Traveling across the US by vehicle can be an expensive journey to accomplish. As experienced travelers we have traveled across the country many times and have done it different ways. If traveling across the US is a dream of yours I hope the following post will help you to get on your way.
What is the most affordable vehicle for traveling across the US? A van is one of the most affordable vehicles to travel the US with. Vans get good mileage, you can sleep in them, cook either in or outside of the van and that will provide you with tremendous savings on your top three travel expenses.
Traveling around the United States is a lifelong dream for a lot of people and being able to afford it keeps a lot of dreams unfulfilled. As you read on I hope that you will finally see the way to being able to afford your dream.
What Makes Traveling in a Van So Affordable?
First of all you can find a really good van reasonably priced. A van in really good condition will usually cost you from $6,000 to $8,000. If you are mechanically inclined and know how to work on vehicles you can find one even cheaper and fix any mechanical issues that it has.
That might sound like a lot of money for traveling the country, but you have to consider when you add up the cost of being on the road two or more weeks, how long will it take you to get that back in gas savings over an RV, motel costs and expenses of eating out.
You will save anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 on your two week trip and will still have the van to go again.
The USA is big! If traveling from the east coast to the west of the contiguous states you will be going more than 2,500 miles and if traveling north to south more that 1,500 depending on what routes you take. That is a lot of miles to cover and is going to take a lot of gas.
Vans get good gas mileage
Average miles per gallon for some of the most common vans are:
- 2020 Ram ProMaster City – MPG 21 city / 28 highway
- 2019 Ford Transit Passenger – MPG 14 city/18 highway
- 2019 Ford Transit Connect – MPG 24 city/27 highway
- 2019 Dodge Grand Caravan – MPG 17 city/25 highway
Gas costs are a big expense for any road trip and vans will average 14 to 28 miles per gallon. I know this doesn’t sound as good as most cars, but compared to a Class A motor home that gets between 8 to 16 mpg, 14 to 28 mpg is pretty good.
Traveling in a van will cut your lodging expenses
Traveling across the US will take at least two weeks and if you want to spend anytime seeing the sights it will take even longer.
A van will save you a lot on the expense of staying at a motel on your trip. You will find that motel rates in smaller areas or off peak season might start at about $69 per night with that being on the low side, the majority of rooms will be around $100 per night.
For a two week trip you could be looking at motel expenses of about $900 to $1,500, if you are trying to keep your costs down staying in a motel is probably not an option. Using your van to sleep in will give you an affordable place to lodge for the night.
Sleeping in your van will also give you the option to stay where you want to stay. There are many places that you can park your van and sleep for free or at a low cost. Truck stops, rest areas, retail store parking lots, state and national parks are good places to look for a place to park for the night.
Getting your van ready to sleep in can be fairly easy and the cost benefits are well worth the effort, if you are interested in learning more about sleeping in your van read our post here.
How to cut down on eating expenses while traveling in a van
When you are on the road the temptation to eat at restaurants is sometimes hard to fight, but the costs of eating out three meals a day can get expensive.
When the two of us eat out it seems like the bill is anywhere from about $10 to $25 per meal depending on whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner and where we are eating at.
To help cut your costs on meals buy a cooler and camp stove to take with you or if you are doing a full van conversion just make room for a mini kitchen in your plan. Either way will allow you to make your meals when you stop for the night or at rest stops during the day.
Keep milk in the cooler to have cereal, add some fresh fruit and you can make a cheap and easy breakfast.
Lunch meat is another item to keep in the cooler, so you can quickly make sandwiches for lunch while you are on the road. Keep the cooler stocked up on your favorite drinks, buy it by the 6 pack versus buying one at a convenience store, this will help save money on your drinks.
Other Posts of Interest
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- Camper Vans vs. Motorhomes: What’s the Difference?
When you stop for the night you can set up your camp stove and fix something heartier, like spaghetti, stews, steaks, mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, hot dogs or hamburgers for your dinner.
Sometimes in preparation for traveling I make up dinner items that I freeze in plastic freezer containers to take with us. This idea is two-fold it provides dinner for a couple nights without a lot of work, but also serves to keep the cooler cold.
Remember to pack a skillet or two to cook whatever you are going to want to make, eating utensils and a way to wash up your dishes.
Tips for preparing your van for a road trip
Before setting out on your van road trip check to make sure that your van is ready. Affordable travel can take a hit if you haven’t prepared your vehicle and have a breakdown. To help prevent such a breakdown take your van to your mechanic and have them check the following items to make sure you are ready to hit the road.
- Check the tire pressure and remember the spare
- Hoses, belts, filters are all in good condition and all caps are on tightly
- Windshield wiper fluid filled and wipers in good shape
- Get a fresh oil change and make sure the level is where it is supposed to be
- Engine coolant filled
- Transmission fluid level
- Make sure all lights and turn signals are working
Having van troubles while on the road is no fun, taking the initiative and preparing before you leave can help eliminate headaches down the road.
How can you improve gas mileage when traveling?
Traveling the US is going to take a lot of gas, so here are a few things that you can do to improve your gas mileage while traveling and make your trip more affordable:
- Keep your tires inflated to manufacturer recommended pressure. This not only helps gas mileage but gives you even wear on your tires.
- Routinely change your air filter.
- Drive the speed limit.
- Eliminate long warm up times and leaving your car running unnecessarily.
- Gradually accelerate when starting out.
- When approaching a stop take your foot off the accelerator early.
- Reduce extra weight in the van.
Affordable sleeping solutions when you have more people than can sleep in the van
So you think traveling in a van is a good idea, but there are going to be more people than your van will sleep, do you have any options?
One option is to take a tent with you, simply set the tent up beside the van for the extra people, this will however take some of your options off the table for free camping like in parking lots, truck stops and locations like this.
You still have options for free camping when tenting, sites for dispersed camping in national, state and local parks are good places. Dispersed camping is when you camp in a remote area with no facilities and this can be a good thing!
Rooftop tents are another solution for sleeping extra people. Rooftop tents attach to the top of your van and you access it with a ladder. This sleeping solution offers the benefit of sleeping off of the ground and helps keep the critters out of your bed, plus you get a great view from off the top of the van.
Need another sleeping idea? A folding outdoor sleeping cot might be the solution that you need. These cots are easy to set up; they keep you up off the ground, keep bugs out and provide you shelter from the weather.
Beginning your first trip across the US is a bit daunting, but with a little knowledge and preparation you will be well on your way to make this lifelong dream a reality.
How can I cut road trip costs? Plan your trip ahead of time, so you aren’t backtracking to sites you want to visit. Buy a yearly pass to national parks and other locations. Avoid impulse purchases like souvenirs and snacks when stopping.
How can I stay alert while traveling? Take regular breaks at rest stops, while stopped get out and walk around. Change drivers often to avoid driving fatigue. Roll down the window once in a while to allow fresh air to enter the van.