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  1. #1

    Default East-to-West Coast roundtrip, poor teenagers, $4000 total, 22 days: Doable

    My questions
    Is this possible to do?
    How should I plan to budget this?
    Would you recommend an alternative route if this is too much?

    Background
    There will be four of us, 3 18 year olds, 1 19 (all will be going into freshman or sophomore year of college). We're all going to be splitting all of the costs (gas, lodging, shared food, etc.) We are very prepared to rough it. We're doing this for an experience, not a vacation in the pleasure cruise sense. Long days, crappy accommodations are givens.

    Our purpose (in order of importance)
    1. See the country. Experience all of the cultures and differences in the United States. We want this to be something we'll remember for the rest of our lives. This could be the last time the four of us can have three responsibility-free weeks to do this. We want to make the most of it.
    2. See important sights like Rushmore, Yellowstone, etc.
    3. Reach the West Coast and travel coast-to-coast back to the east coast.

    Here are the limits of the situation

    - We have 20-25 days at most to do this due to conflicting plans.
    - We can spend $700 each. $1000 each is the ABSOLUTE LIMIT.
    - We're fitting 4 people and everything into a 1998 Volkswagon Passat.

    So have at it. These are the only real givens. Below is just some planning that I've done and more questions I have.

    I was looking at these routes, Oregon Trail and US-50
    and I like Philadelphia (our home) -> Yellowstone -> San Francisco -> Ocean City, NJ (where one of us has a beach house. we figure this will be good because we'll need some time to just relax after all of this).

    We're expecting to sleep in cars at least a few nights. I understand that truck stops are safe for this. Where else is okay? Any other advice relating to this?
    What about camping? We've never camped before. Parks generally charge $12...individually or for a group? What do I need to know about camping?
    We'll sleep in motels occasionally. What can I expect for rates for a double room? A single (with some of us on the floor)? Motels have to be clean, but no luxuries.

    For food, we plan to get 90% of our meals from grocery stores to cut costs.

    We can always turn back sooner if we're running out of money. We just cut down south and head east along US-50 and just cut the corner. I think this is a good safety net in case expenses add up or we just can't handle sleeping in cars/camping every night.

    Or am I crazy to think $4000 will get 4 teenagers across the country and back in 3 weeks while being able to see enough to make it worth it? I figure you guys are the ones to ask, because I have no idea.
    Last edited by Andre_Six; 02-09-2007 at 05:17 PM. Reason: Preferred URL Format

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Central Massachusetts
    Posts
    1,687

    Default Welcome

    Welcome to the RoadTrip America Forum!

    This sounds like somewhat of a tall order. I hate to be a buzzkill, but reality must set in.

    You're going to want to take our quiz, first of all.

    Four people sleeping in a car, in my opinion, is just not going to happen. Someone is going to have a foot in their ear! I have done the sleep in the car routine, and I think there's just enough space in there for one person to sleep comfortably. If you've never camped before, then I can't imagine how you would cope with sleeping in the car together.

    You can save money by purchasing food on the go at grocery stores, but you are going to want to eat more than sandwiches - are you going to have room in that vehicle for all of your gear, ie a portable grille as well as clothing, etc?

    The difference between $700 and $1000 per person is significant - quite possibly the cost of fuel for the trip.

    You do not want to spend your time being cramped up and miserable. That is not to say you cannot take a trip somewhere.

    I would roll back your expectations - perhaps take a more localized trip, gain some camping experience. Western PA has some very beautiful country, you're not too far from both New England or the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge mountains, etc. You'll cut your fuel expenditure significantly, freeing up some funds for better lodging and food - two of the most important items to consider on a roadtrip. Rather than worrying about having to "cut a corner", you'll be able to relax somewhat and really enjoy the experience.

    Perhaps once all of you graduate from college, then you'll be able to take the big trip you had your heart set on.

  3. #3

    Default

    I guess I should explain first why I'm so hesitant to just go to a smaller trip. One of the main draws of this is the adventure...being able to set out west and go to California and back and see everything under our own power. Being able to see new things... I'm sure that those trips you talked about would be enjoyable, but we're looking for something a bit more.

    Compatibility
    We should be pretty good. My only concern is just to make sure we're all willing to accept how frugal we're going to have to be.

    Sleeping...
    Could we expect to average $40/night at motels? What's the average single/double price I could expect? We could switch off floor/bed nightly in a single. That'd bring us to $200 each for 20 nights if we stayed at a motel every night.

    Also, I was thinking that a motel/car switchoff each night would work out and would give us a bill of ~$100 each

    In the car, we could sleep a couple in the back seat and two in the front reclined. Plus some rest during driving times (all 4 can drive). I'm thinking this should be enough to tide us over to a motel the following night.

    I figure gas is about $200 each with the * 1.25 padding. This is really padded because I put the price up and fuel mileage down quite a bit. The motel price might not be though so i guess it evens out.

    How much will I pay in the way of tolls?

    I think we could get by on grocery store food (no grill) knowing how important it is to be that frugal. We'd have a couple of hot meals too. Figure $15/day tops for 20 days... allow $300. Probably 10/day, but better to pad that than starve.

    That's $600-700 depending how often we do the motel thing.

    Is $300 enough to get us through what we want to see? $50 for parks...$75 for souvenir shirts and whatnot. Looking at that route, would $175 get us into the things we want to do? (rock n roll, baseball hall of fames...)

    I realize how ridiculous this sounds. Please just humor me... are my assumptions okay and can $175 for attractions and whatever make an enjoyable trip? Am I overlooking some glaringly obvious problems? I realize that this'd be incredibly rough, but we're really excited about this trip, and I think that'd make up for it. Again, we want an experience (short of it being hell though) much more than we want a pleasant time.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    10,805

    Default Humor, with a side of reality.

    OK, I think it might be possible for you to pull this off as a large trip going west, but lets break it down and see what you're up against.

    You've got $4k and 3 weeks. First, lets pool all the money together and look at total costs, not per person costs, because its just easier to divide it at the end.

    First off, you need to eliminate anything on the east coast. You simply don't have time to make this a big 48 state loop. More miles also means more money, which you don't have. That's not to say you can't visit those places at another time...

    Compatability:

    "We're all good friends, so that won't be an issue," are the famous last words of a roadtrip. There's also a saying that the best way to become enemies with your friends is to live with them, and on a roadtrip you aren't just living with your friends, you are living with them in a tiny box with few opportunities to escape each other. Money issues and how day to day decisions will be made are two of the biggest ways this surfaces on a trip, so make sure everyone is on the same page before you even begin. Taking shorter pre-trips is also an excellent way to get your feet wet before leaving on a major trip, this is where you could maybe make the trip to Cooperstown or your friends beach house.

    Sleeping:
    In the car, we could sleep a couple in the back seat and two in the front reclined. Plus some rest during driving times (all 4 can drive). I'm thinking this should be enough to tide us over to a motel the following night.
    Sorry to be blunt here, but just take a minute to think about how rediculous that actually sounds.

    When you recline the front seats in a Jetta is there even room for one person to SIT back there, much less try to sleep? Not to mention, even a reclined front seat, just isn't that comfortable as a bed.

    Sorry, but 4 people sleeping in a small sedan just isn't an option. Even if you did manage to get a little sleep each, it wouldn't be quality sleep, making you more iratable and less likely to enjoy the trip and each other.

    Could we expect to average $40/night at motels?
    No, not really. I'd say $50 is the minimum you should budget for a hotel stay. You can occationally find things for around $40, but there will also be times where $70+ might be the cheapest room you can find. By time you factor in taxes, you are almost always looking at $50 or more a night for even a room that's listed at $40. If you spent every night in a motel, you would have already spent 1/4 of your budget.

    Camping could save you quite a bit of money. Setting up a tent will generally cost you $15-20 a night. If you went with a tent for say 15 nights and moteled the other 5, you'd be looking at a savings of nearly $500 for the trip.

    Food:
    I think we could get by on grocery store food (no grill) knowing how important it is to be that frugal.
    Frugality aside, do you really think that 4 people will be able to survive on cereal and sandwiches for 3 weeks? This is a case where trying to save too much on paper can backfire. I'd say the odds are that after a week of cold cuts for every meal, you're going to start stopping at restaurants on a real frequent basis. Just one meal at Dennys can quickly blow your entire day's food budget if you plan on spending $15/day per person.

    A grill can really be a good money saver. For $20-30 total, you can buy a small propane grill that will allow you to eat real meals with food from a grocery store. My trips with friends, which are all done under tight budgets too, we eat cereal in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, and then grill steaks, burgers, or chicken at night. We still occationally will stop for a restaurant meal, but there's no where near the same urge to eat out when you are eating at least one hot meal a day.

    If you keep things frugal, I'd say $15/day each is possible, so that's $1300.

    Gas:
    I figure gas is about $200 each with the * 1.25 padding. This is really padded because I put the price up and fuel mileage down quite a bit.
    This is usually the killer cost, and considering how volitile gas prices are, it can be the hardest to figure.

    Lets say your Jetta gets 30 mph when loaded down with 4 people and gear, and hopefully gas will be $3/gallon this summer. A Direct Loop from Philly to Yellowstone to LA and back would be 6000 miles, but you aren't going to be taking a direct path. I'd say 9000 miles will be more likely. Even these are pretty liberal estimates, and that puts your gas costs at around $900.

    So right now, before food, gas, and shelter, you will be looking at a minimum of spending about $3200, with a bare bones approach. That doesn't include any money for attractions or anything else you want to purchase on the way. A National Parks pass will cost you $50, and be good for everyone in your car. But admission for other things like hall of fames can easily cost your $25 each or more, when you think about things like parking fees. But if you really watch yourself, and avoid higher priced activies, you should be able to stretch that remaining $800 into a pretty good time.

    So in a nutshell, Clearly $700 per person just isn't enough money, but If you can get everyone to spend $1000, and you very carefully watch your budget, you could be able to pull off a pretty bare bone, but still fun trip.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    9,410

    Default Nutshell analyses

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    So in a nutshell, Clearly $700 per person just isn't enough money, but If you can get everyone to spend $1000, and you very carefully watch your budget, you could be able to pull off a pretty bare bone, but still fun trip.
    Michael, a well-constructed and considerate analysis! I also moved this thread to Discount Trips (so I can remember where it is for future links).

    Mark

  6. #6

    Default

    Compatability - 3 of us have gone a bunch of trips to the beach before. It wasn't quite the same kind of a "tiny box" situation, but it worked well. I think we're going down to the beach with some other friends on our own earlier in the summer too so we'll see.

    Gas - 9000 miles? $3/gal? Really? If it makes a difference, SF not LA.

    Car Sleeping - Yeah, you're right. I was thinking the couple could lay down but they wouldn't get very good sleep that way.

    Camping - Would I have room in the car for 4 people, cooler, clothes, grill, tent, and sleeping bags? Would I be able to find campsites all over the place? Would I be able to shower? Are there any books I should get with guides to finding the best campsites? It's a Passat not a Jetta btw if there's a size difference.

    Motels - Again, are you talking about single rooms or double rooms?



    Gas 900, Lodging (1000 with motels, 650 with a 15-5 split), Food 1300

    If I aimed for a 15-5 split and left some wiggle room (budgeted 800 for lodging)...it'd be $2,700.

  7. #7

    Default Tight but doable...

    >>Camping - Would I have room in the car for 4 people, cooler, clothes, grill,
    >>tent, and sleeping bags? Would I be able to find campsites all over the
    >>place? Would I be able to shower? Are there any books I should get with
    >>guides to finding the best campsites? It's a Passat not a Jetta btw if
    >>there's a size difference

    I think you could fit everything in with a Passat, but it would be tight. The big difference between car camping and motel camping is the tent, sleeping bags and pads. The advantage of most of this stuff is its soft so you can stuff it into corners of the trunk. But it would be a very tight fit... particularly with 4 people. My guess is the two people in the back would have the ice chest between them..

    Another option for this is to get a soft sided cargo carrier for the roof -- this is basically a big pasticized bag which hooks onto the tops of the door openings and goes on the roof of the car. That will take the light weight/ bulky soft items -- the sleeping bags and pads and maybe a bag of clothes or two. Cost should be pretty reasonable -- new ones run like $50 and would really free up some space in the vehicle. (A quick look on line shows that Target, for example, has them from $30-60).

    I do a fair amount of car camping, and my experience is about 1/2 of the campgrounds have some sort of shower facility -- which sometimes cost a buck or so for a shower. I'll stay in a hotel every other day or so to get a hot shower, etc. Costs typically run around $20-25 per night in a campground, versus $60-80 in a hotel for two people. Most campgrounds will let you set up 2 tents in a site, particularly if you have 4 people -- and you may want to spread out and shift around on a long trip.

    You can get campground information in a variety of places -- the AAA for example publishes pretty good camping guides which include private and public (state, local, federal) campgrounds. An internet search also usually comes up with a good listing -- many campgrounds are listed on www.reserveamerica.com for example -- but not all are listed in one spot. The listings usually give contact information, price and reservations information, and lists what they might have available, which may include pools, showers, laundry facilities, etc.

    For cooking I typically have a 2 burner camping type stove (about $40 new) which takes $2-3/bottle propane and packs down to about the size of a notebook plus a thermos. To cook on, I have a teapot (to heat up water) and a saucepan (both come out of my kitchen) -- but this can handle everything from hotdogs and chili to coffee and soup, plus the usual steaks, etc. You'll need to toss in a roll of paper towels (which you'd need for sandwich lunches anyway), paper plates, and trash bags and the like. But those are things you'll find really useful anyway just for picnic lunches.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    10,805

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Andre_Six View Post
    If I aimed for a 15-5 split and left some wiggle room (budgeted 800 for lodging)...it'd be $2,700.
    Yes, that would get you down to $2700, but it also leaves NO room for error and it leave NO money left for any sort of extracurriculars. I'm assuming you want to do more than drive, sleep, and eat on this trip, which means you'll need some more money.

    As far as the other things go, you might not go a full 9k for miles, but side trips, detours through parks, and simple in town driving can really add up fast. More importantly, $3 for gas could be an optimistic figure. Don't forget, last summer gas prices were up around $3.50 in many places.

    With Motels, really the price difference between a one bed and two beds is very small. You're talking $5 at a lot of places, so I don't think it will really make a difference. Also keep in mind, motels generally do not allow 4 people to sleep in a one bed room. You can try to sneek in, but as 4 teenagers you probably want to avoid causing problems at all costs. Remember, if you break a motel's rules, they have every right to kick you out without a refund.

    Yes, there are campgrounds pretty much everywhere. Fitting all the gear could be a little tight, but you should be able to make it work if you only bring the basics - a tent and sleeping bag. You can always throw some of the smaller items, like a cooler, on the back seat. If things are too tight, Larrison's cargo bag is a great idea that wouldn't cost too much money.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    9,410

    Default Cargo Bag

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    If things are too tight, Larrison's cargo bag is a great idea that wouldn't cost too much money.
    Here is an article about the various kinds of cargo boxes and bags -- they will affect gas mileage -- but they might also make it possible for you to keep your sanity! Look especially at the Car Back Carrier!

    Mark

  10. #10

    Default Just to interject

    I think one of the most important thing for you to look at is time (before even getting in to the whole money thing). 3 weeks is not very long to go coast to coast and really see everything that it sounds like you want to see. Or, at least, I think that you will be rushed most of the time to do the whole thing on schedule.

    Camping downsides: #1 you do not have the equipment for camping, which will further reduce your budget #2 I would imagine it will be near impossible for you to fit all the gear you need to camp + other stuff in a Passat.

    I have been doing a considerable amount of planning for my own trip coming up in May. I am graduating college and will be heading from Knoxville, TN to Death Valley National Park and back with 3 friends. We have a very low budget, and decided to cut out Cali to save money and time.

    Details of our trip:
    Major Stops-
    1 free night in St Louis, MO w/ friends
    Backpacking 2 nights in Rocky Mountains National Park
    1 night in Canyonlands National Park
    6 nights in Moab at GONEMoab
    1 night in Zion National Park
    1 night in Las Vegas?
    Backpacking/Camping 2 nights in Death Valley National Park
    Backpacking 3 nights Camping 1-2 nights in Grand Canyon National Park
    1-2 nights in AZ/TX/MS

    Sights & Stops -
    RMNP
    Mesa Verde
    Canyonlands NP
    Arches NP
    Bryce Canyon NP
    Vegas
    Death Valley NP
    Grand Canyon NP
    Petrified Forest NP

    Vehicle- '02 Nissan Xterra w/ added space of hitch hauler and roof rack
    Fuel Budget - $1200 (this does not include fuel of the Moab week)
    Food Budget - $500 (everyone will be on their own on this part so some will spend more than others...we will likely overshoot this. I'm lowballing because I will likely spend the least on food of the 4. We have cooler, stoves, grill)
    Lodging Budget - $450

    This is ~$2200 / 4 = $550/ person which from everyone else's estimates sounds ridiculous, but I believe we can do it. This is just the budget we have set up but none of us have a severe need to stick to it religiously. The point of the trip is minimalism and seeing what we can do for cheap. My only fear is the budget of time and that it won't work out exactly like I am imagining which is almost a given. I have no need to stick to the time schedule either. As for the food budget, I am not factoring in the freebies we expect to receive before we leave from our parents, grandparents, etc which should amount to 1 weeks worth of food which I am not including in the price. I think we can nail these prices if we have to, but we may splurge a bit. The lodging budget we will likely undershoot because backpacking is generally free, so that's over a week of nights that cost us $0. I'm still unsure on the fuel budget, it may have to increase by another $100/person. Fuel will definitely be our major expense.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-08-2007 at 07:39 PM. Reason: Preferred URL Format

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