How Much Does It Really Cost to Take a Cross-Country Road Trip?

by Holly Riddle

Sep 9, 2019

According to AAA, 53 percent of traveling families plan to take a road trip this season. If you’re among them, here are the seven best summer road trip destinations as determined via WalletHub data on aspects such as road conditions and gas prices. © Alptraum |

Tips / Travel

Thinking about taking a cross-country road trip? Think you’ll save money compared to flying to some far-flung destination this season? Think again. The true cost of a cross-country road trip might surprise you. Here are some of the hidden or unexpected fees you may incur along the way.


Attraction Entry

If you thought national parks should be free because they’re national, and you are, after all, an American, you’ve got another thing coming. National park fees can really add up. You can, of course, purchase the $80 America the Beautiful Pass, which gets you into all parks for free for a year. If you plan on visiting more than three parks during your trip, this will be a worthwhile cost for you. If, however, you skip the pass and pay for each park separately, expect to pay around $20–30 for entry to the major parks around the country.


Supply-and-Demand Hotels

Very oddly, when you reach a certain point in the United States, there are suddenly no longer a bounty of hotel options near every major attraction. For some reason, no one has thought that building big hotels near all of the nation’s national parks would be fairly successful. And so, you will likely find yourself in a situation where you have few hotels to choose from, especially if you’re driving across the northern half of the United States, and even the most basic, budget properties will be upwards of $200 or $300 per night in prime travel season.


Sudden Necessities

If you’re taking your time going across the United States, something, at some point, will go wrong and it will cost you money. Maybe you won’t get a flat tire or something so serious, but perhaps it’ll just be something small. Maybe your phone case breaks and you need a new one. There’s $40 spent at the nearest Best Buy. Maybe you realize you didn’t bring enough t-shirts for the trip; either you heft up $15 in quarters at the laundry mat or you go buy more t-shirts. Unanticipated costs are just par for the course when you’re on the road.


However, none of this is to say you shouldn’t go on a cross-country road trip. You definitely should. But you should also plan for it accordingly and have more money than you think you need set aside. Definitely don’t wing it. Your wallet will thank you later.


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