Road Trip Finances, Factoids, & #VanLife Wisdoms

This post is a long time coming (as are all of my post’s these days!), but I’m finally still enough to write it.  If you happen to be following along on Instagram, you know my road trip is over.  Long over.  For the past 6 weeks, instead of driving state to state, I have been hopping around from house to house and working a bunch (but more on that in an upcoming post).  I figured I could write a 10,000-word post about the conclusion of my trip OR I could just show you how it all went down.  Thanks to my friend Tonya* at Budget and the Beach, that’s exactly what I get to do!!

Can I just say how incredible Tonya is to put that together??  She has insane editing skills to be able to cut some of my inappropriate use of language and bawdy humor and still have enough to work with…not an easy task!  Of course, she couldn’t fit the entire road trip in so I feel I would be doing you a disservice to not include the following photos.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I am adding 10 for good measure…

FRIENDS, FOOD, and FUN (in no particular order)

Finally made it to Carmel-by-the-Sea – on my Places To Visit list for over 10 years!  CHECK!!

Thanks to my Pensacola Beach friends for this glorious spread! 🙂
The PG4 taking Sonoma by storm!
When in NOLA…
ChooseFI Meet Up in ATL
Beautiful setting and voted Most Likely to be a Hotbed of Tick Activity by yours truly
Uncle Chucky – The Italian Cowboy Extraordinaire!
Paul Bunyan #2
Genius at work with Mr. 1500
It was Wednesday…what else would The WoWs eat??

Had to end it on a high note with those waffles.  Damn, that Mr. Wow really knows how to cook!!  Don’t even get me started on his baking and tea making artistry.  Next level.

Now, it’s so important that I mention the other F that made the whole trip possible – FINANCES.  This was not a cheap trip by any stretch.  Here is a quick break down of numbers:

Gas – $1113 (efficiency dropped significantly after compression issues plagued The Beast)
Food – $293 (including booze)
Car repair (oil change, check engine light (x2), new tire) – $263
National Parks Pass – $80
Sonoma – $345 (food, booze, lodging for 3 nights)
Parking – $8
Gifts – $172
Tolls – $40
Platform build – $78
Air mattress – $137
misc – $75
TOTAL – $2604

NOT FRUGAL.  I spent less on a month-long trip to Spain plus 2.5 weeks in Thailand/Hong Kong (both including airfare) COMBINED than this 30-day trip cost me.  If you add in the fact that I missed out on a whole month of work (around $6500), well, the very idea would bring tears to my 2015 self.  Thankfully I am no longer that person.  Though I tend to be quite frugal in my daily life, there are specific circumstances when I feel it is important to splurge – travel and experiences like this will always be those for me.  I don’t worry about each dollar the way I once did.  In fact, I barely think about it at all anymore.  That is the beauty of being in a good financial position.  Of course, I could have spent double, triple, and quadruple what I did but it’s unlikely that it would have given me any greater joy.

A few other stats of importance…

0 – Number of times I have been locked out, raped, or murdered (my biggest fears when imparting on this trip – more on that in a sec)
0 – Number of times updated any of my spreadsheets…somehow I have found better things to do!!
1 – Number of tires I changed while an endless stream of 80 mph trucks whizzed by
2 – Number of Paul Bunyan’s I passed
2 – Number of mechanics The Beast visited
2 – Times I used my stove to cook (and even then it was just to boil water 😉 )
2 – Number of times I went to Starbucks to write
0 – Number of posts I published that I wrote at Starbucks)
7 – Number of ticks I pulled off Bubs in one sitting
11 – Number of nights we slept in my car (out of  30)
16 – Number of states visited
8798 – Number of miles driven across this fabulous country
10000 – Number of songs I belted out at the top of my lungs

Here is what I learned about van life (in my case, car life) along the way…

1. Sleeping Stealth

  • California has THE BEST rest stops allowing you to legally park and be stopped for 8 hours (no camping).  Of course, sleeping in a tiny rig like mine does not allow for a pleasant 8 hours of sleep, but if you had a larger vehicle this is a great way to go.  Bathrooms all night, somewhat safe due to constant patrolling, and did I mention bathrooms all night?? What more could you ask for??
  • If you can’t find a rest stop (or get a bad feeling about one), parking in a hotel parking lot is your best bet.  Most people say Walmart, but you stick out like a sore thumb (especially if your license plate is from another state).  If you DO stay in a hotel parking lot, be a doll and don’t use their bathrooms or grab free breakfast in the morning.  #uncouth  To avoid that, my nightly routine involved stopping at a gas station, filling up for the morning, using their bathroom, walking the dog, then driving to the hotel to park.  Once there, I didn’t get out of my car at all until morning. Be stealth and you won’t be bothered.
  • If the above doesn’t work for you, or you have a bigger rig, check out or  Some of the places listed are a little sketchy for my taste but others are spot on when it comes to the best bang for your buck (which is zero).

2. Hygiene??  Planet Fitness is hands down the best investment you can make!!

  • A one-year membership costs $22/month (+$39 yearly fee) for unlimited access to any PF location.
  • You can bring a guest for FREE.  That means a couple only needs one membership.
  • FREE Wifi and massage chairs
  • Most are open 24 hours

If you decide to ditch the road, you can always downgrade your membership to the $10/month version but keep in mind that only allows you access to your local branch.  Also, a fee may apply so depending on how many months you have left on your membership it may not be worth the cost.

3. Safety – This one is for the ladies.  It was said to me many times before, during, and after this trip by females of all ages, “I could never do anything like that!  I’d be too scared.”  DO NOT LET FEAR CONTROL YOU.  I am well aware that we have certain disadvantages when it comes to size and stature, but what we lack in those we make up for with our keen instincts and sensibility (not a dig to the dudes by any means).  TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.  This one point alone has made it possible for me to travel all over the world solo and not get bogged down with unnecessary fears (we all get them, just try to keep it in check).  If you don’t feel right about a situation, leave it.  No apologies necessary.  It doesn’t matter if it is 2am or 2pm, turn tail and walk (run if you have to) away.  You will never regret following your instincts, but you may regret it if you don’t.


  1. Bring an extra set of keys.
  2. Carry an extra credit card – hide it somewhere in your car for emergencies (like if you lose your wallet or leave your card at a gas station 132 miles away from where you are trying to buy lunch – don’t ask how I know this).
  3. If you are traveling with a dog, an old one is a good companion.  They sleep most of the day and are ever so grateful to get out and sniff but they won’t wake you up in the middle of the night to play.  They will, however, wake you up by kicking you, barking/running in their sleep, or laying completely across your side of the car.
  4. Load up on music, podcasts, or other things to keep your brain busy and active…especially when traveling alone.  Being alone with your thoughts is a good thing most of the time.  In the other times, music is a great fall back!
  5. Have a breakdown kit ready to go – carry extra motor oil, water, toilet paper, hand warmers, matches/lighter, tampons, snacks, etc.
  6. Carry a legit paper map.  GPS is not always available in this grand vast country of ours.  Know where you are so when you go off grid you can get yourself back.
  7. Don’t let your gas tank go under 1/4 unless you are certain there is a gas station nearby.  I had more than a couple close calls in areas that I would not want to be stranded.
  8. Pay the $80* and get the America The Beautiful National Parks PassAmerica The Beautiful National Parks Pass!!  It is a sound investment for visits up to one year at all of our National Parks for one car (including 3 guests traveling with you – children 16 and under are free).  Also, it may be used by 2 different people and you don’t need to be related or live in the same home.  Split the cost with someone who is not traveling at the same time as you!  *FREE for active duty military
  9. Know some basic car maintenance before you set out on the road.  At the very least you should be able to:
    • Know where the dipstick is and how to check your oil and add if necessary
    • Know where/how to add water/coolant to your radiator if your car overheats
    • Know how to jumpstart your car (and carry cables)
  10. Pack and repack your car before you leave for your trip.  Everything should have a place so it is easy to find quickly and/or in the dark.  You will lose less of your belongings this way.  In 30 days the only thing I left behind was a wine glass (this because, you know, wine was involved).


At the risk of turning this into the 10,000-word post I was trying to avoid, let me leave you with this…OUR COUNTRY IS AMAZING.  You guys, FOR REAL!!  I know, I know, I travel for a living so you think I would have figured this out by now.  And to some extent, I have.  But being able to see the landscape change from mile to mile, state to state has been a spectacular experience.  And then there are the people.  The people I met along the way and all their words of encouragement, to a complete stranger none the less, really solidified my belief that there is good just waiting to be discovered.  From the woman who offered her place for the night to the man who stopped to help me change my tire, then following me for a few miles to make sure all was well…  I can go on and on.

I’d also like to give special thanks to every one of the non-strangers that helped make this road trip a success.  You all know who you are and I appreciate all of your hospitality whether it came in the form of housing, keeping me company via phone/text, assisting with power tools for platform tweaking, advising me on places to see/detours to take, and for feeding me things that didn’t come from a drive-through, can, box, or package (my diet was not the best on this trip!).  I know I say this all the time but I am so grateful to have such wonderful and supportive friends!!

It took me 20 years to make good on this idea of a cross-country road trip.  I can guarantee it won’t take another 20 before I do it again.

Until next time…


* Seriously, isn’t she amazing??  Tonya has also done videos on some of my favorite people in this community such as Liz Thames from The Frugalwoods and Cait Flanders  – both of whom just published books!!  If you didn’t catch those pieces before, make sure to check them out now!!

64 thoughts on “Road Trip Finances, Factoids, & #VanLife Wisdoms

  1. it is really very nice finance blog. thanks for sharing this blog with us. your blog all point really very helpful for me. once again thanks for sharing this blog with us.


  2. What an awesome trip! I’ve driven cross-country many times and I have to say that my favorite trips were the ones when we detoured off the main highways. There are so many funny roadside attractions in every state. I can definitely relate to that fear when I travel alone, but I try to push it to the back of my mind. Every day I run by myself, and if I gave into those thoughts, I would never leave my home. I don’t want fear to hold me back from doing the things that I love.


  3. Penny

    Scheming on a lengthy road trip – loved seeing the build out of the beast and the info on sleeping in your car. Back when I had a Subbie, I would fold the seats down, put down a cheapie foam mattress, and sleep in the back with my stuff in totes next to me. Not glamorous, but very functional and I felt safe.


  4. Chenna

    I looking for FI groups in Atlanta. I am really impressed to see the choosefi atl pic above. Could you share more details about the meetup?


  5. I want to be you when I grow up–wait, I’m already grown up!

    I’m inspired by your bravery. I think of all of the things that could go wrong with travel like this. Thank you for shifting my focus to all the things that can go exactly right. Looking forward to hearing about your future adventures!


  6. the pretty poems

    I really need to fulfill the wonderlust in me I really want to get a bus or van and travel. That’s so sweet she made a video too!!


  7. Amy Blacklock

    So much love for this! I can just picture you singing and smiling. Awesome! Great advice too. And congrats on the Money article!


  8. I echo what everyone else says here. Cuz you know we’re all extremely JEALOUS of the adventures you get yourself into!

    You’re like the Huckleberry Finn of FIRE bloggers, Bianca. Don’t ever get caught, and keep on writing. 🙂


    1. Haha / I do get myself into some doozies!! And I’ll take that title of Huck Finn of FIRE. People usually relate me to Carmen Sandiego or Dora the Explorer but I know my true identity aligns more so with that of a 13 year old boy. Especially when humor is involved. 😉


  9. The trip looks awesome… and Tonya is very talented!!!!

    I used to live in NOLA…. I LOVED it!

    I’m starting to consider a cross country trip myself, but car-free, with only a backpack. The plan is to mostly walk, but I will also use Amtrak, Greyhound, and local public transportation. Maybe even hitch hike, if I can do it safely. 🙂 I will stay in some hotels, but I also plan to camp, couch-surf, homestay, housesit and WWOOF. I would also look into volunteering in local communities for a night to sleep in a church, community center, animal shelter, etc… I just want to be able to travel very slowly and connect with people and nature, have amazing conversations and a lot of time to think and reflect. The work that I do part time can be accomplished independent of location and time of day, so I may try to continue to work.

    I know what you mean about putting these things off. I’ve had this burning desire to do this kind of journey for about 10 years now… it is time for me to get going! I just have to work out the logistics with my husband. 🙂

    I know what you mean about the fear, especially being a woman. However, as you eluded to, I am also the kind of person where my biggest ‘fear’ is being on my deathbed and regretting something!


    1. Ohhhhh – your trip sounds amazing!! Have you read the book A Walk Across America by Peter Jensen? It is an all time favorite of mine chronicling his, well, walk across America back in the 70s. I read it for the first time about 20 years ago (and many many times since) and it has been the best inspiration for me to be able to go out and conquer without the letting the fear conquer me first. Let me know if you read it and what you think! And make sure to keep me posted if you do set on this journey. I would love to follow along!


    1. Thank you!! I struggled with this post because there was so much info I wanted to share but didn’t want to overwhelm anyone considering a similar trip. Glad it came out somewhat concise. 😅


  10. Deanna Broaddus

    How incredibly fun! I love your assessment that our country is amazing 🙂

    Thank you for the travel tips!

    I look forward to meeting you at CampFI this weekend!


    1. Hi Deanna! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I’m so excited for camp and looking forward to meeting you and a bunch of other new friends as well! I finally have my travel plans in order, now I just need Friday to come!! Where is Friday?? 😁


    1. Really?! Hysterical!! We were somewhere near Guerneville and had to stop for a photo shoot with old man Paul. The group photos were a bit risqué (mind you, this before driving anything that day) – this is the only PG version that was safe to share. 😂


  11. Such a cool epic road trip, looks like you had a blast!

    We need more badass women like you to show people that women can travel alone easily and safely – and the danger is an irrational fear.


    1. Thanks, Ms Zi You! It was a blast indeed. I can’t tell you how many times I was driving down the road and smiling like a fool. It felt like I was getting away with something!! 😄

      Irrational is exactly the right word. Of course, bad things do happen but the likelihood of them happening is far less in reality. So do we never leave Home on the slight chance that we could get hurt? Or do we explore life and live out loud and take the chance? I’ve been in some scary situations, I’m not immune, but I’d risk that all again to be able to experience the flip side of the coin any day. For the small amount of bad out there, there is an overwhelmingly vast amount of good. It’s easier to see it if we focus there instead.


  12. mrswow2017

    Great trip recap! Super Jealous of your trip.

    We’re honored to be a part of it! I looks like such a good time, and we’re seriously talking about doing something similar. What a great way to see the country and spend some time just figuring it all out.

    BTW… the fact that you have a picture of breakfast at our house doesn’t do much for the whole sister wives rumor. HAHA. Regardless… you’re welcome back anytime!!


    1. Do it!! Bubs and I will happily house sit and live in you me garage whilst you’re away. I’ll work on getting through Insanity without being winded. As for the sister wives, we’re taking it to the next level at FinCon 18. Hmmmm… or maybe that’s a good theme for your calendar month. 👯‍♀️


  13. Some quick thoughts on this marvelous post.

    Tonya is freakin’ awesome.
    I’m freakin’ jealous you got to meet the WoWs in person.
    And, finally, America is indeed a freakin’ kick-ass country! Mrs. Groovy and I love getting out on the road and meeting people. One of our fondest memories was a recent road trip along the Gulf Coast. And, I kid you not, one of the highlights of that great trip was eating boudin at a Louisiana gas station in the middle of nowhere.

    Thanks for sharing, Bianca. You’re a national treasure. Cheers.


    1. I remember that post on the boudin!! Damn – why do all the best memories revolve around food?! 😂

      Tonya is super talented! And being friends with the WoWs is one of the highlights of my last year blogging. We originally met when I was in LA for an overnight (introduced by Tonya) and they were kind enough to take me out to a brewery. It was love at first sip. 🙂

      Will you Groovy’s be at FinCon?? I need to add you to my list of in person friends (though you know I already count you as family! 😁). If so, I look forward to seeing you then. If not, I feel an East coast road trip coming on!!


  14. Susan @ FI Ideas

    Your trip has been fantastic to follow vicariously, both from your Instagram and from Tonya’s excellent video. You are so right about not letting fear control you, especially for women travelers. I remember being so afraid of going on a 2 week road trip to Baja. We kept doing head checks. Yep, no machetes got us. Onward! It was silly. Like you say, people you meet on the road are amazingly kind and helpful. What in inspiration it is to have seen your photos, which are really nicely done.


    1. Thank you for following this journey so closely! You were so kind to offer a place for us to rest and I am sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect. This is the first of many trips to come so I know our paths will cross sometime soon.

      That trip to Baja sounds fabulous!! Did you happen to surf at all? I am dying to learn and if I remember correctly (and I do because I am a super fan), Baja was a favorite surf spot for Dylan on 90210. 😉


  15. That sounds like an amazing trip! When I moved from California to DC I drove across in about 7 days with my dad and it was probably my favorite vacation ever. I’ve been itching to do it again over a longer period ever since! Would love to see a map outline of the path you took!


    1. Oh poop – thanks for reminding me!! That was one of the pics I wanted to share but I never updated the map on the way home. I will definitely add that in the coming week. 🙂

      California to DC – what a haul but what a great trip to do with your Dad. My Dad and I drove my sister’s car home from upstate Maine to Chicago in the middle of summer. The car had no AC… Needless to say, it was not a trip full of fond memories. We are lucky we didn’t kill each other!


  16. byoung309

    What a trip, congrats! I took a similar trip throughout the south and southwest and noticed the same, ie. when you slow down, there’s so much to see and so many interesting people along the way. Anyone can throw down some money and sit on a cruise ship for a week, but getting out and navigating the country on your own is the way to go! And only $40 on tolls, wow.


    1. Well, to be fair, I didn’t look up the tolls that were used with my ipass but I didn’t pass through too many. I got whacked with unpaid toll tickets from both Florida and California but thankfully was home in time to pay them before I got a fine. I didn’t even see a toll booth!

      I would really like to head out again and visit more National Parks. Temps were cold in early February and I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the snow. Perhaps this fall would be a good time to go. My parks pass is good until next February!!


  17. I love this! I did a 3 week tour of most of the western states and it was really amazing. The skies went on forever. I had my hubby and kids with me and we did quite a bit of camping, which was great. I would really like to do it again soon now that my kids are older and not interested in hanging with mom at the moment. Maybe I could convince my hubs to sleep in a car too? I’m gonna try!


    1. How fun to be able to do it with the whole family! As they get older, that is one of those experiences they may not appreciate in the moment but will talk about in years to come. I still remember a trip my sisters and I took with our mom in our early teens. It was a lot of eye-rolling and complaining at the time but some of my fondest memories as well and a great bonding experience for all of us. Let me know how it works out with convincing your hubby. I know not many people were interested in joining me…don’t think I didn’t try!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Jason – those pictures are gorgeous!! What are you shooting with? I decided a while back to get a “real” camera as opposed to using my iphone al the time but once I had the camera and manual in my hands I got so intimidated I returned it. With pics like yours, I am motivated to try again.

      As for your build, I just replaced The Beast with a newer perkier version and plan to do a build similar to your but leaving all the seats in. I want to be able to fold the whole thing back to the trunk area and only plan to do a half platform instead of the full one I did last go around. Keeping my fingers crossed my ideas come to fruition and I am able to salvage most of the original build for the new one!!


      1. Jason

        Thanks! I let myself make two big purchases last year – a good mountain bike and a real camera. I don’t regret either one and still reached my FI goal this past December! After LOTS of research I went with the Sony a5100 and a 12mm wide-angle lens for the landscape and night shots. Watched lots of Tony and Chelsea on YouTube to slowly learn how to use it. I’m still learning, but it’s a fun process.
        Car/van builds are an evolving process, I like the half platform idea and being able to fold it away. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!


        1. Congrats on reaching FI!! I’ve got a little ways to go but I’m at the point where I can see it in the distance!!

          Thanks for the tip on Tony and Chelsea as well as the camera rec. I’ll look into that for sure. For the build, I’m planning to have it done in the next two weeks. I have a trip coming up where a car bed would be every useful. Fingers crossed!!


  18. David

    So Good! I will be sharing with many. Thanks for having this experience and posting so that we can all learn what is possible.


  19. TheRetirementManifesto

    Black pants at Cafe du Monde? Say it ain’t so! (Yes, we can see the white powder on your leg!). Haha. Great trip, great post. Happy you were able to make it happen, and nice to see you writing again.


    1. Cuz, you know how I roll! Beyond the powder sugar on my leg, there was all sorts on Bubs fur when I was done. Shit get’s crazy in The Big Easy! And it’s good to be back…


  20. looks like a great trip. that is a very well done video. i’m glad you made nola part of the itinerary too. i though we might see you on our way home from there via midway yesterday. now you gotta go back to work and get more travel funds.


    1. NOLA is such a beautiful city with so much history…and obviously AMAZING food!! What an awesome way to spend your 50th birthday!! I will be turning 40 in September and have yet to plan my birthday trip. I’m thinking Italy or Greece or Peru or Iceland or or or… 🙂


  21. “They will, however, wake you up by kicking you, barking/running in their sleep, or laying completely across your side of the car.” Hahaha I know how true this is

    Looking forward to hearing more about the trip and seeing you this weekend!


  22. Yay you finally created a post! bout’ damn time! lol! Thank you so much for the kind words and sharing the video! And if you’re reading my comment, feel free to hire me for freelance. 🙂 So, just say the word and you can go with me on my Canadian rockies road trip in June. Seriously, I want to split the cost with someone. lol!


      1. Lurking in the comments to say come to the Canadian Rockies! They are beautiful and you won’t regret it, and I have tips!

        I’m heading out on a road trip (that includes our rockies but also down to Yellowstone) in June but just for a couple of weeks. I’d love to explore more but time is an issue…dammit day job. It looks like your getaway was a total success and that video is fantastic.


        1. I ❤️ a good lurk – especially when it comes with suggestions for an upcoming trip! We will definitely reach out for those tips. In regards to your trip, sounds exciting! I’ve never been to Yellowstone but I have until February to use my national parks pass. It’s definitely on the list for my next road trip. Heck you may get there before me so you can give me tips on that one too!!

          PS – I felt the pain of no pay check after getting back from my trip. Damn jobs is right!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s