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Trip budget: Southwest USA road trip

Dollars

I love reading people’s travel budgets. As well as being useful for trip planning it’s an interesting window into people’s lives and travels – and who can resist being a bit nosy! I’d never published my own until now, but after readers asked about the cost of my southwest US road trip I thought I’d share what I spent. As I travel part-time, my budget is a bit more than it would be for a long-term traveller. My travel style is definitely not luxury, but I’m happy to pay more for a nice place to stay, interesting activities or a great meal. So this is how my costs broke down for a two-week trip around the southwest (prices as at 2014).

Accommodation

The cheapest way to find accommodation if you’re doing a road trip is to just pitch up and find a budget motel. But I wanted to find individual, locally owned places that were a bit different, so did lots of research and booked all our rooms in advance. We ended up with a mixture of hotels, motels and cabins as well as a couple of studios and apartments so we could self-cater some of the time.

Prices varied depending on the type and location – in some places like Moab we struggled to find affordable accommodation, and I spotted gorgeous O Bar O Cabins online which were a bit over budget but luckily they had a discount low season rate. A lot of places had extras thrown in, like wifi, a $1 guest laundry, a free glass of wine or free international phone calls. Our accommodation costs worked out as:

Total accommodation cost: $1448 ($724/£467 per person) – an average of $103 a night for a room for two.

Bryce Country Cabins, Tropic, Utah, USA

Our cute cabins near Bryce Canyon

Transport

We hired a car for 15 days with Dollar – a one-way rental from Las Vegas to Phoenix – which was pre-booked in the UK about a month in advance. The car hire cost $655 and they also charged us $65 to fill the tank with gas. We drove about 2500 miles in total and filled the car up five times en route, costing a total of $254 (that’s with us trying to get the tank down as empty as possible before we dropped it off).

Total transport cost: $974 ($487/£314 per person) – an average of $35 a day each.

Welcome to Utah sign on a US roadtrip

On the road at the Utah–Arizona border

Food and drink

Breakfast was included with our accommodation for six nights and the rest of the time we made our own. We also made our own picnic lunches most days, buying groceries from supermarkets and delis.

For dinner we cooked our own food for five nights when we were staying in self-catering places. We ate out on six nights and one lunchtime, plus had a meal at Phoenix Airport before flying home. We also got takeaways on two nights and got a free meal the day we volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Overall we spent $654 on food – with $224 on groceries, $404 on eating out and $26 on takeaways.

Most of the time we were out in the middle of the countryside so bought our own beer and wine or drank with meals out, so those costs are included above. We did go wine tasting in Sedona, visit a brewery in Moab and stocked up in a liquor store in Durango though, coming in at a total of $98.

Total food and drink cost: $752 ($376/£243 per person) – an average of $27 a day each.

Local beer and wine in the southwest USA

Trying some of the local beer and wine

Activities

The southwest’s main attractions are outdoors, so our biggest activity cost was $80 for the America the Beautiful pass. This covers entry to all the National Parks and some state parks, so the only places we had to pay additional entry costs were Monument Valley ($5 each) and Dead Horse State Park ($10).

We also did a tour around the Hole n’ the Rock house near Moab for $6 each and visited a few free places – Kanab’s Little Hollywood Museum, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Horseshoe Bend.

Total activities cost: $112 ($56/£36 per person) – an average of $4 a day each.

Monument Valley landscpaes

Dramatic landscapes in Monument Valley

Other

We had a couple of extra costs that don’t fall into any of the other categories. We did laundry in Moab ($6), bought a cool bag for groceries ($5) and a couple of souvenirs – a calendar ($13) and t-shirt ($12).

Total other cost: $36 ($18/£12 per person) – an average of just over a dollar a day each.

Zion National Park, Utah

The free shuttle around Zion National Park

The grand total

So the overall cost for a two-week trip was $3322 or $1661/£1072 per person. This works out as $119 or £76 per person per day. We were aiming to spend about £1000 each so didn’t go too far over budget.

Lower budget? You could save money by staying in budget motels (it might be worth joining AAA too if you’re from the US as you get a discount), making your own food or eating in cheaper places.

Higher budget? If your travel style is more at the luxury end of the spectrum, there are some amazing hotels and resorts, some right in the National Parks, as well as some great restaurants and spas.

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Trip budget: Southwest USA road trip – On the Luce travel blog

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Darlene
    September 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    You did very well and still had comfort. It is always cheaper to camp but that is not my style. I try to stick to a budget when I travel. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Darlene – I’m not much of a camper either and although I was slightly tempted by an RV we were at quite high altitudes and it got really cold at night so I was very happy to have a warm room and a proper bed each night!

  • Reply
    Mike Vogler
    September 3, 2013 at 3:49 am

    The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Sedona are my favorite places I’ve visiting in the Southwest. I live in Nevada. Gosh, even when you plan accordingly the cost still adds up quickly doesn’t it, Lucy! I’m glad you were able to make it here for a visit! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

      It does look a bit scary when you add all the costs up! Loved the area though and it was definitely worth it.

  • Reply
    Sunil
    September 3, 2013 at 4:14 am

    Nice post. And being in India, good to know about all these place.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 3, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Thanks, hopefully people will find it useful if they’re planning a similar trip.

  • Reply
    Ben
    September 3, 2013 at 4:22 am

    I get your desire to stay in private owned places with some class and chracter to them. But I also often have found that crappy and/or cheap motels can be found in the middle of a small town that has some awesome character, and well worth putting up with some sub-par sleeping conditions for.

    Entertaining and informative.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 3, 2013 at 11:04 am

      That’s true – on a longer trip I’m much more likely to wing it and just stop off in places I spot that look interesting, but I was trying to pack a lot in this time so had a route planned. Next time I’m in the area I’d like to go and do the random wandering though!

  • Reply
    Taswegian1957
    September 3, 2013 at 6:45 am

    You did well to stay close to budget, never easy on a holiday trip. You don’t want to be always thinking about the money. One thing I did find interesting was that you wanted to get the cars tank nearly empty before dropping it off. Our experience here in Australia has usually been that it is cheaper to fill the tank yourself before returning the vehicle as the rental companies charge more for refilling it. Our last call before the airport is usually to a discount petrol station.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 3, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Normally we do the same with hire cars (get it empty and return it full) but here they made you pay for a tank of petrol from them and return it empty – a sneaky way to make extra money as their gas prices were higher and most people won’t be able to get the tank down to empty before returning it. Seems to be more common in the US than anywhere else but best avoided if possible!

  • Reply
    spotell
    September 3, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I just tried Air BnB for the first time- it was awesome! I noticed it was your cheapest option too- I think the website offers a great value for your money.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 3, 2013 at 10:59 am

      We got our own self-contained studio for that price so it was a bargain. I would’ve used it more but because some places we were visiting were quite small there wasn’t a lot available. For bigger towns and cities it’s great though.

  • Reply
    xlondonbound
    September 3, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you! This is very informative and helpful, me and two friends are trying to plan a roadtrip for spring break. I’ll definitely use this for reference. 🙂 — Bethany.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 4, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Bethany – hope it’s useful and that you have a fantastic trip!

  • Reply
    Madhu
    September 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    This is certainly helpful. Keeping accommodation costs down is always a challenge. You seemed to have managed your budget very well Lucy!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 4, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Accommodation was probably the toughest one to keep within budget – food etc in the States is fairly cheap and with all the National Parks we visited activities were a bargain.

  • Reply
    cerrosolo
    September 10, 2013 at 3:51 am

    I definitely want to try booking a place through Air BnB. We’ve tried a few times for one wknd night in Chicago and gotten declined- I think everyone is trying to get a multi-night guest, for the weekend of the marathon. It was frustrating but understandable.

    I learned one thing on a recent road trip from San Francisco to Portland, OR. American rental car companies are almost all franchises, so they discourage you picking up a car in one place and dropping it off in another with steep fees. The fee for doing so with one of the bargain companies was over $400! It’s definitely cheapest to pick up and drop off in the same place, no matter how far you’re going.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

      I was pleased with our AirBnB stay and would definitely use them again – though it does seem like there’s more availability in bigger places and as you say some places prefer multiple night stays. True about the car hire costs too, if you can tweak your route to end up where you start then you can definitely save money.

  • Reply
    dojo
    September 11, 2013 at 8:32 am

    I don’t know how much money this is in your country or not (compared to wages etc.) but it seems like a pretty decent way for a nice long trip. Doesn’t seem expensive to me and you did have everything you needed. Really good job.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks, yes it was about right for me – on a long-term trip I am much more budget conscious but for a shorter trip like this I’m happy to pay a bit more for convenience and memorable experiences.

  • Reply
    Serikin'S
    September 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Reblogged this on serikinmari.

  • Reply
    Jeff | Planet Bell
    September 18, 2013 at 4:43 am

    That is a very informative post to list your costs. I did a Southwest USA road trip a few years ago and spent a similar amount on food and sights. I have my own car so didn’t spend that. We spent less money on accommodation but mostly stayed in cheap motels that didn’t seem to have the character of the cabins you stayed in.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 20, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Having your own car definitely helps! We did a one-way rental too which added to the cost. I was definitely going for character over budget on the accommodation this time – though up to a point, there were a few amazing places that had to get knocked off the list when I looked at the prices!

  • Reply
    Pristine
    September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    My sister and brother in law have been planning on taking a similar trip, but with an RV.

    I’ve never traveled through the southwest even though I spent most of my life within road trip distance in Texas. Glad to see it’s doable on a budget!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

      We did think about doing the trip in an RV but decided against it in the end as it was early in the season and the weather was pretty cold sometimes. Would be a great trip to do that way though – hope your sister and brother in law enjoy it!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Courtney
    September 22, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Such a useful post Lucy. Good to see you managed to keep a good balance between budget and enjoyment. It was not as expensive as I’d envisaged…

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 24, 2013 at 11:30 am

      It’s interesting to add it all up – sometimes can be a bit of a shock but we managed pretty well this time! Definitely helps that so much of the things to see are covered in the National Parks Pass.

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