If you’re moving to Los Angeles, two words should be on your mind:
Yes, you could fly: using your two checked bags to hold 17 vacuum-sealed packs of clothing and a frying pan, then shipping everything else out.
But you’d be denying yourself an adventure that is as important as landing your first internship in Los Angeles, your first paying gig, and your first parking ticket.
Drive to Los Angeles if you can. Before you decide whether or not you can afford it, I’ve laid out a bare bones budget below. At a high level, the strategy to saving money on this trip are:
1. Drive out with a friend or two.
2. Stay with friends along the way.
3. If you don’t have friends, camp out instead.
Before I made this trip, the furthest I had ever driven was South Jersey. I don’t know anything about cars. As far as I’m concerned, examining the contents beneath the car hood is open-heart surgery. I’ve never changed a flat, nor rotated a tire. And my idea of “camping” involves a lake house with heat, electricity, and a minimum requirement of two working bathrooms.
If I managed, anyone can. Truly.
I’ve written basic principles about why you should bring as little as possible with you to Los Angeles. For the sake of the road trip, however, what do you need? What should you store in a duffel bag for easy access so you don’t need to rifle through the kitchen sink for your sneakers?
Three sets of clothing (shorts/pants, t-shirts, underwear and socks) and a jacket are all you’ll need. If you plan on going out, include a nice dress shirt and shoes.
If you don’t feel like making a three dozen CD’s, buy an mp3 player and make sure you have a tape hook-up or auxiliary hook-up to your car’s stereo.
Smart phone and data plan
Camping versus staying at motels is where you’ll really save money — whether it’s at National Parks, State Parks and Forests, or just pulled over on some side road in Utah. But it requires a little more packing:
A cooler, with a refreezable ice packs.
A tent – the ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 2 Tent 2-Person 3-Season Tent serves well and cost around $90.
A sleeping mat — a nice addition to elevate yourself off the ground. Check out – the ALPS mountaineering lightweight pad.
Other miscellaneous items: knife/Swiss Army Knife, matches, toiletries and toilet paper.
I am hungry all the time.
However, when you’re sedentary for 8 to 10 hours a day, staring off into the void called Illinois or Kansas, you don’t burn many calories. If you’re really trying to stretch a budget and don’t mind a lack of variety in your diet, you can get away with PB&J sandwiches. That’s basically all I ate for 10 days, plus some nuts, some fruit, and plenty of water and coffee.
Below are my budgeted and actual costs for this trip, three people on the road for 11 eleven days:
Total miles: 4,350
10 hours driving time/day
Fill up every 10 gallons.
The vehicle gets 27 miles to the gallon of gas. That’s 270 miles per fill-up; or about 16 tanks to get across the country. At $2.80 per gallon (or $28 per fill-up) it’ll cost $448 to cross the states.
$20 per day, for 10 days. Plus the initial $20 for food, per person, we arrive at $245.
We’ll visit maximum three National Park Entries. Total cost of the national parks will be $20, per person. Calculated into lodging are two Holiday Inn stays, in case of an emergency, which comes out to $33 per person.
The total lodging is $53 per person.
Miscellaneous Emergency Funds
Budgeted total spending for the group was $888; actual was $597.
After divvying shared costs (not total costs) each person spent just under $200.
As an individual, each person’s costs landed somewhere around $350 – $400.
On our traveling days, an average of 8 hours was spent on the road. Rule of thumb: 50 mph east of the Mississippi, 55 mph west of the Mississippi is a conservatively accurate way to measure the number of hours you’ll spend driving.
Odds and Ends
Before leaving on the trip, agree between travel mates which costs will be split between travelers. For example, if the car breaks down, who contributes towards the repairs? If you need to do an oil change, does everyone chip in?
If you use an atlas in addition to (or instead of) a GPS, you can worry considerably less about exact locations to camp out for the evening. Just open the map and shoot for a spot.
Is it worth it? Do you really save money by doing this? I think so, especially if you plan to take your car with you to Los Angeles. However, a road trip is really about the journey, not finding the cheapest or easiest method to get to Los Angeles.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try these resources:
Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen – an excellent resource that offers a dozen pre-planned routes to choose, and memorable destinations along the way. Use these routes as a guideline while planning your trip – the more you invest in personalizing your journey, the more you’ll take away from the long stretches of pavement, besides asphalt and dust.
Live Your Road Trip Dream by Phil and Carol White – this book is divided into two sections: the planning, and the trip. While “the trip” portion gets dry (think: daily journal, covering a year worth of traveling,) the former covers many areas long-term roadtripping: from telling your family, finances, packing, and what to do with your stuff. It requires scouring and skimming to find notes that you can apply to your trip, but proves well worth the time.
Squidoo’s Road Trip Lens by kimisoutback – a fantastic lens on every aspect of road trip planning
Road Trip America – features a dedicated forum, articles on road tripping, and a Fuel Cost Calculator
Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen – Jensen’s blog to accompany his book (noted above.) He answers reader questions and discusses in-depth various aspects of the road.
Free Campgrounds – the website includes a search feature for free (or inexpensive) campgrounds in any state.
About: Student Travel provides more information about camping and camping grounds.
Off Road Adventure by Paul Thompson – Thompson wrote a treasure chest’s worth of booty for other road trippers. Two posts of significant note: 10 Things Not To Leave Home Without and The 4X4 Gourmet
Phillip Ryan Johnson – Johnson’s blog posts on his trip from New York to Los Angeles
Road Brew by Teri Fahrendorf – Fahrendorf’s road trip across the country and back, visiting and brewing with professional brewers along the way.
Travel Channel – use the Travel Channel website to create a “theme” to your itinerary.
Taylor Davidson’s 79 Things is a great road trip packing resource.