Miles & Money – The Stuff You Really Want to Know

As you may have noticed, I’ve taken a hiatus from writing to enjoy the holidays with my family. While back in Montana, I’ve seen the thermometer bottom out at -32 degrees and have rarely seen above zero temps, let alone above freezing. I’ve never been so happy to live in a house with heat! On the road I survived 9 degrees, and that was about as far as I’d like to go.

Since we’ve been effectively house-bound in the deep freeze, I’ve had some time to compile numbers and decompress after my months on the road. The following is a numerical depiction of my adventure:

Total miles: 11,655
Time gone: 78 days
Nights spent in the truck: 66
Nights spent at friends’ houses: 12
National Parks visited: 12
Most miles driven in a day: 441 (the first day – I learned my lesson and enjoyed more breaks after that!)
Average miles driven per day: 150

Alright, now let’s get down to the important stuff: money.

Fuel expense: $1,855
Camping fees paid: $88
Personal Souvenirs: $98
Coffee/beer/dining out: $332
Truck care/services: $95
Tours: $83
Groceries: $560
Dog/Misc expenses: $290 (mainly dog food and then a few random items like toiletries, lost dog bowl, camera tripod, cooking fuel, etc)

I also went through roughly $200 in cash spent on incidentals like showers, daily gym fees, and gifts.

Total: roughly $3,600*

*I should mention the additional “baseline” expenses I had to keep up while on the road: 
$48/month for health insurance
$73/month for car insurance
$55/month for cell phone
Total: $176/month – I will keep these out of the trip total because these are expenses I would’ve paid anyway. However, anyone planning a trip should remember to keep these reoccurring, and necessary, expenses in mind!

While the end figure may look high to some, the total includes all living expenses for two and half months. Calculated monthly, I incurred about $1,500 worth of expenses, a figure definitely on the low end of most budgets. The total isn’t very excessive when considering all the amazing places and experiences I was able to amass in a fairly short amount of time.

What costs surprised me?

Less Than Expected: Fuel. I budgeted around $2,500, so I was very happy to save $645 even though I felt like I definitely didn’t curtail my mileage. I was happy to find very consistent gas prices the whole trip, paying $2.83 at the highest and $1.99 at the lowest. I would estimate I paid $2.30 per gallon on average.

More Than Expected: Groceries. If calculated as a monthly average, I spent around $225 each month on food, more than I would normally spend, and I definitely wasn’t eating as well as if I were home. I was restricted by cooler space and thus didn’t buy any meat other than bratwursts and lunch meat, which I thought would be budget friendly. What I didn’t anticipate was the added cost of having to buy things in small amounts, and often, rather than buying in bulk and having a freezer. Not having the set up to truly cook (I only had a small, single burner MSR backpacking stove) also added cost since I bought more “ready-to-eat-foods” rather than raw materials that would’ve been much cheaper. I also had no way to keep leftovers, so cooking really wasn’t very practical. While I didn’t feel like I was deprived by any means, my food options did start feeling a little restrictive by the end.

Not Too Surprising: Coffee/beer/dining out. While at the outset this may look a bit high ($132 per month), most of these purchases were used to either gain a secure WiFi connection or experience some psychologically necessary social interaction. I also really like good coffee and good beer, so I felt alright “splurging” on these experiences.

Most Amazing: I spent 78 days “homeless” and spent $88 on lodging (campsite fees), total. That’s it. I would be hard-pressed to find a decent hotel for ONE NIGHT at that rate. My overnight stays at Wal-Marts were easy with no problems, and my overnights in the west when I could find amazing free camping spots were unforgettable. Each night was a new adventure, and while I obviously had safety to consider, I slept very well overall.

How to save even more money next time:

While my fuel costs did come in under budget, I would save more if I didn’t plan such an ambitious road trip. If I wanted to simply live out of my pickup on a tight budget, I would cut down the drive time, find some really great free spots (preferably National Forest spots where I could stay the maximum 14-day limit in each), and have more non-driving days. Spending more time at individual places would probably allow me to save money on groceries as well because then I would be more willing to cook. To really bring my grocery costs down, though, I would have to invest in a larger, more efficient cooler (or install a solar-powered mini-fridge) and a better cooking system (like a Coleman double burner propane stove) with another pot and fry pan (all I had with me was one backpacking pot).

Biggest lesson learned: It doesn’t take much to live well and have BIG experiences!

Stay tuned for the next few installments when I discuss what and how I packed, my road trip map, essential travel lessons learned, safety protocol, and most importantly – my favorite spots!!



4 thoughts on “Miles & Money – The Stuff You Really Want to Know

  1. I definitely agree on the driving less part! I went across the US and back in 2 months…did not save what the equivalent of rent money would be Haha!
    I also found I ate out all the time because otherwise I’d be setting up “camp” with my stove in Wal-Mart parking lots haha.
    Wait, you mentioned Montana? I’m currently in Bozeman…


    1. Whoa, that is a ton of driving! I slowed way down and enjoyed the places more and I was so happy I did. Like you, I didn’t cook at wal-mart either, but I was super cheap and only ate out a handful of times. I got really used to sandwiches!


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