At first when I realized we were going across the country from Pennsylvania to California, I thought of all these awesome places I wanted to go! New Orleans, Savannah, Austin, Las Vegas, Phoenix etc . I started to plan it out, but when I did the math, just gas and hotels was over $1,000!!! We definitely couldn’t afford that, especially since we had to pay for a new apartment and getting settled in California when we get there! I had to scale it back, I had to pick only a few places and still plan a fun road trip.

We decided to go the southern route to California and do the northern route on our way back later this year. We did a smaller road trip in 2012, where we went to Atlanta and Memphis. So this time we wanted to try to pick places we haven’t been before, hence the untraditional route we took and not ending up on Route 66 ( which I’m dying to drive through, maybe next time!!) .

I was getting $500 reimbursement from my OT agency for travel costs, so we wanted to only spend $500 in addition to that. We ended up to doing that, eating some amazing food, seeing some amazing places and staying under budget!! Here is how we did it:

Our Route:

Our original route consisted of starting at Stephen’s parent’s house in East Greenville,PA–> Charlottesville, Virginia (where one of my best friend’s lives)—> Nashville—> Austin–> San Antonio to stop to see the Alamo–> Carlsbad, NM–> Phoenix, Arizona–> Riverside, CA. We left Dec 27th 2015 and would get to California on January 3rd, 2016.

It was a great original route, we got to see friends, see 3 new states, visit the Alamo and go to the Carlsbad National Park and hike down to the caves. Well, when we got to Austin, we saw that there was a huge snow storm in New Mexico, 12 inches of snow where we were going to go. It was unsafe for us to drive through it so we had to divert from our planned route. We ended up skipping NM and going to Tucson, Arizona instead.

road trip across the U.S. route

For us, long drives weren’t bad, some days with stops we spent 12-15 hours in the car, but we broke it up with long days and short days, for sanity! Here is how the hours broke down:

  1. Monday, Dec 28th Stephen’s Parents—> Charlottesville, VA ( 5 Hours)
  2. Tuesday, Dec 29th Charlottesville–> Nashville ( 8.5 hours)
  3. Wednesday, Dec 30th Nashville to Austin ( 12.5 hours) Spend NYE, 2 nights
  4. Friday ,Jan 1 Austin–> ( 1 hour 17 mins) Alamo–> Tucson, AZ ( 12 hours)
  5. Saturday, Jan 2rd Tucson, AZ—> Phoenix Arizona ( 1 hour 45 mins)
  6. Sunday, Jan 3th Phoenix–> RIverside, CA ( 4.5 hours)

The above hours is just Google maps times to get from point A to point B, they don’t include food and bathroom stops! We weren’t strict on times and stops, but if you are, allot 1-3 hours for stops a day.

Gas:

We were SO lucky. Gas prices were REALLY cheap on our route. For most of the country gas was between $1.55- $1.89 a gallon, except in California where it was about $3.00 a gallon. We went 3,120 miles in 7 days, and we spent a total of $164.61 on gas.

Hotels:

This can get super expensive…but I did two things to get costs down.

  1. I used points from our Chase Sapphire card to pay for the hotels in Austin and in Phoenix
  2. For the other hotels I used all Hilton hotels so we could use our HHonor points, they were reasonable and I figured I could build points that way too!

We stayed at 4 hotels for 5 nights ( Thanks Lauren for the free night in Virginia!).

  1. Nashville, TN ($100.44)

    Best Western Plus Sunrise Inn
    823 Murfreeboro Pike Nashville, TN 37217
    It was a 2 minute quick drive to downtown and had free breakfast- Exactly what we needed at this stop

  2. Austin, TX

    Doubletree Hotel University Area Austin
    1617 IH-35 North IH-35 at MLK Austin, TX 78702
    We used our Chase Sapphire points to stay here! I accidentally got this hotel and the Doubletree hotel in downtown Austin mixed up. They are the same price, but for some reason I accidentally booked this one. I wanted to be downtown, but this hotel was about 5 minutes from downtown. It was a nice hotel though, we stayed during NYE so they had noisemakers and hats on a first come first serve basis, flavored water, coffee and cookies!

  3. Tucson, AZ ($101.84)

    DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Tucson – Williams Center
    5335 East Broadway, Tucson, Arizona, 85711
    This hotel used to be a Best Western that was just turned over to a Doubletree. So the rooms are suites! It was a big room with a living room. There is a free breakfast and a nice outdoor pool.

  4. Phoenix, AZ

    Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Midtown
    4000 N. Central Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85012
    This hotel was about 10 minutes from downtown, they do have a shuttle that takes you to and from downtown which was nice. You need to make reservations, but it was easy to get. We used our Chase Sapphire points at this hotel as well.

All hotels were nice, clean, and had friendly staff. The ones that had breakfast were really convenient, but if you want to try different breakfast places out in different states, then it doesn’t really matter. I made sure they had my HHonor points so I could eventually get a free hotel stay this year. None of them were in downtown, which was a way we saved some money.

Meals:

Eating in different cities and states makes me so happy, I turn into a totally foodie and go on a quest to find some great eats in the limited times we had. I used the app TVfoodMaps a bunch on the road trip. We decided to have one nice/big meal each day and do smaller quicker meals the rest of the day. For most lunches we just stopped somewhere along the way

  • Charlottesville, VA:

    My lovely best friend Lauren cooked us an amazing dinner, so we were fortunate enough to not have to buy dinner or breakfast the next morning

  • Nashville, TN:

    We made it here just in time for dinner. We wanted BBQ. We found this wonderful casual place with the line out the door, Jack’s BBQ. The food was awesome! We shared sausage, ribs, and brisket that were all delicious. Stephen had potato salad and baked beans as sides that he really enjoyed. I had cole slaw and mac and cheese, the Mac and cheese was good, the coleslaw not so much, But you don’t go to a BBQ joint for the cole slaw.
  • ourmealatjacksbbq
    jacksbbqnashvilletn

     

  • On our way to Austin:
    We stopped at Little Rock, AR (just because we wanted to have lunch in a big city that day).

    We stopped at Capital Restaurant at the Capital hotel. Stephen had the special of the day which was fried chicken, he didn’t care for it too much (Nothing compares to Gus’s fried chicken in Memphis that we had on a previous road trip, NOTHING). I had the Reuben and the gumbo. I thought it was just okay. I wouldn’t recommend to go out of your way to eat here
  •  

  • We hit Dallas just around dinner time
    We decided to stop and take a break and have dinner there. We ate at Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill. The wait was 1.5 hours long on a Thursday, so you know the place was good. We ended up getting a seat at the bar after like 25 minutes. The food was really good. Stephen had a steak and I had a coconut shrimp. We loved it all. They also give you this amazing melt in your mouth bread.
  • Kenny's Wood Fire Grill Menu - Dallas
     

  • Austin, Tx
    We ate breakfast one morning at the hotel, it was $20 per person for the buffet. We felt it was way too much for what you got. The 2nd morning we ate at a IHOP close by, better food and cheaper.
    For lunch we ate at The Green Mesquite. this is a must stop. The food is GREAT. Stephen had the chicken wings with fries and veggies. I stole as many bites as I could possibly get because it was SO SO SO good. I had a pulled pork bbq sandwich that was good as well, but the CHICKEN WINGS, get them.

    Mesquite BBQ - Austin, TX
    steveatmesquitebbq

     
    Dinner: We ate at the Peached Tortilla

  •  

  • Tucson, Arizona
    We had lunch as the cutest and quaintest place called La Cocina Cantina. We had lunch out in a garden with a harpist playing. They had an artist shop and it was overall just a great experience. Stephen had enchiladas and I had shrimp tacos. It was all delicious
  • lacocinatucsonaz
    foodatlacocinatucsonaz

     

  • Phoenix, Arizona
    My favorite meals of the roadtrip were in Phoenix. For dinner we ate at Pizza Bianco. There was an 30 minute wait, but they have this bar next door that you can have drinks and appetizers while you wait .We had the margherita pizza with sausage. It was SO GOOD. I’m a New Yorker, and I can say this pizza was one of the best woodfire pizza’s I had. I highly recommend this place
    pizzaatpizzabiancophoenixaz
    Before we left the next morning we ate at Matt’s Big Breakfast. They had about a 30 minute wait, but it was totally worth it. The whole breakfast was just amazing. From the delicious coffee, to the peppered thick bacon and melt in your mouth waffles, to the breakfast sandwich. It was all good, we switched plates half way through, we loved both equally. I would eat here every weekend if I could.

    mattsbigbreakfastsign
    amandabreakfastmattsbigbreakfast

 
 
 
 

Activities:

To be honest, we didn’t do too much because there we had a time limit, but we tried to fit in as much fun as possible.

  • We just had drinks at Nashville after dinner. We both have done Nashville before and we got in late and wanted an early start the next day.
  • In Austin we were there for 1 full day, so we explored a little. We went to the capitol building and walked around downtown Austin

    texasstatecapitolbuilding
    We had about an hour to kill before we had to go and get ready for dinner. We.. and by we I mean I made Stephen… go to see where Friday Night Lights was filmed! We went to see the three big houses! It was fun to see and another free activity.

    For NYE we went to the Austin Music Hall for what I thought would be a Cirque De Solei type show… it was a little more Burlesque, but still entertaining…

  • We stopped at the Alamo on our way to Tucson. We wanted to see it and learn a little history! A nice quick, free, and interesting stop.
  • the alamo

  • In Tucson we went to the Arizona- Senora Desert Museum. The name sounds super lame, but it is far from it!I have no clue why they call it a museum, but it is more of an outdoor zoo and foliage park. We really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it! Tickets were $20 each.
  • desertmuseumtucsonaz

Cost:

  • Food & Alcohol: $405.04
  • Activities: $40 (+ $206 for New Years Eve)
  • Gas: $162.52
  • Hotels: $202.28

Total Spent to get across the country: $809.84. Goal: MET!

Tips:

  • Know your boundaries. We knew that we could take long drives. The drive from Nashville to Austin with all the stop we made was over 15 hours. Stephen is a great driver and could do that with lots of caffeine. Be safe and don’t drive tired
  • Some areas can be pretty desolate, with nothing around for lots of miles. In some areas gas can be scarce, so our rule was if we had half a tank of gas, we looked to fill up! We never ran out of gas, but there was times it took a while to find gas.
  • Playing off of the last tip, bathrooms can also be scarce and not too clean. I used the bathroom everytime we stopped for gas just to be safe. I also brought hand sanitizer in with me, and needed it at some stops.
  • Podcasts and Playlists are your friends! (We finished the entire first season of Serial while driving from Nashville, TN to Dallas, TX)
  • Plan your trip to your likes and interests to make it fun. We took a nontraditional route so we didn’t have the roadside attractions, but if there was, we would of definately have stopped. We love different foods so a lot of our stops were for different places to eat

 
 

Tell us below about your road trips! where are your favorite stops? If you haven’t taken one yet, let us know where you are dreaming to go!

 
Check Out Our Other Road Trip Article: 12 Road Trip Essentials
 

Amanda and Steve