It’s the question everyone thinks about when they’re sitting in their office on an idle Friday afternoon – the ultimate daydream: what if I quit everything and went on a trip?

What would it cost to do something crazy like drive across the country with no plans, reservations, or itinerary? Well, I did exactly that.

How Much Does a Road Trip Cost?

In August, I quit my marketing job and drove across the country with one of my best friends for two and a half weeks, traversing a haphazard route that looked more like a pinball trajectory than a straight line.

Five thousand miles later, we reached Los Angeles, where I stayed for five days before flying back home to real life. In two segmented blogs, I’ll break down the financials of my trip: how much I saved, how much I spent, and how I spent it over those 18 days.

Before we started the trip, I was planning on leaving my job. However, since I am an incredibly savvy and responsible adult, I made zero plans prior to leaving my job – financially or professionally. I had some savings to begin with, but I didn’t even check them until I withdrew a thousand dollars in cash prior to leaving for our drive.

I made zero plans prior to leaving my job — financially or professionally.

That was my only real strategy: to withdraw one grand and to see how long that could last me. I’d read various articles that estimated the cost of a road trip to be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, so I figured that I would at least be able to watch my spending as we went – literally! The main costs that we had were obviously gas, food, and housing, but none of them turned out as we expected.

The Cost of Gas

Overall, we drove just over 5,000 miles from start to finish – mostly because we meandered up and down to see places and friends on the way.

Gas prices ranged from $1.80 to $3.50, with South Dakota being the cheapest place we found and the city limits of Los Angeles being the worst.

Since we were driving together we split the cost of gas. We decided that we would pay for gas on my friend’s credit card and I would just pay her half of it when we finished the trip so that it would be easier to keep track of.

The total cost of gas ended up being somewhere around $240 dollars each. We were both surprised, having estimated our gas costs to be somewhere around $350 each. However, we tended to burn less gas than one would be used to in a city or a suburban area since most days we would just set the car to cruise control and drive at optimal gas efficiency for hours at a time without having to slow down or speed up.

The gas stops, though, cost extra in the various stale donuts, jerky packages, energy drinks, and weird bumper stickers that were purchased inside the gas station stores along the way.

The Cost of Food

Measuring the cost of food was a little bit trickier since I didn’t keep meticulous track of the random snacks and coffees that we got. However, we bought most of the food that we ate at groceries. Twice during our trip, we went to a Walmart superstore and bought staple food items like peanut butter, apples, and fixings to make sandwiches so that we could always eat lunch while driving.

The total cost of our groceries was about $100 each. The best estimate I can give for the rest of our food costs was another $200 total between dinners, drinks, and random breakfast stops along the way.

Bringing a cooler in the car was a total game-changer. Not only was it nice to be able to keep driving and not stop when we were hungry, but honestly, we could make tastier food with our groceries.

Initially, we thought that we would be missing out by not eating in the random towns that we drove through, but we ended up being relieved that we had an edible, healthy option for lunch, rather than the food at rest stops and diners that tasted like fried rubber.

Watch out for Part Two of this series, and find out how much our nights cost us!

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