For all the excitement and thrills that a road trip in California offers, you do not need to break the bank for those experiences. And coming from a couple who have explored much of the Golden State in a Motorhome, here are tips from our best backpacking in California together with general road trip tips for couples. Shortly, we shall explain we had our own taste of premium Californian tourism while keeping an eye on our pocket.
Either it’s the stunning stops in Big Sur Coastline, the fascinating history of Gold Country or the unique Dante’s View of Death Valley, you plan to see on the road, with proper planning, you can get the best of your journey and make your sightseeing a one to remember. Let’s cut right to the chase.
Think also about checking our best 10-day itinerary in California
How to get from the San Francisco airport to downtown
Flying to California as we did? One of our road trip tips for couples is to book an Uber right from the airport, especially if no friend or family member is coming to pick you up. With our heavy luggage, we weren’t particularly spoiled for choice in terms of how to leave the airport. But employing the service of the transport network company, we saved a lot of quids.
We stayed in the city for a couple of days and did a tight San Francisco itinerary. We loved the city and especially its sea-vibes.
Best backpacking in California: tips about staying in San Francisco
SF is very Motorhome unfriendly. It’s better to book a cheap Hostel and use public transportation to explore this city as part of your best backpacking in California.
Visit the Golden Gate from the high side as you will see it together with the shape of SF, which is great scenery. Here is the exact location.
All the attractions are near each other. We advise you not to plan more than two days for SF.
Where to stay in San Francisco and how to get around
Well, using public transport worked for us. It was cheap when we explored the city. The urban California view was scintillating and it felt like the experience was a bargain- moving around was cheaper than we had anticipated. You can check the transportation timetable on the official website or you can just download Moovit or 511 SF Bay as a handy choice.
Since you are on a budget, finding a cheap hotel to lodge would be perfect. Such hotels are not difficult to find.
Here are our hotel recommendations:
Hayes Valley Inn: it has a very good location, you can reach almost anything within 30 minutes.
Hotel Kabuki, a Joie de Vivre Hotel: famous for its modern design and nice service.
San Remo Hotel: known for its historical architecture, very close to the pier.
If you have more time, you could check what things you can do in San Francisco. Better be well informed so that you can enjoy the city to the fullest!
Planning a road trip from SF to LA is also worth it. The way is so rich of attractions and the PCH is so epic!
Or maybe looking for recommendations to rent a motorhome or campervan for your California road trip?
Road trip tips for couples: things to consider when driving around California
Google Maps has an option that can tell you where both toll-free and toll roads are. You save yourself a decent amount of dollars if you are able to navigate your destinations without treading toll-roads. With the saved bucks, you can get refreshments to cool off or pay for some more adventure elsewhere.
Trust your instinct
On the one hand. We discovered many beautiful places with a pure chance like Lake Isabella. It doesn’t seem to be famous, especially in winter, although it is so amazing. On the other hand, always check road and weather conditions when you drive in the mountainous area. Some roads might be closed so watch out.
Use your own Google GPS
During your best backpacking in California, you don’t have to spend on everything. Your own Google Maps GPS will be more than enough for your use throughout the road trip. Many visitors are in the habit of renting items even when they have them at home. But you can cut costs by bringing along all you need. No one wants to be stranded in the valley or forest because of cash.
Keep at least 1-2 days buffer in your road trip. Surprises will come up, whether you like it or not. Also, bring an Atlas Map when it comes to crossing the Death Valley. You will spend hours with no cellular or GPS network and you will barely see any humans on the way.
What to know about California national parks:
Get tickets to parks early
Ensure you secure tickets to National Parks way earlier if you are planning to visit at least 3 of them in the US. It is available online and is cheaper than paying the fees at each park you enter. It might be a tad surprising to many Europeans that National Parks aren’t free in the United States. But it is what it is.
Booking your (camping) spot in advance
If you wanna visit this park in spring or summer, think about booking a camping slot in advance because the amount of people wanting the same thing is just huge. Or come and visit in the low season and you don’t even have to book anything. Just show up and park. Here you can book a spot at Yosemite for example. Think also about getting a good guide for the National Park.
Check also my complete camping gear which I always put in my backpack
Low season can be also high season
Although it was low season in California, the Death Valley, one of the cheapest places to visit in California, is the exception as it has its high season in Winter. (makes sense, because of the heat) So some spots will be crowded and camping places as well. I didn’t say this: but avoid them. Choose your own place where to spend the night and be economical with water and electricity. Sunsets and sunrises there has another dimension. It is always worth it to stop over (or wake up) and watch them
Keep space for spontaneous decisions
Mojave National Park was not on our list, but we have just been there at the right time and place. So we decided to spend the night surrounded by calm and natural beauty, and it was one of the best nights we spent during the road trip.
We also wanted to visit Los Angeles as we have heard a lot about it. Too sad we didn’t have time to drive by. If you are luckier than us, make sure you know about things to do in Los Angeles, so that you can enjoy the city to the fullest.
Los Angeles is also known to be a kid-friendly city. If you are traveling around with your family, here are some activities to do in LA with kids.
Don’t drive by night for too long
If your friends or partner are sleeping, you will need to fight fatigue by yourself. So it’s also not the best idea when it comes driving in mountain roads.
Visit Mexico if you are not far
Although lots of road-trippers get really close to the Mexican borders on their journey, only a few of them take the time to visit Mexico.
We tend to be always on a rusch when we do long road trips, that is why I am still learning how to take the time to make spontaneous stops and discover other places that might be a highlight of the whole trip!
So if happens that you are near San Diego or around, make that next step of visiting a part of Mexico, even for a short period of time. It is always worth it!
Best backpacking in California: how much this 10-day road trip cost us
- Motorhome rental for 10 days: 1100€
- US Visa: 135€ pP
Interested in renting a camping car for your California roadtrip? Read our complete guide how to do it.
- US National Parks Pass: 65€
- 3G (10GB) + SIM card: 45€
- The average cost of spending a night at a campsite: 20€ (we did it only once)
- Propane fill: 20€ per tank
- Costs are average and in low / shoulder seasons
Romantic road trips in the US are among the best travel gifts for men and women. That is what my wife did when we won a round-trip ticket to San Francisco. Gifts don’t always need to be physical. Experiences are sometimes the best that you can offer to your partner.
Doing a road trip is among the best things to do in California can be magical even on a budget. As long as you make your research before stepping on the plane, you’ll be good. For example, have a look at those apps and tools for your RV trip planner. This helps you to weigh all your options before making any decision. And even when you start the journey, ask questions, always ask, no matter what crazy thing you might ask for.