Tuesday, August 4, 2015

US national parks road trip on $33.50/person/day.

When we originally thought about doing a US national parks road trip after our international stint, we wanted to leave the east coast and meander for as long as possible before landing on the west coast. We looked into WWOOF and HelpX gigs along our route, hoping to find a nice place here and there to rest up and learn some new skills. Our travel funds were getting low and we even considered stopping for several months somewhere to try to earn a little money.

And then we got an email from a woman in Portland, Oregon inviting us to housesit for the whole summer. It would cut our road trip short and it definitely meant no farm stops, both of which we were a bit bummed about. But there's no city like Portland in the summer - free music abounds, bars open their patio seating, there's a street fair every weekend, and that big yellow ball in the sky makes its brief annual appearance... What we didn't spend on an extended national parks road trip, we would be able to spend on delicious PNW beer and Portland food carts. So we cut our schedule, cut our budget, and cut our losses in order to make it to Portland by the end of June.

Our two(ish) month US national parks road trip ended up being amazing. However, it was surprisingly more expensive than Canada and Australia (although we also spent a good portion of our time WWOOFing in those countries which obviously helped keep our costs low). And it was stressful! It's pretty safe to say that we probably won't be doing a 50+ day US car camping road trip again anytime soon. Those farm stays abroad were not only fun and educational, they helped us maintain our sanity!

Anyway, here's the lowdown...

Initial budget: $4000 (based very roughly on average campsite costs along our route, gas costs/mileage expectations, and a daily food/drink allowance)
Actual cost: 53 days at $3556 ($67/day, $33.50/person/day)

we'll just pretend the pen used for the "A" had blue ink
  • Lodging: $1076 - two motel nights in Nashville and Waxahatchie; one hostel in Moab; the rest national/state parks or other camping facilities ranging from $10-28/night
  • Transportation: $801 - almost all gas, which went from about $2.30/gallon on the east coast to $3.30/gallon on the west coast
  • Groceries: $659 - $12.50/day (thank you oatmeal breakfasts and cheese sandwich lunches!)
  • Meals: $301 - BBQ in Nashville, Memphis and Austin; the very occasional grab-and-go lunch or dinner; a few happy hour snacks at Moab Brewery; sad to say that the rest went mainly to McDonald's for coffee (and an occasional order of fries or a hot fudge sundae) so that we could get free wifi
  • Tours: $164 - Luray Caverns, Mammoth Cave and Mesa Verde National Park tours; Johnny Cash and National Civil Rights Museum admissions; a few $1 trail guides here and there
  • Alcohol: $316 - that equals about one pint of good beer/day costwise... not bad!
  • Gear: $34 - propane and sunglasses
  • Miscellaneous: $203 - laundry; city parking; fee showers; gifts for friends along the way; souvenirs (yes, we actually bought souvenirs for ourselves on this leg of the trip - that Junior Ranger vest is gonna be so amazing!)
This is not exact. It doesn't include the $80 we spent on our National Park Interagency Annual Pass (which paid for itself after about 5 parks and historic sites). It doesn't include a new camping chair and cooler, or the groceries we bought in Maryland before we left. It doesn't include ticket prices for Frank Turner's Nashville show. Etc., etc. We were too busy having fun to edit the spreadsheet accordingly, so it's not exact but it's close enough to show that local vacationing can definitely be affordable.

Other fun US national parks road trip facts...
  • National Parks visited: 17 (18 if you count Volcanoes back in March)
  • Miles traveled: over 8000
straighter than our usual lines
  • Miles hiked: approximately 210
  • Bunnies seen on campsites: 93
  • Gallons of coffee consumed: don't wanna know
  • States crossed: 15
  • Supermarket discount cards accumulated: 5, plus a RiteAid card and a Dunkin Donuts card
know anyone who can use any of these?

Over 50 days for about $3500 - all in all we were pretty pleased with costs on this trip. We didn't really feel like we denied ourselves anything (except maybe TexMex in the southwest and a few more zero days), we did almost exactly what we wanted to do, we ate well, we had a lot of fun and we saw some amazing sights.

Next year is the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. Hopefully these posts will inspire you to check out some of the natural beauty in our own backyard. Melbourne and Barcelona are nice and all, but so is the southwestern US... It's also much more affordable!


  1. This is amazing. I cannot believe you did a 50 day vacation that explored so much of the US on such little money. Such an inspiration... I just want to do it right now! Thanks so much for spending the time to write up all the post experiences, I will refer back often!

    1. Glad you enjoyed - I hope you enjoy some of these parks soon too! Thanks for reading! :)

  2. What a fun trip! I'd love to take a 50-day meandering vacation. :-)

    1. Thanks Susan! Technically we've taken an 836-day-and-counting vacation... this was just the US road trip portion. :)

  3. Wow amazing and you did even more amazing on cost for the whole trip. It really does sound like so much fun. I'd love to do something like this someday.

    1. Thanks Angie! You should! Everyone should! :)

  4. WOW! Quite a trip!! I love road trips and haven't had the time to do one in years. House-sitting is great, too, great way to experience a place on a deeper level than tourism-only!

    1. Yep, we really loved our housesits in Melbourne, Honolulu and Portland - it's the only way we could've stayed in all those cities for as long as we did, and we probably never would've seen the neighborhoods otherwise. And we met some great people (and dogs and cats) too!

  5. This is great! Thank you for sharing a break down of the cost for this type of adventure. We would love to do something similar one day.

    1. You're welcome Lindsay - hope it helps, and hope you are able to do your road trip someday!

  6. Love the stats!!! Data nerds rule.

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