United States

5 week US road trip: Budget Breakdown

With breathtaking sceneries, vibrant cities, and incredible national parks, the American Southwest is a popular destination for travelers from around the world. We had been dreaming about this epic journey for years and were so happy when it finally became a reality! For 5 weeks we visited the American Southwest, starting in San Francisco and ending in Los Angeles. From exploring the vibrant cities of Las Vegas and San Diego to hiking in the stunning national parks of Yosemite and Joshua Tree, we experienced it all!

Curious to know how much this trip cost us? Here’s our 5 week US road trip budget breakdown, done in May and June of 2023:

Flights

We managed to snag a good deal on our flights. We started looking for flights in November 2022. At that time, the price was around € 800 per person. We found this quite a lot of money, so we decided to wait and kept monitoring the prices. Exactly one month later, the price had dropped by € 200! That’s when we decided to book our flights, which ended up costing us € 1 245,12 for the two of us.

Important to note is that we landed in San Francisco but our return flight was from Los Angeles! For both flights we had a stopover in Copenhagen. We paid for two checked bags (23 kg each) and seat selections so we could sit next to each other. While flights can be a significant expense when traveling, we found that the extra cost for these amenities was well worth it in terms of comfort and convenience. If you want to save costs, you can always return from the same airport you flew into!

Total cost of flights: € 1 245,12

Accommodations

Since we drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and also visited 8 national parks in between, we had to book a lot of accommodations. Especially the first 4 weeks of our road trip were quite intense. We were on the move almost every 2 days and we were living out of our suitcases for most of the time. Our last week we stayed a week in Los Angeles in the same hotel, this was more at ease and an amazing way to focus on sightseeing instead of moving.

Our previous trips we searched our accommodations either by location or wow factor (or both). Think: a private pool in Zakynthos, a hotel overlooking the Victor Emanuel II Monument in Rome, an Airbnb 5 minutes from the Eiffel Tower,… We knew in advance that this was not going to work for our road trip (especially moneywise), so we tried a different strategy.

Our strategy

We started by writing down what was a “must” for us. A nice hotel for Kelvin’s birthday, staying in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas with Eiffel Tower views,… We also knew we wanted to stay near the national parks, so we wouldn’t be on the road for an hour if we wanted to catch a sunrise. These are the first accommodations that we booked, as they are the most expensive and sell out quickly.

Our other accommodations largely depended on how much money we had left. We mainly looked at the price, everything else was nice but not decisive. That’s how we ended up sleeping in motels, guestrooms and even in a tent!

In the end, we still spent an average of € 180 (!) per night. If you know that we slept several nights at € 80 a night, we find this average on the rather high side! Most hotels we had already paid in advance, but at the hotel itself there were often additional costs, such as resort fees,… We had not included these in the budget beforehand, so our total is higher than we originally had in mind.

The crazy thing is, our motels pretty much never charged extra. Other accommodations where we already paid over € 200 per night charged another € 50 resort fees on the spot. We did not expect this!

Giving you an overview of what hotel cost us how much would be near impossible, but feel free to reach out if you want to know more about a specific accommodation.

Total cost of accommodation for 35 nights: € 6 291,66

Transportation

This category usually consists of one or maybe two sections, but since we rented a car this time we have to divide quite a bit more. We’ll go over how much the rental cars cost us, what we paid for fuel and parking, and how much we spent on taxis when we didn’t have a car (or for a special night out).

Rental cars

The first section is the most expensive one: the cost of the rental cars themselves. The original plan was to rent only 1 rental car. However, when we went to grab our rental car in San Francisco, it turned out that the maximum period was 28 days. Since we needed a car for 33 days, we had to find a replacement for those last 5 days.

The first car, that we rented for 4 weeks, cost us € 1 697,96. In addition to all the basic insurance, we also paid extra for roadside assistance in case something happened. We were on the road everyday, so we wanted to play it safe. At the end of these 4 weeks, we had to pay € 400 extra for the kilometers we went over the “maximum”. There were about 3 200 kilometers included, but we managed to drive a total of 7 800 kilometers (oops 😳). This is already included in the total price we stated before.

Our second car cost us € 334,03 for 5 days. Here we did not take any additional insurance, since we only went driving around Los Angeles. So in total we spent € 2 031,99 on rental cars. All in all we’re quite happy with the price we paid for the rentals, as the second cheapest cars would’ve set us back at least € 2 500!

Fuel

The second most expensive transportation-cost was fuel. As we said above, we drove a little over 7 800 kilometers, so we had to refuel quite a bit along the way. In total, we spent € 485,78 on fuel. In advance we had calculated € 500 for fuel, we managed to stay just under € 15 under budget. Finally a windfall for our finances. 😂

As Belgians, we are very surprised by the inconsistency of gas-prices in the US. In Belgium it’s the same price for gas everywhere, the difference in the US (or per state) could not be bigger! California was by far the most expensive state, with Utah (closely followed by Arizona) being the cheapest – at least € 0,30/liter cheaper. But what surprised us even more was that gas stations (from the same chain!) in the same region (or city) could have different prices. We experienced the biggest difference between the same chain in LA, where we came across 3 Shell stations on the same street. The prices of all three differed by at least a euro, we really couldn’t believe this!

Parking

The third section in this category is a surprising one: parking. We spent a whopping € 365,28 on parking! This was mainly due to the fact we had to pay € 27 per night for parking in LA. Since we were staying there for 7 nights, this amounted to € 189. But if we take that away, we still paid more than € 150 for parking which we find quite expensive. The main culprits were venues in LA: LACMA (€ 18), Universal Studios (€ 27 twice), the Broad (€ 15). Other cities in the US were quite “car-friendly”, as we had free parking nearly everywhere.

Taxis

As mentioned before, the last section in the transportation-category are taxis. The total for this section comes to € 187,30 for taxis. If you know us from other budget breakdowns, we did fairly well this time around! We of course rented a car for the majority of our trip, so we only ordered a Lyft (much cheaper than Uber!) when we absolutely had to: when rain started pouring down on us in San Francisco on our way to our hotel (after having walked almost 20 km) or when we went on a date night and didn’t want to become a DUI offender.

Total cost of transportation: € 3 070,35

Food

We have to admit, the food in the US was kind of a rollercoaster for us. From fine dining to the classic diners and a lot of fastfood and noodles in between, we really did it all.

We spent an average of nearly € 120 per day on food. If you know that we often skipped breakfast, and we didn’t eat out every day, this really is a high average. Especially when you know that everything we bought at the supermarket is not included in this category! The food we bought at the supermarket can be found under the category ‘Other’. This category only includes restaurant visits (including cocktails and drinks), food at the airport or at Universal Studios Hollywood, fast food, UberEats,… You get the gist!

Total cost of food: € 4 300,84

Drinks

On our previous trips, this category consisted of our cocktail bar visits. Since we were on the road a lot for this trip, we often bought water and Diet Coke at the nearest gas station as well, so we included those too. We spent € 342 on cocktails, and just over € 80 on water and diet coke along the way.

This means we spent just under € 70 a week on cocktails (under € 10 per day). Didn’t expect that! 😳 Normally, when we go on a city trip, we spend way more on cocktails. Just think of sangria in Barcelona, speakeasies in Rome,… We can’t resist ‘em! For this trip, we were on the road every day, so drinking (and driving) was not an option! The times we drank a cocktail in the US was when we were on foot or took a cab. In addition, we also often got up early, so we were often too tired to visit another cocktail bar late at night!

We do believe that you can narrow this down even further if you absolutely want to, although we both found that our alcohol consumption was at an all-time low during this road trip. Hooray for us! 😂

Total cost of drinks: € 423,52

Sightseeing

Our road trip brought us to numerous incredible places. From amazing national parks to Universal Studios Hollywood and Antelope Canyon, we did a looooot of sightseeing! Keep an eye out on the US section of our blog to learn more about our adventures. 😉 You’ll find an overview of all our experiences over there.

We spent just over € 900 on sightseeing. This seems on the high side, but when you know we were on the road for 5 weeks this is not so bad! This is an average of less than € 30 per day. And honestly, it was more than worth it! We would do it again immediately.

We bought the America the Beautiful-pass to save some money on National Park entrance fees. In addition, we also visited some parks that were not included in this pass (Valley of Fire, Monument Valley) and visited a lot of museums (some free like the Getty museum in LA, some not like the Neon Museum in Las Vegas).

A third of the total amount goes to our tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood and Warner Bros Studios. We bought combined tickets through GetYourGuide at a great price. On top of that we got an additional discount through Thysia’s employer. This way, we saved at least € 100 compared to if we bought the tickets separately.

Total cost of sightseeing: € 936,95

Other

This category includes miscellaneous expenses such as groceries, the purchase of a 30 day data sim (30GB) and the kilos of noodles we consumed. 😂

Our vacation didn’t start off well, with one of our suitcases coming out of the plane battered. Because of this, we had to buy a new suitcase that cost us € 105. Add the data sim of € 37 to this, and we already come to just under € 150 of “other expenses” on our first day. A couple days later, we also rented a propane gas heater for our stay in a tent near the Grand Canyon, which also cost about € 45. These 3 things amount to almost a third of the whole category!

Other than that, we spent just over € 500 on groceries. With groceries, we mean the regular stuff like the things you buy to make your own food instead of going to restaurants. But also the occasional donut in a 7-Eleven as breakfast and things we bought in general stores of the hotels we stayed in are included.

Because we stayed in the middle of a national park a few times, there were almost no alternative restaurants or supermarkets nearby. “Fortunately” our hotels then had their own General Store. Here we would buy our noodles for dinner or protein bars for hiking. Unfortunately, the price of these items is way higher than when you’d buy them in your local Walmart, so that inflates the price a lot.

Last but not least, we did not have to buy ESTA’s. Ours were still valid from the time we went to New York. We did however buy 2 international driver’s licenses (€ 25 each in Belgium) that we also added to this category.

We were a little shocked at first by how much we spent on this category. Looking back on everything we can see why this category is so expensive. Especially with our unexpected expenses on top of it!

Total cost of other expenses: € 748,12

Total of our 5 week US road trip

Here is our budget breakdown for our 5 week road trip through the Southwest in May and June 2023:

Total per category for the two of us

✈️ Flights: € 1 245,12
⛺️ Accommodation: € 6 291,66 (€ 179,76 per night)
🚘 Transportation: € 3 070,35 (€ 85,29 per day)
🍔 Food: € 4 300,84 (€ 119,47 per day)
🍹 Drinks: € 423,52 (€ 11,76 per day)
⛰️ Sightseeing: € 936,95 (€ 26,03 per day)
🛍️ Other: € 748,12 (€ 20,78 per day)

💰 Total excluding flights: € 15 771,44 ($17 149,94) | € 438,10 ($476,39) per day for 2 | € 219,05 ($238,20) per day per person
💰 Total including flights: € 17 016,56 ($18 503,98)

Excluding our flight expenses, we spent € 438,10 per day for the two of us, which translates to € 219,05 per person per day. When we saw this number, we almost fell out of our chairs. 😳 We actually triple-checked the total spend, but unfortunately there were no mistakes made.

When we first started planning this trip, we already spent about € 8 000 on accommodations and sightseeing. Read everything we planned in advance in our US road trip preparation guide. We estimated a total amount between € 13 000 an € 15 000. Going € 2 000 over budget was never the plan! 😳 Looking back on it, we literally have zero regrets, so that must mean we did something right. We don’t have “what if”-feelings or “maybe we should’ve done that”-thoughts, so in our eyes this was a perfect road trip that we’ll never forget. 🥹

In conclusion

We’re convinced that you won’t have to spend € 17 000 to have a good time during your US road trip. Along the way we discovered how to have an amazing trip, even if you’re on a budget (or trying to be on a budget 😉). Nevertheless, we have no regrets. There are plenty of ways you can save money (even if you’re planning to follow in our footsteps!). Discover the best money-saving hacks for your US road trip, so you can explore the US without breaking the bank.

We hope this 5 week US road trip budget breakdown provided enough information to guide you! We’re happy to share some tips for saving money during your US road trip.

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  1. WOW! This is so much more than I have expected to be honest. I went on a west-coast roadtrip too back in 2017 for 3 weeks only and spent about 3000€ in total :O
    At the end, it doesn’t matter how much it costed. it is important to create amazing memories and I bet you have lots of them ♥️

    1. Tasting Sunsets says:

      Well it was definitely more than we expected as well haha, of course there’s two of us and it was 5 weeks, so that explains something but definitely not everything 😂 but it was one of the best trips of our lives so we’d do it again in a heartbeat! ❤️

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