This post was originally written in 2016, but was updated in 2018 to provide the most up to date information about the cost of a USA road trip.
*Unless noted otherwise, all prices in this post are in USD.
cost If you have ever considered an American road trip (without the luxury of having your own vehicle), you’ll have considered the cross-country road trip cost. You’ll know then, that it’s practically impossible to rent a car in the US for less than $40/day and it’s really hard to find a deal for an RV for under $100/night.
Add in your road trip USA spendings on gas, accommodation, food, etc and the expenses will quickly add up, making what seemed like a great vacation idea seem like a rather expensive getaway.
Planning for this trip, we knew that sticking to a small budget was going to be tough, so we wanted to see if we could keep our road trip across America cost to $125/day for two people.
Our Road Trip USA Cost
Here is a detailed breakdown of our cross-country road trip cost for our 16 days 3,000 mile/4,500kms, road trip USA, from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The cost of driving from Chicago to Los Angeles was by far the biggest percentage of our overall road trip USA budget. We knew that we had to find a cheap way to get around or this American road trip idea would quickly be thrown out the window.
RV Rental – $610 (or around $38/day)
Luckily, we were able to use some of the tips and tricks we learned while traveling around Australia and apply them to our trip in the US.
We were lucky to have been able to find a GREAT DEAL for a campervan rental at just $39/night.
While it wasn’t as good as $1/day, the deal offered us a longer rental, giving us more time on the road, and a brand new (hence the factory relocation) massive RV. It was big enough for 7 people, so having all the space for just 2 of us felt like absolute luxury.
The total for 16 days/15 nights added up to $610.
Fuel – $682 (or around $42/day)
Gas ended up costing a bit more than we would’ve liked, adding up to almost 30% of our total American road trip budget. With 3,000 miles (around 4,500 km) ahead of us, we knew that we’d need around 6 tanks of gas to get us from Chicago to Los Angeles, but we underestimated the cost of gas across the country and our RV’s efficiency on the road.
Propane = $60 (or around $4/day)
When budgeting for our trip, we completely forgot to account for the cost of propane. It didn’t add up to a lot, which was surprising considering that the stove, fridge, furnace, and water heater in our RV were all powered by propane. All things considered, it was a small drop in a big bucket.
Accommodation = $179 (or around $12/day)
Despite the fact that our RV was completely self-sustainable (it was equipped with a shower, toilet, and a full-size kitchen), we weren’t able to spend more than 2-3 days away from an RV park.
Our fresh water tank needed to be refilled, our grey and black water tanks needed to be dumped, and even though laptops and phones were largely powered by our DC to AC power converter, we still needed to spend every now and then hooked up to power so we could charge up all of our camera batteries.
To our greatest surprise, RV parks in the US weren’t as cheap as we expected. We planned on spending $10-15/night for a powered site, but in reality, we never found anything for less than $30/night.
On nights when we didn’t need to be plugged in, we followed seasoned RV’ers advice and parked in Walmart parking lots or enjoyed being away from it all by finding an isolated spot in the middle of a forest road.
FOOD & DRINKS = $339 (OR AROUND $21/DAY)
To keep our cross-country road trip cost down, we choose not to eat out on this trip and cooked most of our meals in the RV. But we didn’t deprive ourselves.
We stocked up on fresh fruits and veggies, good quality meats, and nutrient-rich ingredients. Since our American road trip budget didn’t allow for daily meals out, we made sure to cook up a storm and make a big deal out of our meals.
We drank wine, enjoyed some beers, and even splurged on deserts! Needless to say, we weren’t starving throughout the trip and our food and drinks expenses reflected that.
SUPPLIES & OTHER SHOPPING
RV Supplies – $292 (or around $18/day)
It cost us a few hundred dollars to stock up on various supplies for the RV. We had an option to rent some items (like bedding and kitchen supplies) through Cruise America but figured that we could find much better quality stuff if we were to buy it ourselves. And we did!
At the end of the trip, we took all the supplies up to Oksana’s parent’s house in Canada. One day, we’ll dig them up from storage in the basement and use them for another road trip across America!
Mobile Phone – $60 (or around $4/day)
To stay connected on the road we purchased a 30-day 10GB mobile data plan from T-Mobile for $60. It was a pricey investment and one that we completely forgot to account for at the beginning of our road trip across America, but being able to stay connected and keep up with our work while on the road warranted the expense.
If you’re planning on staying for 3 weeks or less T-Mobile now offers a slightly more affordable plan. Their $30 Tourist Prepaid plan offers 1000 minutes of domestic talk, and unlimited texting and data (with 4G LTE speeds up to 2GB). This would knock your daily mobile phone spending down to under $2/day. Otherwise, if you need faster internet for the duration of your trip the T-Mobile One Prepaid plan offers unlimited 4G LTE data for $75 dollars a month.
ACTIVITIES – $160 (OR $10/DAY)
We didn’t spend a ton of money on activities throughout our road trip across America. We splurged on a Cog Railway ticket to the top of Pikes Peak, because hiking up the mountain wasn’t an option in my condition, and our 30 foot RV wouldn’t have made it up the winding roads either. Luckily, it was a great journey and money well spent.
National Parks Pass – $80
2 Week National Park Road Trip Cost
Another expense that we incurred on the trip was the cost of a yearly National Parks Pass ($80). We got lucky with our timing as the first week of our trip coincided with the Annual National Parks Week, which gave us access to all National Parks across the country for free.
But by the time we got down to Arizona and California, the deal was off and the steep price at the Grand Canyon and at the Joshua Tree National Park made the $80 we paid for the pass completely worth it.
We think that a 2-week national park road trip cost of $80 for an annual park’s pass was very reasonable. Especially considering they were some of the highlights of our American road trip. Buy your pass here.
ROAD TRIP USA TOTAL COST – $2,382
Our road trip across America cost us to $2,382, or an average of $149/day between both of us for a 16-day road trip across the US. It’s more than the $125/day we were hoping to spend, but we’re not kicking ourselves for it.
Looking back on our spending patterns, we realized that the biggest cost drivers were RV rental and gas. And while it might be possible to reduce the daily gas costs by staying on the road for longer and spreading the cost of gas over more days, the increase in daily RV rental would probably offset that.
Our Next American Road Trip
Looking ahead, we are not giving up on our mission to find a more cost-effective way to road trip across America. Next time, we plan to cover shorter distances (and save on gas in the process), look for even better relocation deals, and use some of our existing supplies to help us save on trip expenses. We are confident that we can make it happen!
Tips for a More Eco-Friendly (and Cost-Effective) Road Trip
An American road trip can take its toll on the environment but there are ways to minimize its effects. Not to mention, we tend to find that the more eco-friendly a trip is the more cost-effective trip too!
Choose a hybrid model or energy efficient vehicle whenever possible.
If you’re driving your own car or recreational vehicle get it serviced prior to your road trip. Your RV or car rental agency will do this for you but you can still check your oil and tire pressure regularly while you’re on the road for better fuel efficiency.
When it’s hot out roll down the windows instead of using A/C for better fuel economy.
Choose eco-friendly accommodation options, and restaurants while your own on the road. Try camping or staying in national parks like we did, and supporting local farmers markets.
Avoid single-use plastics, and minimize packaging by using reusable grocery bags or water bottles when you need to restock food and refreshments.
Bring your friends! It’s always better to travel with a full car or RV. A five-person vehicle is so much more eco-friendly and cost-effective than traveling with a couple of two-seaters.
WANT TO EXPLORE USA BY CAR INSTEAD OF A CAMPERVAN?
Get the best car rental rates by booking on our favourite car rental website, DriveNow. It compares prices across all major car rental companies in the USA, so you are guaranteed to get the best deal.
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like the US. Whether you just plan to make a few stops on your road trip, explore a few cities, or go off the grid in some of the country’s beautiful National Parks, being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.
Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.