12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be elusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.


Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as we go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.


The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I could never have done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I simply ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is what it’s all about. Each precious minute. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.


2 thoughts on “12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

  1. I have no tips as I do not travel, nor do I much care to. As you note, people’s desires and passions differ. Mine are needlework, reading, writing, cooking & baking. All I need is time. That will come. In 768 days.
    Never completely materialistic, as I age I try to pare down more and live more simply. It’s a work in progress.
    Lovely piece, Sheila
    As usual.

    Liked by 1 person

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