5 Tips for Adventures on a Budget

A common conversation I have:

Friend: “Do you ever work?” “How do you afford all these adventures?”

Me: “I am frugal with my time and frugal with my money. Here is how you can travel cheaply and frequently too…”

I have had this type of conversation many times with friends and acquaintances. They are always surprised with how little these trips actually cost my wife and I to go on. A 4 day trip to Pisgah National Forest costs us about $90-110 in gas, $25 for food, and a few bucks for coffee shop WiFi and drinks. Here are 5 tips for adventures on a budget.

Don’t pay for hotels or camping

The most expensive part of any out-of-town trip is the lodging. According to Statista, the average cost of a hotel room in the U.S. in 2017 is $128.52. From my personal experience, a campsite can cost between $20-40 a night depending on location and accommodations. Either way, those eat into the trip’s budget pretty quick. One way to avoid these costs is to locate a free campsite. I have used FreeCampsites.net on several occasions. Sleeping in a vehicle such as a camper, truck with topper, or converted van opens up campsite possibilities.

Bring your own food

Eating out is expensive. Even the $1 menu at McDonald’s cost more than bringing your own food on a trip. Dry goods that don’t need to be cooked are the most efficient to bring. If you bring foods that don’t need refrigerated, then you won’t have to bring a cooler. If you bring foods that don’t have to be cooked, then you won’t have to bring a JetBoil or make a fire. I can get by for a few days eating peanut butter and trail mix sandwiches. Tuna sandwiches with packet mayonnaise is a good one. Those are just a few off the top of my head. Olivia, my wife, put together a list of 5 Meals That Don’t Require Refrigeration or Cooking. If you are going to bring a cooler, then it is worth investing in a really good one. Leaving the wilderness to go into town for ice is a waste of time, money, and patience. 

Avoid tourist hot spots

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new destination. Hitting tourist hot spots is a sure way to stress yourself, your wallet, and your schedule. Avoid them altogether and stay as close to the trails as possible. You will have much more time to explore the trails and relax. Submersing yourself in the wild is much more rewarding than the cheap thrills of a tourist hot spot.

Invite Friends

There are many benefits to sharing the experience with friends. You will most likely have more fun on the trip (depending on who you invite). Experiences are proven to be more intense (for good or bad) when shared with others. I have traveled alone to races in the past and didn’t much enjoy myself. There was noone to talk to in the car and no one to get excited about the race with. What could have been an awesome experience was actually an “I’m over it” experience. Unless you prefer being alone, then don’t waste time or money going on a trip by yourself.

Another benefit to inviting friends is cost sharing. Splitting gas, lodging and food amongst friends benefits everyone involved. Just make sure everyone is on the same page with regards to the food and lodging situation.

Take short trips

Not everyone works remotely or has unlimited vacation time. So using corporate holidays and weekends to our benefit is key. After a few years of frequent trips, I have found that 3-4 days is usually enough to explore most of the trails and “get the point” of a new place. By day 4, my wife and I have run ourselves into the ground and are ready to go home anyways.

Taking a 3 day trip only requires one day of vacation to be used. Driving 5 hours after work on Friday and setting up camp is not so bad. You then have all of Saturday and most of Sunday to explore before heading back home. Ideally, a weekend trip is within 5 hours of home. Otherwise, it’s hard to justify. The key here is to use vacation time sparingly so that smaller, more frequent, trips are possible.

Trips don’t have to be long and they don’t have to be expensive. By following these 5 steps, you can save yourself a lot of money and see more places. I have only mentioned 5 tips for adventures on a budget, but there are many others I have learned along the way. Stay tuned for more frugal traveling tips.

Be sure to comment with your tips and tricks for traveling on a budget. 

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