Planning for my boyfriend and I’s 5,000 mile cheap road trip across the USA was the easy part of our journey (Check out how we prepared for our journey here)! Now it was time to set off at 5:30 am and start heading West into states we had never before visited. It was a solid 23 hours to get to Colorado from our hometown in central Pennsylvania. We drove 12 hours the first day taking a detour when we got off an exit in Indiana to chase down some windmills. It was more exciting than it sounds guys… There were hundreds of these big windmills as far as the eye could see! Even though we were on a strict schedule and budget, it’s important to remember this is an adventure and it’s okay to go off the beaten trail every once in a while!
Our first stop for the night was somewhere in Iowa. It took us around 3 tanks of gas to get that far and we munched solely on the food we brought with us. Our hotels were the cheapest we could find without putting us in a dangerous part of town. I’m talking 2 star but live able places for $40 a night. We got a good nights sleep, a nice hot shower, and usually some sort of included breakfast and coffee before heading out.
Once we got to Colorado we stayed outside of downtown Denver to save some money and then headed up North to explore the town of Loveland, Greeley, and to stay right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park for a night. By this point, we didn’t spend more than $50 a night on a room and had gotten some pretty gross and some pretty awesome rooms. Our room outside of the Rocky Mountain National Park was a cabin feel with beautiful furniture, lake front, with a hot tub for the guests to use. It was absolutely incredible to just sit outside under the stars to recharge.
I can guess what you’re thinking by now. Gross! No way am I staying in a one or two star hotel room just to save a couple bucks. A bed is a bed when you’re traveling. You’re only there to recharge and get ready for the next day of traveling. The places we stayed at made some great stories and we even got a free voucher to a diner where they would make you anything you wanted for breakfast! I got complimentary, fresh off the griddle pancakes, eggs, and sausage for breakfast from a $50 hotel room. That’s pretty awesome when you’re on a cheap road trip!
After that we headed to Vegas to spend the night splurging on a $110 hotel room after sticking to our budget so well. Let me tell you, that was an awesome decision! We only got to hang out in Vegas for a few hours before hitting the hay so we had energy for the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon but it was totally worth it. We walked the streets and only spent $40 on gambling, which was made back by the end of the night.
There are so many free attractions and things to see in Las Vegas that you don’t really have to spend any money at all to have fun! It was a fun pit stop and was definitely worth seeing. My tip to you about gambling is: as soon as you make back your original money you started with, put those chips in your pocket to save to cash out. After you break even, you’re playing for free. If you want to play until you lose the excess money you won, fine! If you want to walk away while you’re up, that’s okay too! Either way, you’re playing for free once you reach your starting number again.
The next places we went were The Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon. The Hoover Dam was free and was fun to walk around and get pictures of. I definitely recommend going up to the big bridge if you have the chance. DO NOT pay the $10 or $20 for parking. It’s a short walk down to the dam and isn’t worth the extra money.
In regards to the Grand Canyon, if you frequent National Parks, this is a VERY important piece of information for you. Buy the yearly pass so you have access to multiple National Parks. It’s $75 up front but works on any national park and gives you discounts in the parks. It was $25 alone for the Grand Canyon and $20 for the Rocky Mountain National Park. If you go to one or two other parks in a year, you’ve already made that money back. The best part about this card is that you can put two names on it! You show your ID so you could technically split it with a friend and take turns using the card when you go on trips.
One item that really made this cheap road trip awesome was a selfie stick. This was an AMAZING thing to have with us. It enabled us to travel by ourselves but still have plenty of pictures together that could also capture what was in the background. Make sure you get the ones that are set up with Bluetooth. This came in handy the entire trip. As we joked with our friends: “We were shamelessly selfie sticking across the country.” Don’t be embarrassed using it. You know that you got the picture you wanted without making someone feel bad or being disappointed when someone else didn’t take a good one of the two of you. It helped us preserve our memories and that was extremely important to me.
My last piece of advice to make that cheap road trip across the country when you’re on a budget is to ask EVERYWHERE if they offer discounts. We got student discounts at many different places we went and the same goes for military and senior citizen discount. Any money you can save along the way means excess in your budget for fun, souvenirs, or to have when you get home. The worst they can say is no so why not ask!
We’ve been asked a few times what our total budget was. We spent $1,200 on our 10 day trip. $500 of that was in gas, $500 was in hotel rooms, and the other $200 was in souvenirs, food, and entrance fees. Keep in mind that we went when it was still pretty chilly out, so we opted for hotel rooms instead of camping. If you go during the summer months, you could do this trip for $700 or less. If you’re going with two people and you’re gone for 10 days, that’s $35 or less a day per person which is a super cheap budget! Are you going to start planning your trip road trip across the USA now?
Have you decided you want to go on a road trip, but you’re still trying to figure out where to go? Click on these books for some inspiration and to find some cool experiences off the beaten path!