Everything I Learned Roadtripping the US for 2 Weeks

California roadtrip

Roadtrips are fun!

I’ve always wanted to go on a long roadtrip. I once considered it for our honeymoon trip – I’m glad we didn’t do it because they are not the “sit back, relax, and sip Pina Colada” kind of holidays.

They require a lot of planning beforehand and an appetite for adventure while on it. Which makes it a great way to discover new places, meet new people and create amazing memories. I just came back from a California – Nevada – Arizona adventure (July ’18) and want to write to you about this experience as I believe it will save you lots of time and energy should you want to do something similar.

Oh, and since this is not your usual travel blog but a retire early, lifehacking blog I believe Foxy Monkey readers would love to hear about some money tips that saved me thousands of $$ on holidays 🙂

In summary:

  • 14 days
  • 2,600 miles
  • 3 adults (friend, wife and I, a 4th friends joined in some parts)
  • San Francisco -> Yosemite National Park -> Las Vegas (via Death Valley) -> Grand Canyon -> Los Angeles -> San Diego -> San Francisco
  • 2 hotels, 2 AirBnBs, 1 Motel, 1 Tent
  • Total cost: $7200
US roadtrip map
Our route in detail – Click to enlarge

It’s my first time in these 3 states and I’ve always wanted to visit Yosemite national park, Vegas and the like. I believe it’s one of those trips that you should do before it’s too late.

Although it’s fun, it’s tiring to travel for 5-6 hours every 2 -3 days. One option is to skip some places and take the time to explore a few in more depth. Another option is to stretch the trip into more days.

The initial excitement especially at the Yosemite Park and Los Angeles beach was that we should’ve stayed a week here! But after a few days, the excitement goes and off you go to the next milestone.

Yosemite National Park

Speaking of Yosemite, the trip is worth doing just for the park alone! We stayed at the “Half Dome Village”, a tent camping which includes pretty much all the facilities you would expect. Like showers, clean toilets, a basic dining area and even TV when the World Cup is on 😉 We really didn’t care for anything fancy so we were more than satisfied in a tent.

Clean air, Giant Sequoias trees, waterfalls, long hiking paths, amazing views, bears, deer and other wildlife animals made Yosemite park my favourite stop of the trip.

I think the first tip on a trip like this is to have a good camera with you. I was always under the impression that with the latest mobile phones, a real camera has turned obsolete. So wrong!

We were so lucky to have bought the Canon EOS 70D to take photos of healthy food for Eat Like Iris amazing food blog. It paid off multiple times if you look at the quality of the pictures on my Canon vs the 20MP One Plus camera (which ranks very high btw).

Next to the giant sequoias
Next to the giant sequoias – Photo downsized – Click for full view
Yosemite Half Dome
Half Dome Mountain, did you know the creator of the North Face logo took inspiration from this mountain? Photo downsized – Click for full view.
On the way to Vegas

Death Valley was our preferred way of travelling to Las Vegas and can say with certainty, it was literally dead. I mean, you wouldn’t expect living things surviving at 50 °C (122 °F).

Jumping at Death Valley
-800m from sea level

We made the mistake of travelling the worst possible period at the worst possible time. We crossed it at the peak of the summer and between 12:00-16:00 🙂

Make sure you fill the car tank at every opportunity since you don’t know when the next available gas station will be around. It’s HOT! Carry a lot of water and if your car doesn’t have AC, then prepare to lose some weight!

The Devil’s Golf Course was a stunning sight to visit. You can hear the cracks of the solid salt rocks as they expand and contract because of the heat.

Las Vegas

After finally making it through hell, we arrive in Vegas to find madness. Being a Blackjack student back in the days, I was very excited to see the famous casinos I’ve read in my books. But I was disappointed.

Despite the glamour and the flashing lights, the place felt to me like cheap entertainment. It was a bit sad to see lots of people starring at the slots miserably. It didn’t look to me they were having fun, but more like desperately looking for a big win. Not sure if they were seriously enjoying it, but I may be wrong.

After all, someone has to pay for all the glam and glitter.

Then the casinos were empty during the week, but busy only on weekends.

We did see a magic show which was good, and also lost $100 in roulette (shame!). Mrs Foxy won $90 together with her friend at the slot machines. Given this is what usually happens when we visit a casino together I should be expecting this…

Grand Canyon

Vegas was our stop on our way to Grand Canyon which was absolutely worth the money. Such a spectacular creation of nature. We did a lot of Googling to find the good spots and despite all the pictures and the movies we had seen, we were pleasantly surprised.

Grand Canyon
How good is this! Grand Canyon – Click to enlarge

I wish we had 1 more day to go hiking there and visit the actual canyon, not just the views from the South Rim. You can camp there and enjoy the moment.

You don’t want to rush this. Definitely going back.

Los Angeles

We stayed at a great Airbnb in LA, enjoying the Venice beach and the surroundings. Americans are friendly people and I liked talking to the locals as well as other travellers. I noticed most of the tourists are American, which looked unusual to me. That’s on the entire trip, not just in LA.

LA downtown is nothing special. It was sad to see so many homeless people and a dirty Walk of Fame street in Hollywood. I guess I have to build some muscles before I visit the famous Muscle beach! Loved the Mexican food the locals make. Soooo good.

San Diego

Did I say I loved the Mexican cuisine in LA? I double down in San Diego! Next to the Mexican borders, with a mild sunny climate and a vibrant nightlife, we really liked this place.

I was constantly using Foursquare to find out places to go for food and drinks which helped so much. You can find amazing places if you just search in this app and sort by rating.

La Jolla beach
No wonder we found so many surfers in this beach

La Jolla was a great beach to visit, swim and relax next to the hunting seagulls. San Diego downtown has also a vibrant city nightlife which was a bit chaotic for me. I liked the University Heights area better.

San Francisco

Everyone visiting California has to visit SF. From how the city is built to the positive vibes you feel everywhere, this is a great location where you have to spend more than 2 days.

The temperature was lower compared to the rest of the trip which was a nice break from the heat!

My #6 Pro Roadtrip tips & Cost breakdown

Travelling with friends has many benefits. We usually travel as a couple but for a long and demanding trip like this one, I highly recommend you find other company too. It’s not about sharing the costs, although that helps too. From discussing your moments to taking some time off the wheel and share the research part, it felt the right choice.

Of course, only choose friends you trust and have a strong relationship with. I’ve travelled with let’s say “not-suitable-for-travelling-together” people before, but luckily only for a short distance.

As you can see, travelling with friends gave me the benefit of having to track our spending in order to divide it in the end. That was handy for a blog post so I’m glad we did it!

Total trip cost: $7,210

US Roadtrip costs
Cost breakdown (USD) for 3 adults, 14 days. We were joined by another friend (hi Sofia!) in ~40% of the trip.

Travel tickets and accommodation cost the most as expected. Accommodation is expensive in the US, with the average night costing $150 for a two-bedroom. I must say the best value lies in Airbnb (LA, San Diego) where the hosts go above and beyond to make your stay pleasant, provide local tips, parking space etc. They are also clean and peer-reviewed so you know exactly what to expect.

Pro roadtrip tip #1: Book Airbnb and book early since great value places are taken months in advance. So, good planning goes a long way here. We didn’t plan this well so had to pay the price.

It shows how Airbnb has successfully disrupted the hospitality industry by removing the middleman. The same thing is happening with banks (Revolut, Monzo), Stockbroker businesses (Robinhood, Freetrade), travel (Uber), peer-to-peer lending (Ratesetter) etc. By the way, if you sign up to Ratesetter through this aff link we both get £100!

Motel costed the highest with $204 per night, but then it’s San Francisco where the cost of living is sky high. Try to book an Airbnb 4-5 months in advance if you’re going to SF.

Food: It’s easy to spend a lot of money dining in restaurants (taxes, plus 20% tipping) which makes it costly. Given that we spent a lot of time in the car our diet consisted mainly of grocery goodies, like sandwiches, nuts, lots of coffees and fruits.

We ate a lot of fast-food burgers on the way, unfortunately. On this on-the-go diet, the $1423 means we spent about $100 per day to feed the 3, sometimes 4 of us which is lower than I expected. But our diet was not so healthy. It’s hard to eat well on such a roadtrip and even so when you’re in the US.

It’s hard for people in the US to follow a low sugar diet which I believe is why we see so many overweight people. One should take care of themselves in these scary diabetes times we live in.

Again, everything contains a lot of sugar and so many calories, similar to the UK but on the more extreme level. Also the food there is less regulated compared to the EU which means it can contain more hormones, GMO, Epsilon and other bad things for your body. I’m not a nutritionist, but in general, eating lots of organic vegetables, salads and fruits should go without saying. Avoid fast-foods (there are so many chains!), saturated fat food, and sweets including milkshakes etc. Enough food ranting!

Pro roadtrip tip #2: Consider buying a mini fridge to store cold drinks and food while on the road. We regret not doing it. It only costs $25 and can save you hundreds of dollars plus offer a pleasant driving with quality food inside. It’s fairly easy to keep cold too since there are ice bags everywhere.

Car and Petrol: I love America when it comes to Cars and Petrol 🙂 We were not afraid to book a Jeep Patriot SUV since we were 4 at times (plus luggage) and everything is so cheap. I mean, $800 for a car incl road emergency cover, and $378 for 2,600 miles??? Insane.

US roadtrip jeep patriot
Solid car for a roadtrip! Jeep Patriot.

We looked at the car comparison websites like Kayak and ended up booking from Auto Europe and paying in GBP. That’s one of the best deals you can get.

We didn’t even pay attention to the gas prices so ended up paying something like $5.5/gallon up in the mountains and $2.77/gallon outside Vegas.

Pro roadtrip tip #3: Pay everything using local currency! If you’re based in the UK, get a Revolut or a Monzo card ALWAYS when travelling. They don’t charge you anything for foreign transactions plus you get the interbank exchange rate which means it’s as if you’re paying in GBP. No bloody bank exchange fees. I estimated we saved about 5% on bank fees, which in USD translates to $400!

Everywhere in the US, they prefer cards over cash, so we managed to get by the whole weeks with only having $200 in real cash on us.

Pro roadtrip tip #4: Skip renting a GPS for a ridiculous $15 a day and buy a local SIM card or a real GPS at the first Walmart. We chose the first option for $55, and it was amazing to have unlimited data for Google Maps and for researching places in the car for a month! Let’s not forget the music you can play on youtube if you connect your phone to the car using the 3.5mm jack port (AUX). My One Plus phone was turned into a WiFi router as well, providing internet on demand to all people in the group using the tethering functionality. Best roadtrip lifehack ever.

Pro roadtrip tip #5: Have a gambling budget if you visit Vegas. Even for a disciplined matched bettor, it’s so easy to start chasing losses just to break even if you don’t have a stop limit.

Pro Roadtrip tip #6: You can definitely travel cheaper if you skip buying a dozen organic eggs to fry on the death valley streets. It’s a myth!!!

Overall, we didn’t spend a lot of money. I was expecting a higher amount given Mr and Mrs Foxy paid around $4,000 including travel, accommodation, food and even a $63 parking ticket for parking 18-inch away from the pavement, near the Hollywood sign. Really Park Ranger?

I strongly support the argument that you have to live happily on the journey to financial independence. Depriving yourself until the FIRE point is only going to make you miserable, therefore you should find happiness along the way. I believe this is one of the trips where we spent a lot of money but well spent.

Have you been on a similar roadtrip? What do you think of this kind of holidays and what would you advise others??

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