About six months later, here’s a full review of some of the data and highlights of the trip. I plan to post another FAQ post and maybe a “Tips and Suggestions” post as well, so more to come as we progress through spring. However, here’s the wrap-up of my 58-day, 15,000 mile road trip throughout the country.
- Miles Drove: 14,996
- Average Ticket Price: $14.42
- Number of Free Tickets Acquired: 9
- Number of Speeding Tickets: 1ish (See below)
- Number of Parking Tickets: None!
- Number of Toll Booth Violations: 1 (Thanks New Jersey!)
On the Road
I drove approximately 90% of the drive myself, which is obviously a lot of driving. Something like 3 hours and 45 minutes per day. The easiest portion was a day trip from Chicago to Milwaukee for the Brewers game – which still meant 3 hours in the car that day.
The toughest trips, in order, were:
- Miami to Washington, DC (1,000 miles, 16 hours, done in 1.5 days)
- Toronto, ON to Cleveland, OH (300 miles, 4.5 hours for a Noon game after a night game)
- Minneapolis, MN to Seattle, WA (1,700 miles, 27 hours, done in 3 days)
While the third trip was the longest, the first two trips were solo. The Marlins game was a Friday night game and I had to be in DC for a Sunday 1pm game. That meant driving for about 4-5 hours after the Marlins game, stopping for a two hour break around 3am, and then spending the rest of the day driving all but the final two hours of the trip. With such a long night, there were a lot of long rest stops on that Saturday before finally arriving a bit outside of DC.
By the end of the trip, I hit 13 National Parks/Monuments. Including: Cuyahoga Valley, Badlands, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, Olympic, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles, Sagauro, White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and Great Sand Dunes.
Several locations got left on the cutting floor. Planned stops at Congaree National Park and Joshua Tree National Park got ditched. While there was a stop at Wind Cave National Park, it was rushed and all tickets to tour the cave were sold out – one of my few planning fails of the trip. I also decided to skip Mount Rainier in favor of an extra day at Olympic National Park – the right decision.
Some stops didn’t go as planned. Lassen Volcanic National Park was still largely closed, though I was able to check out a small part of the north side of the park. After 10ish days of hiking and camping (and the Bay Area games), my stop at Pinnacles National Park was limited to just a single 3-hour, 95 degree hike. After that, I decided to bail on the notion of camping and enjoy a hotel room. A hotel room + pool + pizza was a needed break from camping/couch surfing and campfire hot dogs for over a week.
I did find time for some impromptu stops, as you should on such a road trip. Of course, we stopped at the infamous Wall Drug. Between Carlsbad Caverns and my stop in Austin, I found the largest fresh water pool in the country at Balmorhea State Park in Texas. It was a great chance to get off the road for a few hours, read a book and get some swimming in. My brother and I drove to the top of Pikes Peak and were treated to a pair of fighter jets flying below us. However, outside of exploring the cities before and after games, there wasn’t a ton of extra stops in addition to the parks I got to.
Free tickets here and there helped. Nine free tickets in total, one of which was just a guy that walked past me at US Cellular in Chicago as I stood in line to buy a ticket. I was bummed the $5 tickets had sold out and I was gonna have to dish out for a $10 ticket… until randomly this guy asked if I needed a ticket. While I didn’t really spend time soliciting the teams for tickets, one friend was able to cajole tickets from the Reds. And twice random Internet people on Reddit hooked me up when I asked for advice on attending the games in their area.
As you can see from the video, I was able to get down to some pretty amazing seats. The best was the Texas Rangers game. A mid-week game, we bought tickets for $5 and ended up right behind home plate in the third row. The people around us said we were on TV in those seats. Me and another buddy were able to get similarly close in Oakland. However, when we tried to move down to the lower bowl in the second inning in Baltimore, we were quickly called out despite the lack of folks in attendance.
The highlight game was, without a doubt, the should-have-been-perfect-game by Rich Hill at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. On top of visiting the stunning PNC Park for the first time, Rich Hill pitched a historic game, giving up only one base-runner through nine innings. That base-runner reached via an error. I was calling for the perfect game early on (check out the Snap Story) because we were directly behind home plate in row 16 and could see how much movement Hill was getting on his pitches. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a no-hitter because the Dodgers were unable to score a run and the Pirates got to Hill in the 10th and won it in walk-off fashion. It was the only walk-off of the trip.
Other highlight games included the Mets at the Yankees – a tight game featuring a late Aaron Judge home-run. The other side of the subway series was bit lopsided, but I got to see former Tiger Curtis Granderson his a grand slam. Other highlights: Ichiro hitting a pinch-hit home run in Philadelphia, the Tigers and Yankees kinda brawling in Detroit and, of course, Yankees-Red Sox in Fenway park.
Not once did I get bored of the baseball games, which surprised me. There’s so much to do and see in each park. And with baseball being the sport it is – with games every night – it’s easy to move around the park and sit in different seats, so long as you aren’t brash about it or try taking a seat being used in a sell-out. By the end of the trip I was very good at knowing when to push the line and when to stay put.
Broken down by category, here’s my cost analysis. The end game is that I basically came in comfortably under budget and – once I knew that was the case – relaxed a bit on my frugality. Therefore, I basically spent what I projected I might spend, coming in $500-700 under my most conservative, “worst case” scenario.
Gasoline – Budgeted Cost: $1,235, Actual Cost: $879.50 ($355.50 under budget)
Gasoline was the easiest thing to budget. Roadtrippers put the mileage for the trip at almost exactly 13,000. I increased that by 20% to account for all the extra driving around outside of strictly A to B to get an estimate of 15,500 miles, which I came under by just over 500. I estimated gas costs slightly conservatively at $2.36 after doing a bit of research. Obviously that number would be a bit higher if the trip were right now. Finally, I conservatively assumed 32 miles per gallon from my new Mazda 3. With 90+% of the trip being freeway miles, this was a safe assumption and I probably came in at around 34 miles/gallon overall.
Tickets – Budgeted Cost: $900, Actual Cost: $432.74 ($467.26 under budget)
My safe budgeting was $30 a ticket. I knew from the outset that there was no way I’d actually spend $30 a ticket, but thought that $25 a ticket was possible. This was even higher than many similar trips might be considering I had four very expensive tickets (Cubs on Fourth of July, Mets at Yankees, Yankees at Mets, Yankees at Red Sox). The nine free tickets was crucial in coming in so far under budget. There were also some weird games that cost way more than they should have (Miami and Tampa stand out).
If you take out the 9 free tickets, I spent an average of $20.61 on the remaining tickets, so even with four very expensive tickets, my $30/budget was plenty conservative.
Game Costs – Budgeted Cost: $900, Actual Cost: $739.50 ($160.50 under budget)
Game costs included everything from parking to soda pops and food to souvenirs. Though, outside of souvenir cups I don’t think I ended up actually purchasing any souvenirs. I paid attention to my $30/game number closely and used it determine if I could buy an extra drink. For example, if I paid $20 for parking, I made sure to not spend another $30 inside the ballpark. There were times when I bought dinner inside the stadium and accounted for that under my “Food” category, so this category is not an exact science. But, I found $30/game to be a nice, conservative estimate. I easily could have cut this number down to $15/game if I chose.
Food – Budgeted Cost: $1,450, Actual Cost: $1,108.89 ($341.11 under budget)
Not bad here. The estimate was $25/day for the 58 days. Again a conservative estimate, but also taking into account nights and meals out with friends, in addition to the 5 straight meals of camp fire hot dogs and chips. Like I mentioned above, some of the stadium food fell into this category as well. For anyone looking to do this trip as cheaply as possible, there’s no doubt you can push that $25/day way down.
Lodging – Budgeted Cost: $900, Actual Cost: $1,156.23 ($256.23 over budget)
My assumption was that I needed 18 nights of lodging when ruling out nights stayed with friends and family and free camping locations. Ultimately, two things happened. There were a few nights I ended up not staying with family and friends and there were several times that I settled to pay $10-20 for a campsite (or just getting a hotel room) instead of traveling a bit off the beaten path to find free camping. Also, as the trip approached the end and I knew I would be under budget, I decided to go ahead and pay a little extra for nicer hotels and/or hotels in better and safer locations.
I certainly think if you’re doing this trip with 3-4 people, you can get hotel rooms most nights (in addition to some camping) and the costs spread out over 4 people wouldn’t be too bad. It simply requires plenty of searching online and being willing to stay in simple, no-frills motels. I will say that there were two awful hotels I stayed at where I wish I spent significantly more money. One of my big take-aways from the trip was that an extra $10-20 to better ensure a good night’s sleep is worth it.
As a final lodging side-note: You simply cannot beat camping throughout the National Park system. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
Miscellaneous – Budgeted Cost: $800, Actual Cost: $797.41 ($2.59 under budget… or $197.41 over)
A dead-on prediction, until you account for a few traffic related incidents. $105 speeding ticket in Washington (my first ever! oops), a $50 accidental toll violation in New Jersey and a $45 traffic violation in Maryland (speeding violation caught by camera – not a fan of this one, it must have been right after a speed limit change because I was watching my speed like a hawk after the first ticket; doesn’t go on traffic record, at least). The Toll violation and Maryland violation came in the mail months after the trip. So, I was actually $197.41 over budget if you account for these. Miscellaneous things included: non-stadium parking, tolls (around $150 total), public transit costs, tickets for some touristy things like the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle, the Louisville Slugger museum, etc. Plus any supplies I might have needed. Of note: I had an “America the Beautiful” pass that I had purchased the prior summer that was valid through August. This pass is an annual pass that gets you into any National Park without additional entrance fees.
Final Costs: $5,296.45. That’s almost $300 more than what I hoped to spend, but $700 less than what I was willing/able to spend. As I noted in the initial “Let’s Talk Money” post, the cost of the trip was more than what I needed to save up when you consider normal spending budgets for the two months I was on the road. I would have loved to come in under my $5000 goal, but as I noted above, once I knew I’d be safely around the goal, I didn’t pinch pennies. For anyone considering the trip, there’s no doubt it can be pulled off for less than $5,000 and – if you really go the extra lengths (couch surf, more camping, solicit teams for tickets, avoid buying anything in the stadium), I think you could get it down to $4,000.
There you have it for the trip review… PART ONE! Part Two will address some Frequently Asked Questions I’ve received including, yes, what my favorite park was. If you have questions, please leave a comment or let me know and I will include it in the next review post, hopefully coming next week!