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Helpful Tips to Make California Travel More Affordable

Helpful Tips to Make California Travel More Affordable

Traveling can be hard on the wallet. That statement rings even-more-true in California.

We had to get creative to afford the quality of life we like on the budget we have.

Some of these tips aren’t exclusive to California, but even-more-important there, where everything is more expensive.

Such as gas, which is the most expensive in the country. So let’s start with that!

Cheap California Travel


– Gas –

There’s not a whole lot you can do about the price of gas these days, and try as you might to plan your trip as neurotically as you want, or get your vehicle as gas milage friendly as you can, you’re going to hurt at the pump in California.

What’s the answer?

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Plan your route around the gas stations. “What’s a penny here and there?” you say! Yet a quick calculation with their trip cost calculator from Vancouver BC to San Diego shows we can save almost $40, and that’s going down the main highway, straight shot. When you add in the extra miles for the scenic route and the meanderings, it’ll be upwards of $100, and that could get you a whole lot of something else.

If you’re coming in from an eastern state, or better yet south-western Idaho, you might consider bringing along a few Jerry Cans to stock up on dirt cheap liquid black gold before heading into the golden state. Depending on how much you drive, that could cut your gas costs in half.

Also note that you can save 20¢ to the gallon at Chevron if you shop at Safeway, which gas buddy doesn’t take into account.

You’ll find a lot of the cheaper gas stations are a bit funky. For example, Arco accepts cash or debit only, and Costo requires a membership and only accepts debit or MasterCard.

While we’re on the subject, have a Costco card. It’s $50 a year and not only will you save on gas, but you’ll save on groceries too, which brings us to our next most wallet destroying expense.


– Groceries –

One of the best ways to cut costs is to make your own food. We’ll address ways to save while eating out a bit lower down, but if you’re on a budget in Cali, you won’t be doing much of it anyway.

If you can buy in bulk, do! Get your grains and your pasta, your pasta sauce, and anything else that doesn’t go bad from Costco.

You might feel like traveling isn’t conducive to buying in bulk, but ask around, maybe some of the folks staying at your hostel would love to go halfsies on a trip to Costco.

Stay away from all the junk stuff you don’t need and go straight to the traveling expert’s golden ticket items:

Trail mix items
-Anything else that could go into trail mix

Canned and jarred goods
-Tuna/crab/salmon, whatever they have
-Pasta sauce

and as mentioned before, grains and pasta

These are the long-lasting, high nutrition density items you’ll for sure eat and get your money’s worth on. All of them will be great for you while you’re camping if you’re into that kind of thing.

While you’re in there, pig out on the free samples, it’ll save you a meal ;)

Of course, you need your veggies and other necessities too, but don’t get those from Costco. You’ll have too much to carry and won’t be able to eat them fast enough.

This is a job for the very well hidden, secret superhero of the bargain aisles: Grocery Outlet.

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They’ll never have the same thing twice, you have to check expiration dates, make sure your veggies don’t have soft spots, and they’re not always in the best part of town, BUT, they have excellent products for a very large fraction of the regular price, including a great selection of organic and fair trade products.

Map your route according to where you’ll find your next outlet.

Once you’ve gotten what you could from Costco and what looked good from the Grocery Outlet, your next stop for quality/price value to fill in the holes is a local farmer’s market. They’re all over California, although the association only seems to show those in the bay area,  and you’ll help support the local community while shoving your face with delicious produce that’s good for you too.

If you still can’t find everything you need, try Trader Joe’s, or any other grocery store really! But remember that if you shop Safeway, you’ll get an extra 20¢ off the gallon at Chevron (which still might not be your cheapest option)


– Eating out –

Because if you’re traveling, you’re going to have to do it to really experience the places you’re visiting.

Look, there’s a reason food trucks have been so popular lately, and it’s that you can still (who knows for how long) get a gourmet meal for a fraction of the cost. Food Truck Talk is a blog which has a California section, and the Food Network also has a well compiled list.

Of course don’t forget to check Foursquare ;)

HOWEVER, if you save any money at all, it will be marginal.

The real way, we learned on this trip, to save big bucks while savouring local cuisines is to eat LESS.

Hear me out.

For the most part, eat your three meals in the hostel, your AirBnB kitchen, or, in our case, the van. Then, when you know there’s something you absolutely must get a taste of, cut down a little on the meals surrounding the meal you’ll be eating out and get half of what you normally would. This helps if you’re traveling as a couple or with a friend, but even if you’re not, grab a buddy and GO!

This way you’ll experience all the tastes and the fun on half the budget, that’s a significant saving.


– Lodging –

Ouch. Well… There’s a reason we got a Van. That’s all I can say really!

California Hostels will run you at least $25/night/person

California Motels will run you at least $60/night

California Hotels, I’m not even going there, and even

California CAMPING will run you $35/night. Serious.

You might get lucky with AirBnB so of course, give it a shot. We helped out a fellow traveler on his journey, maybe the same will happen to you!

If you’re the type to plan ahead, do consider Couchsurfing.
Contact hosts well in advance, but you might be able to save a whole lot that way.

We stealth camped in our van. If you don’t know what that is, don’t look it up.

Note that all BLM land and National Forests are free game, you can camp there all you want.


– Parking –

Is there anything else they can overcharge you for?!?!

Having said that, this one’s the easiest. Don’t park in pay parking. DUH!

Most of the main streets or beaches will have pay parking. Park 5 minutes away and walk. You’re paying for convenience, that convenience doesn’t have to cost you a quarter a minute.

We hope that helps, if even a little bit!

Don’t let the cost of the state keep you from visiting, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Feel free to share further tips in the comments, or let us know what did or did not work out for you!


  1. I have just dropped on your blog after seeing the heading Cheap California Travel. It is remained one of the expensive destinations in my perception.

    I believe reading blogs like of yours can actually help to achieve the aim of traveling in a budget. We can really save some good amount on eating. But will wouldn’t this make the excitement less than expected? After all travelers love food and will fail to experience the taste of these destination?

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