California For Less Than $25 A Day

Now when I say California, I don’t mean the big cities, like San Francisco or LA, although you should surely visit them too. I’m talking vast nature, highest trees in the world, dramatic cliffs and ocean views on the highway 1, the desert in Death Valley, the round shaped mountains of Yosemity National Park.

Seals chilling in the Big Sur
Seals chilling in the Big Sur

To travel on a tight budget in California you have to be willing to start of with an investment, because there’s one thing you really can’t do without if you want to explore it all: a car. Now buying a car is an adventure in itself, but if you didn’t like adventures, you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. Once you own a vehicle it will serve as your living room, kitchen, bedroom and mode of transportation. And it’s only yours for a little while, if you maintain it well, you’ll be able to sell it on for as much as you bought it. I did it twice and I’m going to share with you how I made work. It’s not as difficult as you might imagine it to be.

Lowest point In the USA in Death Valley
Lowest point In the USA in Death Valley

The craigslist website will be your starting point. Already from home you can email car owners, read up on tricks and tips for buying a car and set up appointments for when you arrive. If you’re willing to spend between $1000 and $1500 you can make it work. Doing it cheaper is possible, but be careful not to buy a ‘lemon,’ as Americans call a second hand car that will break down on you, the moment you drive off with it. Keep in mind that you want this car to work without doing any or very little maintenance, so it should drive perfectly, but it can look ugly as hell. In California every car needs to pass a smog test, the previous owner has to come up with that piece of paperwork. Make sure he does and if you sell the car within three months, you can use that very same smog test, no extra charge.

Half Dome, Yosemity
Half Dome, Yosemity

So once you find your car the only thing you need to do is to register it in your name (will cost about $50) and provide an address to send the car papers to. Maybe your hostel can help you out, or if you’re couch surfing your host might be willing to cooperate. For insurance, call or walk into an insurance office, the US has many, they will help you out and it won’t cost more than about $50 a month.

My trustworthy car
My trustworthy car

Once you’ve got wheels you are free to go wherever you fancy. To make you’re $25 a day last I recommend you to camp out, stock up on food in budget supermarkets along the way and cook it yourself as you chill out on lakesides, in ancient forests or on top of a sand dune. No matter where you are, a freely available picnic table is never far away. If you’re in need of some cheap camping gear, you’ll find that in one of the many Walmarts on the outskirts of any moderately sized city. Gas is very affordable and if you don’t get too big a car a full tank will last you many miles. To save money I generally avoid paid campsites, as there are many free ones. Check out the website for some inspiration in this department.

desolated places on the road
Desolated places on the road

After some serious road tripping, when the end of your visa is drawing near, put an add on craigslist or use couchsurfing and similar traveller sites to attract adventurers like yourself to buy your car. I never had any problem getting my car sold, but if you are unlucky you can always go to a second hand car dealer and settle for a little less. In the end, adding up al your expenses, you’ll see that this trip hardly costs more than kicking it in India. Be warned though: it will take more of your time and energy tramping around like this. You’ll do without the luxury of a soft bed, or a daily shower, but I guarantee that it will be worth it.

How do you like this idea of spending a day in California for less than $25?

writing sara

Author’s bio:
Sara Kee is a natural born traveler, writer and cowboy philosopher from the Netherlands (Amsterdam). Sara believes that the best things in life are for free, that’s why her first English translated book is available without charge on the Traveling Kind.


We want you to know! Some links on this page may be affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from what you buy. 
It will never cost you extra, or make us bias, but helps us run this blog and occasionally get a good cup of coffee. 
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
Do you want to contribute?
Publish your guest post on Etramping!

32 thoughts on “California For Less Than $25 A Day”

  1. I would absolutely love to do a road trip in the States! It’s a long standing dream of mine! I would be slightly worried about not being able to sell the car, though!

  2. I love road trips and this is something very different that I’ve never done. I’m not sure if I’d buy a car though (even if it’d make more sense) or simply rent one.

  3. Living and traveling for $25 or less a day is hard in the USA. The cheapest hotel costs around $40 a night for one person (and that’s at a motel 6, no kitchen in those). Hostels or couchsurfing is definitely the way to go if you don’t rent/buy a car. Also, gas prices keep going down! Good news for all car owners out there!

  4. Buying a car and reselling it is a great idea, but unless you buy a total junker, you need to have a few thousand dollars saved for an old, but usable car. If you’re buying a car on Craig’s List, I suggest getting it checked out by a reputable mechanic to make sure it’s in good condition. In the USA- they don’t say “Buyer Beware” for no reason. People also buy cars on Ebay.

    1. Good point having it checked out by a mechanic! definitely worth your money.
      In my experience $1500 is enough to buy a properly working vehicle. of course it’s a bit of gamble and you need to save up beforehand, but it can work out pretty well. last time I went I bought a car together with a friend, we paid 2300 and sold it later for 4000. Not saying this to show off, but to point out that the ‘gamble’ of buying a car can turn out bad, but also very good.

  5. Not sure about $25 a day in the US… The lowest I could ever go (not counting the accommodation) was like $40 and it’s literally doing nothing :(

    P.S. Small tip: It’s Yosemite, not Yosemity.

  6. California is a State that certainly seems to be best explored by vehicle. I think a road trip around would be amazing, though I think I would prefer to just rent a car or drive down with one from Canada!

  7. I’ve always wanted to travel the states properly, and California is on my list. It’s amazing how you don’t really travel within your the country your from. It’s on my list of things to do. And, also, become a better driver :)

    1. It’s a guest post, Mike. I have not made it there yet, but I’m planning to in the future :). MERRY CHRISTMAS! :* Wishing you all the best xx :)

  8. Interesting! If I ever reach the US, I’d like to travel like this. But why one can’t simply rent a car? It would be more expensive? Or it would be uncomfortable to come back from your trip in order to return the car?

  9. Spending a day in California for less than $25 would be just too amazing! California is one of my dream destinations. I love the vineyards and the outdoor life there.

  10. Very true that a car is necessary to travel in America outside the cities. Great tips for how buying a car works in America. If buying a car, probably want to go with Honda or Toyota. They seem to last a lot longer, are more reliable, and easier to fix when things do go wrong.

    1. Good point! go with an Asian brand. I have some good experiences with nissan as well. and always research the weaknesses of the car you aim to buy (every car has some flaw) before you do a testdrive.

  11. Great guide. I never imagined that staying anywhere in the USA for under $25 a day would be possible, but you guys show again that impossible is nothing!

  12. Sounds amazing! I have done a road trip around California but it cost a bit more than $25 a day LOL. I was quite OK with it as we had our son with us, and we were travelling in winter! The idea of buying and selling a car on the road is brilliant as without a car in the US, you’re toast!
    We had a great time doing our roadtrip through California, Arizona, Utah, and Neveda and we’d probably do it again but perhaps on the East Coast this time. Thanks for sharing Sara. :)

  13. I would highly recommend doing a car rental. You will have a like new car, that will be efficient, reliable and someone you can call if there are any problems. You’ll need insurance. Most credit cards (not MasterCard) provides car rental insurance as part of your card benefits. You’ll just return the car when you are ready to leave and there is no problem. Because California is a beautiful and scenic state, filled with natural wonders there are many terrains and challenging roadways. An old car would be asking for trouble and a more realistic number for finding something that might not break down is $5-6000. We still call these clunkers, but you would at least have a chance of getting up a hill or driving scenic Highway ! with one. I think the word for the $1000 to $1500 car would be junkers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.