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  1. Default Leaving Thursday... BUDGET PANIC! Please help!

    Hey all. I'm leaving Thursday (7/31) for a solo cross-country extravaganza to "sow my wild oats" before law school. I'm a 25 year old female and I'm leaving from Maine. I'm driving a 2009 Toyota Yaris (super conservative estimate of 35 MPG) and my budget is roughly 3500. I plan to get back by around August 25th. My major stops are:
    -Chicago (I have friends to stay with here)
    -Denver (Meeting a friend/splitting a room here)
    -Salt Lake City (Staying with a friend here)
    -Seattle (NO idea where to stay cheap)
    -Portland (NO idea where to stay cheap)
    -San Francisco (NO idea where to stay cheap)
    -LA (NO idea where to stay cheap)
    -Vegas (Might splurge and use up my credit card miles here!)
    -Grand Canyon/Hoover Dam (Not sure how far apart these are, but planning to get them in here before Texas)
    -Austin (Probably staying with a friend, but might be good to get a backup plan)
    -New Orleans (NO idea where to stay cheap)
    -Atlanta-ish (NO idea where to stay cheap... But if I'm not flat broke, probably a Red Roof Inn!)
    -Hustle on back to Maine as fast as possible!

    Can anyone give me advice on where to stay in my wild card cities? Any must-sees that I'm missing? I'm open to car-camping, but would rather not be TOO far outside the action... Unless, of course, the better action is at a national park? Thinking about picking up a park pass. Not sure if that allows me to park overnight. Basically just looking for a little advice to deal with my last-minute budget panic. I have a credit card and a few favors I can call in, but would really like to stay on point if possible! Thanks in advance!

    ETA: I should probably add that I think I'm decent at long haul driving. I got from Portland, ME to Tulsa, OK in 36 hours and got back in 5 days with a pretty decent amount of sightseeing. I'm comfortable in my car (improbable as that sounds!) and do Chicago in a day (and back in day for a four-day weekend!) at least once a year. I've just never tried anything of this scale before and I'm a little wigged out!
    Last edited by Bre.Kidman; 07-29-2013 at 07:28 PM. Reason: Add info!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default within reason

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    When you do your entire loop, you're looking at driving about 10,000 miles, so if you can average 35 mpg, you're looking at roughly $1200 just on fuel. That leaves you $2300 for the 26 remaining days of your trip. That's just under $100 a day, which is certainly reasonable, as long as you are careful with your money.

    The biggest potential issue is that it appears that you are focusing nearly exclusively on cities, which does tend to be more expensive. Hotels often cost more, and you also have to think about parking fees. Your best bet for cheap lodging, as a solo traveler, would be to look into hostels. They are dorm style, shared rooms, often available for $20-30 a night (private rooms are sometimes available for more money), and can be located right in the heart of a city. Otherwise, look for hotels farther in the suburbs which typically cost less.

    I don't get the impression that camping would be a great choice, as you'd be looking at long commutes, and you're not really planning to spend any time in national parks or other natural areas. A national parks pass also wouldn't make sense unless you're planning to add in visits to at least 3-4 more national parks beyond Grand Canyon. The pass does not include camping fees, and sleeping in your car in a parking lot will not be allowed.

    I have a hard time believing that sleeping in your car will ever be a good option, as you are traveling in a tiny car where you just won't have much room to actually get real rest. If you do sleep in your car, you should be looking for truck stops or similar well lit and well patrolled facilities. Rest Areas are not safe or legal overnight stops.

    I will say, it doesn't sound like you've really done much research about your trip - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you're willing to being very open to making discoveries on the road. I certainly would be working in a lot more natural stops and national parks if I were you, but I find natural wonders to be much more interesting than cities, but we probably have a different idea of where the "action" is. What I do think you need to make sure you keep in mind is just how far apart things can be. You shouldn't ever try to drive more than 500-600 miles a solo drive, which for example, means that Atlanta to anywhere in Maine is at least a 2 day drive and Vegas to Austin via the Grand Canyon will need at 2 overnight stops.

    Added: Chicago to anywhere in Maine is a 1000+ mile drive. That is dangerous to the point of being reckless, and you are putting yourself and other in danger by doing such a drive, even if you don't "feel" tired. The simple reality is that doing so means your driving skills and reaction times resemble that of a drunk driver long before you have reached your destination. Professional drivers are forbidden by law from doing anything close to that because it is so dangerous. Even worse, if you use that as the baseline for what you can do on a monthlong trip you will be increasing the likelihood of being involved in a fatal crash expodentially.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Quid Sufficit

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Actually, your budget should be sufficient for your journey, but just. Making your total miles around 9000 when you account for the portions in addition to straight point-to-point driving, taking you at your word on your mileage, and assuming the national average for a gallon of gas, you should need about $1100 for fuel, Factor in another $650 for food which allows for one restaurant meal a day plus a couple of good healthy meals out of a cooler (get one if you don't have one already). Toss in anther $50-100 for tolls and maybe an oil change en route, and that leaves you about $60-65/day for lodging.

    At that you don't necessarily need to stay at hostels or the cheapest of the low end motel chains. You should be able to step up to moderately priced chains such as Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn or similar. Note that you will typically do better in terms of cost by staying a bit outside of major cities rather than downtown. What I'd suggest is that you investigate such chains and see what their prices are in general, whether they typically offer a complimentary breakfast, whether they have a customer loyalty program that gives you a free night's stay after so many paid nights (and how rapidly they post such info and let you redeem your 'earnings'), and whether they have franchises along your routes and in your destination cities.

    Also: if you plan to visit a number of national parks (4 or more) on this trip, buy an annual pass at the first one you come to. At $80 it will pay for itself in about four visits. But it only covers admissions, not other fees such as camping, parking and concessions. For more money saving tips, check out The Art of the Cheap RoadTrip.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Emergency money.

    To add to what has already been said, your budget should be OK if you are sensible enough with your money, but just a couple of 'BIG' nights out in the city can put quite a dent in it. The important thing is always having enough money left to get home at a sensible and safe pace, even if it means cutting the trip short. [An overnight stop every 5-600 miles, plus food and fuel for the time and distance.]

    -Vegas (Might splurge and use up my credit card miles here!)
    You actually do not need to spend much money in Vegas to have a good time ! It's a long way home from here and what happens if you have a mechanical failure or need new brakes, tyre's or other unexpected expenses. I would keep the credit card funds for such emergency repairs and if all goes well you will arrive home debt free. Make sure you get your car checked over thoroughly and have it serviced before setting off and consider joining a motoring organistation [AAA] for peace of mind.

    Have a great trip !

  5. Default

    Thanks for all the tips, guys!

    Midwest Michael: You are correct on the lack of research. I want to be making discoveries on the road and pushing my boundaries a little, but I had a moment if panic last night where I felt like I might be too reckless here. Chicago is the only 1000 mile day I have planned and I DO intend to stop as soon as I start to get sleepy, which means I very well may crash at a truck stop in Ohio or something my first night.

    That said: is sleeping in a truck stop lot generally regarded as relatively safe? I'm a lady (or close to it ;) ) and I'm not looking for undue trouble!

    AZBuck: GREAT tip on the free breakfast/loyalty program. I'm comfortable in Motel 6/Red Roof Inn spots, generally speaking, but am worried my budget won't allow for them. Are you aware of any cheaper chains, outside hostels? I'm not patently OPPOSED to hostels, but am concerned that I haven't seen parking mentioned on any hostel websites.

    Southwest Dave: I've saved up about 20,000 rewards points on my card, which ought to be enough for a night or two in a hotel. I have another 1500 available in credit card funds, but my mom has expressed a willingness to bail me out if I go belly up out there, since she's always wanted to do the trip and wants me to "get out there" ;) I AM a AAA member, though, and I'm bringing a jumper box with me--not that I've ever had any trouble with the car. That sucker survived a hit from a semi (in Buffalo. We still drove on the Chicago and back three days later!) and a dump truck (the day after it came back from the shop from the semi), so... knock on wood!

    Thanks again for your replies!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    As has been said, 1000 miles is nearly twice as much as a professional driver is allowed to drive in a day - because the human body simply can't stay alert and focused enough to operate a 2 ton vehicle at 70 mph safely for those kinds of hours. By the time you "feel" tired, you've already gone well beyond the point where you are an unsafe driver. Ask yourself why you think you are somehow different than everyone else on the planet, including professionals. If you make the smart choice, you'll plan ahead for a stop, no "ifs" about it.

    Motel 6 is consistently the cheapest and most barebones chain that you'll find, however, you won't find any extras there. They typically do not offer any sort of breakfast, and you can expect to pay extra for anything beyond a room, including wi-fi. You may find a better value at places that charge a few dollars more, but include breakfast, wi-fi, etc. In any case, you can usually find budget motels in rural/suburban locations for around $50 a night. As long as you aren't looking to stay right in the downtown area of a city, and aren't going crazy with your other expenses you should have no problem fitting that into your budget.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Ah, the budget trip. My husband and I were masters of that as we were younger and had less money.

    As you travel, keep an eye out at truck stops and state welcome centers, for hotel savings coupon books. Other posters are correct in saying, though, that the less expensive lodging is usually NOT in a big city but in the rural areas. Sometimes using the coupons will help you rack up loyalty points, so do show your loyalty membership card when using a coupon. They'll tell you if they can't give you points.

    Food ... if you can carry a small electric fry pan, some utensils, a plate, bowl and cup, and a cooler, you can eat very well. Electric fry pans are good for hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, "helper" meals, stove-top casseroles, round steak, pork chops, etc. The only tough thing about doing this, is the "need" to carry some sorts of herbs and spices. Comb discount stores for small containers, or hit REI's backpacker section. On several occasions on our last trip (7 weeks across country and back), we cooked "in", just to avoid going out to dinner. We'd stop at the grocery store, pick up a pound of hamburger and a box of Hamburger Helper, a bag of salad mix, and have a meal back at the motel. Considering a meal out for two would be around $30 at a chain-type restaurant, we'd walk out of there spending $10. Yum. Carry a couple of extra plastic bins for leftovers. You can even buy single-serve ice cream at most decent grocery stores for dessert, if your motel has a freezer inside the fridge in the room.

    Many motels give you access to a microwave oven, too, by putting one in the room or in the breakfast room or lobby. Most of them are small, though, not allowing you to cook much more than a small frozen entree or heat up a drink.

    Motel 6 -- we have stayed in those a bit over the last 5 years. Some of them come loaded with a microwave and refrigerator in the room, and "free wi-fi". Others, as pointed out above, are barebones, either charging extra for rooms with a fridge and for the wi-fi, or not having them at all. I think it really depends on the franchise owner. Also as pointed out, they don't offer breakfast. However, you can carry something for breakfasts pretty easily -- cereal and milk, pastries, granola bars, juice, etc., for those places that don't offer a breakfast.

    Michael speaks the truth about the rules for professional drivers -- 600 miles or 10 hours is what they're allowed, or at least those were the rules when my husband was driving 8 years ago. He adjusted to that very easily because our rule of thumb, previously, was 550-600 miles a day. (One time we went over 700 miles. We were in our early 20s, left San Diego at 1 in the morning, arriving at our destination at 2 in the afternoon. We'd shared the driving, but OH we were tired, and still had to set up camp when we got there. We've never done that again!)

    Always, always, always, make sure you have a plan for $$ if you have mechanical issues on the trip. Yes, get your vehicle serviced and a "trip check" done before departure. However, I am the first to tell you of unexpected repairs. Last year, our alternator had to be replaced -- $$$. We also had a somewhat minor, but expensive, one-vehicle accident: our vehicle and a concrete pole "met" inside a parking garage. More $$$. We held off on repairing the truck's oopsy until we reached one of our destinations where we planned to stay longer than a couple of days, but we limped into that city with an alternator on the fritz. Both repairs were pricey, and made us need a rental car in order to get around. This year, one of our members had a master brake cylinder go out on her during her trip. $$$. Also, if you are planning more than a 5000 mile trip, you should be prepared to take the vehicle someplace along the way and get an oil change (around $30).

    Last edited by DonnaR57; 07-30-2013 at 09:10 AM. Reason: sentence structure

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by Bre.Kidman View Post
    That said: is sleeping in a truck stop lot generally regarded as relatively safe? I'm a lady (or close to it ;) ) and I'm not looking for undue trouble!
    We wouldn't recommend it if it wasn't safe. Realistically, truck stops are really one of the only places it is safe and legal to sleep in your car.
    I'm not patently OPPOSED to hostels, but am concerned that I haven't seen parking mentioned on any hostel websites.
    Many hostels don't have parking, or have very limited parking. However, they usually will be able to tell you where you can park. Even if you have to pay to park, it might be worth it when you factor in the locations, if you want to be right in a city. Hostels also usually have kitchen facilities, so you don't have to eat at restaurants every day, and they are a great place to meet fellow travelers.
    That sucker survived a hit from a semi (in Buffalo. We still drove on the Chicago and back three days later!) and a dump truck (the day after it came back from the shop from the semi), so... knock on wood!
    After being in 2 crashes with large trucks, I would be at least a little concerned about the frame strength and how it would hold up if you have another accident. The bigger thing is that no matter how reliable it has been, a 5 year old car is usually getting to the point where things simply start to wear out and become due for service. AAA is a great start, but I would be doing everything I could to make sure that $1500 you've got available on credit stays there only for an emergency, like a repair on the road.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    If you are looking for budget hotels that have a few amenities (continental breakfast, wifi, etc.) you travel the same way I do. I don't need anything fancy for one night on the road just to sleep. I'm a member of the Wyndham Rewards program and do get free nights. However, those must be booked in advance, you can't just walk in and cash in your points. You generally get 10 points for every dollar you spend, and free nights range from 8000 to 16000 points. I doubt that you would be able to earn enough points for a free night on a single trip.

    Wyndham has a few budget to midrange chains - Super 8, Days Inn, Travelodge, Knights Inn, Howard Johnson, and some Ramadas. They have a smartphone app to help you find them.

    A good way to find cheap hotels is the coupon books found in rest areas and travelers information centers. The coupons are only honored for walk-ins dependent on availability, and generally you can't get loyalty points. AAA membership will usually get you a discount from the regular rate. When researching rates don't forget tax, which can be as high as 16% depending on locale.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Feel comfortable at truck stops.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bre.Kidman View Post
    That said: is sleeping in a truck stop lot generally regarded as relatively safe? I'm a lady (or close to it ;) ) and I'm not looking for undue trouble.
    As a (senior) female solo driver, I have covered in excess of 130000 miles across the continent. Many, if not most of my nights are spent at truckstops. It would help you a lot if you could get the truck stop directory (call the number and the lovely lass will tell you which places have it for sale along your route), to see just which truck stops make RVs welcome. They are the stops to stay at. They generally have clean facilities, showers for a fee and most have restaurants. You will also find that the large ones all have microwaves, so if there is something you want to heat up, you can.

    I always tell them at the checkout that I am planning on stopping overnight, and ask where the best place is to park - even though it is often obvious. I never pre empt them. You do not park with the trucks. You park in the spots specifically assigned to RVs. Be sure to reward them with your business.... fill up before moving on.

    Right now I am in the twin cities, and have been at the same stop for three nights. They are very friendly, welcome me each morning when I go in to heat up some milk for a drink. They even helped me find a hairdresser. The manager rang his wife to get the info. Be assured that truck stops are as friendly as you are, towards them.


    Don't overlook the benefit of hostels, beyond just a bed. You are able to cook your own meals, or take part in community meals at many of them. Most have a free breakfast and coffee and tea available 24 hrs. Lots organise tours of the area, or have discount tickets to local attractions. Of course they all have different rules and facilities. Check them out for yourself. This is probably the most comprehensive site for hostels on the internet. However, I would book with the hostel direct, and not through the online booking services. Search for their site or phone number on the net. Not only do you often get a discount (because they do not have to pay the booking service) but you will often get much more accurate information by speaking directly to the reception desk at the hostel.

    These days they seem to all have wifi.

    In SF and LA I can highly recommend the USA hostels. These are not the cheapest, but by far the best. That is why booking beforehand is essential. They have privacy pods in all dorms as well as their security being second to none - extending to having power outlets inside each locker to be able to charge your electronics without fear of having them stolen. Never stay at a hostel where they do not have a security locker for each bed. Carry a padlock with you. (Do not use lockers which are operated with a coin to remove the key. These are able to be accessed by management.)

    Don't worry about not having done much research. I deliberately do very very little. I like the surprise element along the way.

    You are in for a great trip, enjoy, and when you are done, please come back and share your trip story and photos with us. We love to hear how folk got on, and it can help others planning similar trips. There is a special forum on this site for trip reports.


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