Budget for a Western Usa trip!
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Dec 18, 2012 12:18 AM Last Post By: bzookaj
Dec 16, 2012 3:14 PM
Budget for a Western Usa trip!Hey fellow travellers out there!
We are planning to do a trip covering the whole West coast of USA. The idea is to buy a super-cheap (but working) car and start way down south (maybe San Diego) and end in Vancouver. We are two guys who have approx 5 months. We are students so we have a really tight budget..
What would be a resonable daily budget? We are thinking about doing some camping and sleeping in the car, maybe stay in hostels 3-4 days a week. Mostly cook our own food, but plenty of driving so gas will defnetly be a nasty part of the budget... Are there lots of free wifi-spots in most areas?? (studying internet-based courses).
Any tips are more than welcomed :-)
Dec 16, 2012 3:29 PM
1You don't say but I assume you're USA citizens (otherwise how are you gong to stay in the US for 5 months).
You'll need to budget around $3000 for the car. No doubt you're rolling your eyes and refusing to accept that, however you need to apply a little common sense. Who sells a perfectly good, working car in CA for much less than that; no one. Can you find a car for a lot less? Yes, but after you get it working, keep it working, register it, license it and insure it you'll have that much in it.
Since you'll only find hostels in the bigger most expensive cities and you plan on spending 3 or 4 days a week in those types of cities, you'll need to budget around $100 a day to eat, park the car and pay for hostel.
For five months I'd say about $15,000 to $20,000, including the cost of the car, might do it. You can then donate the car to charity when you're done.
Dec 16, 2012 8:00 PM
2Are one of you a US citizen? If not, registering the car will be a pain in the rear. Do you have a friend in the US who would be willing to buy, register and insure it for you?
IMO, ~$2500 should buy a decent late 90s/early 2000s compact import. Think Tercel, Civic, Protege/323, etc. Check craigslist.com and compare cities and regions, It may pay to fly into Phoenix or Vegas instead of LA/SD. Buy a repair book and minimal tool set immediately!
I figure 4000 miles to explore California, Northern Az, Southern Utah, Oregon and Washington along the way. Assuming you get something small, cheap, and practical, and that you drive it in a sane manner, that's somewhere around $400~600 for gas.
You want cheap? Plan on free camping in the National Forest lands most nights, with an occasional Motel 6, etc. for showers, etc. Many of Utah's state parks have showers and are relatively cheap.
If you're willing to cook, you can eat well on less than $10 per person per day. Buy a big cooler and campstove. Search 2nd hand stores (Goodwill, etc.) for super cheap pots, pans, dishes, etc.
Dec 16, 2012 9:30 PM
Dec 17, 2012 3:49 AM
4I agree that you can do it very cheaply, if you have initiative and some energy.
Buy a cheap tent, cooler, and cooking gear for next to nothing at a thrift shop, as noted above. Camping will be great if your trip is between April and October. Self-catering can be really economical - supermarkets are everywhere, and specials are often really cheap.
I have no experience buying a car in the US, but it should be pretty similar to the way it works in your home country, more or less.
Dec 17, 2012 4:40 AM
5Thanks a lot for all responses! Great tips and advices!
I forgot to write that we are Swedish citizens so staying 5 months will be impossible. We might start in Mexico for a month and end up with a month in Canada... I was mostly intrested in the cost for a car and what would be a resonable budget, the cost of a car was way higher than what i expected, would be a lot less over here... What are the options for travelling public transport, buses and so on?? Hitching?
Cant wait to explore America guys :-)
Dec 17, 2012 5:05 AM
6Hitch-hiking is a no go. It is illegal many places and since you won't know where (it isn't posted where it is and isn't illegal) you would spend as much time having a friendly chat with the police as you would hitching.
Buses are your best bet but keep in mind they connect cities and once you arrive at a bus station you still have to get somewhere. In cities like SF that's not a problem, but in many other places it is. You certainly can travel the west coast using the bus, but you might need to adjust your thought process in terms of where you'll go and what you'll do. For the most part buses don't go to places where you can camp.
As far as accomodations, keep in mind that hostels exist mostly in big cities. Once you take the bus out of the big cities you'll find very few hostels. You also won't be carrying around all your food if you're using the bus which means you have to budget for eating at a lot of restaurants.
Bottom line is that as a European you have a frame of reference regarding how one travels cheaply around Europe. It just doesn't work that way here. You certainly can travel around and have a great time and we'd love to have you visit, but the US is not a budget destination and is not an easy place to backpack around on the cheap.
Dec 17, 2012 5:38 AM
7You can stay in the US for six months using a B-2 visa. If your intention was to enter under the Visa Waiver Program then indeed 5 months is impossible. However, heading to Canada after your 90 VWP days are expired does not count as leaving the country. It seems you should apply for a B-2 visa.
The pros vs cons of buying a car have been discussed numerous times on this forum. The general feeling is that it is not worth it; used cars aren't so cheap, they can break down very easily, it can be a headache for a foreigner to figure out how to register the car and purchase insurance, and it can be a headache to have to sell it at the end of your trip. However, some have reported success; ask tourists rather than locals because they might be less cynical.
It is easy to take buses or trains between cities in the US. You can then rent a car in a particular city and do a loop drive through some of the great National Parks. I would plan your trip as a series of loops that begin/end in a city of interest and then includes great nature areas. Some of the popular ones are starting in Las Vegas and hitting up the Grand Canyon and the great parks of southern and eastern Utah, starting in San Francisco and hitting up Yosemite and the California coast, starting in Denver and going to the southern Rockies, starting in Seattle and getting to Olympic National Park and the Cascades...there are numerous, numerous of these options.
Car camping is relatively easy in the Western US. National Parks tend to be expensive but there is loads of public land adjacent to parks: National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands where you can camp in organized campgrounds for relatively cheap or where you can "wilderness" camp for free. Good luck!
Dec 17, 2012 7:08 AM
8When do you plan on doing this trip? In summer the western deserts are brutally hot. In spring the mountains may still be snowed in. If you can; plan on visiting in September/October which is the best time to visit the U.S. as kids are back in school, the weather is still good, and the parks and attractions are far less crowded.
-Car: Your best bet is to buy a regular passenger car (not a 4-wheel drive, SUV, or van) and camp out of it. Geo-Nerd has good advice on makes and models. But, also consider the time needed to sell it once you are done with it - this could be time consuming or you could sell it quickly but cheaply to a used car dealer or donate it for free if you get stuck with it (to National Public Radio for example). Don't expect to get what you paid for it.
-Camping: The U.S. does not have an Allemansrätten type law, in fact camping on private land will get you in big trouble, but there are millions of hectares of public lands on which you can camp for free or for very little. Many of these areas are also fairly near to large metroplitan areas as well. Geo-nerd lists some agencies to contact. To continue with his listing, you can get free maps and camping information from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System. There are also many state and local parks where you can camp for a small fee and many of these have shower facilities. You can buy inexepensive, but serviceable camping gear at K-Mart, Big-5 Sports, or other large discount stores (every American city has them). Get sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a roomy tent, Coleman propane stove, cheap styrafoam cooler, and cooking pots/pans and silverware.
-Budget hotels & hostels: Most common budget hotels chains include Motel-6, Super 88, Holiday Inn Express, Sleep-Inn. Many of these chains have deals where you can reserve nights in different cities withthe same hotel chain with some discounts possible. As for hostels, the U.S. doesn't have an extensive network as in other places, but there are still some good ones available. Green Tortoise operates a series of hostels i the U.S. and a websearch of each city you plan to visit will provide you some otheres.
-Public trnasportation: On the west coast, the AMTRAK train links all major cities from San Dieago to Vancounver British Columbia. Trailways.Greyhound bus service links many other smaller locations. sometimes regional air carriers have deals tha tcompete with AMTRAK such as Allegiant Air, Alaska Air, or Horizon Air.
-Budget: For two guys travelling cheap, camping most of the time and preparing your own food I'd plan on $75/day for you both. Add in some stays in budget motels, eating in restaurants half the time, nights out for a brewskie here,and there, some entrance fees to attractions and I'd estimate $125/day for you both.
Dec 17, 2012 7:53 AM
- Mexico and Canada counts towards the 90 day waiver. So you would still need to apply for a visa to stay 5 months. You'd have to go down to Guatemala which is CENTRAL America to restart the visa waiver for another 90 days. Consider various rules for being able to take your car across the border to various countries though and costs. You often need local insurance.
- Hostels cost $20-30 per day per person for a dorm bed. If you eat cheaply, you can do it on $25 per day. Factor in parking which you'll likely need to pay for sometimes in bigger cities. Campgrounds cost $8-30 per day for tent camping in California as well.
Dec 17, 2012 10:48 AM
10Why not bicycle ? There are lots of online information sources and good books on cycling the West Coast that list all routes ,campgrounds,hostels,etc. However very few bikers start in the South and ride North because of the prevailing wind. You can also take bikes on buses and AMTRAK to skip some places to spend more time at some others and to avoid urban traffic.You will have a lot less hassle with bicycles than any satisfactory automobile. Have a great trip !
Dec 18, 2012 12:11 AM
11Basically it doesn't sound like you're really ready for this trip, but in the event that you are there's some good advice in the posts above. A few corrections follow:
"Since you'll only find hostels in the bigger most expensive cities...."
There are hostels in some smaller places in California, Oregon and Washington. Most Americans don't really know much about hostels, so you'll get some misinformation (like the above). Google is your friend.
"Are one of you a US citizen? If not, registering the car will be a pain in the rear...."
Registering cars in California is not difficult for foreigners. You need an address, that's all (plus insurance, which you can find on line by Googling "Progressive Insurance"). Selling the car is more likely to present a problem, but for a five month trip lots of people do this and manage just fine.
"Hitch-hiking is a no go. It is illegal many places and since you won't know where (it isn't posted where it is and isn't illegal..."
This is not true. Europeans (especially) still hitchhike in the USA, and I'm not the only one giving them rides. However, it's slow and can get old in a hurry, particularly during heat, cold, rain or runs of bad luck. Learning where it's legal and where not is far from rocket science; there are websites devoted to helping with such stuff if you're seriously interested. Basically, you need to be off the "regularly traveled portion of the roadway," (which means on the shoulder, not the travel lanes) and cannot hitch on a limited access road (which means that when doing so you stand on an on-ramp just short of the sign stating "freeway entrance," and usually "no pedestrians."
If you know something about cars you can purchase good used vehicles for $2000. If you're lucky or persistent you might find a reasonable one for less. Be sure to do your car shopping someplace compact, with good public transit--this definitely rules out L.A. and many other places in Southern California.
Hope that's helpful.
Dec 18, 2012 12:18 AM
12To clear up a bit of confusion:
One month in xMexico, 90 days (not three months; there is a difference) in the US, and a month in xCanada is allowed without a visa in one, and only one, circumstance--you do not transit the US on the way to xMexico, and you do not return (even to transit) the US once you leave for xCanada.
As for your original question:
Figure a bare minimum of $70 per day, per person. Some of that will be shared costs (car, gas, self-catered food), while the rest will not (dorm beds, attractions).
And note that in many jurisdictions, it is illegal to pull over and sleep where you wish.
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