How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 2: $$$

People often ask me how I can afford to travel so much. A large part of the answer has to do with the fact that I don’t pay rent, have very few monthly bills, absolutely no debt and, since everything I own has to fit in my car, I don’t buy a lot of stuff.

Everything I own, packed to leave Maine

But despite all the costs I cut due to my lifestyle choices, I’m still not rolling in it. After all, I make my living as a freelance writer and this is no way to get rich. So the real answer is that I can afford to travel so much because I know how to travel extremely cheaply.

If you have the time (time is priceless) you can afford to take a road trip! To start, I’m going to focus on the four major costs of traveling: fuel, food, lodging and entertainment.

Fuel: No way around it, gas sucks. I just returned from California, where I paid as much as $4.80 a gallon. Here in New Mexico gas is closer to $3.20, but it still sucks. However, at any rate, gas prices are a shitty excuse for not hitting the road because GAS IS NOT GOING TO GET ANY CHEAPER. If you’re going to wait around for the clean car revolution before you see your country, you’re never going to see it. But despite how much we all hear and fret about gas prices, when I total up my fuel costs from my past few trips, it’s really not that bad. Driving from Maine to New Mexico in April cost me $430 in gas and my most recent road trip from New Mexico to San Francisco and back cost $150, each way. Compare that to the cost of plane tickets (not to mention the stress of air travel). One tip for saving money on gas: avoid interstates! Driving 70+ miles per hour burns gas like you wouldn’t believe. Stick to the back roads and keep it under 55 and you’ll see a real difference in your mileage per gallon.

Slow down! See more! Save money! 

Food: Road Tripping Rule #5 is Always eat local. I love this rule. Fried chicken in the South, seafood in the Northeast and real Mexican food in the Southwest are priceless road trip experiences. Just don’t splurge on every meal. When I’m on the road, I usually aim to order one meal a day off a menu. The rest of my food I buy at grocery stores and cook over a camp stove. On my two-week Maine to New Mexico trip I spent $80 dollars at grocery stores and $110 at restaurants.

Lodging: I hate hotels and almost always camp out when I’m on the road. I usually seek out National Forests, where campsites run from free to around $10 a night. State parks can be pricey ($35 a night in California!) and National Parks can be crowded, especially on weekends. If the weather is especially terrible – in April I drove through the midwest during peak tornado season – I pull my handy nationwide Motel 6 directory out of my glove compartment and find the closest $40 dog-friendly room. On my Maine to New Mexico trip I spent $85 total for one room, and four campsites. The rest of my nights were free! Gotta love our National Forests.

Free National Forest campsite in Big Sur, California

Entertainment: You and I might differ on what we consider to be good road trip entertainment. My absolutely favorite thing to do when I’m on the road and I want to get out of the car for a few hours is to go for a hike. Hiking is free. I also really love visiting odd museums, where admissions usually run from free to around $10. What can I say, I’m a cheap date. You might also want to spend money on gifts, souvenirs and drinks, but you can save a lot by sending postcards, taking photographs and drinking water instead.

Some people consider traveling a luxury, but it doesn’t have to be. I live very frugally, at home and on the road and so I’ve been able to see a great deal of the world without my car, my dogs or myself going hungry. Start saving now (quick tip: stop buying stuff you don’t need!) and you’ll have a few hundred bucks for a road trip in no time!

To see cost breakdowns for some of my road trips, check out my “By the Numbers” posts for: California, Alaska and Vermont.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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30 Responses to How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 2: $$$

  1. Pingback: How to Plan a Killer Road Trip! Part 1 « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  2. studiomarie says:

    Hi blondeCoyote, I know exactly what you mean. Our friends ask us ( dear hubby and I) the same question. Neither of us are working. I do a few freelance online stuff but we live within our means. We do not have a phone, cable or cellphones. I use the library computers when we are on the road or I buy a cup of coffee and sit at a wifi with my laptop.

    We have been living in Mexico for almost six months with our dog. We drove down. We packed light and I wash things by hand. The food is cheap and fresh. We have been hiking too. It will be a bit of a culture shock to return to the U.S. but where you live looks beautiful. Your house looks like an earthship. We have been visiting friends who live off-grid. We would like to do the same. Take care. You are an inspiration. Marie

    • Hi Marie! Sounds like you guys are living the good life down in Mexico. Amazing how far you can get in this world when you travel lightly. Best of luck with your travels and keep in touch. I hope we cross paths someday down the road!

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  9. Morgean says:

    Blonde Coyote,
    Wow, what an amazing life you live. You are a real inspiration to me. I have dreamed of living a life like yours but have not had the courage, you and your blog have helped though. And, amazingly, I have a dog that looks just like your blonde coyote, Freckles, but he is red. He looked like a little fox when I adopted him – about 8 months old. He is now 8 years old and I have always wondered what type of dog he is. I researched coydogs and his personality fits to a tee – apparently they tend to either be very shy or can be aggressive – he is shy beyond comprehension, a true loner, and would never bite. We were attacked one day by a pitbull and Gates showed not an ounce of aggression. Anyway, I have been trying to find out what type of pup he really is and I think I now know. But, back to you and your blog – a huge thank you for the many articles, etc., you have touched me deeply. BTW – what type of camera do you use? Looks like most of your pics are taken with a wide angle lense? I’ve got a little Nikon, but am an amateur photographer – love the look of your photos.
    Blessings to you, Morgean

    • Thanks so much Morgean! I love getting feedback like this. A big part of my mission with the Blonde Coyote is to inspire others to get out and see more of the world. Take heart! Sounds like a you have a good companion by your side. I use a Olympus E-3 with a wide angle Zuiko landscape lens for most of my shots. Keep shooting! I started out with a little point and shoot years and years ago. Thanks for reading! Cheers, M

  10. Pingback: How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 1 « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  11. Your lifestyle fascinates me. I think it’s great that you’re living your dreams. When I was younger, unmarried and without kids, I worked for the airlines for over 15 yrs and was always jetting off someplace on my days off or swapping off to have an entire week off a time. I did both national and international traveling and got to experience so many wonderful places as well as meeting great people and experiencing fascinating cultures. I must say, though, that I have never had the urge to live out of my car without a home-base. Coming home was and is always so sweet.

    Tijeras, NM

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  13. Hi,
    Saw your posting about your teardrop on the Tiny House Blog. Fun to read your posts. I always wish to offer our wonderful place as a place to camp for a night. Let me know if you’re passing through Northern California Coast. I wish there was a small travel book of great farms and homes that would allow travelers to camp on the premises.

    Beautiful dogs. Wonderful, inspiring lifestyle. You go girl !

    Mendo coast , Ca.

  14. Pingback: Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  15. Bella says:

    Hi there,

    I just foudn your blog and all I cans ay is that you have an amazing life (on the road). I’ve been planning a road trip across the USA for a while now and I intent to start my journey next year sometime.
    I got a question for you: do you travel alone? I’m having hard time finding a travel buddy and I might need to go solo , without dogs. So what do you think?

    Keep writing. Ciao.

    • Hi Bella! Glad you found me. Recruiting road trip partners is tough. I’ve had some of my friends and family copilot from time to time, but for the most part I travel solo. If I waited for a copilot, I might never go anywhere! I’ve met a lot of great people on the road and have never had any problems. Self confidence is paramount to traveling on your own though so figure out what you need to feel capable and in control. You should try taking a few weekend road trips and see how you feel about being out there on your own. Good luck! Questions are always welcome! Cheers, M

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  23. Shannon says:

    Hello! I’ve driven from Maine to New Mexico in 2004 and back to Maine in 2012. Both times I drove down to Tennessee and took I-40 west. Is that what you did? Ill be driving back to NM in the spring of 2014 and want to take a different route!!

  24. Pingback: Hey Blonde Coyote, Will You Plan My Road Trip? | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  25. Yoav Magid says:

    I love that soon after you wrote this, the price of gas actually dropped substantially 😉

    My way of cutting the gas expenses from my budget: traveling by bicycle!

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