I just recently finished road tripping across/around the United States on less than $4500. Although a small chunk went to new tires, oil changes, and some goodies I bought along the way.
I found the best way to save money and meet people was to stay at hostels. I found several and made some good friends at them. Before my trip, I had no idea what hostels were...
[Editor's Note: Here are two articles that might be helpful:
An overview about the nature of using hostels in North America
Some featured ones around the area.]
The hostels are usually set up as a dorm/bunkbed boarding so sometimes I did have to sleep with others in the room, but usually they were very interesting and kind international travelers eager to talk about their adventures. Most had showers included, sometimes a free breakfast, and laundry and other facilities.
Apparently international travelers are more familiar with traveling on the cheap as I met many internationals that were traveling on $40 a day including food and lodging.
The hostels I stayed at were no more than $25 a night. The cheapest I paid was $14 for a bunk/dorm room setup.
During the busy season it is advantageous to call ahead to reserve a bed, although on my road trip, through shear laziness, I would just end up calling around lunchtime. If there was no bed available I would look elsewhere like a KOA, or travel further to another destination.
It seems most hostels are set up purposely in the middle of downtown areas in major cities. This allows internationals to easily traverse by train, bus, or plane. This was actually quite awesome for me. I could park at most hostels smack dab in the middle of downtown. Some places I found good hostels downtown were Flagstaff, Dallas, El Paso, San Francisco, Las Vegas (LV was a bit scary though... the town is pretty ghetto except the major casino areas), Eugene Oregan, etc.
I have to say, if you are in Eugene Oregan, on the last Friday of the month, they have a Art Walk. They play music, have art walks, and I got free food and beer at the hostel there. BOOYEAH!
As far as eating, I mainly ate grocery food. Nutrigrain bars, fruit, bagels, etc. I stayed away from fast food... although at times when I had no time I would stop in for the dollar menu food. Rachel Ray can spend $40 for a whole day. I could do it in $10.
breakfast - 2 biscuits for $2.25
lunch - 2 burritoes for $2.25
dinner - splurge pork fried rice for $5.50
water. soda would be $1 extra.
My trip was also mainly about seeing the national parks. I found that an interagency pass for $80 saved me money in the end since the big parks like Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion usually cost like $15-$25 to get in. Its good for a year so Im passing my pass to a friend as two people can be on it at the same time.
HOSTELS - if you google it, you will find them. and pick up the booklet they usually sell at the first hostel you stop at, and youre golden.
One place I found on my road trip was Paria River Guest Ranch. They were listed as a hostel. Within 3 hours I could get to Glen Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce, Zion, Antelope Canyon, among a plethora of awesome hiking sites. If I had a truck I could actually take a backroad unimproved road to Grand Canyon or the back way to Bryce... Its so close to a myriad of things its unbelievable.
I paid $15 for a air conditioned bunkhouse. Went horseback riding for $50. and then after staying for a week or so living free as I helped them get through a busy week, they asked if I wanted to come back. So I packed my stuff up in TN where I had lived for 25 years, and moved there. I now live on the ranch.
Solo trips.... life changing. I love the road. I never knew the beauty that existed in the world as well as the interesting characters that are everywhere...