A classic roadtrip is one of the best possibilities to discover the USA.
If you’ve never been to the USA before or if you’ve been on a package vacation, you might wonder how much a road trip to the USA costs.
Roadtrip USA Costs – Factors
Basically there are 5 main sources of costs: The flight, accommodation, food, rental car including fuel and everything else. In the following I will briefly discuss all cost factors and give an estimation of different road trip scenarios.
A return flight to the west of the USA, e.g. to San Francisco, often costs between 700-800€ in the high season. If you are a little flexible with travel dates and departure airport, however, prices of only 500-600€ or less are possible. For my trip to the USA in September 2017, for example, I only paid 480€ for a direct flight to
The pricing can differ a lot here dependent on your exact route. E.g. in the west much camping is possible if you want to save costs compared to a hotel.
On my 3-month road trip 2014 I calculated the average of almost 50 hotels. This was a mix of mostly budget hotels or motels, but also expensive accommodations in Manhattan/NYC and e.g. 2 nights in a suite in Las Vegas.
On average I payed about 70$ per night for a double room.
So per person about 35$ per night.
If you travel with four people, the whole thing is of course a bit cheaper, but rooms with 2 queen beds usually cost more or there is an extra charge per person.
Cheap hotels or motels I usually find on Booking.com (besides that you can reach the „Genius“ status from 5 bookings/year on and get 10% discount and other advantages at some hotels. This has been worthwhile for me quite often).
Alternatively, AirBnB is also highly recommended. On my last trip to the USA I was able to get some very cheap accommodation here. If you register via my AirBnB link (http://bit.ly/airbnb-rabatt), you will get 25€ credit for your first booking!
Camping usually costs 20$ +-5$ on the government sites. Private campsites can cost upto $30-$40/night.
Per person (two persons) you can expect about 12$ per night.
The costs for food and drinks should not be underestimated and are often higher than the accommodation in a hotel room.
A meal in a normal, good restaurant usually cost about $20 including tips and taxes. But you can also have a good lunch in one of the numerous fast food chains. A burger menu costs about $8. Often even less. On the 3-month road trip we often had lunch in typical fast food restaurants.
By the way, it does not always have to be unhealthy like burgers and fries. At many fast food chains (e.g. Wendy’s) you can eat relatively healthy and cheap food for 5$-7$, if you take a closer look at the menu…
Also so-called family diners like Denny’s are a little bit cheaper than regular restaurants, but also quite good.
Per day I would expect an average of 35$ per person.
Here it is of course individual again. If you are very thrifty, you can also manage with 20$. If you eat in a restaurant twice a day, you will quickly reach 50$ for food a day. The costs depend on whether you camp often or not.
For example, a can of chili with bread costs only 2$, a steak from the Walmart about 10$. If you camp for half of your vacation it will be a little bit cheaper. If you stay in big cities like New York or Las Vegas for a few days, you can also use coupon providers like Groupon.com, where there is a very large number of restaurants that regularly post offers that can save you a lot.
In both New York and Las Vegas I took advantage of these offers myself, saved a lot of money and went out to eat in nice restaurants that I would not have otherwise known.
Here it is first of all necessary to distinguish whether one is over or under 25 years old.
At my preferred rental company „Alamo“ you pay with the Young Driver Package for people under 25 about 40% more than if you are already over 25. Otherwise a rental car at Alamo without discount costs between $30/day for a small car and $60/day for a full-size SUV.
That again varies depending on the region. Usually something in the middle class for $40/day is enough for 2 people, while for 4 people a bigger option like the SUV class will be more adequate especially for the luggage.
I can recommend to treat yourself to rent a convertible (e.g. Ford Mustang). The price for it is about the same as for a full-size SUV, but e.g. for four people the costs per person per day would double (since you can only take a convertible for two people due to space reasons).
So on average I would expect 20$/person/day for a normal rental car.
So far (especially if you are under 25 years old, like we were back then) I have not found a cheaper/ better way to get a good rental car in the USA. With an exemplary roadtrip over 3 weeks in the west of the USA, a full-size SUV and 4 persons you can expect costs of 1250$. So per person $310 and per day/person $14,90. If the drivers are under 25 you would have to calculate with about 1700$ or in this example just under 20$/day/person. In addition there are of course fuel costs.
You can find the current average price in the USA at gasoline-germany.com.
At the current time (04.01.2020) this is 0,61$/liter. On average you consume (with a SUV or similar) about 10l/100 km and are on a classic road trip over 3 weeks, which has e.g. 5000 km, with total costs of 305$, i.e. with 4 persons at about 75$ each, with 2 persons at about 150$ each.
Everything else (activities, tickets, souvenirs, etc.)
The last point is the most difficult to estimate, because it depends on individual preferences.
In my case this point accounted for roughly 20% of the total travel costs.
This includes e.g. admissions for everything that has to do with sightseeing and leisure time (helicopter flight, admission for observation platforms, museums, metro ticket, national park pass, etc.).
Also if you are often going out for a cocktail or party in the evening, this can increase your costs quickly. Of course this is dependent on personal preferences. Just like the budget for souvenirs.
You might also have to buy camping equipment or other travel equipment particularly for this road trip. Maybe you also visit an amusement park or a show, for example in Las Vegas.
Tip: For activities like helicopter flights, check livingsocial.com and groupon.com. Very often you can find special offers here. I have saved a lot of money in both New York and Las Vegas.
Roadtrip USA Costs – Summary
Here is the final calculation:
- The flight: e.g. 600€ (airfares do not react so strongly to exchange rate fluctuations)
For hotels, food and rental cars I come with the average values of 35$ (hotels without camping) + 35$ (food) + 20$ (rental car incl. discount + fuel) to 90$/day. This is 630$/week.
On top of that there is about 20-25% for everything else.
Cost per day of about 115$ (without camping)
or costs per week of about 800$ (without camping)
+ cost of the flight
For example, if you spend a third of your time camping, my estimation is about 750$/week (with camping) or 107$/day (with camping).
On an exemplary roadtrip over 3 weeks in the southwest with 1 week of camping this would be (3 x 750$ + 600€) = 2250$ + 705$ = 2.955$ or 2.510€ (with the current rate of 1$=0,85€)
This calculation also works out with my first road trip in the USA (3.5 weeks).
There I had paid a total of 2700€ (course at that time 1$=0,75€). There were four of us.
If you take the calculation into account, that would be 3,5 weeks x 750$ + 700€ flight = 2670€.
During my 3-month road trip I had spent a total of about 7300€ (exchange rate at 1$=0,75€). There were two of us. If you take the bill, that would be 12 weeks x 750$ + 700€ flight = 7450€. So this is also about right. But since we were on the road for so long, the actual costs are of course a little bit reduced, because activities and the like are a little bit more spread out and you don’t have such a full program as with only 2 weeks.
Concluding, this estimation should help you to estimate how much your own road trip will cost. If you have personal preferences that differ greatly from those described, you must of course adjust parts of the estimation.