Do you dream of taking the family on a USA road trip and wonder how much it would cost? In this post we are going to break down, in detail, the campervan budget for a family road trip to the USA West Coast.
We are big fans of the family road trip. The freedom to go where you please, to stay in stunning locations and to explore at your own pace are some of the reasons we love it.
We were lucky to spend almost 5 weeks on our USA West Coast road trip. The West Coast offers 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 – what is there not to love?
So how much does it cost? The good news is that with a little planning, your campervan budget doesn’t need to break the bank.
When we started planning our budget we found it really difficult to find good, detailed trip costs. There didn’t seem to be much information available about the average cost of a road trip for a family.
So, during our road trip we monitored our campervan budget and kept track of all our expenses. In this post we share all of these trip costs with you.
We hope you find this information useful as a 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.
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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 detailed trip costs, we describe below how we travelled so you can compare with your style of travel and work out a budget to match.
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.
We find the easiest way to road trip on a budget is to track all 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 travel costs.
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. The 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 road trip on a budget.
You can download the apps now from iTunes by clicking on the images below to see which you prefer. Once you work out which you prefer we recommend you purchase the paid version – they offer far more functionality for a very small price.
Often people worry about renting an RV due to the daily cost. While we agree RV rental can be expensive, our experience renting campervans in a several countries has shown that preparing your own meals and staying at cheap campsites will offset the van rental costs. Plus you get to stay in unique and amazing places like the National Parks.
It is worth trying to avoid peak season if you want to rent a campervan, as the prices jump significantly during these times. Generally the longer the rental period, the cheaper it becomes per day.
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.
For our West Coast road trip we rented a Jucy Camper. Unconventional, perhaps, in a country renowned for its oversized RVs. We 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. So you get all the convenience of a regular sized vehicle with the freedom to stay wherever you please and prepare your own meals. You do spend more time outside cooking and eating than what you would do 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. We travelled 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 would like to experience the freedom of a Jucy Camper yourself, we recommend Motorhome Republic. They have a wide range of campers available, including the Jucy campers.
Our other transport costs 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 and were able to book a car for $35 USD per day through rentalcars.com.
This cost also includes taxi costs in Las Vegas and to/from the car rental locations. We used Lyft in the USA for all our taxi rides.
Transport costs breakdown:
|Butane gas (cooking)||66|
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 with each site having a picnic table and fire ring or grill.
|Nights in campgrounds:||23|
|Nights in budget hotels:||2|
|Free nights accommodation:||6|
Our trip overlapped with local school holidays when visiting Zion National Park. This meant we stayed at a privately run, 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 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.
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 are looking to save money this 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.
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. Yosemite books out months in advance.
On the flip side, some National Parks have a no booking system – so it is first in, best dressed (like Zion and Joshua Tree). Plan to arrive very early at these campgrounds, especially on weekends and during peak periods, to have any chance of nabbing a spot.
This cost, while looking a little high, includes groceries, beer, wine and ice for 4 people. It also includes firewood as we usually bought wood at the supermarket.
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. We travelled with our camping cookbook which was very useful for coming up with simple meal ideas each night.
We think this shows a HUGE saving over eating out, right? Cooking your own meals 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 stayed in a cheap hotel and ate every meal out, you would be spending way more than this per day on food. Even when you include our eating out costs, it is still way below the cost of eating out all meals each day.
To give some perspective on how we ate, 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. Not much high cost beef.
We often purchased bakery treats, beer and wine in addition to our regular groceries. These costs are included in the grocery total cost. We also had our beloved stove top coffee maker, awesome toast maker and containers to store leftover food which helped us 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.
The fridge in the Jucy Camper was big enough to fit our chilled groceries (we shopped every few days). It was too small to fit our drinks – oversized milk containers, juice, beer, wine. So we purchased a cooler bag and kept it topped up with ice to keep drinks chilled.
As you can see from the cost per day, we didn’t eat out much! We usually prefer to spend our limited cash on experiences than on food in restaurants.
During our 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 cost includes those dinners plus many take-out snacks, including ice creams, pastries and general rewards (bribes) for hiking with the kids.
Activities in the USA can be 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.
This total spend includes the activities we splurged on during our road trip. I have itemised 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|
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 we purchased here as these are totally optional. Who buys guide books any more I hear you say?
Well, we do. 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. We highly recommend this book:
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! Saying that, if we hadn’t overspent on a meal in Las Vegas, had opted to free camp, spent less on treats such as beer and marshmallows we would have spent a lot less. If you don’t need to rent a vehicle you can instantly cut these costs 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 we would do it again in a heartbeat.
Please comment below to let us know if this breakdown of our campervan budget helped you budget for your trip or if there is anything else you would like to know.
Flights to USA – Skyscanner is our favourite flight search site. It compares hundreds of sites and millions of flights to show you the best deals available.
Travel Insurance for USA – absolutely essential for travel to the USA. We use World Nomads for all of our travel insurance needs.
Activities – check out Get Your Guide for a great range of unique activities to experience.
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