Take a road trip for cheap

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I’ve embraced slow travel. Totally and completely, though not exclusively. After one too many bumpy rides at 35,000 feet this past winter I decided to take it slow for a bit. Last month I took two weeks to drive from Orlando, FL to Sacramento, CA. When it came time to open my credit card bill I was surprised at how little damage I’d done: Less than $700 after 3555 miles in 14 days!

This includes a car rental, gas, insurance, most meals, hostels and a hotel. Keep in mind that I staid with friends and family most of the days of my trip and paid for accommodations for only six days. I still think that anyone can make the same journey for the same amount, or even less, by car camping, camping, or couchsurfing.

Twice a year some car companies offer specials to travelers wanting to do a one-way road trip across country. They do this to move their stock before peak travel seasons on the east and west coasts. Instead of paying steep shipping costs to have hundreds of cars sent cross-country they let people drive them one-way at a discount. So what normally would have cost me hundreds of dollars per week or almost two grand in total, only cost me $220 for two weeks with a midsize sedan. After adding on a daily liability insurance rate of roughly $12 per day, it came to about $400 with tax. Still significantly less than what I would have paid in one week for a compact car during off season and that would have been before insurance costs and tax.

If you want to do a trip like this plan on doing it in April or May before the summer season, or October or November before winter season. Cars go west for summer and east for winter, so plan accordingly. I used National Car Rental because they were flexible on time. They gave me between one and three weeks to do the whole trip. Three weeks would have been nice but my budget worked best for two. Enterprise and Alamo have similar deals but do your research to find the best price. The companies don’t usually advertise these specials online so you’ll have to call to learn about their deals.

My trip was long and saw me through 10 states. You could travel much cheaper than I did if you want to do a shorter trip and avoid California altogether (the gas prices nearly doubled once I crossed the state line) or plan on traveling one week instead of two .

April was an amazing time to drive. If I’d planned ahead I definitely would’ve packed camping gear and skipped the hostels completely in order to spend more time taking in the beautiful weather and landscape. If you want to do a road trip like this I recommend going this time of year. This was my first time staying in hostels in the US and they ranged from less than $20 up to $35. A couple of the hostels required a passport or an out of state ID before I could make a reservation. Luckily not for my home state.

Here’s a list of the hostels I slept in:vegas1

New Orleans, Louisiana: India House Hostel

Flagstaff, Arizona: Grand Canyon International Hostel

Las Vegas, Nevada: Hostel Cat

Cambria, California: Bridge Street Inn

Sacramento, California: Sacramento International Hostel

I’ll be posting a full itinerary later with more nitty-gritty details about these places and more. I think I’ve covered everything but if you have any specific questions about the trip, the car rental, or the hostels that I didn’t address in the meantime feel free to contact me. If you find some new information or if my information was wrong please let me know too!

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