Route map to Lancaster Ohio from Kansas City for Days of Knight

How Much Does it Cost? Road-Trip Travel

I make no illusions about it, full armor and living history is not an inexpensive hobby. However, little information exists on the amounts one can expect to spend, not only on armor, but on the lifestyle. Depending on who you talk to you can expect something between “more than you expect” and “more than you can afford.” In each article of the How Much Does It Cost series I will be exploring aspects of living history, soft kit, encampment, armor, etc. to provide the newer reenactor a more detailed perspective on what the financial realities of this enterprise are.

When trying to decide whether I can go to an event, the primary motivating factor is time off work. Other factors apply, but my employment is the gatekeeper of the events I attend. The second major factor is the cost of the event itself such as entrance fees or registration costs. When those two align, the trip is a done deal in my mind. When I get back and am doing my expenses for the month I rediscover the third cost which I tend to overlook and should put first in my estimations as it is usually the most expensive: the travel. This article is for those prone to ignore this secret cost, or who have not attended a multi-day event with long-distance travel before and lack the frame of reference to make a valid estimate. This will include all the maintenance and sustenance incurred while away from home such as lodging, food, fuel, and mileage.

A perfect example is my recent trip to Ohio for Days of Knights. This expense report represents a family of three, two adults and one eight-year-old, a day-and-a-half journey each way, and two days’ participation in the event itself. We drove a Lincoln MKT loaded to the gills with our gear. I reset the MPG meter before the trip and when we returned it had leveled out at 20.8 average MPG. Depending on your vehicle’s fuel economy, use it as a benchmark to estimate up or down your fuel costs. Our trip there and back again was about 800 miles each way.

Either the car is big, or the road is tiny. Either way, nothing is safe about this person’s driving habits.

On the road, and while at the event, we spent about $275 on food. This included restaurants and fast food joints. It also includes a rough estimate of what we spent on groceries for the food prepared on-site. It was not extravagant, as it was the first time my lady had camped in this environment and simplicity was the goal. We packed cold cuts and bread for lunch sandwiches and hot dogs ‘n buns for supper. Despite our frugality more was spent on food than anticipated because our buns rotted away and molded overnight (food storage and transport article in the future,) we double spent on some meals, as we ate out for supper on nights we had planned to eat in camp. Snacks and fruit and veggies were brought for munching purposes and were consumed in their entirety or given away. No food was brought back home from Ohio. The grocery costs include the cost of ice and a disposable cooler. Children’s food, happy meals most of all, is not much less expensive than an adult, so I wouldn’t scale this number back too far if traveling with two adults, perhaps 25% instead of a full third.

My fuel expenditures were within the normal expected range for our trip. Based on my average MPG, I should have used about 77 gallons of fuel round trip. Absent my receipts I should expect to have spent $192.50 on gas based on the national average. My receipts total in the $180 range, a convenient round number I’ll use for this article.

According to the 2018 edition of the AAA’s handbook “Your Driving Costs: How Much Are You Really Paying To Drive?” the maintenance, repair, and tire costs per mile are 15.26¢ – 23.18¢ depending on the size of your vehicle. The MKT isn’t technically an SUV and is AWD, not 4WD, but it is a giant station wagon in disguise, and as a semi-luxury vehicle is expensive to maintain, so I used the medium SUV rate of 21.09¢ per mile for an approximate cost of $337.44. For easy math lets round it to $340.

DoK Travel Pie Chart

Food: $275
Gas: $180
Wear & Tear: $340
Donation: $20 / person

Something to note: we drove straight through and had two adults to pass the driving off back and forth. My recommendations here are meant to be applicable to the solo driver as well as duos (and 800+ miles is a brutal 14-hour drive straight through.) While it’s possible to do, the 700-800 mile point is the line where the travelers should consider two travel days, especially for a solo driver. Next year we will try to will budget time and money to break the driving days in two each way. Overnight stays at roadside motels can add an anticipated average of $200+ to the cost of a trip, as cheap roadside motels are in the $100 range.

Not including your time off work, estimate the $400 – $800 mark to take a family of three to attend an event no further than 700-800 miles (the upper end of a ‘single day’ drive, even tag-teaming the wheel). Factors, such as having a more fuel economic car or fewer people, can bring down the costs. Some costs such as the wear and tear on your vehicle or the price of gas are difficult to squeeze too much out of regardless of the number of people in your traveling party. By yourself, or having fewer mouths to feed (or preparing more food and eating less in transit) is the line item where you have the most freedom to cut costs on a trip of this sort. I would recommend budgeting $600 – $1,000 for a trip over 800 but under 1400 miles each way, especially if traveling alone. Sleeping overnight in the car at rest-stops for the brave is another option for the robust and adventurous traveler who wants to save a few hundred dollars.

All this said the trip could be broken down in a few ways, making it applicable to various events, not 800-mile weekend events. When trying to scale these numbers and project them onto other circumstances, one should regard food and transport as two independent gauges, as fuel and travel costs become a smaller percentage of the total cost the longer the event is. The cost of spending one night somewhere 800 miles away is considerably more fuel heavy than a week-long event the same distance is. Likewise, the cost of eating out is higher than cooking. This trip was not thrifty when it came to food; our mishaps with food preservation on-site and a penchant for eating well while traveling (since the trip was also a vacation) represents the higher end of food budgets.

Car passenger looking away, contemplating outdoors by the car window
Yes, that’s two McCaviars, a Happy Veal, and two bottles of Champagne, please.

We spent about $55 a day on food for a five-day excursion (two in camp, three in travel). Tightening up the food budget, or not taking a child, it’s possible to cut this number down by 25 – 40%, but I cannot with confidence recommend budgeting less than $30 a day except for the bean-and-rice frugal traveler and comfortably recommend preparing to spend $35 – $55 a day on food for an event. The longer the event and the more time you stay away from restaurants, the lower this number will go. Travel is a much more constant cost, as the expense doesn’t change from mile-to-mile in the way travel days cost more than camp days for food. Our 1,600-mile round trip road voyage cost about $500 in fuel and anticipated maintenance costs, which comes out to about 31¢ a mile. If you want to ignore the wear and tear on your car (a terrible idea) you could think of it as 11¢ a mile in upfront fuel costs.

Understanding these examples represent a sample size of one, and as shown throughout the process there are dozens of personal preference and environmental variables to account for, these two metrics, $35-$55 a day for food and 11¢-31¢ per mile, are strong tools for deciding if you can afford to travel to your upcoming event and get back with a full tank and a full belly. Other methods of reducing costs exist. If you’re light on gear and cash you may be able to carpool with someone and split the cost of fuel. You can pack a hundred sandwiches (don’t eat them all at once) and not buy a single morsel of food on the way. I enjoy comfort on my travels and if I can’t afford to go without cutting deeply into my comfort and satiation I usually decide not to go. This is, of course, subject to the ever-changing costs of food and fuel. While these numbers will not be to-the-cent accurate; until we see dystopian changes in the cost of food and fuel in America these numbers will continue to serve as acceptable guidelines.

How do my numbers compare to what you’ve experienced in the past?

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