Northern California road trip on a budget

Team OutdoorsyMay 2, 2022

Northern California road trip on a budget

This piece was written by India Tate for the Outdoorsy blog.

Northern California has so much to offer; from the coastal views to the lush redwood forest and even some hidden waterfalls, you will have so much to explore.

POV: When you take a solo roadtrip with two kids through Northern California

During the winter, I took my two boys on a road trip from San Jose, California throughout Northern California. We covered over 500 miles driving along the coast and visiting both

Redwood National and State Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park; they were so beautiful to see!

Road-tripping has been our go to way of travel throughout this past year and has allowed us to visit so much in our home state along with some of the surrounding states such as Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. We love road trips because it gives you the freedom to move at your own pace and when traveling with two kids, you definitely have to let go of high expectations during your trip.

I’m going to share with you a few ways you can budget for your next Northern California road trip adventure!

How to budget for your next road trip

Whether you are traveling with kids, a partner/friend or solo it’s definitely worth it to try out a road trip a few times a year and make a budget before you go because things start to add up!

As you start planning, the first step is to figure out your mode of transportation. It can be your own car/SUV, a rental car, a van or RV. For this trip we chose to rent an RV. Most of our trips are done in my SUV, but this time I wanted to change it up. RVs and vans are not the most fuel efficient, but they do allow you to save on accommodations and you’re able to make your own food.

We rented our 2020 Winnebago through Outdoorsy and it came with the following:

  • 1 Queen Bed
  • 1 Bunk Bed
  • 1 Sofa Bed
  • 6 Seat Belts
  • Kitchen w/ stove, microwave and oven
  • Refrigerator and freezer
  • Bathroom and shower
  • 2 TVs and DVD
  • Toilet paper and paper towels
  • Shower gel and shampoo
  • A lot of storage space

Plan your route ahead of time

I always get asked if I plan out my route or go with the flow. The answer is a little of both! I usually make a loose itinerary and plan out all the places I ideally would want to stop at and sometimes that list looks extremely long. When you get into taking more road trips, one thing you’ll realize is that the dynamic of your trip can change at any minute and you might have to change your route, so I like to be prepared with options.

Our route included the following places:

  • Mendocino, CA
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park/ Avenue of the Giants
  • Trinidad State Beach
  • Redwood State & National Park
  • Patrick’s Point/Sue – Meg State Park
  • Crescent Beach
  • Trees of Mystery
  • Prairie Creek State Park
  • Del Norte Coast State Park
  • Jedediah Smith State Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point
  • Baker Beach

We made it to almost all of these places, but for some we had to change our route for different reasons. Planning out your stops allows you to figure out where you might stop for gas, what activities you’ll do in that area, where to eat and where to stay; trust me, you’ll want to plan all of this ahead of time!

Cook your own food

This is one of my all-time money saving tips. When you’re planning a road trip or a trip in general, eating out for every meal can become quite expensive, especially if you’re feeding more than one person. When planning how much your trip will cost, set aside an amount you want to spend on groceries so that you can make your own food. An even better idea is to meal prep a lot of your food ahead of time to not only cut down on time, but you probably have many main ingredients at home that you won’t have to take on the road with you.

Save on gas

Gas is by far one of the most expensive expenses while on the road and with the rise in gas prices lately it has become even more expensive. A couple ways to cut down on how much you spend on gas is by stopping in smaller towns where the gas prices are usually not that high compared to bigger cities or using money saving gas apps like GetUpside (cash back on gas), GasGuru and GasBuddy (cheap gas).

Go camping!

Camping is definitely a way to cut costs on your road trip. Camping will either be free or the campgrounds will have a small nightly rate. When we go camping, we will either do tent camping or sleep in our car. This time we slept in the RV! On this trip we did a mix of staying in free camp spots and RV parks. This is something you definitely want to plan beforehand because some campgrounds require a reservation ahead of time and not all the free spots will be to your liking, so have options with these.

You can use these apps to help you find a campsite that works for you:

  • iOverlander – we use this the most for free camping spots
  • Hipcamp – you can find unique outdoor camp spots here
  • The Dyrt – you can find any kind of campsite here. It also lets you know when the land is BLM land which will either be free or cost a small fee
  • – we use this for state and national park campsites
  • Campspot – you can find the top campgrounds & RV resorts here; such a great resource

Road trips are fun and exciting and an amazing way to connect with nature and those around you. My boys love our road trips and after every trip they always say how much fun they had! Even though it can come with its challenges, it is definitely a way to travel and cover more ground.

Happy Travels!

Team Outdoorsy, Outdoorsy Author

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