It takes time to plan the ultimate campervan road trip in the USA.
There is the itinerary, activities to book and campsites to find. Also essential is a road trip budget.
To help you with this last critical step, in this post we are going to break down the campervan budget for a 4 week US West Coast road trip.
- 1 West Coast Road Trip USA
- 2 Road Trip Budget
- 3 West Coast USA Campervan Budget
- 4 How We Track Our Trip Costs
- 5 Detailed Road Trip Costs
- 6 Road trip on a Budget – Summary
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 on 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 about this US road trip itinerary.
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 an american road trip, especially 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 this West Coast America road trip.
- We tended towards budget travel. To be honest, it is the only way we can afford to travel. So no expensive hotel stays on this trip.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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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
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 app enough for anyone wanting to take a budget road trip – it should be included on your road trip checklist.
Once you work out which app you prefer we recommend you purchase the paid version – they offer far more functionality for a very small price.
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 / RV Rental – $2,030 / $64 per day
Campervan travel has to be one of the best ways to explore America. Whilst we love camping in a tent with the kids, if you are moving regularly, a campervan is easier to set up and pack down.
How much does a campervan cost? It is common for people to worry about renting an RV due to the daily cost.
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 you have young kids, bring your own travel car seat instead of renting one.
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 plus the convenience of a kitchen to prepare your own meals. Due to their size and simple set up there is less to learn before you start your trip.
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 much 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.
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:
|Butane gas (cooking)||66|
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.
|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.
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.
But, if you are looking to do a US road trip on a budget, free camping is one of the best ways to save large amounts of money.
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 getting a spot.
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 eating just one meal out each day would most likely cost more than this total daily food cost.
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.
The Jucy Camper was well equipped with saucepans, frypan, kettle, and utensils for preparing meals.
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.
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 – $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.
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.
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.
|Alcatraz, San Francisco||$112|
|Lower Antelope Canyon, Page||$133|
|National Parks Annual Pass||$80|
|Point Lobos State Park||$12|
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.
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 and we recommend you do too! 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. We referred to this book on a daily basis during our US West Coast road trip to plan hikes and activities in each of the National Parks.Click to check the price and read reviews of the National Parks Guide
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.
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.
Travel Insurance for USA – To travel America in a campervan, travel insurance is absolutely essential.
Activities – Booking some fun activities is a must when planning a family road trip on a budget. When we travel in the US we like to use Viator. Click here to search for unique activities and experiences.
Please comment below to let us know if this breakdown of our campervan budget helps you budget your trip.
Love a road trip? You may also like to read:
- Best US Road Trip Routes
- USA West Coast Road Trip Itinerary
- Best anti theft backpacks
- How to explore Botswana on a budget
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