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Get our top tips for saving money on a campervan trip:

By Francine Ellison

1.) Brief Background On Who You Are And Where You’re From? 

“We are a 23-year-old couple from the UK, Oliver and Francine. We’re from Leeds in the North of England. We both quit our jobs and started our USA road trip in April 2019.”

Dispersed camping upstate new york in campervan

2.) What Led You To Book A US Road Trip + How Did You End Up Booking With Escape? (Process You Went Through When You Looked At Buying A Campervan, Trying To Figure Out Insurance, Etc)

We both had ambitions of going traveling, initially considering Australia. Somewhere down the line, our plans took a turn as we started discussing an American road trip. We were aware this would probably be a pricier option but the more we researched, the more set we were on our decision.  The planning was easy; the difficulty was having such huge ideas and pulling them off with a comparably small budget. 

Of course, the dream was to travel the country in a campervan, just like you see in the movies. After contacting a few rental companies we quickly realized this dream may not be achievable but then we came across Escape Campervans. We got a great quote on a Maverick campervan and had our minds made up when some friends across the pond suggested buying one. With a contact in the USA, the prospect of finding a campervan to purchase seemed like a more sensible option, with the intention of selling it back once our trip was over. This turned out to be a far more expensive and difficult process than we had anticipated. 

First of all, with our friends being in New Jersey, we were looking for vans for sale on the East Coast which meant our options were far more limited than if we were looking in the West. The main thing to consider when purchasing as a non-US citizen is you need an address and someone to be the registered keeper. We were lucky enough to have this but without this, the option of buying a camper is pretty much dead in the water. 

The second thing to look at was insurance. The insurance in the USA is far more expensive than in the UK, particularly when under the age of 25. Not only this but many companies require a social security number which of course we do not have. This would have taken a significant cut out of our budget before the trip even began.

Once we finally arrived in the US and went to view a van in our price range it was old…like 1999 old.  Even with its age and being relatively small, this was at the top of our budget. We quickly realized that if anything were to go wrong with this fuel-guzzling machine doing 6 miles per gallon, our funds would be blown in an instant. After coming to the quick conclusion that purchasing a van was pretty much out of the question, we reached back out to Escape Campervans who were great and provided us a new quote. 

TIP: One of the best things about Escape is there is no young driver fee, no additional driver fee, and if anything goes wrong you have the peace of mind that this will be fixed without additional cost. Receiving this from Escape was a sigh of relief, we realized how much extra money we would have to complete all the things we wanted to do and see. We loved the unique prints on each van and spotting other Escape vans out on the road and at our campsites. Overall our experience with Escape allowed us to have the trip of a lifetime that we had.

Campervan under the stars at night

3.) How Did You Plan Out Your Route And All The Stops?

Oli was the main planner and mapped out the route; start to finish from scratch, his brain just works that way. We started with key points we knew we wanted to see. Many of the main cities and National Parks were the guiding points so the rest was mapping out the best way to get to them. 

We wanted to ensure we didn’t waste any time or miles on the more boring highway driving, so we tried to find the most scenic routes to our destinations, even if that meant taking a bit of a detour. The months before our departure were hours of sitting on Google Maps and planning our stops and activities. Our plan was to start in New York and end in San Francisco…which is what we did. After a slight change of plan and an additional route stop off to Florida, here we picked up our Escape Campervan from the Orlando depot and started 5 months of van life.

4.) How Did You Find Out Where To Camp?

 Before embarking on our trip we had thoroughly researched Boondocking. In the USA this is designated land where you are legally allowed to camp for free, often scenic areas with little to no facilities. This was probably our biggest money saver throughout our trip. Bar a few cities and areas where it was too hot to sleep in the van, we camped everywhere for free. 

We used an app called Campendium which allows you to search for free camping in and around the area. We sometimes had to base parts of our routes on finding camping as some areas are more sparse than others but when it’s free who cares! Even in cities on the East Coast, places like Cracker Barrel restaurants allow campers to park up in their lots for free, with the kind of mutual agreement that you get a meal there (and their breakfast is delicious).

Pretty much everywhere had at least a couple of options and if we didn’t like one, we would move on to the next. When you find that perfect spot there’s no feeling like it – and some of our most beautiful overnight destinations didn’t cost us a penny.

Man eating next to a campervan

5.) What Were The Top Highlights Of Your Campervan Road Trip?

What was the highlight of your trip is honestly the question we get most often – and it is almost impossible to pick one. The USA is the most incredible country for us; you can drive a couple hours and go from a beach, to mountains, to a rainforest. The variety of the scenery was beyond what we had expected. When looking back, the most prominent highlights were probably in the National Parks. The feeling you get when you spend time in these areas of unbelievable beauty is like nothing else. 

Our whole journey was the highlight, living life on the road with no cares and no stress is incomparable. Living in a campervan gives you the freedom to visit anywhere and to come and go as we pleased. We met some amazing people along the way and we just miss being in our little van in the USA. We traveled a total of 20,000 miles, through 30 states, over 100+ cities, and visited 27 national parks – all in 6 months! A few of our favorite destinations were Yellowstone, the Olympic Peninsula, Nashville, Glacier National Park, Las Vegas, The Great Sand Dunes, Utah…it’s impossible to choose!

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Yellowstone is open daily, year-round, although activities and services are limited at night and certain times of year. The park has five entrance stations, but not all entrance stations are open year-round. Make sure to carefully read about access at each station at different times of year. And remember, all dates are weather-dependent. Please note that camping is possible only in designated campgrounds.

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Adjacent to the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, the West Entrance is usually open (weather-dependent) to wheeled vehicles from the third Friday in April through early November, and to tracked-oversnow (snowmobiles and snowcoaches) vehicles from December 15 to March 15.

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Near the gateway community of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance is the only park entrance open to wheeled vehicles all year. November through April, the North Entrance provides the only access to Cooke City, Montana. US Highway 212 east of Cooke City is closed to wheeled vehicles November through April. The road from Mammoth to Norris opens to wheeled vehicles the third Friday in April through early November, and to tracked-oversnow vehicles, conditions permitting, from December 15 to early March.

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Depending on the weather and conditions, this entrance usually opens to wheeled vehicles the first Friday in May and to tracked-oversnow vehicles December 22 through March 15.

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Open (weather-dependent) to wheeled vehicles from the second Friday in May through early November and to tracked-oversnow vehicles from December 15 to March 15. Limited services are available near the South Entrance.

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Near the gateway communities of Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana, this entrance is open year around for wheeled vehicle access to Cooke City through Gardiner, Montana. US Highway 212 east of Cooke City is closed to wheeled vehicles November through April. Opening dates for roads east of Cooke City vary from year to year, depending on the weather. The Beartooth Highway is open from late May/early June (weather dependent) to mid October.

Hours:

All Park Hours

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

West Entrance

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

North Entrance

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

East Entrance

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

South Entrance

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

Northeast Entrance

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day
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Glacier National Park is open 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. An entrance fee is required, even when the entrance stations are not staffed. Instructions are available at each entrance for self-payment.

Hours:

Glacier National Park

Sunday: All Day
Monday: All Day
Tuesday: All Day
Wednesday: All Day
Thursday: All Day
Friday: All Day
Saturday: All Day

6.) Tips For Living Van Life/Saving Money/Making Life Easier On The Road? Any Unexpected Surprises? Anything You Would Do Differently If You Did It Again? (Specifically For Other International Renters Like Yourselves).

Like we said before if you can find free camping, do it. It might not always be glamorous, but it is definitely worth it.  But also some things to remember:

  • Get some plastic storage boxes: If you’re doing a long road trip like ours, space-saving and organization is essential. We separated our clothes and stored them in these boxes underneath the bed. We also tended to keep the bed unfolded to utilize the storage underneath. This minimized the amount of shuffling we had to do in an evening to arrange our bed. 
  • Get a National Park Card: Entry to a single park can be around $30. If you pay for the $80 membership card, you get unlimited entry to any National Park across the country for a whole year. This was essential for us as we’d have spent over $800 otherwise.
  • If you can, cook as much as possible: Of course, you’ll want to eat out sometimes, so save some money to experience local cuisines and special treats. You can make some awesome meals using the gas stove provided with the van and you can’t beat eating outside while looking at an amazing view.
  • Make the most of cheap fuel: Look around and make sure you’re getting the best price. This isn’t something we are used to in the UK as fuel prices are pretty standard. In the US you can go across the street and pay in excess of 50 cents per gallon more. 
  • Stop at Walmarts and McDonalds for bathroom breaks: Make the most of their free Wi-Fi. It’s not the healthiest but on long road trips grabbing some cheap fast food is often a good option. 
  • Plan your showers: Showering was probably one of the more challenging aspects of the road trip. We utilized the solar shower provided with our van, but if you want a nice hot shower, make the most of the National Park facilities. Often these showers were less than $5 and much cheaper than using truck stops. 
  • Be aware of peak times: Something to consider is in peak season, find camping early. Unfortunately one of the downsides to a mobile camper is that you have nothing to detach to save your space at a boondocking spot. When you can’t reserve a space, people will come early to detach their trailer and the more popular sites fill up early.  Factor this into your plan, you may need to get up a little earlier and finish your day a little earlier to get a space. 
  • Paid camping is a good option:  If you don’t need hookups it’s usually $20 or less for the night – first come first served can be a long wait if you don’t pre-book, particularly in the summer months. We’d turn up at 3 am and there’d be some dude sat in a camp chair outside the office waiting already. 
  • Beware of the animals: Get used to the fact that there are animals out there and they can be a serious threat if you are unprepared. Where we are from in the UK, the scariest animal you’re going to come across is probably a cow. It’s a strange thing to get used to being hiking or camping around animals you may not want to have a close encounter with. Be clued up on how to deal with an encounter if it was to happen – most national parks have great guides on how to do this. Also, buy your bear spray from somewhere like Walmart, as being caught off guard and having to buy it in a park can cost you almost double. 

Campervan in a forest

Rent A Campervan And Give It A Try!

In hindsight we would not have wasted the time considering buying. If we had a significantly higher budget maybe this would be an option but renting gives you the security of knowing that if something goes wrong that you can quickly sort it and it will not impact your trip too much. 

Part of the fun was keeping an eye out for people in their funky Escape vans and the paint jobs were always a great conversation topic with people who hadn’t seen one before.

We would do it all over again in a heartbeat. We happily would still be living van life if we could and we could not recommend an experience like this enough. Rent a campervan and let your experience speak for itself!

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