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Budget Road Trip – California National Parks Expense Report

I was fortunate this year to be able to still travel despite all the COVID unpredictabilities. However, I did have my challenges. I had to move my trip back two months and up until about the week before I was supposed to leave, I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to go. But fortunately, everything worked out. I traveled from my home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, to California for a wonderful budget road trip to explore Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley National Parks.

I love spending as little money as possible and showing others that travel doesn’t have to be a big expensive ordeal. However, with that said, this trip was far away, which did raise the cost. Also, if I had I gone with a friend and not by myself my fuel and camping fees would have been cut in half.

Yosemite National Park

Like all my other trips, my two biggest expenses were fuel and camping fees. But camping fees are way cheaper than hotel fees! I also saved a great deal of money by eating out very little.


Total cost $100

I only ate out three times in the 10 days I was on the trip – two of those were fast-food. I had a fast-food burger on the road the first day of driving and a burger at a mom and pop diner after a long day of exploring. And because I have been wanting to try Wendy’s breakfast, I had a breakfast sandwich.

My meals on the road

The rest of my meals were brought from home. I spent $50 on groceries that consisted of sandwich makings and snacks like carrots, olives, hummus, and Triscuits. I also took all my Diet Cokes to keep me from buying them on the road. A bonus of taking my own Diet Cokes is that I didn’t consume any plastic straws, lids, or cups.

I also ate freeze-dried meals that I brought from home. If you are looking for a wonderful, tasty dehydrated/freeze-dried meal that tastes like it’s homemade, check out Bushka’s Kitchen.

The cost of the meals out, groceries, and dehydrated meals totaled right at $100.

Ice and various grocery items

Total Cost $25.75

I have a Yeti cooler and I love it. But I still need to replace the ice throughout a 10-day trip. If you choose to travel like this, block ice is best because doesn’t melt as quickly. However, sometimes it can be hard to find, so I had to settle a few times on cubed ice.

I replaced the ice in my Yeti three times. When I went into the store to buy ice, I would pick up items I needed, like ibuprofen and decongestants, as well as luxury snacks, like ice cream. Death Valley was hot!

In total I spent $25.75 on ice and various grocery items.


Total Cost $317

As I’ve said before in other trip expense reports, I have a very fuel efficient vehicle – a Honda HRV. One good thing about travel in the time of COVID, is that gas prices were low. The further west I drove the higher the gas prices. When I started out in Arkansas, gas prices were about $1.75 a gallon. When I got to California, I paid an average of $3 a gallon.

Driving through a tree at Sequoia National Park

The entire trip from when I left my home in Hot Springs until I got back home, was about 4,000 miles.

I spent a total of $317 in gas.


Total Cost $253

The campgrounds in and around Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley National Parks were not terribly expensive. They averaged around $25 a night for tent camping. However, I did have to pay a reservation fee for some because I made them in advance.

Exploring Kings Canyon National Park

On my way to California, I stayed at the Grants, New Mexico, KOA, and on my way home I stayed at the Flagstaff and Oklahoma City KOAs. KOAs are a great way to spend the night on the road for during a budget road trip. I spent four nights at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park, one night at Soquel Campground in the Sierra National Forest, and made a reservation at Portuguese Joe Campground in Lone Pine, California, but ended up not sleeping there. (More on that below)

In total I spent $253 in campground fees.

Unexpected expenses

Total Cost $125

OK, I hinted above that I did not end up camping at Portuguese Joe Campground in Lone Pine. When I pulled up to find my campsite, my neighbors gave me bad vibes and creeped me out.

If you don’t want to be creepy, don’t be dirty and drunk and ask a woman if she is alone! So I left and got a motel room. I stayed at the Portal Motel, and it was extremely nice. My first shower in five days was a nice bonus. My room cost $110, not exactly part of my budget road trip, but it was worth it.

Another unexpected expense I incurred was fixing a flat tire. Somewhere outside of Oklahoma City I ran over something that cut my tire. I stopped off at a Walmart, and they were able to patch it. The tire fix cost me $15.

Because of the unexpected I spent a total of $125.

Things that cost me money, but I’m not counting in this budget road trip

Because of COVID, I had to change and alter my plans a few times. In that rearranging, I lost about $50 in cancellation fees. I’m not counting them in this budget road trip expense report because this year was just so unusual.

Also, because I didn’t get to go until Labor Day, I had to buy another America the Beautiful Pass for entry into the parks. But it is an annual pass to all national parks, so I will use it again many times. The America the Beautiful Pass is $80. Entry to Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite is $35, and Death Valley was $30.

I also spent $27.71 on souvenirs. But because those are not necessary to the trip or the comfort of the trip they can be easily cut to lower costs.

Budget Road Trip Total Cost – $820

The total cost of my road trip from Arkansas to California was $820. I had one night in a hotel that was unplanned, and I ate out only three times. Not too shabby for 10 days on the road!

Pin it! Budget Road Trip

How I travel on the cheap – my comprehensive expense report from a 10-day road trip to the four national parks in California.

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