much cheaper. Though there are also national parks that are free to enter all year long.
If you’re not much of a nature lover, the US has a wide range of attractions that cater to every taste and interest. This article outlines a route that lets you visit 50 must-see American attractions.
Aside from the National Parks pass, some places also offer city tourism cards. It usually includes free access to museums and public transport, and discounted rates on attractions.
Miscellaneous expenses like souvenirs, booze, and some necessities don’t really cost that much. But it can easily add up if you’re not careful. A reasonable budget for miscellaneous expenses would be around $150 to $200.