Budget travel – Utah/Wyoming expense report

The highway through Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah is shown
Driving through Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah

Budget travel is the way I prefer to go. The cheaper the trip, the more trips you can take. I don’t mind giving up comforts in order to see more amazing places either. This past week, I embarked on an 11-day road trip to Utah and Wyoming from my home state of Arkansas. By my definition of budget travel, this trip was expensive. But according to everyone’s definition, I came in right on par.

Last year, I road-tripped through Colorado and Wyoming and came in under my $500 budget, spending only $450. However, this year I came in over my $500 budget by nearly $300. My trip was an amazing trip, and I don’t regret spending so much money. And if you compare it to the average cost of a trip, $800 is still cheap for travel for 11 days covering 3,500 miles.

Trip Itinerary

I left my hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas, at noon on Friday, Aug. 9. From there I drove to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and slept in my car for the night at the KOA. I left the next morning and drove to Monument Valley in the northeast corner of Arizona. Camping one night in Monument Valley, I then traveled to Zion National Park, where I spent four days.

Budget travel – An expense report of my road trip through Utah and Wyoming, visiting numerous national parks and other amazing places along the way.
My “home” while on the road

I left Zion National Park on Thursday, Aug. 15, and drove northeast to Bryce Canyon National Park and then along the scenic Highway 12 to Capitol Reef National Park. I continued northeast and camped at the Green River, Utah, KOA. (That was an expensive night! But it’s in a prime location.) On Friday morning I woke up early and drove through Arches National Park and then Canyonlands National Park.

Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming is shown on a budget travel road trip
Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming

From there, I drove to Curt Gowdy State Park, in between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming, to attend a Hike Like A Woman retreat. I left the retreat on Sunday evening and drove to Goodland, Kansas, where I slept in my car at the KOA. And then I drove the rest of the way home.

Why so much over budget?

Normally I spend about $500 on a road trip that involves camping, hiking, and backpacking. The bulk of that money goes to gas, food, and camping fees. The distance to Utah and Wyoming played a factor in why I spent so much on gas. I also spent twice as much on camping fees as I normally do for reasons I’ll explain below. Because I traveled to extremely popular destinations, entrance fees also played a big park in coming in over budget – $100 to be exact. After investing in a Yeti Cooler, I came in a little under budget on food and did not get tired of peanut butter sandwiches.

Fuel costs

Total cost $306.67

Road tripping plays a big role in budget travel. For my 11-day trip, I spent a total of $306.67 on gas. That is significantly less than the cost of a plane ticket, and even way less than the cost of a plane ticket plus a rental car, because most national parks are not home to airports.

Now, it did take me two days to get to Utah, but hey, it’s a road trip. I do need to note that I have a Honda HRV which gets pretty good gas mileage. All through my trip, I averaged about 30 miles per gallon.

Camping fees

Total cost $229.52

Utah and other states out west are full of Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land. Most of the time dispersed camping is allowed and will cost you nothing. But since I am a female traveling alone, I stayed at established campgrounds to keep my parents happy.

Backcountry camping is shown
Backcountry camping in Zion National Park

However, the places I stayed were coveted spots and those camping spots come at a premium. I also changed my plans and ended up paying for a night that I didn’t use. That was the night I stayed in Green River, Utah. So technically I spent $60 in camping fees that night, paying for two sites. But being flexible is how I roll, and sometimes flexibility comes at a cost.

In total, I spent $229.52, well over the $100 that I normally spend on camping fees.

Shuttle Fee

Total cost $39

Unfortunately, the backpacking trip I picked was not a loop which caused me to have to purchase a shuttle. I paid $39 for a shuttle to the trailhead of my backpacking hike.

Admission fees

Total cost $107

Traveling to five popular national parks is no cheap expense. Each park in Utah has an admission fee between $20 and $35 during the summer season. I bought an American the Beautiful Pass for $80 and am granted admission to any national park within a year’s time. Even though $80 is a large chunk of change for me, it saved me a ton of money by visiting five parks. Now, where should I go next to get even more miles out of it??

A barn at Capitol Reef National Park is shown
Capitol Reef National Park

I also paid $20 to be admitted into Monument Valley, which is a Navajo tribal park.

While at the HLAW retreat we visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie, which cost $7.

So admission fees cost me a total of $107.

Food

Total cost $106.39

I spent more money on food than needed. This was the first time that I had packed food in a cooler and wasn’t sure how much I would consume. I came home with two extra packages of cheese and a nearly-full tub of hummus. I also came home with an entire 1-pound bag of trail mix. You live and you learn.

My grocery store bill was $60, with food left over. For a few dinners, I ate freeze-dried meals which I collect throughout the year.

Buying freeze-dried meals throughout the year is a way to budget travel

I did eat out with friends and buy Starbucks on my drives a few times. And there was one time after a long hard hike in Zion National Park, I happened to find myself at the restaurant in at the lodge. A burger was just too much to pass up. So I had lunch out that day.

I spent a total of $106.39 on food during the entire 11-day trip.

Budget Travel

I love to travel cheap, but sometimes you weigh the cost against the places you want to go to. When you travel to a place that is in high demand, unique, or otherwise special, you have to pay for it. And although I blew my budget by a great deal, I believe it was more than worth it.

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Budget travel – An expense report of my road trip through Utah and Wyoming, visiting numerous national parks and other amazing places along the way.

5 comments

  1. I LOVE solo travel and am so jealous of your trip! My top dream vacation destination right now is Wyoming. I’m hoping to make it happen next year at some point.

    You are such an inspiration when it comes to solo travel AND budget travel (because you’re right – less spent = more trips!). I’ve always stayed in a cabin or hotel because I watch way too many crime shows LOL. I would love tips on solo camping to make me less nervous about it! Do you have any past posts on it that I missed? What you mentioned above about staying at campsites you know are run by reputable people is definitely a great recommendation!

  2. You are truly your Meme’s granddaughter! She could get from the east coast to the west coast on nothing but peanut butter, balogna, white bread and apples with 4 people, driving 16 hours a day, sleeping in a station wagon packed with all the family’s worldly goods. She would be so proud of you!

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