How to Plan and Afford a Road Trip to California đŸŒž


Trying to squeeze some vacation time into an already busy summer schedule? I feel you.

My summers include working 5-6 days a week and committing the one day off I have to a hike, the beach, or a night out with friends. Planning an extensive 8 day road trip requires proper planning in advance in order to make the trip possible and overall fun. If you’re interested in being a tourist in California for the summer – PLEASE do it! Here, I’ll show you what you need to think about ahead of time, how to map out your trip, and I give you a list of things to do while your there!


First things first – Who’s coming?

It was me and my boyfriend who came up with the idea of the trip so it was already a convenient package deal. I invited my best friend from high school and she invited one of her friends from church.  After voting and considering between all of our cars, we decided my friends 2014 Chevy Sonic was our most reliable option to do a 1900 mile trip. Although it’s the size of your average small car we packed all of our stuff in a way to keep the drive comfortable and cozy. Read about how we packed our small car for the road trip here!

Second – How Long?

Seeing that we are all college students with a couple hundred bucks to our name living paycheck to paycheck with our part time jobs- we decided a week off work was enough to see everything we wanted to see in Cali. Plus you should also consider how far you are from California. We live in Salem, OR so it was just an 8 hour drive to our initial stop of Sacramento, CA.

Third: Accommodations and Food?

To be able to afford a trip like this, we used the best of our resources. This included grocery shopping for snacks to put in the car during our drive (snack list ), and calling up family and friends in California and asking if all four of us could crash at their houses during our trip. Luckily they all said yes! This is a good way to catch up with old family and friends so definitely consider seeing someone you miss, this could be a win-win for everybody!


How are we going to split gas? The groceries? The hotel?

What we used was this app called “Venmo” You register your debit or credit card (do debit, because credit cards gets charged 3% transaction fees) and you can send anybody in your contacts that have this app. When you install the app it already has an ongoing public list of transactions of people you know using the app so realistically assuming you have everyone’s number that you’re going on this road trip with, you’re going to see them.

When we did this, gas at every stop was only around 4$ per stop! Seeing that we stopped for gas around ~10 times for this trip, thats $40 bucks for gas! LIKE WHAT?! Awesome!

We only got groceries prior to the trip which ended up being around a $50 dollar bill. That split between us was only $11 bucks per person for all the snacks of the trip.

Going out to eat of course was essential to get the California experience, but doing just groceries could save even more cash if you needed to.

Lastly – Make a Skeleton Outline of your drive and the places you want to hit

The weeks leading up to the trip, the four of us had a group chat where we sent each other ideas on where we wanted to go and what activities we wanted to do in Cali. This is what our itinerary ended up being:


We left Monday afternoon and drove to our initial stop in California where it took us 8 hours. We were only there to stay at our friends uncle’s house to get rest before doing another 3 hour drive to Santa Cruz. We didn’t see Sacramento at all sadly it wasn’t a part of our itinerary. 

Here is an dated outline of our trip with hours drove and how long we spent at a destination:

  • Salem, OR —> Sacramento, CA = 8 hours

crash at 2 am in Sacramento, leave at about 10 am for Santa Cruz

  • Sacramento, CA —> Santa Cruz, CA = 3 hours

Spend the day in Santa Cruz (Walked the Santa Cruz Boardwalk)

Asked a local for a good restaurant for dinner and they suggested: Betty Burgers!

“Amazing food and milkshakes, it was a little busy and the place is so small we had to wait for a table to open up, so that was rough but overall the food was delicious! ”

Spend one night at a Motel – leave in the morning

  • Santa Cruz, CA —> Los Angeles, CA  = 6 hours 

First stop: Kayaking

Second Stop: El Matador Beach

Third stop: IN N OUT burgers for dinner!

Then go to our family friends house to sleep

Next day we conquered:

  1. Spent the entire morning on Melrose Avenue taking pictures at the Instagram walls
  2. Spend the afternoon walking Hollywood Blvd.
  3. Spend the evening at Venice Beach swimming in the ocean.
  4. Walked to the Santa Monica Pier for pictures.
  5. Spend the last couple hours of your night walking through Universal Studios
  6. Ate at Bubba Gump’s to be a true tourist 😉

3rd day in LA:

  1. Eat breakfast with our friend’s family
  2. Drive to Malibu Beach and spend the day swimming
  3. At night go to the Griffith Observatory to see the city lights of Los Angeles before we leave
  4. Start driving back
  • Los Angeles, CA —> San Francisco, CA = 6 hours overnight

Get there in the morning in time to see the sunrise over the San Francisco Bridge!

Then, go out for some breakfast

  • San Francisco, CA —> Glass Beach, CA = 3.5 hours

keep in mind this was a huge detour to our trip

Filled a glass bottle up from the beach – took about an hour since the glass were these super tiny shards you have to hand pick individually

  • Glass Beach, CA —> Salem, OR = 9.5 hours 


Starting from left to right: 1. El Matador Beach, 2. Paul Smith Wall, 3. In N Out, 4. Kayaking

What we conquered in our week road trip!

  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • In N Out Burger
  • Kayaking
  • El Matador Beach
  • Malibu Beach
  • Venice Beach
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Bubba Gumps
  • Universal Studios
  • Griffith Observatory
  • Took pictures in front of IG walls on Melrose Avenue
  • Saw the hollywood stars
  • Drove on the San Fransisco Bridge
  • Filled a bottle of glass at Glass Beach

What more to do?

  • Black Sands Beach in Whitethorn, CA
  • Hike at Big Sur National Park
  • Explore downtown Santa Barbara
  • Rent bikes down Venice Beach
  • Walk the San Francisco Bridge
  • Explore downtown San Diego
  • San Diego Zoo

This trip was a dream come true, and now looking back at it we conquered SO MUCH in a week! We made the most unforgettable memories and I became so much closer to my friends this way. We have tons of funny stories from this trip and some not so funny stories – haha. Please please please, see California in your lifetime if you haven’t already, it’s a whole new culture of sun, surfers, seafood, and rich city vibes with street performers, music and outdoor activities. You won’t regret it!

Picture 1: The jar we filled up from Glass Beach

Picture 2: Went into a Photo Booth as we waited our turn for laser tag at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Got any more suggestions for things to do in California? Comment Below!





How to Pack Your Small Car for a Road Trip

It’s easier than you think!





This last summer, my friends and I all took a week off work to drive down to California and well… DO WHAT THE CALIFORNIANS DO! Isn’t it sad to say that I’ve lived in Oregon (the state RIGHT ABOVE Cali) my entire life and I’ve never seen California? IT IS REALLY SAD let me tell you. So planning this trip and actually making it happen was such a fun experience!

The two weeks following up to the trip though were super crucial in figuring out who’s car to take and why. We had to consider gas mileage, how much space we have in the car, how much we can fit into the car, if it had a good working radio, an AUX CORD (Probably the most important thing for us 20 year olds) and the car amenities like how many cupholders it has, the side door storage space, the trunk space, working A/C and heater, etc.

What we ended up taking was my friend’s 2014 Chevy Sonic. For being a newer car, everything was in excellent working condition and was ultimately our most reliable option to travel 1900 miles. The only thing was probably the size. It’s about the size of your average Honda civic so we definitely considered our comfortability with the car.


When our friends picked up my boyfriend and I in Salem we started packing that car with the best essentials we can think of! The trunk of the car held all of our duffle bags and a cooler to keep snacks cold. From there we packed the actual room of the car with things we need for it’s convenience unlike the trunk. These were, the middle seat in between the two people in the back, the car door storage space, the pockets behind the seats, the rear deck, the floors, and the glove box.

Here is a list:

  • Snacks (See seperate list below)
  • Personal books to read
  • Baby wipes
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • A Paper towel roll
  • a plastic bag to keep trash in
  • Phone Chargers (luckily she had a usb port and a car port to charge 2 phones at a time!)
  • Adult Coloring Book (can buy at any grocery store)
  • Pencil pouch (It was big enough to carry pencils, pens, coloring pencils and markers)
  • Small thin blanket (Each person brought their own)
  • pillow (Each person brought their own)
  • headphones
  • bug spray
  • hand sanitizers
  • GPS (incase your phone doesn’t have Wifi)
  • Waterbottles (hydroflasks are perfect)
  • Deck of cards
  • A tote to hold dry snacks in
  • Cooler in the trunk to keep cold snacks in

The cooler in the trunk held cold snacks while the tote in the backseat carried our dry snacks. The tote I used was one from Target I bought to keep my bathing suits in. It’s small square, and did the job just fine. It was able to hold a couple bags of chips, the coloring book and the pencil pouch. From time to time I would throw my phone in there.


Here is a list of snacks to bring for your trip!

  • Berries (any kind that comes in a sturdy container)
  • Pretzels
  • Hummus
  • Chips
  • Popcorn
  • Lunchables (our favorite for those long drives)
  • Granola Bars
  • Trail mix
  • Bagels w/ cream cheese

Utilizing the space of your vehicle is crucial for road trips. You don’t have to go out and buy specific organizing pockets to fit more stuff at all. The more room you have in the end leads to a more comfortable car ride especially when its 10+ hours long! Don’t lead your trip to a bad experience just because you didn’t have enough leg space! It’s all about the memories and the crazy stories you’ll have to tell when you get back.