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What does it cost? 2-week 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 (who can resist being a bit nosy!) I’d never published my own until now, but after readers asked about the cost of my trip around the southwest US road trip I thought I’d share what I spent. So this is how my costs broke down for a two-week trip around Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

Note: these costs are based on my travel style – mid range with a touch of affordable luxury – so I keep the costs down where I can to can splash out on special experiences that are worth the extra. So there’s usually a mixture of hotels and apartment rentals, cooking and eating out, free activities and paid excursions.

Accommodation

The cheapest way to find accommodation if you’re doing a road trip is to just pitch up and find a the nearest 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 accommodation 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 of accommodation and location – in places like Moab we struggled to find affordable places to stay, and I spotted gorgeous O Bar O Cabins online which were a bit over budget but luckily they had a low season discount. 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 attractions like 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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How much does it cost to do a southwest USA road trip? Expenses for a two week trip including transport, accommodation, activities and food.

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Suzanne Courtney

Sunday 22nd of September 2013

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...

Lucy Dodsworth

Tuesday 24th of September 2013

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.

Pristine

Thursday 19th of September 2013

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!

Lucy Dodsworth

Friday 20th of September 2013

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!

Jeff | Planet Bell

Wednesday 18th of September 2013

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.

Lucy Dodsworth

Friday 20th of September 2013

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!

dojo

Wednesday 11th of September 2013

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.

Lucy Dodsworth

Thursday 12th of September 2013

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.

cerrosolo

Tuesday 10th of September 2013

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.

Lucy Dodsworth

Tuesday 10th of September 2013

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.