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The costs of a cross country trip

  1. Aug 2, 2007 #1
    After I graduate from college I planned to drive across the United States on my little chevy and tour all the US landmarks and experience the taste of the regional food while on the way to graduate school. My only primary worry is how expensive it will be to travel across the country if from the east coast to california and the pool of students loans I will have to pay back. Can somebody, who was a college graduate student tell me exactly how much money should I saved up for my cross country trip to graduate school in california? Is it very common for initally broke college students to take United States cross country trips
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2007 #2


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    Well, let's say you drive 4k miles, including detours north and south to see various national parks. The gasoline alone will run you around $500 for a decently fuel-efficient car. Hotel rooms can be found for as little as $50 a night, as long as you get rooms out in the middle of nowhere where it's cheap. Camping is also an option, and won't cost more than $10 a night in most places. Food is obviously highly variable.

    I personally wouldn't embark on such a trip without at least $1,500 or so earmarked for it. If you don't spend it all, great!

    - Warren
  4. Aug 2, 2007 #3
    This won't help you much, but when I was 20, I tore the back seats out of a VW microbus and took off from NJ to California. I slept in the bus, brought my own food with me, gas was 25 cents a gallon, and hitchhikers would help with the gas. Total cost: I don't remember, but what does it matter, you can't match it now anyway.
  5. Aug 2, 2007 #4
    how old are you!?!?! did you travel across the country during the Great depression? lol:rofl:
  6. Aug 2, 2007 #5
    I'm 57 now. Watch it. You mess with me, you mess with all the boomers.
  7. Aug 2, 2007 #6
    Jimmy you can't mess with age and experience, I wish there were more older people on line, and the older I get the more I appreciate this.

    I wish I could travel across the US, in fact I wish I could travel the world. But I still have time. It's sad that money is such a big limit on human experience, but that's the way it works; no magical faerie is going to grant me three wishes to do all the things I want to do, and no magical faerie can give me the time to do them :smile: anyway best get started on raising the funds before I get jaded and cynical and don't want to do it any more. Must read On the Road at some point :smile:
  8. Aug 2, 2007 #7


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    Damned straight! My dad used to make me fill the tank of the '66 Impala SS every time he let me borrow it, but I worked a lot of part-time/full time jobs and gas (premium only for that 327/4-bbl carb) was about 30 cents/gal. That was a big, honkin' car by today's standards, but it had some serious ponies. And once you get here, 55 ain't old. :grumpy:
  9. Aug 2, 2007 #8


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    $1500 is way high if you're travelling when the weather's warm. Camping is a good option which also gives you the option of cooking your own food (Coleman stoves are pretty cheap and work well, as long you make sure to have an extra bottle of fuel). Plus, if you don't know where you're stopping that night, then you can't make reservations and you'll wind up in motels where $50 would be the highest rate you could expect.

    You could make it on $750. I'd have a good credit card as insurance, though. If your car breaks down, you don't want to be stuck in South Dakota with no way to fix your car.

    Unless it's a really lousy car that's expendable. I abandoned a car as too expensive to repair and finished my trip via bus and hitch hiking once. The worst thing about hitch hiking home was that every single person that picked me up had just bought the new Peter Frampton 8-track. Even if they were listening to something else when they stopped, as soon as I hopped in the car, they stuck in Peter Frampton. I was so sick of his songs by time I got home.
  10. Aug 2, 2007 #9
    Thanks, I think.

    You won't forgive yourself when you're 57 if you don't. Trust me on this one. In my life I have always followed my heart. It doesn't take money, it takes passion.
  11. Aug 2, 2007 #10
    This sucks! I want to write "No, it takes money. But get you enough passion and you scrape up the money somehow (miracles, I tell you!)."
    But noooooo... JimmySnyder is 57, and I am so conditioned so as not to contradict my elders--Bad Malka! Bad Malka!
  12. Aug 2, 2007 #11


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    When you get to this age (OK, I'm a couple of years shy of JS) and you don't have a store of precious memories, but just a trove of "wish I did" and "why didn't I" regrets, you won't be a happy person. You may not be bitter and regretful, kicking yourself in the butt all the time, but you'll always wonder "what if?".
  13. Aug 2, 2007 #12
    You could try to find someone who is making the same trip and travel together. Do you have friends or relatives along the way?

    As for "regional food" - IHOP is IHOP no matter where you are.
  14. Aug 2, 2007 #13


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    I've always wanted to drive across the country myself. I also would like to extend the trip. After going to California from PA, I want to drive up to Alaska in time to get to Fairbanks for the summer solstice and see the Midnight Sun!

    Ahhh, dreams!
  15. Aug 3, 2007 #14
    How much time do you plan to spend on this trip? A week, a month, the whole summer?
  16. Aug 3, 2007 #15


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    It would depend on the length of your trip. As suggested, you can camp out and cook inexpensively, in which case, your meals won't cost any more than if you were still at home, so that's a negligible expense (you'd have to eat whether on the road or not). If you have to stop and eat in restaurants every place you go, then it's going to add up to a lot very quickly. I'd suggest packing a good cooler (use ice blocks instead of cubes to last longer on a long trip) filled with sandwich fixings, some fresh foods to last a few days at a time grilling dinners, a bunch of beverages, including plenty of water. Along with that, pack up some dry goods...breakfast cereal, canned foods (don't forget a can opener!), toilet paper if you're going to camp along the way, baby wipe type things (good for cleaning hands and other body parts if you need to freshen up in the absence of water). This will keep costs down considerably.

    Some truck stops even offer shower facilities, so you don't even need to find a campground with such facilities if you can stop at a truckstop and use the shower there.

    If you're willing to sleep at a campground, on dirt with bugs, then it's also not such a big deal to spend some nights at fleabag motels...the goal of a cross-country road trip isn't to lounge around in luxurious hotels all day, but to just use them for a bed and shower and roof over your head on rainy nights.

    As for planning just how much to save, I suggest sitting down and mapping out the path you'd like to take, figure out the mileage, tack on some extra for sidetracks off to see random roadside attractions you might want to see at the spur of the moment, assume you might get stuck having to buy gas at some expensive places because you can't make it one more exit for cheaper gas, and based on your car's fuel efficiency, you can estimate your approximate fuel costs (and tack on a little extra for driving through mountains or sitting in traffic, which will consume fuel faster than driving on flat highways). Then, plan where you want to stop. If you're stopping to see just little scenic spots that will only take between a half hour and two hours to visit, you can plan to drive 6 to 8 hours in a day (more if you have a driving companion) with those stops in between, and then a good night's sleep. Leave time for places that might take longer to see (i.e., an attraction with long tours that might take a day out of your trip), and then you can figure out how many nights you're likely to be on the road (again, add a few in case you just get too tired and need a day to rest somewhere, or run into mechanical problems and need a day or two to wait for car repairs) and you can guesstimate your food needs and potential lodging expenses. I'd err high on that, and assume the $50/night average (with some nights being free sleeping in your car in a rest area, and others being more expensive if you have to find a place in a touristy area). Better to have money leftover than to run out.

    Plan that you'll want to get your car fully tuned up before you leave so you have less chance of breakdowns on the way, and include that in your budget...you need to keep your car tuned up anyway, but you're not going to be as flexible on timing to wait a few extra weeks for that tuneup if you're about to hit the road for a long trip. Make sure you have a good spare tire, jack, lug wrench, a few basic tools, oil and antifreeze, and any other little items you can think of that might make the difference between sitting on the side of the road waiting to pay for a tow truck on top of repair bills vs. being able to make it to the next exit to find a service station. Though, these are all things you probably should have anyway, so you can start acquiring them anytime and don't have to figure it into your vacation budget.

    Whatever budget you arrive with based on fuel costs and food/lodging for the number of days you'll be on the road, tack on $200-$300 extra for unexpected repairs, unplanned stops at places that charge admission, or anything else you forgot to consider. If all goes well, you won't need that extra money, and will have a little savings leftover when you start grad school, which sure won't hurt. If all doesn't go well, you won't find yourself with a big debt at a time when you won't have much opportunity to work it off quickly.
  17. Aug 3, 2007 #16
    I mean it, I'm a member of a student forum, huge one and there are just very few people over 20 on it and it sorely needs it. It's it's greatest weakness; it's hard to take a mod who's half your age seriously either, I mean you just have to imagine them as the same age as you, otherwise you'd get patronising. I genuinely wish there were more older people on line to balance out the huge amount of frankly alarmingly immature ones. Mature students like I tend to keep to there own part of the forum sadly.

    I know I really want to do it, but perhaps I need a job first eh? One thing I never mentioned before I took a break was that I was about to be fired from my job(for sickness absence: asthma) Still had several interviews from the place that fired me so it wasn't exactly goodbye forever, it's a big place :smile:

    But before I even think about saving up for an extended holiday I need at least an income, plus of course I'd need to fly to the US first :smile:
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2007
  18. Aug 3, 2007 #17


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    If you had a job you couldn't get enough time off to take a good trip.
  19. Aug 3, 2007 #18
    Yup you'd have to save up for the trip then ditch your job, which considering the sort of jobs I currently get isn't exactly a chore :smile: I actually wanted to get fired from the last one as it was ruining my health.

    But I couldn't just up sticks and leave or I wouldn't receive any dole for an extended period of time. Not that I actively tried to force them to fire me, just it had to happen, so when it did I was relieved, me and my superiors understood that the job was too physically tiring at the times of year when I have asthma, and that provisions couldn't be made for me to take extended periods off as these were the busiest times of year in a hospital, Feb to end of March, ie the coldest months.

    Sometimes you just have to accept that you are in the wrong job, even if it takes five years to realise it.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2007
  20. Aug 4, 2007 #19


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    It's cheaper to fly. Save the money and use it to travel to Europe one day and experience real culture.

    Edit: I read some of the responses now, and wow I never thought there would be so much emphasis on travel. It doesn't bother me at all that I haven't been around. I'm young, so that's easy to do.

    But like, I plan on moving far away. I do plan on having great times. But whenever I see people go on trips, they go to like Florida, Hawaii, Cuba, Dominician Republic, and Jamaica. Those places sounds sssoooo boring. The places I'd like to see are places like Australia, Europe, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan.

    Well good thing I actually planned on saving for trips when I graduate. I'm going to live in a prime location. Just a few hours away from Whistler, so I can have a weekend trip anytime I want. Not too far from Banff. Not too far from California.

    Anyways, although I am 23, I am well aware that if you're 55 and healthy, you still have plenty of time and should be too stressed/depressed/down about not going on trips. You can do them now, no big deal. Atleast now you may enjoy it more. Start saving and start flying.

    Note: It's bad idea to go on trips on credit cards. That's just dumb and will send you straight into debt problems.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2007
  21. Aug 4, 2007 #20
    Credit cards are just dumb full stop, they're a weakness some people like to indulge. For those with the sense to use them wisely fine, I'd say that was about 10% of people though.

    Top five list of things I'll never have.

    1: Mobile phone (fashion accessory)
    2: Car (don't need one)
    3: Credit card (are you mental?)
    4: Time
    5: Money

    Money's the strangest one, because if I set my mind to it I'm sure I could make enough of it, I just don't see the point, enough is more than enough. Any more is pointless. It's a very unusual philosophy :smile:
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2007
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