The Real Costs of a USA Road Trip
The short version – travelling the USA for 4 weeks in a hire car cost us around $800 for the car – plus US$240/day for all costs for 2 adults. To see where we went see my Road Trip Plan post.
Note these costs do NOT include the far more expensive cities of Philadelphia, New York (which we visited without a car) or Washington DC (which we skipped).
Hiring a Car for Non-Americans
It’s expensive – no way around it. The actual car hire not so much – but the fact – that even I who often skip insurance at home – could see that it was a must-have in the land of litigation and sky-high medical costs. Your best bet is counter-intuitive – you should book via an external consolidator – we used rentalcars.com – they are also called traveljigsaw – a division of priceline. We had to pay about 6 weeks before the start of the trip.
The price for a Chevrolet Sonic (same class as a Toyota Yaris) was NZ$39/day – about US$34. That included a “free” tank of “gas” – so that we could have 2 drivers without doubling the cost of the rental (yes you have to pay extra in some states for having a second driver). We hired from Philadelphia because tha’s where our relatives live – the rate to hire from the airport was no different from downtown and was more convenient for us.
If you were starting this trip from New York – I’d still consider hiring from Philly or Washington – New York is marvelous but you don’t want a car there!
So having hired the car what other costs did we have :
- GPS – we bought a GPS – at $100 (all $ are US) – it was cheaper than hiring it for $10/day – it was a cheap price to pay to save our relationship, and get us to our destination.
- A small “cooler” – can be had for under $10 in any store – we borrowed one – very handy for keeping beer cold (would work for “soda” too).
- We found a A AA shop in the suburbs of Philly and got a pile of maps and guides – all free thanks to your NZ AA membership. We supplemented these with maps and most Welcome Centres on state borders.
Daily costs – as has been my experience over many countries split into 3 roughly equal:accommodation / food / everything else
Accommodation Costs for an East Coast Road Trip
Total cost: $2071
Average daily cost: $86 (excludes staying with relatives)
Ranged from $40 (Tupelo, MS) to $112 (Charleston, SC) and $140 (Annapolis, MY on a holiday weekend). Usually we paid between $60 and $80 – I usually booked the morning of arrival via priceline.com (the anonymous hotel seemed to work well for us) or hotelscombined.com
We stayed in what Americans call hotels but I’d really consider a motel – a bland one or 2 story building – with lots of parking. The more expensive places where multi-story and were less convenient because you had to haul your gear up the elevator – but it seems like the Americans prefer this to just parking at your front door – not sure why. Everyplace we stayed included breakfast which ranged from very basic bread, “grits”, cereal. To quite nice including bacon, sausage, cereal, yogurt, waffles, pastries. We never came across a decent serve of fruit salad – rarely an apple or orange.
Food Costs for a USA Road Trip
Total cost: $1932
Average cost: $80/day
We like to eat but we’re not foodies as such. The food on the road was OK – but as we chose to stay off the Interstates we did end up eating some odd stuff for lunch – because we couldn’t find anything much. A “simple sandwich” (not a burger – just bread and fillings) was very hard to find particularly in the south. Fried chicken and burgers were what the locals ate. Dinner was usually better – we’d have a beer or wine before heading out – and the eat out with a drink or two. Note we also carried beer with us and had a drink or two before heading out for dinner quite often.
We didn’t self cater except for the odd picnic.
Total costs: $1843 (excluding shopping)
Average cost/day: $76
The last third of our spending was “everything else” . This is roughly how it always works out when we travel in the first world – if you are budgeting – work out your accommodation budget and then triple it to get your overall trip budget.
Shopping Total cost: $340
Totally optional – but we could not get over the cheapness of everything in the US and indulged in some buying of books and clothes and technology. (In fact I bought a whole new laptop which is not included in this figure)
Entry/Tours $430 total.
We are not big into tours – and with a car we didn’t take any bus tours at all. However we did do a few historic houses, plus a number of museums. The best value was probably Vicksburg National Park at $8. The biggest rip-off was undoubtedly the $80+ for Williamsburg, VA
Petrol (Gas) Total cost $411
No that’s not a typo – insanely cheap – it cost $30 to fill the car! Now we deliberately chose a “compact” car (it wasn’t it was 5 door) to keep not just rental costs down but also fuel costs. Larger cars, particularly the mid-sized SUV vehicles are incredibly fuel inefficient – so be wary of that if you somehow think you need a big car. The “compact” we had was comfortable for a our long legs, had plenty of boot room, and an easily accessed back seat for the important stuff like raincoat, sun hats, and coolers of beer!
Entertainment Total Cost: $243
What can we say – we aren’t big into shows – and frankly most of the time there was little to choose from. Plus we were sick and driving long days. Okay, we’re boring – you will, hopefully, spend more.
Miscellaneous Total Cost $183
We were both sick for quite a lot of the trip – with a bad cold. One of us ended up at a Dr and we spent a lot on over-the-counter medicines – in fact we should have got a loyalty card for CVS at the start of the trip (they also sell beer, chocolate and wine – excellent pharmacy!) . Laundry was usually about $3/wash and the same for a dry.
Transport Total Cost: $146
Excluding the car and petrol – including everything else. We took a number of ferries (crazy cheap in North Carolina – $15 for a 2 hour ferry trip from Ocracoke Island to the main land). Tolls were usually very low. We rarely paid for parking – except in Annapolis where it was “expensive” at about $3/hour.
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