How to Road Trip New England on a Budget


Car in Acadia National Park

Seeing the fall foliage in New England was something I had been dreaming of for years.

One thing my daydreams hadn’t included? Spending my life savings on achieving this goal. Yes, as soon as I began putting together a plan to road trip New England in the fall, I discovered this could easily work out to be one of the most expensive things I’ve done in North America.

Our aim, then, was to spend as little money as possible while not sacrificing the enjoyment and comfort of our road trip.

New England road trip route

My Perfect New England Itinerary

We put together a near-perfect itinerary for seeing as much of the region as possible without tiring ourselves out. Thanks to the compact size of New England, driving times were rarely more than four hours per travel day, despite many detours, and we subsequently gained a small taste of what this part of the country has to offer.

Here’s how we spent our two weeks in New England:

Boston, MA: 4 nights

Portland, ME: 2 nights

Acadia National Park, ME: 2 nights

North Conway, NH: 2 nights

Burlington, VT: 2 nights

New Haven, CT: 1 night

Newport, RI: 1 night

Before leaving, I was concerned this trip would work out to be slightly too ambitious and fast-paced — I rarely enjoy a trip that sees me moving every two days — but it actually felt pretty relaxed. If I could have changed anything, I would have added an extra day in beautiful New Haven, because I fell for it during the 24 hours I spent there.

Let’s get into how you can do the same trip without going broke, because let’s face it: hitting up this part of the world during the autumn months can make for a pricey adventure.

Spruce Moose hotel in North Conway
The adorable Spruce Moose Lodge in North Conway

The Cost of Accommodation in New England

On this road trip, we primarily opted to stay in Airbnb apartments because they were far more affordable than the alternatives. As an example, here’s what I found when I searched for a dorm bed in a hostel for October in Burlington, Vermont.

Yes, that is a dorm bed for over 100 US dollars a night. So that would be $216 a night for both me and Dave to stay there, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is outrageous, especially when there was a 4.95-rated place on Airbnb for $75 a night.

Because September/October is the time of year to visit the northeast U.S. — thanks to the beautiful fall foliage — guesthouses, hostels, and hotels leap at the chance to charge extortionate prices. After all, there are clearly plenty of people out there who are willing to pay them.

We, however, were not.

Beach in Acadia National Park
Beach time in Acadia National Park

I was surprised to discover that Airbnb apartments in New England were not only cheaper than any alternative, but that they looked far more comfortable than the budget motels and hostels of a similar price.

And in the time of COVID-19, Airbnb offers you that extra level of comfort and safety.

You won’t be passing through communal areas, like you would in a hotel, and most of the time, you won’t need to even meet the owner. Instead, you can keep yourself isolated from the crowds, knowing that you’re prioritising your health and wellbeing.

Airbnb in Portland Maine
Our cute Airbnb apartment in Portland, Maine

I stayed in some fantastic places on the trip — here’s how it broke down. All prices are, as always, in US dollars.

Airbnb in Boston ($80 per night): This apartment in Somerville was adorable! The hosts were flexible with our late check-in time, had decorated our room with cosy fairy lights and a welcome board, and were super accommodating and friendly. They were some of the best hosts I’ve encountered on Airbnb! While the location wasn’t great for exploring Downtown Boston, Somerville was a cute neighbourhood with lots of beautiful houses to wander around.

Airbnb in Portland ($85 per night): I personally found this Airbnb a little creepy (which was probably 90% my anxiety sending my intuition out of whack), but this room ended up being an excellent choice, as the owner was away while we were there, so we had the entire apartment to ourselves. Judging by the other reviews on this property, this wasn’t a rare occurrence, either.  The room was in a reasonable location — a little far from best areas of town — and the bedroom was spacious. It was one of the cheapest options in Portland.

Airbnb in Acadia National Park ($85 per night): If you’re going to be spending time in Acadia National Park and want more of a local experience than you’ll get in touristy Bar Harbor, staying in this Airbnb apartment is a must. The owners are incredibly knowledgable about the park, can recommend the perfect hikes and activities for you, and are great to chat to. Seriously — they’ve walked every single hike the area, so if you’re looking to find the best viewpoints, get away from the crowds, and see Acadia in the way that locals do, these guys will show you how. On top of that, the breakfast was seriously fantastic, and it was especially wonderful to sip beers on the outdoor porch at sunset after a long day of walking.

Guesthouse in North Conway ($149 per night): The Spruce Moose was the cheapest option in town but still pretty overpriced. It was a pleasant enough place to sleep, in a central location, and breakfast was included. The dog slobbered all over my clothes, and the owners were clearly stressed from what was their busiest week of the year, so I didn’t feel particularly welcomed. It was alright. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s a good option as it’s one of the cheapest places in town.

Airbnb in Burlington ($75 per night): The owners of this Airbnb apartment in Burlington were so much fun to hang out with while we were in town. They have a Japanese toilet, an awesome dog, and like to talk about how much they hate Donald Trump! Really, do you need anything else from your accommodation?

Airbnb in New Haven ($51 per night): This Airbnb was a steal. It was within walking distance to Yale, in a safe and quiet neighbourhood, and so cute and cosy. It’s in a separate section to the main house, so you won’t need to worry about exposure to the owner in these virus-filled times, and you have access to your own bathroom and living area. There’s also your own private deck, which is perfect for having a drink in the sunshine in the afternoon. This place offers seriously great value for money, and it’s in the most gorgeous-looking house!

Airbnb in Newport ($60 per night): Our Airbnb apartment in Newport was hands-down one of our favourites from the road trip. You’re staying in an adorable self-contained house with your own entrance at the back of the main house, complete with a spacious living room, kitchen, and washing machine. Seriously — having access to laundry facilities was so welcome after a week of road-tripping. The owners were incredibly welcoming and kind, commiserating with us when the rain prevented us from seeing anything and giving us a ton of excellent food recommendations at mealtimes. I’d honestly go back to Newport just to stay here again.

The total cost of accommodation in New England was: $87.07 a night.

That works out at $43.54 per person per night.

Car in Acadia National Park
Cruising around Acadia National Park in our Hyundai Accent

The Cost of Transportation in New England

We didn’t need to shop around for transportation in New England because renting a car was so affordable! We simply loaded up RentalCar.com’s car rental section of the site, entered in our dates, and picked one of the cheapest options. We hired a Hyundai Accent from Alamo at a price of $23.22 a day.

Gas is inexpensive in the U.S., so for our (roughly) 1,000 mile road trip, we spent $103.96, or $10.40 per day.

New England is notorious for being packed full of toll roads, and many of them are cashless. Because of this, you’ll want to shell out for an EZ Pass from your rental company to save on fees. We paid $21.04 for an electronic toll device from Alamo and $12.05 in tolls. Had we not had the EZ Pass, we would have been charged an extortionate fee for every single toll we racked up, so this definitely saved us money.

My total cost of transportation in New England was: $33.01 a night. This works out at $16.51 per person per night.

Lobster roll in Boston
We treated ourselves to an incredible lobster role at Bostonia Public House while we were in Boston!

The Cost of Food in New England

Food is always my downfall when it comes to sticking to a budget, and especially so when I’m travelling with Dave. With my boyfriend by my side, I find it hard not to treat every evening as a date night, and often seek out the best restaurants in town to make every meal as special as possible. I can’t help it: food is easily my favourite aspect of travel and it makes me sad to have to skip out on the best versions of local specialties.

Still, there were plenty of ways we managed to keep our costs lower than we perhaps otherwise would have on this road trip. We always made sure to carry our foldable, lightweight Vapur water bottles to cut down on plastic consumption, save money by drinking tap water, and save space and weight in our backpacks. On top of that, we ate at least one of our meals outside of a restaurant in order to stay healthier and save on food, whether it was eggs, tomatoes, chorizo, and mushrooms for breakfast or a paleo-style snack for lunch.

All in all, I averaged $11.60 per meal, and we still managed to treat ourselves to some delicious eats. Lobster rolls, blueberry-filled cocktails, and pumpkin-flavoured whoopie pies were particular standouts from our road trip, and it was made so much more enjoyable by us not feeling as though we had to resort to Subway to save money.

In New England, I spent $487.44 on food, which works out at $34.82 per day.

Lauren in Acadia National Park
Summiting a mountain in Acadia National Park

Activities and Entrance Fees

We managed to keep our activity costs low by making our road trip all about the scenic drives and the even more scenic hikes. We decided to splurge on activities that were unique to the region, like the Fenway Park tour, which took us around the oldest baseball stadium in the United States, and the Cryptozoology Museum, which had me in tears of bemusement. Here’s what we opted to spend our cash on:

Fenway Park tour in Boston: $20.00

We loved our tour of Fenway Park! Despite not knowing the second thing about baseball (the first is obviously that the games are so long), I found it a fascinating look into Boston’s history, and touring the stadium with one of my good friends who’s a huge Red Sox fan made it even more enjoyable.

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem: $20.00

This was very crap! When Dave and I turned up in Salem and found a dreary, depressing town full of witch statues and tacky Halloween displays, we jumped on TripAdvisor and stumbled upon the incredible reviews of the Peabody Essex Museum. We paid the $20 entrance and were well and truly bored for the entirety of our visit. So bored! I cannot tell you how bored we were.

Entrance to Cryptozoology museum in Portland: $10.00

If you’ve read my post about the International Cryptozoology Museum, you already know I consider this a must-see if you’ll be stopping off in Portland, Maine! It’s full of weird and wonderful creatures, like Mothman and Bigfoot, and is displayed as though these monsters actually exist. Most of the museum-goers believe they do. 

Entrance to Acadia National Park in Maine: $25.00

I loved Acadia National Park, and couldn’t get enough of the wonderful views and hikes the park offered. It’s such a relaxed, lowkey national park to spend time in, with dozens of walks to wander along and a lovely beach to laze on. Much like the rest of Maine, I seriously loved it here. 

A night at Vermont Comedy Club: $20.00

Vermont Comedy Club is rated highly among comedians and comedy fans alike, so I couldn’t resist checking out a show while I was in town. As an inexperienced comedy appreciator, I thought it was a kickass venue and spent a hilarious evening laughing until my sides ached. I wished I could pack this club up in my backpack and take it around the world with me! 

We also did a whole ton of free stuff! Like wandering around Sommerville and Cambridge, and walking the Freedom Trail in Boston. Hiking in the White Mountains. Island-hopping along Maine’s coastline. Driving across Vermont to see the beautiful fall colours. Exploring both Harvard and Yale.

My total cost of activities came to $95. This works out at $6.78 per person per day. 

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is always pricey for the U.S. because their healthcare system is ridic, but that’s exactly why you need to be covered. As someone who developed an auto-immune disorder while travelling in the United States and found themselves at a 10 on the pain scale, I can tell you that having insurance in this country is more than worth it. As always, I opted for travel insurance from World Nomads, and paid $81.70 for the two-week-long road trip.

New England in the Fall: Not as Expensive As You Think

My total expenses for road tripping New England came to:

Accommodation: $609.56
Transportation: $231.14
Food: $487.44
Activities/Entrance Fees: $95
Travel insurance: $81.70

Total amount spent over two weeks: $1504.84

Average daily amount spent: $107 per day

Given that there are dorm rooms in parts of New England for over $100 a night at this time of year, I think this is a low daily spend, and proves you don’t have to spend your life savings to check out the fall foliage. Opt for private rooms in Airbnb apartments, rent your own transport, reuse water bottles, don’t eat out for every meal, and make the beautiful views your main activity for the trip.

Do you dream of visiting New England in the fall?

47 Comments

  1. February 7, 2018
    Reply

    Quick note–the abbreviation for Maine is “ME”. “MN” is Minnesota (caught this right away because it’s my home state). Confusing, I know!

    • February 7, 2018
      Reply

      Whoops! Haha. When I was writing the post, I even reminded myself that Maine is the state with the abbreviation that always surprises me, and then forgot to double-check my guess!

  2. Kristen
    February 7, 2018
    Reply

    As a current New Englander (not native but I now call Boston home) loved reading about some fun things to do in my area that I never knew about! Definitely taking PEM off my list of to-dos, and sending Acadia further on up. The long drive from Boston had always scared me off, but it just seems so beautiful.

  3. February 7, 2018
    Reply

    I think the Peabody Museum was closed when we were in Salem, but I did get to see the cemetery where some of the women burned during the Witch Trials were buried. But the rest of town is a bit cheesy!

    • February 20, 2018
      Reply

      Really cheesy! I was surprised that a place with such a somber history has turned into such a ridiculous tourist attraction.

    • Ash
      March 24, 2019
      Reply

      Then you would know that they didn’t burn witches in Salem…

  4. February 7, 2018
    Reply

    New England is one of the areas in the US that’s highest on my list – as well as the deep south. It’s shocking how expensive it is, but that wouldn’t stop me in the slightest :-)

    • February 25, 2018
      Reply

      It’s definitely worth it when you get to see so much beauty!

  5. Jessica
    February 8, 2018
    Reply

    As a native of New England, I’m surprised you found accommodations SO cheap! Will definitely have to check out Airbnb for those weekend trips! Also added some must-see’s to my to-do list; and I agree about the Peabody Essex Museum!

    • March 22, 2018
      Reply

      Haha, glad someone else agrees with me about the museum! We were so bored.

  6. February 8, 2018
    Reply

    If you aren’t as concerned about the colors of the leaves, the first two weeks after Labor Day are a great time to hit New England. Summer is over and everyone is back in school, but it is too early for the Leafers.

    I’ve been to NE twice during that window and both times it was wonderful. You can find deals on rooms because every place is empty. It’s almost like having the place to yourself.

    • February 25, 2018
      Reply

      Sweet! That sounds pretty perfect. Thanks for sharing! :-)

  7. February 9, 2018
    Reply

    The best way to get cheap accommodation in New England in fall is to visit coastal spots. We paid $50 for a motel room in Old Orchard Beach and about $75 for a room with a kitchen in a resort with pool, jacuzzi etc in Cape Cod. We booked accommodation for our time in Boston and Cape Cod but mostly just showed up places without booking the rest of the time and got some pretty good deals at no frills motels and lodges – even in Vermont during the peak of fall.

  8. February 9, 2018
    Reply

    Again another great article! Thanks for keeping such a detailed record of your travel expenses.

    • February 20, 2018
      Reply

      You got it! I need to do it for tax purposes anyway, so why not share it with my readers to help them better plan their trips? :-)

  9. aaron
    February 12, 2018
    Reply

    Love your budget breakdowns! Thank you for sharing ways in which we can make travel more affordable. You’re an inspiration. New England looks beautiful!

    • February 20, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks so much! I don’t know why it took me so long to do them — I’m one of few travel bloggers to not take comps, so it makes sense for me to share my expenses, as not many others can without disclosing they didn’t pay for much of their trip themselves.

  10. Lau
    February 15, 2018
    Reply

    Fabulous post Lauren. I haven’t made it to New England yet but I know America as a whole can certainly be expensive for travelers. How did New England compare to the prices of other regions in America?

    • February 25, 2018
      Reply

      It was more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been in the U.S., apart from maybe NYC, but I was there in fall. It’d be more affordable at other times of year.

  11. Dave
    March 10, 2018
    Reply

    Perfect post at a perfect time for me and my squad to go biking. We will be in the UK next month and we are all on our Harleys. My friend has already found a place by the Ireland cost that looked okay to us, but I think what you have suggested is better. Thanks.

    • March 11, 2018
      Reply

      I suggest you look at where New England is on a map first… Hint: it’s not in England.

      • Linda Haseloff
        February 8, 2019
        Reply

        We had that same issue when we lived in New Mexico. Folks always asked if they needed a passport or visa to visit us. I’m not kidding.

        • February 10, 2019
          Reply

          Oh man, that’s so funny!

  12. Amie
    June 5, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you for the great article! I’m pondering a similar road trip for this fall, but one question – did you actually see the fall colors when you were there? I know it’s impossible to time it perfectly to get there when the leaves are changing, but curious what your experience was.

    • June 6, 2018
      Reply

      We sort of did. We were about a week too late for peak foliage, so we didn’t see them at their best, but we still saw some pretty cool colours as we were driving around. It wasn’t as amazing as the photos you see online, though.

  13. June 19, 2018
    Reply

    I hope New Haven-style pizza was among the foods you splurged on. It’s worth its fame ten times over!

    • June 21, 2018
      Reply

      Unfortunately not, as my boyfriend and I don’t eat dairy or gluten, so pizza is usually off the cards for us.

  14. Winona
    July 31, 2018
    Reply

    Great blog – but I LOVE the Peabody museum in Salem! Yes- if you’re coming from across the pond for a holiday I can see how it might feel like a bit less than epic – but it’s an exceptional place. The Chinese House alone is worth the visit!

    • August 4, 2018
      Reply

      Oh, that’s good to hear! I was perplexed by the many incredible reviews, so it’s great to hear from someone who loves the place :-)

  15. GH
    October 12, 2018
    Reply

    My partner and I have just come back from a 2 week road trip which was almost identical to the one you present, but with less time spent in Boston. We even stayed at the Spruce Moose and enjoyed the company of the dogs there. We only used AirBnb three times on this trip and frankly that was enough. Personally, I prefer some privacy, and the cleanliness of the pads was very hit and miss. I much prefer to rock up at a motel, even a basic one. We found eating out to be quite expensive when you include tax and tips (omg the tips) but the portions are big and the lobster rolls and blueberry pie are fantastic in New England. On the toll pass question, the rental car company tried to frighten us into taking their by-the-day option, but we declined and I’m glad we did. We didn’t go through any tolls so it would have been a waste of money. Overall, a great trip.

  16. Teresa
    October 21, 2018
    Reply

    You had me up until the smart a$$ remarks about our President. Didn’t even finish reading. Really??? I hated Obama but didn’t build my life around that hatred and all he did to divide our country. Don’t like it, leave. This was no place for that type of comment.

    • October 22, 2018
      Reply

      You didn’t finish reading because I mentioned one of the Airbnb owners liked to talk about how much they hate Donald Trump? That seems like an insane overreaction and hardly a smartass comment. How sensitive are you?! Truly baffled by your comment, to be honest.

  17. January 8, 2019
    Reply

    I love the premise of this post – spend a little but get a lot! And, looks like you did just that. I definitely want to visit the NE Us at the right time of year – especially since we have no beautiful tree changing down south!

  18. Alex
    January 21, 2019
    Reply

    Your numbers don’t match. Transportation was at least twice as much.

    • January 21, 2019
      Reply

      What? No it wasn’t. You’re maybe getting confused because I share expenses with my boyfriend? The numbers listed are per person.

  19. Scott Brooks
    January 22, 2019
    Reply

    What dates were you there? I’ve read the comments and you mentioned you were a week or 2 later than optimum – we are planning this trip in September but don’t have our dates nailed down yet. Thanks, and we will definitely be adding some of these spots to our list!

  20. March 2, 2019
    Reply

    Salem can be super cheesy with all of the witch stuff! If you ever go back (though doesn’t sound like you will) check out the House of Seven Gables, the Salem Maritime National Historic Park, and Chestnut Street for some amazing architecture. There is lots to do if you can get past the witches :-)

    • March 3, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you so much for the recommendations! I’ll totally check them out if I pass through Salem again :-)

  21. Claudia
    September 8, 2019
    Reply

    Hi! Great article! We are planning to do this road trip in January (we are form Uruguay, South América) and that’s the time of our holidays. Do you think that is a good idea?? Thank you in advance :)

  22. emily
    September 9, 2019
    Reply

    Where you there for Halloween? Im going to NE in Oct for a month. Cant decide whether to go to NY or stay in NE, maybe Salem for Halloween.
    I am starting a travel blog! Should have done it years ago,

  23. Tara
    October 8, 2019
    Reply

    Hey, we are doing this route from Friday for a week. We only get a night in most places and then two in Boston. We have one spare night. Where would you recommend that we spend more than one day, please? Kind regards, Tara

    • October 8, 2019
      Reply

      Either Acadia or the White Mountains. I’d go for the White Mountains :-)

  24. Julie
    March 1, 2020
    Reply

    It’s a shame you opted for the Essex Museum(although there was a great exhibit there and we got a reduced price for going in late in the day) when you could have spent time at the House of the Seven Gables — great tour and cool house. That whole area of town shows what a vibrant port Salem once was.

    • March 15, 2020
      Reply

      Ah, hopefully next time! I definitely need to head back to this part of the U.S. :-)

  25. Jen
    March 8, 2020
    Reply

    This was turning out to be a good review and travel guide until you put your political views into it. Poor form in my opinion. Someone hating and disrespecting my countries president is NOT a selling point.

  26. Kate
    August 7, 2020
    Reply

    Wow, super glad I stumbled upon this post in my NE trip search. Thanks for your honest reviews (SUPER helpful!) and for educating folks about the detrimental effects of Airbnb on communities. I try to stay in owner occupied units for the same reason. Cheers!

    Also, sorry about the silly comments you’re getting re: the Trump remark. Completely surprised that Trump supporters even have a need to read travel blogs… the way they reject other worldviews you’d think they normally just stay home and remain ignorant to new ideas!

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