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  1. Default Advice: NJ to CA and back

    Hi guys!
    I am new posting but have read these forums a bit and am looking for your advice/ opinions/ estimates/ must-sees/ etc. any input helps!
    So my plan is to get a van and drive cross country in it. I want to see the country and do it on the cheap!
    I would build the van out so I can sleep in it, possibly have a mini fridge, cooler. I would have a portable grill for cooking.
    I want to take about a month for the whole trip. I don't have a huge care for the middle of country so I was thinking spend a week each way from nj to Ca and ca back and spend 2 weeks really seeing the California coast from San Diego area to San Francisco.
    I was hoping to keep food costs low by cooking my own food and just buying the dollar menu stuff most of the time and saving splurging on big meals only sometimes. Lodging costs will be minimal to none because I'll be living in the van/ camping and stopping at family and friends houses.

    My estimates were like this

    Fuel:
    8000mi. = $1200

    Food:
    30 days x $20/day = $600

    Misc:
    National park pass = $80
    Oil change 2x $40 = $80
    Fun = $300
    Unexpected = $240

    Total = $2500

    What do you guys think? Is this close? I think I could possibly do it cheaper on some things. Any input in appreciated!

  2. #2

    Default

    I think that sounds fun. But your unexpected is only $240, Id be comfortable if that was $2400.. or take a credit card or 2 with you. you never know. I went from jersey to ca back in 2013, had to stay in colorado for a week (storm, car prob, medical stuff) and spent an unexpected $1500.....:/
    So dont say I didnt warn ya. But its fun and you got the spirit.Have fun, drive safe, dont text and drive and pull over if you get tired...

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,749

    Default Cheaper ? I don't think so.

    Hello and welcome to RTA !

    Your budget looks real thin to me and that's before you consider that you have allowed zero for campgrounds/accommodation. I know you say you can sleep in the van and stay with friends but you really can't just pull up anywhere and sleep. Sure you can use a few truck stops but that would be to sleep only and not to set up camp and you couldn't [or wouldn't want to do that for a month. Your fuel estimate looks real low for a van and have you allowed for all those detours driving around the National parks etc into your thinking. From points 'A' to 'B' calculations you could easily add another 1500 miles to your total. Although you can enjoy natural surroundings for little, $10 a day for 'fun' is more than slightly optimistic and you will need an 'emergency fund' pot that is bigger than $240. Having said all that, if that's the funds you have available then all you have to do is make sure you have enough to get you home at any time during your trip, and it wouldn't be the end of the world if you had to head for home early. It would be wise to take out a roadside assistance package in case you breakdown and need a tow. That brings us onto the subject of the van which it sounds as though you haven't purchased yet. That's often the area of main concern, especially when on a tight budget. If you intend to buy a 'cheapy' and then take it out on a 8000 mile plus journey your repair bills could clean out a lot of the money you have to travel with. I don't want to sound negative and wish you well but forewarned is forearmed.

    Oh yeah, don't be to keen to get to the coast, there are some amazing places throughout the country and the scenery and National parks through Colorado, Southern Utah and Arizona are pretty spectacular.

  4. Default Good advice! And an update

    Thanks for the advice! I think should mention a couple things.

    One is that I agree about the dreaded big expense. This will be put on a credit card if need be. That's why my unexpected is so low.
    And also, I didn't include camping costs bc I was under the impression that the America natural park pass covered that in over 2000 parks or whatever it says on their website. Am I wrong?

    Plus I'd be fine roughing it in a Walmart parking lot for a while when I need to. I'm not big on material fancy stuff and costly experiences. Once in a while but the majority of my time will be spent taking photographs and videos of nature and stuff that doesn't cost anything.

    Any other thoughts you guys have about this? I'm trying to think of everything possible to be prepared, this all helps!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    If you read the fine print in the National Park pass, it only covers the entrance fees to the various parks. Even there, it can be"iffy". At some, you'll pay for parking. At others, you may need to take a tour, and those are not covered by the pass. None of them accept the card for camping. That will set you back anywhere from $10 - $30/night.

    Some of the national park campgrounds require reservations if you're to find a spot. You can keep calling if you can't get a reservation the first time, because "they're full". Or you can choose to do what we often did when we were campers: we'd find a lesser known national forest campground right outside the national park boundary. It meant we would have to drive in to see the park, but that was no big deal.

    I agree that your budget is a bit sparse. You also have to consider where you are going to shower. Some of the campgrounds don't have shower facilities, some do. If you stay at a truck stop, they do have shower facilities, but for a price - $7-$15 - BYO Flip-Flops.


    Donna

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default the ultimate contradiction

    Quote Originally Posted by thewanderer9405 View Post
    So my plan is to get a van and drive cross country in it. I want to see the country and do it on the cheap!
    Those two sentences are the biggest problem with your plan. Seeing the country on the cheap, and get a van, and "build it out" don't go together. It's not cheap to buy a van, and it's certainly not cheap to build it out, especially with the kinds of upgrades you need to make to make it a semi-self contained vehicle, with a mini-fridge.

    Just the cost to purchase and then improve the van is going to cost far more than everything else you've got in your budget. Realistically, getting a van on the road in the way you're talking about is going to cost you a solid $5,000 - and that's on the low side. Certainly, it's possible to find a van cheaper than that, but the phrase you get what you pay for comes into play, and any money you save on the purchase price will almost certainly cost you even more when you need to make repairs on the road (costing you time and money, especially since you can't sleep in the van if it's at a repair shop!) One regular member of this forum has purchased a van for her travels, she spent well over $7k getting it on the road, and has spent a few thousand more in repairs since then. What still makes it affordable is that she didn't just purchase it for one trip, she's traveled across the country several times in it.

    Even if you don't factor in the cost to get the van, your budget is still problematic because you haven't factor in any money for camping fees. Where are you planning to park your van while you sleep? The few places where you can legally and safely park for free overnight are somewhat limited, and when are doing that, you can't look like you are camping - so you won't be able to fire up your grill. While you're in place like National Parks, paying for a campground is going to be your only option for an overnight - or you can expect to get woken up in the middle of the night by a park ranger who will tell you to move along.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by thewanderer9405 View Post
    And also, I didn't include camping costs bc I was under the impression that the America natural park pass covered that in over 2000 parks or whatever it says on their website. Am I wrong?
    I just started typing before you responded with this post. The National Parks Pass covers the entry fees into any National Park (or other public lands) that charges an admission. However, it does not cover any extras, including camping fees. Overnight parking is generally not allowed anywhere other than in campgrounds - or for paid guests at the various lodges.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,749

    Default

    And also don't forget other expenses when buying a van, least of all the road insurance which could be significant depending on age and driving record.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Let me chime in here.

    All of the above is important. The more you spend on a van, the more enjoyable your trip will be. But is it worth it if you're only going to use it for a month. What are your plans for the van after you return home? Getting it fitted out for a basic camper should not cost a great deal if you shop around. Mine has a bed, memory foam mattress and wooden floor (+/-$400) a small plastic storage cabinet ($12 Target) screwed to the wooden floor and a Dometic fridge/freezer ($550). I have the CF35, but there are smaller ones. to be able to keep perishables in the fridge you do need a house battery (+/-200) plus installation. From memory I paid several hundred for that, from an auto electrician. However an internet friend from the Vandwellers redid it for me since, and it works much better. Seems auto electricians in North America typically use wire which is not heavy enough. All this is worth it if you are going to keep the van and have a lot of use for it in the future.

    [I have all these in my van at home as well, and use the fridge everytime I go shopping as well as on roadtrips.]

    Like mentioned above what bothers me about your budget is the emergency fund. The credit cards could easily rack up a few thousand dollars. Over the 3 x 6 month roadtrips I have had my share of breakdowns and towings. It will pay you to take out a roadside plan with lots of towing allowance. With the top plan from AAA all my towing has been covered. On the other hand, I typically do not spend much more than $10 per day on food, doing all of my shopping at supermarkets - but then, I am not a big eater.

    When travelling from place to place I always stay at truckstops. This directory shows you all the truck stops which make RVs welcome. Do not assume that all truck stops will allow you to park overnight. Of some three dozen Pilot/Flying J in a State, I found that some half dozen allowed overnight parking.

    Be sure to check in at all and every BLM office you see, at Ranger stations and Forestry offices. They are a wealth of information for giving you places to camp overnight at very low cost, and in the case of BLM, nearly always free. Besides, these folk who live and work in the local areas know where to go, what to see and anything else you want to know. Even law enforcements officers have told me of cheap/free/safe places to stop for the night. All you need to do is ask.

    All in all, $2500 for a month is probably around what I spend on my roadtrips, I do spend a significant time of my trip with family. Still 8000 miles in a month is a lot of miles. I tend to average about 1000 miles per week.

    Lifey
    Last edited by Lifemagician; 02-02-2016 at 01:59 AM. Reason: ty*6s

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