View Full Version : NJ to CA and back in 3 weeks-Advice needed and appreciated!!!!

11-12-2010, 06:54 PM
Hello, this is my first post on the Roadtrip America site so I guess I should start by introducing myself. My name is Conor and I am a freshman in college in the northeast. This next summer will be my "last summer" (at my University we get Co-Op jobs after sophmore year which cuts normal summer vacation in half). So, with my last summer before having to adjust to the responsibilities of adulthood I convinced 5 of my friends to join me on a roadtrip across our great nation. We live in northern NJ and would like to travel to northern CA to southern CA and back. Our time frame is 3 weeks, 21 days. Our mode of transportation is an early 2000's Ford Explorer that is looking for one last moment of glory after many long years of reliable service.

This paragraph I'm going to give a little background on how the idea came to being in order to get the most useful advice as possible. For some time we have all wanted to have an adventure and go exploring. This past year I saw the film Point Break which rekindled my desire to learn to surf. So we all planned to learn to surf in NJ, travel to CA and surf, then travel back. Over time this has evolved into a full fledged road trip with the surfing possibly delayed until we return.

Okay, so what we have discussed so far: We plan on driving from NJ to Chicago and getting there in one shot with no stops. My friend has connections in Chicago so we can stay there and not worry about lodging. Next we plan to drive to Yellowstone with a stop at Mount Rushmore. I am wondering if that is possible from Chicago in one day? We would like to stay and camp in Yellowstone for 3 nights then head to the Redwoods. Is that possible in one shot or should we plan on finding lodging? We plan on camping in the Redwoods for two nights then heading south to Yosemite and camping for 3 nights. Then we plan to hit the coast and stay a night in LA where we would need to find a motel, and then San Diego for 2 nights where one of my friends has family so we will not need to pay for lodging. After that we would like to travel to Vegas through Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley. We would have to find lodging there. After that we are unsure if we should travel back home heading north with another stop in Chicago or head south and stop in Dallas, New Orleans, and St. Louis. We would like to maximize our time in CA and Yellowstone so heading right back home from Vegas is also an option.

I believe the brief write up I have given above puts us at around 15 or 16 days by the time we reach Vegas leaving 5 to 6 days to travel from Vegas to my friends shore house on Long Beach Island in NJ. I am willing to cut the Redwoods and Joshua Tree National Park to allow for more time in Yellowstone and Yosemite. I would like to know which park other people prefer so we could allot more time there. We would like to leave late May, around the 25th and be home by June 15th, mid June.

So aside from any advice and any above questions heres some final ones that I have: Is this possible in 3 weeks? Is this possible at around a budget of $500-$750 per person? We have triple A on the car we plan on using, is that enough? Is it possible to meet our driving goals: NJ to Chicago in one day; Chicago to Yellowstone in one day; Yellowstone to Redwood in one day; Redwood to Yosemite in one day etc. or will this drive us insane?

I went on a bit, but I am very excited for this and want to get as much of this together by Christmas. Sorry if I come off as naive or stupid, I am just looking for as much advice as possible to make this a very memorable and adventurous trip. Thanks for any replies!

Midwest Michael
11-12-2010, 07:39 PM
Welcome to the RTA Forum!

I'm sorry to tell you I think you're trying to do way too much, with way too little time and way too little money.

Is it possible to meet our driving goals: NJ to Chicago in one day; Chicago to Yellowstone in one day; Yellowstone to Redwood in one day; Redwood to Yosemite in one day etc. or will this drive us insane?

To put it bluntly, no its not possible - its not even close. 500-600 miles is a good full day on the road - even with multiple drivers. And in fact, since you've got such a large group, stopping more frequently will be important because you've got so many "sardines in a can." You'll also find that stops take a little extra time, etc. If you try to do much more than that, you're all going to be at each others throats before you even cross the mississippi river - and that's no fun for anyone.

NJ to Chicago is pushing too hard for your first day, at nearly 800 miles that's more than we'd recommend for a single day. If Chicago was your only stop, you might be able consider this (although we still wouldn't recommend it), but you'll certainly be in no condition to continue on another marathon day after a brutal 15 hour day on the road.

Chicago to Yellowstone isn't a 1 day drive - its a THREE day drive. In fact, you couldn't even possibly do it physically in one day because you're looking at about 27 hours of driving!

Yellowstone to the Redwoods is another 1000 mile drive - and almost none of it is interstate. No way could you possibly do that safely in just one day.

Is this possible at around a budget of $500-$750 per person?
I don't think your budget is very reasonable either. Just for comparison sake, during the roadtrips I took with my friends in college about 10 years ago, we'd be gone for about a week and spend that much each. That's all camping and staying with friend, very few restaurant meals, etc. The price of gas is now 3 times higher, and you'll be gone 3 times longer.

Just for gas alone, you're going to spend about $2000, so that's nearly your entire budget right there before you've factored in any other costs.

You can certainly have a great roadtrip, and you've got lots of great ideas, but now you've got to take your dreams and work them into a package that's more realistic with what you've actually got to work with.

11-13-2010, 01:06 AM
Thanks for the reply. I know it was very unrealistic but as the first iteration of the plan I wanted to have as many ideas and stops on there as possible and then be able to go through and narrow it down piece by piece.

Budgets can easily be made $1000 as we have all worked over the summers and/or winters the past couple of years and none of us have really spent it on anything. I did some calculations using very high values to get an idea of the price of gas and if we travel 6500 miles and get 15 miles to the gallon at a cost of $4 gas would come to $1733.33 which isn't too bad.

Over Thanksgiving break, since I do not have time currently with many midterms and projects going on, I plan on going through this step by step and analyzing each and every detail in the current state as mentioned in my first post. After completing that it will become clear what places are most cost and time efficient to visit. After that analysis and a meeting with the group I will post again and look forward to more constructive critiques from experienced roadtrippers. Thanks again for the hasty reply!

Midwest Michael
11-13-2010, 09:39 AM
I still think you'll have a tough time doing a 3 week trip for just $1000 each. It looks to me like you are very much assuming a perfect case to be able to fit everything into a budget that small - and I'll tell you that everything is going to cost more than you think on paper.

Gas being a perfect example.

You figured 6500 miles for your trip - and that might be your total point to point distance based on an online mapping program (I actually came up with a number over 7000, but that's minor), however in reality, you're not just going to be driving point to point, your going to be driving within towns, around parks, looking at sights, and looking for places to sleep. All of that quickly adds up, and you'll most likely drive about 10,000 miles when all is said and done. If gas is $4 you'd need $1000 more than you've estimated - I was only figuring $3 a gallon when I came up with the $2000 in my previous post, so that should very much be considered a minimum number.

That mistake in calculations is a very common one for a first time road tripper, but its a perfect example of the kinds of things that are easy to forget when building a budget. And when you are trying to do things with the least amount of money possible, it can really destroy your budget, especially if you also start underestimating the cost of other things like food and lodging.

I'll say without breaking things down into specifics and just based on my own experience of doing trips like this, I'd say each of you would need at least $1500 available for a pretty bare bones 3 week trip. Anything less, you're going to have to worry so much about not spending money that watching your budget will be more important than having any fun.

11-13-2010, 09:41 AM
To help you with your planning, limit each and every day to no more than 500 miles of straight driving point to point on Interstate highways. Sure, you may be able to do more, but if you PLAN on more, you may wind up "behind the curve" if unforeseen things happen.

For budgeting, in addition to gas, you need to consider food, tolls, campground fees, hotels, and admission fees/incidentals.

EDIT: Example to add to what Michael said - what are you going to do if you are on the road when it's time to pack it in for the day, you aren't near any of your possible freebies, and it's pouring rain? 2 hotel rooms could cost you up to $200. More than 4 people in a hotel room is not legal in most places.

Another thing to consider - you may be figuring $4 a gallon for gas, but it could be considerably higher in some places. For example - I was out in Yosemite in October. Gas in California was around $3 a gallon, but inside the park it was $3.60 at the only gas station, and just outside the park in El Portal the only station was getting $4.25. You have to make a conscious effort to top off where the prices are still reasonable.

11-13-2010, 10:07 AM
The points you've been getting from veteran RoadTrippers regarding budgets for both miles and dollars are right on target. But there is another serious problem with your plan that can still ruin it for you even if you up everybody's monetary contribution and keep your daily drives to a reasonable pace. That is the simple fact that you are going to be 6 people in a single car day after day after day...... I know - you're all the best of buddies (now) and you will never get on each others' nerves. But here is the solid, hard and incontrovertible truth - you will be at each others' throats by the third day if not sooner. This is simply too many people to try to include in a single car trip. Each of you will have his own ideas of what to do and how to do it and will resent wasting time on somebody else's lame 'must see'. No one will be able to get any significant rest in the car and will soon be fighting over 'their' space. Someone will smell. Another will be short of money and expect his buddies to tide him over. While 500 miles a day is normally an eminently reasonable number of miles to cover in a day. with this sized crew, I wouldn't try for more than 400 and instead leave plenty of time to be out of the car doing things individually or in smaller, constantly changing groups. Leave entire days en route where you all don't have to accomplish anything and can get out of each others' sight. And plan on several nights where individuals get a room to themselves just for the shear sanity break. 'Alone Time' is something every bit as important to budget as money and miles.


Midwest Michael
11-13-2010, 10:44 AM
Buck's post also made me think of something I hadn't even considered - which you'll need to think about:

Where are you going to put all of your luggage/gear? I was assuming that you've got a 3rd row seat in the explorer - which means you wouldn't have any room left to put your stuff (and don't forget how much room you'll need for tents/sleeping bags/cooler in addition to all of your clothes).

If you don't have a 3rd row, then cargo will be easier (but still tight) but the Bucks points and the sardines in a can reference I made earlier are even more true. I couldn't imagine sitting 3 across would be comfortable for 300 miles, much less back and forth across a 3000 mile country.

11-13-2010, 05:23 PM
Thanks for the replies so far. The route is going to get chopped down a lot so 7000 miles will hopefully be over the actual by 500 to 1000 miles and I realize gas price fluctuates so I used $4 as a good median for the whole country. All of this has crossed my mind, especially the need for "alone" time and the sardine situation, and I really do plan on putting a ton of thought into that over Thanksgiving. The budget is pretty flexible for all of us, as I've said we all have jobs whenever we are home from college, which is good for emergency situations such as rain, breakdowns, etc. Planning 500 miles max a day is a good idea; setting our average goals lower will give us less stress to meet them and more time if we do exceed them. Six people is going to be tough, hotel, luggage and car wise, but one of us has a large roof container which we can shove a lot of stuff. We haven't put too much thought into this yet (clearly) since we're all busy acclimating to college and staying on top of school, but after we meet a couple times I will repost with a more focused and realistic plan that you all can help me whittle down to an actual executable trip. Thanks for the criticism so far as it leaves me with the main items to prioritize when we go over everything in a couple weeks.

Thanks for putting up with a rookie roadtripper. I probably should have waited to post until after the first major overhaul to the basic "dream plan" was completed. I'm truly grateful of all of the replies so far and hope you all could check back in two weeks or so when I'll update with what we believe to be realistic and then everyone here can help make it actually realistic lol.

11-13-2010, 06:41 PM
If you plan on using a roof box, don't forget that it will kill your (already not so good) gas mileage.

With only 3 weeks, the limited budget, and the "sardine can" situation, I'd seriously consider staying east of the Mississippi for this trip. If you want to do the western half, do that another year, possibly when you can take a lot more than 3 weeks, or when you have money to burn and can fly to LA and rent a vehicle out there for touring the West.