Ever wish you could ask others how they spend their money? We’re going there. In our “Cash Confessions” series, LearnVest breaks down the numbers to show how real people spend their paychecks, and whether their habits are financially on track — or off the rails.
Here, a budget traveler shares what she spent on a solo weekend road trip.
Road trips just might be my favorite way to travel. I love taking my time exploring a new place. I like how affordable gas is compared to airfare. And most of all, I like traveling by myself and making decisions on the fly.
This summer, in an attempt to escape the heat of Texas, I decided my next road trip would be along the coast of Maine. I was spending a month in Boston anyway, so why not take advantage?
From Boston, Massachusetts; to Portland, Maine; up to Acadia National Park and then back; I was ready for a trip that would include beautiful scenery and perfect weather. My plan was to spend three nights on the road and to keep my budget to less than $300. Here's how it broke down:
I have breakfast at home, so that I don’t need to buy anything on the road. My first stop is to fill my gas tank, $40 right off the bat. But I’ve borrowed my mother’s car for this trip, and it does well on gas.
I bring as much food with me as possible: a bag full of granola bars, bananas, nectarines, peanut butter, bread and a black bean and sweet potato hash I made the night before, all bought for $22 at a Hannaford’s grocery store.
Portland is only two hours from Boston, so I arrive around 11 a.m. It’s a warm and sunny day, and my first stop is parking in one of Portland’s older neighborhoods, the West End. I love walking around old neighborhoods, taking in the architecture and seeing how people keep their front lawns.
I’m shocked to learn from someone on the street that Portland itself doesn’t have a lighthouse. I was planning on taking a classic Maine lighthouse Instagram and now I’ve been foiled! Despite this setback for my photo game, I spend the rest of my day in Portland very happy. I pop into a thrift store (Find, on Free Street). The Portland Museum of Art is free from 4 to 8 p.m. every Friday, so I spend a few hours there in the afternoon.
I check into my Airbnb ($45 for the night) around 6 p.m. and heat up my leftover sweet potato hash. I check my email and do a little work, but I’m in bed reading by 9:30. My alarm is set for 6:30 tomorrow morning.
Total spent: $107
Kara enjoys lunch overlooking the beach.
Maine is deceptively large. My next stop is Acadia National Park, three hours from Portland. I arrive at the park around 10:30 am. There’s a short wait to get in (Acadia is one of the most visited National Parks), but when it’s my turn at the window I flash my National Park Pass and get in free. By 11:15, the car is parked and I’m ready to take my first hike.
My main goal is to get as close to the ocean as possible. I live in the middle of Texas, about four hours from the coast, so I want to get to the water to soak in the Atlantic in all its glory.
I choose the Ocean Path, an easy and stunning walking trail that takes me right by the water. I spend a lot of time on this three-mile hike because it feels like each step brings me a new view. The rocks, the water, the green — it’s all so beautiful.
There are a ton of little nooks to tuck into along this path. I have lunch (a peanut butter and banana sandwich with a granola bar and lots of water), and then spend a few hours reading and enjoying the view.
Around 5 p.m. I realize I haven’t check in at my campsite yet, and this may have been a grave mistake. The campsite is first-come, first-served, and I am definitely not going to be the first. I hop in the car and make it to where I thought I'd spend the night ... but I’m too late. It’s peak tourist season in Maine, and I'm out of luck. I spend the night in my sleeping bag in my car. It’s actually not too bad, but I don’t want to repeat it.
Total spent: $0
I wake up early and head straight into the campsite’s office. I pay $34 and secure myself a lot. No more sleeping in cars for me! Before I head back into the park, I set up my tent.
I spend the day hiking around and talking with fellow travelers. Acadia is gorgeous, and it feels wonderful to not check my phone or computer at all. Lunch is another peanut butter and banana sandwich with a nectarine, and for dinner I splurge at a restaurant in Bar Harbor. I’m back at my campsite by 9 p.m., when it’s pitch black. I have to leave at 6 tomorrow morning to get my car back on time.
Total Spent: $51
Total Road Trip Costs
In total my trip cost me $173, including another $15 of gas on the way back to Boston.
Traveling by myself means that I shoulder all the costs alone, so I look for ways to save.
Driving is so much more affordable than flying, as is pitching a tent rather than checking into a hotel — especially in particularly touristy areas where demand is high but supply is low. Bringing food saves money and time, too, so you can get up and out to the sights without having to wait to be served.