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From Polk County Florida To California Coast & 2 National Parks On A Budget

Pacific Coast Hwy Big Sur California

By Carl Fish

The majority of people think a trip out West or to the California coast from Polk County, Florida is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They imagine it’s thousands of dollars. Well let me tell you it can be that expensive. Depending on how you want to travel, what you want to see, what you want to do & what you want to eat it can be very expensive. If you want to go on an adventure, see nature and beauty then you can do it for a reasonable amount of money. We are going to tell you how we intend to do it for about $699 in hard costs for 2 people. This is a bare bones trip and we can tell you it CAN be done. It’s a very enjoyable trip. Here is how you can do it in the month of May 2019. The first hint is to find your travel partner and then find two more travel partners. You need two couples or two pairs of travelers. Here are key things to be thinking about:

  1. Get your travel partners. The ability to go with people that share the cost is very important. You will save in almost every area of  your trip. Air travel, car rental, gas, hotels, park passes and food are all areas you will save. This scenario is great for two couples or 4 good friends.
  2. Follow the airlines and get your tickets when they are the cheapest. You have to watch constantly. The prices for the discount airlines fluctuate constantly. Bags cost money. The less the better.
  3. Check on rental car companies constantly also. Often you will get a an online discount, but if you don’t sign up it will be gone the next time you check (Budget is like this). If you clean out your computer cookies the discount will appear. Often it is 30% discount. You don’t need to get an economy car. You can get a midsize like a Ford Fusion hybrid which gets 40 miles per gallon (this keeps your gas bill down).
  4. Hotels/Motels are all not the same, but for this trip you just want a place to sleep. It has to be clean (always pull back sheets), have hot water (you will usually get up fairly early so if it is hot when you check in it should be hot in the morning), safe (we suggest that you have a couple of choices in mind. If an area looks sketchy and your uncomfortable, then go to the next one. We often stay in outside access rooms, so the area is important), smell (all non-smoking rooms were not non-smoking from inception. So you need to reach out to the hotel/motel and double check that these were not previously smoked in rooms.) and do they have any type of continental breakfast (most have at minimum milk, juice, bagels, cereal. Some have eggs and sausage gravy and biscuits. This helps greatly when you are saving on food expenses).
  5. Food is important and can be a huge expense. This is not a food eating trip. This trip is more about seeing new places. As we mentioned the breakfast can be at the hotel/motel each day if you are willing to eat what is available. We also suggest that after check into your first hotel/motel that  you visit a Walmart, Vons, Albertson or Costco and get a cheap Styrofoam cooler. You should buy lunch meat, cheese, bread and other food and snack items that you like. Peanut butter and jelly is also a great idea for those that like it. This will provide you meals while your on the road. Dinner is up to you. If your used to eating reasonable then you won’t have a problem finding places to each cheap. If you have four people in your group then a large pizza gives everyone two slices. We really liked Jack In The Box (fast food) and you can get quite a bit for $5.00.
  6. Park pass will cost the group $80.00 and that is good for a year and all national parks. It’s good for 4 people.


Sequoia National Park Kings Canyon


Still skeptical? Well here are the actual costs for a trip in May 2019. This would be round trip airfare to Ontario California. Rental car and driving from Ontario along the coast to San Francisco. Then headed to Yosemite National Park. Then the next day driving down Central California to Sequoia National Park. This trip is going to involve a bit of driving, but it is in the beautiful state of California and a long stretch is the Pacific Coast Hwy. This is a 4 night 5 day trip.

Airline Tickets: The airline that has the best rates right now is Frontier Airlines out of Orlando International Airport (MCO). This is an economy provider. So be prepared for your flight to be slightly delayed (not a big deal, your on vacation). Seats are okay, but not great. If you only take a personal bag the ticket price is great. April & May both have some really good rates. Prices are fluctuating, but you can go right now and find tickets for $122.00 round trip per person. It’s going to require that one person purchase Frontier Airlines Den Deals and all tickets need to be purchased through this account. This is about $60.00, but will save you around $100 totally for the 4 tickets. It’s also good for one year. So the tickets for two is $244.00 in this scenario and $30 for Den Deals. That is with taxes and fees. You are only allowed  1 personal bag (8” Depth, 18” Width, 14” Height), and I’ve seen woman have a small purse also with no problems. The personal bag must fit under the seat in front of you. We suggest wearing pants, light jacket, t-shirt and light shirt over that. You can always carry the light jacket (mountains are cold even in May and June). Then you can pack another pair of pants, underwear, t-shirts, sandals, couple pairs of shorts. If you roll your cloths you can fit quite a bit in that personal bag. Most hotels/motels have a washing machine if  you need to was cloths. You can also find some higher rates, but still reasonable through Spirit Airlines and Delta. They are less than $300 round trip per person. We are able to get both tickets for less than one though with Frontier at this time of year.

Total Flight Costs Per Couple: $274.00


Rental Car: We have found that the best prices are often Budget Rental out West. We found a Ford Edge for 5 days at $230.00 (this is without the 30% discount, we  have already used ours). We did find a Ford Mustang Convertible for $260.00 (this would be awesome, but the gas prices would almost double). So without even digging for the best price we are at $115.00 per 2 people. I’m sure you can find even better price and if you don’t mind a compact car then you can get even lower prices (we don’t suggest a compact for this trip. Driving up 2 – 3 hours into Yosemite National Park in a compact is not great. Really runs the engine rough).

Total Rental Car Per Couple: $115

Hotels: We suggest you download a service for rooms. I personally use Hotels.com app. If you stay 10 nights you get one free. They also have great customer service. They also have two review sources (Hotel.com’s own and also Trip Adviser) We are staying just North of Santa Barbara the first night (its about 3 hours from the airport, but puts us on US 1 to start the next day). We are staying in the Pea Soup Anderson Inn. It has hundreds of reviews and gets 4 stars (very good for reasonable hotel). The cost is $81.00 per night. That is $40.50 per couple.

Pea Soup Andersen Inn Just North of Santa Barbara California

We are planning on staying in Modesto, California the second night. We are staying at a Days Inn for $72.00 a night. Decent reviews. Most complaints are about silly things like rundown amenities. As long as the bed is clean, hot water and it’s safe we are usually good. Most beds are serviceable for  a decent nights sleep. Listen I’ve stayed at the Ritz Carlton and didn’t like the bed. So this one is $36.00 per couple.

We are planning on staying in the mountains the third night. This is a tough stay for us. We know that we will be exhausted from Yosemite National Park and we are not going to want to drive out of the tourist trap. So we are going to stay at the El Rancho Motel. This hotel has favorable reviews and is $129.00 per night. This is $65.00 per night each couple.

The last  night (number 4) we are planning on staying in Apple Valley California.  We are staying at a Motel 6 that has good reviews. This one doesn’t have continental breakfast, but it’s only $59 per night. It has good reviews. So that ‘s $30 a couple.

Total Room Charges Per Couple: $172.00. 

Gas: We are going to be traveling roughly 1000 miles. We assume by the time that we take this trip gas will probably average $4.00 per gallon in California (it’s currently $3.60 per gallon in places). We are hoping to get an average of 30 miles per gallon. We will get better gas mileage in some places and less in others (the mountains are not going to give us 40 MPG). Looking at roughly 35 gallons of gas at 30 miles per gallon. We assume that gas will cost us $132.00.

Total Gas Per Couple: $66.00

National Park Pass: It’s $80.00 and you can purchase it online at the National Park Service.

Total Park Pass Per Couple: $40.00

Food: This is the area that is a little grey. We only have $32.00 left after everything else. We think that you can put $10.00 per couple and buy a couple loafs of bread. You can buy ham, cheese a bag of mixed chips and what ever else you can fit in the budget. The cooler is a few bucks also. This should cover lunches. You get ice free at the hotels. That leaves you 4 nights of meals and only $20.00 per group. We didn’t say this was  perfect food plan, but it is certainly possible.

Total Food Costs Per Couple: $32 (again we know this doesn’t leave much).

Our total budget for this trip is $699.00 for two people. It is bold and our tummy’s will be rumbling, but it can be done. We most likely will spend more on food. Everything else we expect to go as planned. You do have to account for a $200 hold on your credit card/debit (Some rental places don’t take debit cards without multiple proof address. Your drivers license will not be enough.) for the rental car and some hotels will also put a hold on your account for $50.00. You can call and check on all this ahead of time. If your willing to budget $500 per person we think you would have an even better experience, because you can dine a little nicer and possibly do a few things. This trip again is about seeing the sights. You can see in the pictures we shared that the views will be amazing. We are positive that you may find other area’s you want to travel by checking out the airlines. With these prices right now you can do some pretty cool stuff. Please offer feedback on our social media page or in comments below.

Air Travel Cost: $274

Rental Car Cost: $115

Gas: $66.00

Rooms: $172.00

Park Pass: $40.00

Food: $32

Total California Trip: $699.00

Yosemite National Park



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