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  1. Default trying to estimate costs

    Hey all,

    Im in the early stages of planning a coast to coast trip for the summer. I found this site and have browsed through a lot of threads, theres a lot of great info here. One thing that came as a surprise to me is the cost that it seems people are saying to make such a road trip.

    Keep in mind that the goal of this trip is to see the country, nothing else. Spending as little money as possible is a priority. We are willing to rough it, camping only, eating simple meals etc.

    I had done some math, estimating food, gas, lodging and my numbers are drastically lower from the bare minimum that is being suggested for a cross country trip.

    The consensus here seems to be that $15 a day for food per person is the cheapest it can possibly be done. That would mean three $5 meals a day, which is more than I spend at home for much more elaborate home-made meals. What am I missing here? I had thought more along the lines of $2 per meal or less, a box of spaghetti costs 79 cents and can feed 5 people. Similar with things like eggs/toast, hotdogs etc. Am I being really naive to have expectations like that?

    Here are my calculations, I am open to criticism, I dont want to go into something ill prepared and fail, I came here to learn how to do it right.

    For 6 people:
    Food: $6 a day/person = $720 total
    Gas to drive 8k miles at $3/gallon: $1200
    Lodging for 20 nights: $440
    Total: $2360, $393/person

    I realize this does not factor in any leisure activities, but I am more concerned with figuring out the essentials right now. I am figuring we will drive about 400 miles a day, 6-7 hours in the car, leaving in mid-morning and driving until mid-afternoon, set up camp and then have the rest of the afternoon/evening to see the area. I know that is not much time each day for sight seeing, but the focus of the trip is really to just see the general landscape of the whole country, even if its not necessarily all in detail. Am I crazy to try this trip? Why?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Thrifty traveling can be tedious

    Welcome to the RTA forums. :)

    How much money you spend depends on how determined you (all) are in keeping costs to the extreme bare minimum. But be wary, sometimes you can worry so much about trying to save money at every turn that you end up not enjoying why you took a trip in the first place.

    My folks and I have been road tripping for several years now, and over time have learned how to become pretty frugal with our expenditures. We first started out at about $360/day ($120/day x 3 people) but we've gotten it down to a science and we now average about $270/day ($90/day x 3). This includes vehicle rental, gas, lodging, all meals, souvenirs, entry fees, and other miscellaneous items. We take advantage of special deals, coupons, and park passes to help maximize our trip experience.

    As far as food, I suppose you could get by on $6 per person per day, if you consistently buy groceries. But it sounds like you'd have to do some cooking, which takes a decent amount of time, time you could be spending on the road, and you'll need a place to cook, not to mention all the plastic ware and paper plates for each meal, and of course clean-up. And you want to do that 2-3 times a day for 20 days straight? Hmm... doesn't sound all that enticing, but hey that's just me.

    Our routine was to get a cheap breakfast (usually McD's), then snack on random things during the day (fruit bars, chips, pretzels, crackers, trail mix, beef jerky) and then find some kind of hole-in-the-wall place for a $6-8 meal in the evening. It usually amounted to $12/person per day. Not too bad, but probably more than you want to spend. You can make it cheaper by cooking, but not sure if it's worth it, for the reasons I listed previously.

    I don't know where in the world you're getting your $440 lodging figure from, unless you plan to stay in hostels or camp every single night. Between 6 people that just sounds unrealistic to me. I figured you'd want to sleep in a nice comfy bed at least once in a while. But hey I've only camped twice so I really don't know the true costs in that arena. I do know you have to pay for a camping spot in some places so if you want a real roughing-it experience and just camp all the time, map out all your potential camping spots on the route. Also make sure it's some place that won't be full up and put you out of luck, which can easily happen during the summer. Reservations may be wise, but that puts you on a timed schedule for the day, which you may or may not want.

    You've probably overshot for gas, since it's not really anywhere close to $3/gallon. But I wouldn't adjust that budget. Who knows in this economy, it may very well again come close to that figure by the time summer rolls around. If it stays around $2/gallon, move some of that budget over to the lodging or food arena.

    I take it all 6 of you are in one vehicle? That doesn't leave much room for packing, especially if you want to take enough camping gear for everyone (unless you're putting it on top). Of course, I take everything plus the kitchen sink when I travel, so you may be more simplified to your necessities than me.

    Most of my travels have been in the western half of the U.S. so I can't really tell you what to expect on the east side. Someone else will have to take that torch in this forum.

    But my final say, I think your overall budget is probably too low for 6 people. I'm going to guess between $3000-4000 for everything is more reasonable, however still too low for my taste. Between 6 people that's $500-650 a person, which for 20 days is pretty outstanding. I don't think I could do that myself, but since lodging is the most expensive item on our trip ticket, your methods may be more efficiently budgeted than ours.

    Good luck!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default Best Cases

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I think Joey has broken things down quite nicely for you, but to sum it up: The numbers you are using are assuming a best case situation for every day for your entire trip, and that's just really really unlikely.

    Food: $6 a day/person = $720 total
    Its possible that you will be able to eat for a couple days at $6 a day, but realistically, you're probably going to spend more. If you buy hot dogs, You'll spend maybe $5 for enough for the meat, but you'll also spend a couple bucks on bun, mustard, etc. You'll probably also end up buying chips and drinks, and all of that stuff adds up really quickly.

    Your figures also assume you're only going to want to eat quick/cheap food that aren't particularly healthy. If you stop to pick up some fruit or a veggie, that's also going to cost more.

    Not even based on traveling experience, just at home, when I stop at the store to pick up things just to make a single meal for 3 people, its seems like I always end up paying close to $20, just with all the little things that you might not think of, but quickly add up.

    Your numbers also assumes that you'll never want to simply stop at a diner for a meal. If you eat out just once, you'll blow through 2-3 days of your food budget, and you won't have any cushion to replace that money.

    Gas to drive 8k miles at $3/gallon: $1200
    The ever changing price of gas makes this one of the toughest ones to estimate right now, however I'm seeing one big problem:

    You're assuming that you are going to get 20 mpg. You haven't said what exactly you are driving, but I don't know of any car that could comfortably fit 6 people, plus camping gear, and get 20 mpg. In fact, even with a large SUV or van, I'm thinking you're probably going to have to put some gear on the roof, which will also drag down your mpg.

    I don't know if you have considered this as well, but you should also factor in about 20% more miles than your point to point distances to factor in driving through towns, parks, finding campsites etc.

    Lodging for 20 nights: $440
    This is potentially reasonable, if you camp every single night. However, from my experience, you should also plan for a couple nights in a motel in case you get bad weather, can't find a campsite, or simply want to spend a night on a real bed. Personally, I plan to spend about one night a week in a motel on my camping trips.

    I will also say that when you are camping, there are some other expenses you'll need to factor in. You'll probably spend $5 a night on firewood, plus some more money for things like propane for cooking or lanterns, and a couple bucks a day for ice and bottled water.

    I realize this does not factor in any leisure activities, but I am more concerned with figuring out the essentials right now.
    One other thing that I would consider to be an essential is to have some money planned into your budget for emergency expenses or car repairs. You don't want to have your trip ruined because you have a tire blow out and you don't have any money to fix it.

    Here are my calculations, I am open to criticism, I dont want to go into something ill prepared and fail, I came here to learn how to do it right.
    As I've mentioned, it looks like you are trying to find the best case for every situation, and it might be possible to do things as you've listed. However, it doesn't leave any margin for error, and its quite likely that if you did this trip, you'd have to be watching your budget so closely that you wouldn't be able to focus on having fun.

    I would recommend that you give yourself much more room to work with. In the worst case, you over budget, and you'll have a nice little pot of money saved up for your next roadtrip.

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