If there was one thing I'd give all the money in the world to do, it would be to going on a cross-country trip - (possibly also interviewing people I meet along the way). Traveling cross-country also seems like a right of passage to me - you haven't fully lived or grown up as an adult until you do so. It was also there in the literature I read - teenagers leaving their homes to travel to some promised holy land, a brief escape from the dreariness that often comes from suburban living. It was there in the music I was listening to - Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos creating songs from a travelogue of memories on the road. There was an ultimate freedom that somehow lived within bends of street corners, and I craved it and still do to this day.
Nowadays, traveling cross-country is still something that fascinates and excites those who dream of adventure. However, everyone seems to have their own idea of what exactly makes for the best cross-country road trip - what route you should take, where you should sleep, or what you should see? While all of this advice is incredibly helpful at times, setting off on the open road can be a daunting and sometimes challenging experience when you didn't exactly get the help you needed. Have you ever thought about budgeting for your trip? How you are going to pay for things like food, gas, miscellaneous purchases like toiletries or the occasional tourist attraction? The good news is, we have done the research, and I have come up with the ultimate guide for setting off on your first cross-country road-trip. Excited? Us to! So sit back, buckle up, and get ready to take off with our guide on how to travel cross-country!
How To Budget For A Cross-Country Trip
First Stop On Our Trip - The Bank!
When it comes to traveling cross-country, there are numerous ways to travel around the US while also keeping your cross-country road trip costs down. Whether you want to keep things on the cheaper side or splurge a bit more as you travel, there are always ways to cut your expenses and focus your spending on what matters most to you. That’s the key to successful budget travel: knowing where to save your money and knowing when to spend your money. When you master that, you master travel!
To start, understand exactly what your budget is - do you have only $1,000 to spend, or do you have $6,000 to spend? This difference plays a huge part in the accommodations you may find, what exactly you can do during your down-time off the road, where you eat, and possibly even if you have to skip coffee in the morning because you went over budget!
Plan everything out - create a guide as follows:
- Accommodations: How much money are you willing to spend on lodging?
- Food: Where do I want to eat? Am I okay with eating fast-food everyday or do I want to try something local?
- Drinks: This counts for both water, coffee, tea, alcoholic beverages, and more - drinks can add up quickly when not budgeted properly!
- Gas: Make sure you also underestimate the amount of gas you have - play it on the safer side and allow yourself to fill-up more at a gas station when the time comes.
- Parking: Do you plan on staying somewhere for a couple of days? Or just dropping by, or stopping for a quick bite? Sometimes there might not be a free parking space to drop your car off - be sure to have a little extra cash when it comes to parking.
- Miscellaneous (toothpaste, shampoo, movies, etc.): You will always need to have toiletries - do you want to spend money on your entire hair care regime or just get the basic essentials?
- Attractions: While some places might be free, if you plan on stopping somewhere that is more touristy, you may need to shell out a little cash.
- Public Transportation: Not everyone will need to budget for this, but if you plan on spending a day in the city, need a break from driving yourself, or just need a quicker way to get to a place than by foot, you may need to budget some money toward public transit.
By breaking your budget down into categories like these, it is much easier to plan out everything you may need for the trip. While unexpected things may definitely pop up along the way, it's best to give yourself an idea of what exactly may come up in expenses. No one wants to deal with being broke miles away from home!
Finding Accommodations For A Cross-Country Trip
The Second Stop - Lodging
Whether you want to believe it or not, lodging will be your biggest fixed cost on your road trip, and lowering it will do the most to lower your overall expenses. Luckily, you have plenty of options:
- Couchsurfing - Couchsurfing isn't actually just for describing your lowlife cousin bumming on their parent's couch, it is rather a service that allows you to stay for free with locals. While staying at a stranger's house may seem like a scary or weird concept, there are actually many trusted resources to help you find someone to stay with. More than just being a cheaper way to find a place to stay, it’s a wonderful way to meet locals and find off-the-beaten-track stuff to do in the area you’re visiting.
- AirBnB - AirBnB is a trusted and reputable service that lets you stay in people’s homes and apartments. It’s far cozier than any hotel! You can find a lot of single rooms as well as shared spaces for $30 to $40 per night. I personally have used AirBnB for my previous trips, and not only are the prices affordable, you might actually have access to a full kitchen and bath, and it is another opportunity to meet cool people.
- Cheap Hotels - When you can’t find a Couchsurf or Airbnb at the last minute, there is a plethora of cheap roadside hotels such as Motel 6 and Super 8 to the rescue. Rooms start around $40 a night, but including tax, they work out to be $60 on average. Rooms are basic and always look well worn. You’ll get a bed, bathroom, TV, tiny closet, and maybe a desk. They are nothing to write home about, but for a quiet place to sleep for a night, they do the trick.
Finding Food During Your Cross-Country Trip
Stop Three - Fast Food or A Restaurant
It is advised that you cook your own meals and avoid expensive meals and restaurants as much as possible. If you are choosing to stay at an AirBnB, take advantage of the full kitchen there, but always be polite and clean up after yourself! If you are looking to find cheap food, but you are tired of ramen and mac-and-cheese, use Yelp!, ask people on websites, or inquire at the front desks of motels, hotels, or other lodgings. If you do cook, avoid Whole Foods and aim for cheaper supermarket chains. Avoid more expensive foods like steak and sushi as well! And don’t feed your Starbucks or coffee addiction. Food in the United States is very affordable and there’s no travel hacking ninja techniques to help here. Simply cook, save, and be happy.
How To Cut-Down on Sightseeing Expenses
Stop Four - Local Sights
If you do plan on sightseeing, there are multiple ways to save money while being able to hit all the local spots:
- A National Parks Pass - For $80, you can purchase an annual National Parks pass that provides access to all 59 national parks (as well as any other recreation areas administered by the National Park Service). Usually costing $15 to $20 a visit, just simply seeing five during your trip makes the pass a money saver. When you visit your first park, simply buy the pass and you’re good to go, so do not worry about having to plan on purchasing it in advance.
- City Tourism Cards - City tourism cards allow you to see a large number of attractions (and often include free public transportation) for one low price, usually $30. They also provide many extra perks like free access to museums, reduced prices for attractions, and restaurant discounts. Be sure to look into them if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, as they generally will save you money.
And there you have it! These are just some beginner tips to traveling cross-country, however, there are many other resources and tips to help you on your journey! The bottom-line - do you research and plan ahead! You will be surprised how much easier it will be to start your trip when you do!
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