How much does a Road Trip across America really cost?
Updated: Jul 1
Are you planning a road trip in the USA? Our guide to the ultimate USA road trip. A 1 month road trip down the West Coast of America.
If you’re thinking of taking a road trip across the country. Then you will need to prepare a travel budget for your trip. You need to know how much a road trip in America costs. When it comes to cost, an American Road Trip is more expensive than road trips in most other countries. In this post, we break down our costs and budget throughout our 5 week Road trip, and some tips on where you can save on your trip.
We arrived in the US at the beginning of August 2019. Myself and 4 friends from New Zealand had booked flights to Seattle and were spending 5 weeks traveling the US. We had to decide how we wanted to travel down the west coast. We looked into buying a car and paying for accommodation at hostels and Airbnb, or renting a car and doing the same thing. We did some research and found that renting a van from Europcar looked like the most affordable option.
Due to myself and one other friend staying in the US for a whole year after the road trip, we decided we wanted to have a vehicle we could own the whole time we were here. So we thought to invest in our own motorhome was the best option for us.
We wanted our own motorhome so that we really had a place of our own. We looked at hiring a motorhome too, but not many companies are in a hurry to rent their RVs to 5 guys under 25 years old. Some places like RVShare offer camper van rentals to under 25-year-olds for no extra cost, but we wanted a camper to call our own.
During the months prior to us arriving in the US, we searched online for a second hand, cheap RV. After getting scammed and having a few issues with craigslist, we finally found one. We got a pre-purchase mechanic inspection to make sure it was in decent order before her big road trip down the West Coast. Then made a downpayment. After a few days in Seattle, we took the train to Portland to pick up our first ever home on wheels. As there were 5 of us, it made it a lot cheaper for us to buy an RV that it normally would be if you were looking to buy one on your own or as a traveling couple.
The Cost of Road Tripping across America (West Coast):
(all prices in USD)
Total Cost: $5500
As there were 5 of us investing in the motorhome, it significantly reduced the cost. We split the $5500 five ways and each paid $1100.
Mechanic pre-purchase inspection and repairs:
Total Cost: $1800
We highly recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection done by a mechanic. It’s the safest way to ensure that your motorhome will run properly during your trip, especially if you can’t inspect the vehicle yourself before buying. There's not much fun in being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken down motorhome.
Pre-inspection checks vary in price from around $150-$500 depending on what you want looked at and whether they need a mobile mechanic or not.
Our motorhome needed new front brakes, tires, and some minor repairs before she was ready to go. We got these done in July before we left for the US. The total cost was $1800, once again split 5 ways. Totaling $360 each.
Total Cost: $270 per month
We purchased our insurance through Progressive before you can drive a vehicle on the road in the US, you must have liability insurance, so this is a really important step in planning your road trip. We signed up for a 12-month plan, which had a total cost of $810 USD. Because we only used that insurance plan during our road trip, I have only taken into account one months payment. Which was $270 between 5 people, $54 each.
1991 Tioga Montara Motorhome: $1100
Mechanic costs: $360
Total cost of RV for each person:
This might seem like a big initial investment, especially because this was paid before we had driven anywhere. But, this meant that our group had accommodation for at least the next 5 weeks. Which saved us A LOT on motels, hostel, or Airbnb costs. Check our accommodation costs below.
Buying our motorhome saved us a lot on accommodation, it meant that we always had a place to stay. It is amazing where you can park a camper van and get a free night's sleep. We freedom camped and boondocked our way down the West Coast. We stayed in the middle of Yosemite Valley (frowned upon) underneath the tallest trees in the world, by the beachfront mansions in Hermosa Beach and beachfront in Santa Monica and San Diego.
But occasionally we couldn’t find a free spot or we had to empty our shit tanks (fun job…) So we would book a night at an RV campground. This would mean we could fill up with freshwater, empty all our grey and black water, and use decent showers and toilet facilities. Tip: You don’t have to pay for a full night's accommodation just to empty and fill your tanks, there are dump stations all over the west coast, especially near national parks. They usually have a $5-$10 fee, but a lot are free. We used a website called Sanidumps to find the closest dump station.
$292… Yes, that's all. RV campgrounds are cheap places to stay and we probably only stayed in one 4 or 5 nights out of the 30 or so that we were in the RV. This cost also included 3 nights in a hostel in Seattle before we got to our camper van, a night near the grand canyon and 2 nights in Vegas.
Total cost: $1312
When we first arrived went a little crazy with trying all the new types of restaurants, and fast food joints. America is a takeout dream, anything you feel like can likely be made and delivered to you within the hour. So be careful.
When we were out on the road, in national parks and away from the cities it was a lot cheaper. We went to supermarkets and stocked up on supplies, then used campfires or the oven in our camper van to cook dinner. Which helped the budget a lot.
Overall I spent $1312 on food and drinks over 5 weeks, around $37 a day. This also included the alcohol for the nights that we went out on the town, there were quite a few of those… Plus I’m 6’5 so I take a bit of feeding. If we were looking to tighten up on the budget there would be a lot of room to do it here. But I was happy to spend that much on trying the new types of food and having great nights out in new cities.
Tip: Beware of how unhealthy some of the food can be here. Read this for how to stay in shape while you travel.
Plus, all along the West coast, Weed is legal. American dispensaries are next level, they have every type of joint, lolly or flower that you could possibly want. This is really dangerous for the food budget… believe me.
None of us are very big shoppers and don’t usually spend a lot of time in the malls. But America has amazing shopping outlets with just about every brand you can think of, for a fraction of the normal prices.
I have US size 14 feet and usually struggle to find shoes. I was able to find so many options in my size and ended up getting a few pairs, and some other clothes I needed along the way.
We did some incredible activities throughout our trip. Our best purchase was the national parks pass, which costs $80 which isn’t much when you split it 5 ways. We spent time in 4 national parks on our road trip and had countless adventures in them. There are so many incredible hikes, swimming spots and views to see at all the national parks, it could keep you entertained for months. We paid for a few activities on the way down the coast, but most of them were free. A lot of our time was spent on California beaches, which doesn’t cost much at all.
We decided we really wanted to go to a proper American theme park and experience the thrills, so, on our way through LA we went to 6 flags magic mountain. The day we went was around 38 degree celsius, far too hot to think about standing in line for hours waiting for roller coasters. So instead we paid $50 for a water park ticket instead, definitely a good choice on the day.
About a week later we were back in Los Angeles and decided that we had to try those roller coasters, we picked a cooler day and then bought tickets online (Its $60, not $90, if you buy online). Highly recommend if you enjoy thrill seeking, they are seriously crazy roller coasters. San Diego Zoo cost us $58 each. A few other activities that we paid for were quad biking in dune city, and some museums and art galleries.
Gas and Transport:
Total costs: $477
Our camper van was 20 years old, and not very fuel efficient. We would be lucky to get 10 miles to the gallon. But when you combine the cheap gas prices in America and split it between 5 people, it’s not too expensive. We spent a total of $287 on gas on our road trip.
Other transport costs were a bus to vegas $20, a rental car from the grand canyon back to LA which cost $80 for two nights and 5 people!
$16 each, for our rental car. Check out Europcar deals here.
Lyfts, Ubers and a frequent lime made up the final $154. Although we had the motorhome, getting around town was sometimes difficult and when we went out drinking we didn’t have anyone to drive us. That's where the Lyft, Lime and Uber costs came in.
Other costs to consider:
We signed up with T-Mobile and got unlimited data plan for the month which cost $50.
A 35-day road trip across America cost me $3842.
How to stay under budget?
To track all my spending while we were on our road trip through America, I downloaded an App called Trail Wallet, you enter details for how much you spent and on what category. Then it presents you with an easy to read summary of where your money is going. At the end of the day or week or month or trip, you can see how you’re doing. A little over budget? No problem the app will tell you what’s eating up your cash. Under budget? Good job, keep traveling!
It gives you 25 free entries to get started and then it’s a one off payment of $4.99 US. I bought the unlimited plan and it was such a great investment as it allowed me to closely watch what I was spending my money on during our road trip down the West Coast.
Getting money back on your Motorhome
I'm still living in the US and we still own our camper van, we are looking to sell it in the near future and hopefully get close to what we invested back. So this is another thing to consider when buying an RV, you may get your money back on it when you sell it at the end of your trip.
However, if you’re on a short visa or ESTA and have to worry about trying to sell it before you fly out of the country, it can get a little stressful. I would definitely look into hiring a camper van if we did the trip again. It’s a lot less responsibility and organizing all the paperwork and registration is a breeze when the rental companies do it for you. If you’re looking for a car or van, get 30% off your road trip with Europcar for the beginning of 2020.
If you want to hire a full motorhome, then we recommend RVShare, they have a huge range of RVs all over the US. So no matter what part of the USA you want to road trip, they will have you covered. Get 20% off all RV rentals in 2020.
I absolutely loved road tripping in the US and will be back out on the road again soon. In the meantime, I hope this helped you get an idea of what an American road trip costs.
Want to start planning your next roadtrip? Use our free road trip planner!