What It Costs: US West Coast Road Trip Campervan Budget

It takes time to plan the ultimate campervan road trip in USA. There is the itinerary, activities to book and campsites to find. Also essential is a road trip budget.

To help you with this critical step, in this post we are going to break down the campervan budget for a 4 week US West Coast family road trip.

US Road Trip Itinerary

West Coast Road Trip USA

We were excited to spend almost 5 weeks on a USA West Coast road trip.

California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona all offer an enormous variety of experiences for the ultimate USA road trip.

With some of the best National Parks in the world, famous cities, even more famous beaches and classic driving routes, there is a lot to love.

Road Trip Budget

So an important question is how much does a road trip cost? When we prepared our roadtrip USA budget we found it difficult to find good, detailed road trip costs.

There just didn’t seem to be much detailed information about the average cost of a road trip for a family.

So, during our US road trip we monitored our campervan budget and kept track of all our expenses. The good news is that with a little planning, your campervan travel costs don’t need to break the bank.

We hope you find this information a useful starting point to develop your own family road trip budget. It will at least give you an idea of what things cost to help you plan your ultimate American road trip.

West Coast USA Campervan Budget

Your travel style has a big impact on your trip costs.

Some people like to eat out a lot, others like to pay for lots of activities. Some people like to stay in hotel rooms when they travel.

To ‘set the scene’ for our USA travel budget, we describe below how we travel. Compare your own style of travel in order to develop your personal USA travel budget.

Our Travel Style

  • A small RV was our home for the majority of our West Coast America road trip.
  • We tended towards budget travel. We didn’t stay in expensive hotels.
  • On the road we purchased snacks, beer and wine, but we rarely ate out at restaurants.
  • Cheap and free activities were our preference. Occasionally we splurged on special activities (which we have listed).
  • We stayed in a mixture of National Park campgrounds and private RV parks.

Trip Statistics

  • Length of Trip: 35 days
  • Distance Travelled: 1631 miles (2624 kilometres)

What Is Included

  • RV rental, transport, fuel, accommodation, groceries, eating out and activities.
  • Costs are for 4 people (2 adults and 2 children aged 10 and 8).
  • Costs are in $USD and based on travel in October 2017.

What Is Not Included

  • Flights
  • Visas
  • Travel insurance
  • A very expensive but enjoyable day trip to Disneyland.

All of these costs vary depending on where you are coming from and whether you have kids who have a burning desire to go to Disneyland.

How We Track Our Trip Costs

We find the easiest way to road trip on a budget is to track our expenses day by day.

We can quickly see if we have overspent and plan for cheap days to get back on track. Knowledge is power and this is so true when it comes to managing your US road trip costs.

Use a Budget App

So how do we do this? We love and use an app called Trabee Pocket. It is available on both Android and IOS devices. If you have an Apple device, the other great app is Trail Wallet.

Both apps allow you to set up a budget, categories and enter every cost each day while on the go. It is quick and easy to do and it soon becomes a simple habit.

We can’t recommend this process enough for anyone wanting to take a budget road trip.

You can download the apps now from iTunes by clicking on the images below. Once you work out which you prefer we recommend you purchase the paid version – they offer far more functionality for a very small price.

Trabee Pocket
Trabee Pocket

Trail Wallet
Trail Wallet

Detailed Road Trip Costs

The best way to budget a road trip is to break it down into the main cost categories and work out an average cost per day. This process will give you a good starting point for how much money you need to save for your road trip budget.

The actual daily cost will fluctuate depending on where you stay and how far you travel each day, but if you track your costs you will know how you are tracking against your average cost.

campervan iconCampervan / RV Rental – $2,030 / $64 per day

Campervan travel has to be one of the best ways to explore the country.

How much does a campervan cost? It is common for people to worry about renting an RV due to the daily cost.

While we agree RV rental can be expensive, our experience renting campervans in several countries including Africa and Australia has shown that bargains can be found.

Plus, if you are prepared to cook your own meals and stay at cheap campsites, you will quickly offset the van rental costs.

Tips to Reduce your Campervan Hire Costs

There is no doubt hiring a campervan in USA during the peak summer season comes at a high price. Our tips for reducing campervan travel costs and planning a road trip around the USA on a budget are:

  • Avoid peak season RV rental. Prices jump significantly during this time and it is difficult to find a bargain.
  • Look at small campervan rental. The large RVs are more expensive – not only to hire but also to refuel and park.
  • Plan a longer trip! The average daily price will drop for longer rental periods.

If an RV is not for you, don’t forget there are other ways to road trip on a budget. Hiring a car (or using your own car) and packing camping gear is another way to save a load of cash when on a road trip.

Campervan Hire in USA

For our US West Coast road trip we rented a Jucy Camper. Unconventional, perhaps, in a country renowned for its oversized RVs. We certainly attracted plenty of attention pulling up at RV Parks with our itty bitty green camper!

The Jucy Campers offer great flexibility for shorter road trips, even for a family of 4. They are the size of a regular car, with beds for 4 people, a functional kitchen and a small fridge.

In a Jucy Camper you get all the convenience of a regular sized vehicle with the freedom to stay wherever you please and the ability to prepare your own meals.

You do spend more time outside cooking and eating than what you would in a full-size RV, but we loved this because it felt more like camping.

Jucy Campers are also cheaper than a full-size RV and are a good choice for a budget trip to USA. We traveled in the shoulder season and were very excited to secure a great deal on the Jucy Camper for 32 days at $64 USD per day.

If you are considering campervan hire in USA, we recommend booking through Motorhome Republic. They have a wide range of campers available, including the Jucy campers and full size RVs for longer trips.

Click here to compare the latest RV prices


Icons made by Ocha from flaticon.com Other Transport Costs – $773 / $22 per day

The good news for your campervan budget is that gas is cheap in the USA compared to many other countries. This really helps keep your American road trip cost down.

In this category we include gas (petrol), tolls, parking fees, butane fuel canisters for the gas cooker and car rental in San Francisco.

We were staying further out of town with friends in San Francisco at the end of our road trip and were able to book a car for $35 USD per day through rentalcars.com.

This category also includes taxi costs in Las Vegas and to/from the car rental locations in San Francisco. We used Lyft in the USA for all our taxi rides.

Transport costs breakdown:

Cost $ USD     
Gas 469
Parking 38
Butane gas (cooking) 66
Rental Car 140
Tolls 24
Taxis 36

If you are considering car rental for your road trip, we recommend rentalcars.com.

Click here to check current car rental prices. 


tent icon

Accommodation – $1,044 / $30 per day

This category covers campsites and hotel accommodation. Overall, we thought private campgrounds in the USA were expensive compared to many countries in Europe, but cheaper than in Australia.

Campgrounds in the National Parks were pretty good value at around $25 USD a night. Campsites were well designed and each site had a picnic table and fire ring or grill.

Accommodation Nights
Campgrounds 23
Budget hotels 2
Free nights staying with friends 6

Our trip overlapped with local school holidays when we visited Zion National Park. We were unable to secure a spot in the National Park Campground and stayed at a privately run (and more expensive) campground outside the park.

When we visited Yosemite National Park  we were also unable to secure a campsite within the park. Again, we stayed just outside the park at a private campground.

On two particularly cold and wet nights we opted to stay in budget hotels which increased our costs.

We were able to find great last minute deals on booking.com and found perfectly warm and dry rooms for $80 USD a night.

Click here to check the latest hotel deals on the West Coast.

We were fortunate to stay with friends in San Francisco, so had 6 nights free accommodation during the month.

Staying in Campgrounds vs Free Camping

You will also note from the number of nights in campgrounds that we didn’t free camp (boondocking / wild camping). To be honest we didn’t have the time to search for good free camps on this trip.

There are many websites that list free camps, so if you want to travel USA on a budget, finding free camps is  where you should invest some time. This article provides a good summary of the options and links to free camping websites.

We find campgrounds offer many benefits. Apart from the pleasure of a daily shower, our kids have space to explore safely, in some they can often enjoy a swim in the pool at the end of the day, and they have the opportunity to meet and play with other kids.

US National Park Campground Bookings

If you are planning to visit any of the USA National Parks, we recommend you check well in advance if you can pre-book on Recreation.gov. Campgrounds within Yosemite National Park book out months in advance.

On the flip side, some National Parks have a no booking system. For these it is first in, best dressed (like Zion National Park and Joshua Tree National Park).

For campgrounds with no bookings you need to plan to arrive very early, especially on weekends and during peak periods, to have any chance of nabbing a spot.


grocery basket icon

Groceries – $1,670 / $48 per day

We prepared almost all the 105 meals eaten during our road trip. So this cost per day covers every breakfast, morning and afternoon tea, most lunches and dinners, plus marshmallows for toasting on the fire.

While this total cost looks high, it includes groceries, beer, wine and ice for 4 people. It also includes firewood as we usually bought wood at the supermarket.

We think this shows a HUGE saving over eating out, right? Cooking your own meals is the secret to cheap family road trips and is where you will re-coup some of that higher RV rental cost.

I know, it isn’t as glamorous or easy as sitting down at a restaurant. But if you ate one meal out each day, you would spend a lot more than this per day on food.

Even when you include our eating out costs in the next category, the total cost is still way below the cost of eating out all meals each day.

Cooking on the Road

To give some perspective on how well we ate for this cost:

  • Breakfast was typically bagels, cereal or eggs on toast.
  • Lunch was generally bread rolls with deli meat or salad fillings.
  • Dinner was simple – pasta, sausages, salad, chicken, etc. We found beef to be expensive and didn’t buy it much.
  • We often purchased bakery treats, beer and wine in addition to our regular groceries and these costs are included in the grocery total cost.

The fridge in the Jucy Camper was big enough to fit our chilled groceries (we shopped every few days). It was not large enough to fit our drinks. We purchased a cooler bag and kept it topped up with ice to keep our milk, juice, beer and wine chilled.

Cooking Equipment

The Jucy Camper was well equipped with saucepans, frypan, kettle, and utensils for preparing meals.

We purchased a camping cookbook which was very useful for coming up with simple meal ideas each night. All meals in the cookbook could be prepared on a gas cooktop or over an open fire and we referred to it each day for inspiration.

Click here to read reviews for our favorite camp cookbook.

We also purchased a stove top coffee maker, an awesome toast maker and containers to store leftover food which helped us reduce food wastage and save even more money.


Most campgrounds permitted fires so we regularly purchased firewood. As the evenings were cool (freezing at times) and we didn’t have space inside the Jucy Camper to hang out, this was a great way to stay warm.

Plus, it was great to have a campfire each night. The kids became masters of stoking the fire, loved roasting marshmallows and constructing s’mores.


eating out icon

Eating out – $402 / $11 per day

As you can see from the cost per day, we didn’t eat out much! We prefer to spend our limited cash on experiences than on food in restaurants.

During our budget road trip we had one splurge on a ridiculously expensive meal in Las Vegas (don’t ask) and 4 take-out meals – pizza and burgers.

This category includes those dinners plus many take-out snacks, including ice creams, pastries and general rewards (bribes) for hiking with the kids.


ticket icon

Activities – $459 / $13 per day

We were surprised to find that activities in the USA were quite expensive. That is, apart from hiking in the National Parks.

Our $80 USD annual National Parks Pass meant we were free to enjoy the hiking trails, junior ranger programs and shuttle buses to get around at the 6 National Parks we visited.

If you want to take a family road trip on a budget, we recommend you spend some time before you go researching the paid activities available. Also chat to your kids about what they might like to do.

It is possible, but not necessary, to spend infinite amounts of money on expensive activities.

We suggest you plan ahead and choose a select number of memorable activities for the family.

In the US we recommend Get Your Guide for unique experiences and activities. They have a huge range of tours on offer and we find them to be reliable and well run. Here are some great ideas for your next trip:

Our total spend in this category includes the activities we splurged on during our road trip in USA.

I have itemized them below as activities are a highly personal decision so I wanted you to be able to easily remove it from the total cost.

Activity $ USD
Monterey Kayaks $120
Alcatraz, San Francisco $112
Lower Antelope Canyon, Page $133
National Parks Annual Pass $80
Point Lobos State Park $12

laundry icon

Other Costs – $55 / $1.50 per day

Laundry: $25. Campground washing machines were cheaper in the USA than anywhere else in the world! So while we were used to hand washing regularly, on this road trip we made more use of the machine to save us time.

Mobile SIM CARD: $30. This was a single recharge for the month.

 

Guide Books

I haven’t included the cost of guide books and hiking guides that we purchased as these are totally optional. Who buys guide books any more I hear you say?

Well, we do. Why? Cell (mobile) coverage is very patchy throughout the National Parks. We found it incredibly frustrating to plan our trip, find accommodation and research activities without mobile reception.

For this reason we strongly recommend you take hard copies of any guide books, maps, hiking guides or books you may need during your trip.

In addition to our favorite guide book, the Lonely Planet, we also highly recommend you purchase a copy of Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks (Second edition). We referred to this daily during our US West Coast road trip to plan hikes and activities in each of the National Parks.



Road trip on a Budget – Summary

Total trip cost:  $6,435 USD / $184 USD per day

Our total family road trip cost was $6,435. That is $184 USD per day for a family of 4.  Some hotel rooms cost more than that a night!

I am certain that our ultimate US road trip cost could have been less. Areas where we could have saved money:

  • Chosen a more affordable buffet meal in Las Vegas
  • Opted to free camp
  • Spent less on treats such as beer and marshmallows.

If you don’t need to rent a vehicle you can instantly cut this total cost by a third.

The USA West Coast was an easy and fun place to road trip in a campervan with kids. There is so much to see and do and in our opinion it is one of the best US road trips for families. You can read more about our West Coast itinerary here.

Please comment below to let us know if this breakdown of our campervan budget helps you budget your trip.


Key Resources to Book Your West Coast Family Road Trip!

Flights to USA – Skyscanner is our favorite flight search site. It compares hundreds of sites and millions of flights to show you the best deals available.

Accommodation – For the National Parks book here. For hotels in the USA we recommend booking.com.

Transport –  If you would like to rent a campervan in USA check out Motorhome Republic for great RV rental deals. If you would prefer to rent a car we recommend rentalcars.com

Travel Insurance for USA – To travel America in a campervan, travel insurance is absolutely essential.  We use World Nomads for all of our travel insurance needs and suggest you get a quote from them as soon as you plan to book your trip. Click here to get a travel insurance quote today.

Activities – Booking some fun activities is a must when planning a family road trip on a budget. We recommend Get Your Guide as they often have great deals available. Click here to search for unique activities and experiences.


 

Love a road trip? You may also like:

Tips for travel to Europe in a Campervan with Kids

How to explore Botswana on a budget

USA West Coast Road Trip with Kids Itinerary

 

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20 thoughts on “What It Costs: US West Coast Road Trip Campervan Budget”

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventures and the practical tips and costs. I’ve been on your blog for days, clicking on your links and planning our trip. You made it all a lot easier to work out with everything in one place.
    Living the dream

  2. It’s great to see a breakdown like this. We did a 2-week USA road trip last year but never kept track of costs. I might start doing it for future trips though to help other families out. #fearlessfamtrav

  3. This is so useful and interesting! We were thinking about doing a US road trip for our honeymoon (with our daughter!) a few years ago but we couldn’t really afford it. But I’d still love to do one and this is so helpful to know that it can be done on a budget and still be amazing! xx #fearlessfamtrav

  4. This post is PERFECT for any parent considering a road trip in the States (me!!!!) I’ve wanted to do this for so long but was worried about the costs. You’ve made me realise that it’s so doable! Just need to find some good flight deals now

    Thank you for linking up to #fearlessfamtrav

    • Absolutely doable! And it could be done even cheaper with a little planning for free camping. We can’t wait to explore more of the US National Parks.

  5. Hi there, thank you for this, it is super helpful. My extended family from Australia are dreaming about a US west coast road trip and this is a great place to start to get an idea of cost. I’m grateful that you were so detailed in your description of different expenses. So, where was your favourite place??? #fearlessfamtrav

    • sooo hard to choose a favourite. Although, if you were twisting my arm, I think I would say Zion National Park. So spectacular with so many amazing hikes. I want to go back and do the narrows..

  6. This is a really useful post. Being from the US, and growing up going on road trips to my grandparent’s house every summer, I find it interesting that people travel to the US specifically for the road trip experience. I admit, I’m not actually a fan of long term road trips as it’s just a way of getting from one place to another for me. But it is interesting to read others’ experiences. #fearlessfamtrav

    • I am with you regarding distance – coming from Australia everything is a long drive away and often we will drive hours just to get to a place. But, I think when a road trip is specifically planned around seeing the places on the way it becomes a unique holiday experience.

  7. This is a really useful post. I started planning out a trip for my family but it was working out too expensive. It is good to hear from someone who has done it and the real costs #fearlessfamtrav

  8. This is a fantastic post. So much useful information I love your infographics and your detailed expenditure breakdow. You’ve included all the things people can forget like laundry and sim card. What a fantastic experience for your children – I’d love to do this one day and your post is invaluable! #fearlessfamtrav

  9. What a super helpful post Rachel! We are really hoping to do a southern US road trip soon so this is great info. I need to check out those budget apps too. We have always used pen and paper before to track travel expenses, but we need to get with the times! #fearlessfamtrav

    • The budget app is probably one of the best apps we have ever purchased. It makes it so much quicker and easier to keep track and stay on budget.

  10. I love informative posts like this. We just did a road trip but in a car! We too enjoyed Disney but you are right it can be expensive #fearlessfamtrav

  11. This is great! I am with you that there is not much info on day to day costs for this kind of travelling. You guys are very detailled!

    • Thanks Kate, I am glad you found it useful. We are mindful that everyone travels differently, so it makes a good starting point from which to plan.

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