Matt and Joanne’s Page

December 11, 2008

The Cost of a Road Trip

Filed under: Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:20 am

I’ve had a few people ask me how much it cost us to take our extended road trip. I never really answered those questions because I don’t really know (Joanne tracked most of our expenses) but I did a lot of the initial budgeting, which is just as important if you’re thinking of hitting the road yourself. Every trip is going to be different and every person has slightly different spending habits but you can generally get a pretty good idea of how much savings you’ll need to pull off some traveling. First, we figure out the obvious costs of a roadtrip: the food, fuel, and a place to sleep.

For food budgeting, the best way to figure this out is just to look out how much you’re currently spending. Unless you plan on drastically changing your eating habits (by not eating out, buying cheaper food, etc) you can expect this to stay the same. For reference, we ate out infrequently, tried to eat cheaper foods when available (expired bakery goods anyone?), and ended up spending somewhere around $75-125/week. We never resorted to dumpster diving! Interestingly, we spent less on food while traveling in the RV than in the Honda Civic.

Fuel costs can be a bit tricky but if you can figure out a rough outline of where you want to travel, you can get pretty close. Use google maps to figure out distances between destinations: then add 30% for local trips and detours. Or just take a guess of how much you’ll drive, say 15,000 miles/year. Then figure out what you _expect_ to pay for gas (probably more than the current price of gas) and the MPG of your car and there you have it, your annual gas budget.

Finally, the cost of camping. $10/night seemed a good number for us but requires some discipline to stick with it. For example, we never stayed in private campgrounds ($25+/night) and only in public campgrounds when absolutely necessary (National Parks/Forests). We sought free camping whenever possible: this is easy in many of the states we visited (Arizona, Utah, Wyoming) but very hard in others (Colorado). In Colorado, we drove 45 minutes to our campsite every night ($6 gas roundtrip with our Civic) to avoid paying the $28/night campground fees in Estes Park. A similar situation was required in Boulder, as well.

So now you have the obvious costs of your trip figured out: maybe it’s looking pretty cheap. But what about the things that you might not have thought about right away? This list of expenses includes auto insurance, car maintenance, health insurance, cell phones, taxes, climbing equipment, $90 for an annual National Park Pass, and other miscellaneous expenses. I won’t go through all of these but just offer a few pointers for those on a tight budget.

#1 Don’t skip the health insurance! Especially dirtbag climbers! A $25,000 medical bill will ruin more than just your day! I’d recommend a plan that will completely cover you in case of a catastrophic accident (after the deductible, because 20% of $50,000 is more than I want to pay). $125/month here is money well spent.

#2 A prepaid cell phone is the way to go: the cheapest we found was $0.10/min with T-Mobile. Coverage can be spotty but it’s dirt cheap (assuming you don’t have to buy a phone) and you only pay what you actually use.

#3 Climbing Gear. For a year-long trip where you do a lot of climbing, expect to burn through at least 2 ropes! We also ended up buying a few extra cams and some aid gear before visiting Zion and Indian Creek. These turned out to be incredibly useful.

#4 Try to overestimate your expenses when creating a budget. This way you can be confident you have enough money to pull it off.

Creating this budget is good for two reasons. For one, you know upfront what kind of money you need saved up before you leave. And two, if you’re clever, you’ll track your expenses while traveling. If you end up over-budget in the first month, you can correct it in the 2nd month by spending less on food or gas or whatever. Especially when traveling in the RV we had a tendency to blow our gas budget so we would force ourselves to extend our stay in one location before moving on to lower our expenses. This will make it easier for you to stick with your budget so you don’t end up 1000 miles from home with no money!


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