Dirtbag Economics: The Road Trip Budget

Many of our blog followers and friends have wondered about the finances regarding our most recent road trip. Now that I’m finally settling here in Colorado I decided to crunch the numbers from our road trip and share some of our money saving tips. We hope to post a few other posts in the near future that will provide good beta for any aspiring road trippers.

The whole reasoning of spending money is to gain a quality experience, and we did just that. The three of us spent about 56 days on the road together visiting 8 world-class rock climbing areas and 14 National Parks. Most importantly we had a good time, finished smiling, and finished friends.

Prep Work

To predict the cost of this madness I created a budget before we left, using estimates from Gas Buddy and Harris Teeter (grocery store with online shop). All three of us then contributed money to a new debit card that we set up using a local credit union. This way all of our money was in one place and we were all equally contributing. We dubbed our new credit card “The Green Card” due to its beautiful lime coloring.

Spending Breakdown

In total, we spent approximately $1,170 each (we each saved $133, thanks to our grant from the American Alpine Club!). Here’s a breakdown of per person expenditures per day:



We spent over $2,100 on food for the summer, well over half of our budget. This included groceries, eating out, and alcohol. To keep things cheap we visited a big box store before we left and purchased large quantities of items we used frequently including dry milk, energy bars, canned chicken & tuna, pasta, etc. We ate cheaply but frequently restocked on vegetables and fruits to ensure our goal of “NO SCURVY 2013.”  We cooked a majority of our meals on our own, which helped keep costs low, but at certain times in the trip it was necessary to “Treat yo self” to a nice meal. We usually only drank when we were actually in towns or cities with good beer…another way to save.


Keeping the Subaru moving was our 2nd largest expense, costing over $1,200 over the trip. My Outback averaged around 27 miles to the gallon for the trip. We used the Gas Buddy App to find the cheapest gas around. We made sure to load up on gas in states with fewer gas taxes. We also were very lucky this summer that gas prices remained comparatively low and there were no major gas spikes. There were only a few places where we paid more than $4 a gallon, for the most part we paid somewhere in the $3.60-$3.80 range.


We were easily able to keep our budget low in this category, spending just over $310. A majority of our camping was done at primitive free camping sites. Usually we found existing sites on National Forest Lands right off a gravel road. We also did several nights of back-country camping in National Parks which required small fees. Most National Parks are surrounded by National Forests with free dispersed camping. In cities we stayed with friends and never splurged for a hotel room. When the focus of an area was rock climbing, we would try to stay at campsites located near the climbs which were usually between $5-$10 dollars a night. This category also includes most spent on showers since primitive camping doesn’t keep you clean…we showered anywhere we could find them….community pools, laundromats, outdoor showers at public beaches/hot springs.

Climbing and Other Expenses

Climbing is a cheap activity when you think user fees. In comparison to something like skiing where you have to have a lift ticket, once you have all the gear for climbing, you are usually good to go. We purchased and rented a few guidebooks along the way, but also relied on Mountain Project and local beta from climbing gear shops. Mountain Project has an app for the iPad where you can download all the information for an area and then access that information without using data/WiFi later on. This was very helpful when when were in remote areas with little or no service.

Other expenses included the America the Beautiful pass that allows access to all National Parks for one full year for $80. This was paid off just by visiting the popular parks of Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. Plus we can use the pass until next summer at the local Colorado national parks. Excluded were our gear purchases made pre-trip which will hopefully be used again and again in the future for more adventures in Colorado and beyond.

Just Get in The Car!

Don’t let money get in your way, we were able to keep costs pretty low. Compare $23.34 per person per day on the road (about $700 a month) to your “real-world” average day-to-day living costs, and going on the road is a steal! Plus the benefits of the places you see, the people you met, and the time together are worth every swipe of the green card.



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