If I’m going to be honest, the West Coast is really close to the East Coast. Direct flights are only around six hours long and driving cross country can be done easily in 4 days. I suggest taking longer to enjoy the ride, but driving almost non-stop is completely realistic too. The best part, traveling cross country by car is a lot less expensive than you think if you’re willing to take the risk. Splitting the costs with friends makes it even more affordable. We’re all playing this game of life and we all want to travel, but no risk means no reward. If you never hop in the car and go, you’ll never get to go. It’s simple.
There are a few lodging options to get a full night’s sleep every night of your trip without draining your bank account before arriving at your final destination. Sure, fancy hotels, jacuzzi tubs, and luxurious linens seem wonderful, but in reality when driving cross country, you’ll just be hyped to finally get some sleep after countless hours of driving and adventuring. None of that matters when the goal is to expand your mind and have a hell of a good time with your friend(s). Materials don’t make us happy after all, it’s the experiences and limited expectations that do. So to get your mindset in “road trip on a budget mode”, here are the cheapest ways to sleep when traveling cross country, or wherever your destination may be.
If you aim to travel through national forests, the best option for affordable lodging is to camp! What’s the point of traveling if nature isn’t involved anyway? Before the trip, check with the people you’re traveling with and see if they have a tent or two that fits everyone. If not, keep an eye on tent prices online for a month before you go and snag a good deal. I bought a two person Coleman tent on Amazon for $40 and it sustained some cold nights in the wilderness just fine. As always, be prepared for any weather, seasonal circumstances, or camping situations, including hiding food from bears. Prepare with essentials like pillows, sleeping bags, bear bags, bug spray, and warm clothes. Be sure to master setting up the tent before leaving for the trip to reduce stress, get more sleep, and actually have a place to rest your head!
I mostly camped in Colorado on my road trip cross country. We took Route I-70 from Connecticut to Los Angeles, CA. The plan to camp in Utah fell through for us. Don’t be too disappointed when your plans are a bust because it will happen. Weather, moods, and plans change on a dime. Being open minded and switching up things last minute make the best stories and experiences anyway. But none the less, Google campgrounds before you leave or while driving in the car a few days in advance. Most hikers, travelers, and tent campers camp on a whim and do not have set plans. You basically show up to a national forest campground, find an empty camp spot, and set up camp. Check to see if park permits are needed at your national forest destinations before the trip. You’ll rarely spend more than about $25 per night at a camp site. Wow I know, so cheap! Walk-In sites fill up fast, so the earlier you arrive, the better.
Express Hotel Deals
Haven’t showered in two or three days? Snag an express deal in a well populated area. Plan your arrival to a city a day in advance, but look up and book deals the day you need the hotel. Searching for hotel deals near local airports will land you the best prices for trustworthy chain hotels. I always search multiple hotel booking sites, but end up purchasing on Priceline every time. With express deals, you find out the hotel name after you book, but you choose the hotel’s rating and area. It will compare the hotel to others, like a Holiday Inn, Hampton, or Courtyard.
You couldn’t pay me to sleep at a Super 8 or a sketchy no-name hole in the wall. We stayed at an Extended Stay America in Kansas City for only $67 on an express deal. The place was safe, clean, and had free coffee… what a steal. The risk of the unknown hotel while booking was well worth the reward of a refreshing start to continue the trip.
If Las Vegas is on your “must go to” list, all I can say is GROUPON GROUPON GROUPON. The deals you can get are jaw dropping. Go look for yourself, trust me on this one. Don’t miss out on paying $34 a night at the Flamingo plus resort fee and exploring Vegas without even spending $100. Booking hotels in Vegas should be done weeks in advance, but if you plan accordingly you’ll get your lavish poolside drink fix.
Precaution: Check to see if there are huge events or conventions going on before you go. We ran into this issue cross country and weren’t able to soak up the Vegas experience. The rates for that weekend were skyrocketing, even on Groupon.
Staying with People You Know
Driving an hour out of the way to stay at a friend’s, family’s, or friend of a friend’s house is so worth it. Of course, ask weeks in advance and keep them updated on your arrival date. We know karma goes a long way, but bringing a small unique gift as a thank you is the best payment for a free night’s stay. If you’re lucky, they’ll make you a good dinner and breakfast to keep you fueled up for the next driving stretch.
We arrived at my friend’s roommate’s parent’s house at 1am to find an apple pie and ice water on the kitchen counter with a note saying “the beer is on the top shelf in the fridge, help yourself!”. Too bad we don’t drink, but the pie was ah-mazing! After driving 13 hours straight, this was gold to us. Personally, I don’t trust websites like couch surfing or anything having to do with staying with strangers when on the road. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you know to stay overnight, more than likely they will say yes! Another risk, another reward!
If you have any questions or would like to know more about lodging on a budget, feel free to hit me up. I have a few more tips I could share about saving money that no one talks about. I’m always down to hear about your dream road trip and maybe even help ya out. Peace.