• 3 months in van (fall 2015), no hotels
  • 13,900 miles
  • 19.8 mpg average
  • $2.14/gal average (diesel)
  • 310 hrs total driving time
  • ~$1,800 in camping fees
  • ~$1,500 in gas
  • ~$3,000 in groceries
  • ~$1,500 in restaurants
  • ~$1,300 in alcohol
  • ~30 climbing days out of 90
  • 9 different climbing destinations
  • 6 national parks
US road trip map

It occurred to me that saying "two of us lived lavishly on a 3 month vacation for $9k" strikes awe outside of the climbing/dirtbagging community, especially in Silicon Valley, where (if people take vacation at all), they spend that much in a week. We really did live lavishly for our standards, knowing it'd be a 3 month trip. If you're so inclined to take a protracted trip, here's some notion of what to expect.

Cost - Camping

Unless we were with family, we camped where we wanted, usually state parks or nice campgrounds, for $15-$30/night. We weren't counting pennies and could have done it for far less money. We could've made more use of Wal-Marts, rest stops, and stealth parking. If you lived on the road, you could easily manage $500/month.

Cost - Gas

California's gas is expensive, about 75 cents more per gallon than the rest of the country. Factor that savings into expenses if you're planning a trip. We also didn't drive efficiently; we averaged mid-20mpg going 65mph and slower, and that dropped to 16mpg when going 80mph.

Driving miles

Balancing cheaper gas is the fact that you're going to drive more miles than you think. The US is only 3,000 miles across, but we hit almost 14k miles. Those rest days and daily driving to the crag add up.

Cost - Food

We spend money for good groceries and the bills came out to about what we spend when at home.  We cooked almost every meal and always had fresh fruits, veggies, and meat. We only ate out when we were driving long hauls, when we were with family, or when we were in a destination like Savannah and Charleston.  Altogether we ate out in sit-down restaurants maybe 15 times total, plus cafes and some lunches, but the cost sure adds up--about half of our total grocery bills!

Cost - Alcohol

What can I say? We went through way more bottles of bourbon in the van than we do at home. Plus we were in Kentucky and the south.  We had many Bourbon & Friends and Netflix & Bourbon nights.


We didn't get nearly as much climbing done as we thought between family and sightseeing. We had 3 solid weeks of family including driving to see family, mostly the big loop between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Next time we'll plan on prioritizing climbing.

We saw a ton of places, though. Climbing in and of itself is only half the reason I love it; it's also the people you meet and the places it takes you. It's hard when you take a 1-2 week vacation to climb, but if you can, there's so many amazing places to see right near climbing destinations! Climbing season is typically tourist off-season, so you'll be welcome with lower prices and views most people don't usually see.


We did months-long road trips in later years. Check this post out for cost comparisons: