People often ask me how I can afford to travel so much. A large part of the answer has to do with the fact that I don’t pay rent, have very few monthly bills, absolutely no debt and, since everything I own has to fit in my car, I don’t buy a lot of stuff.
But despite all the costs I cut due to my lifestyle choices, I’m still not rolling in it. After all, I make my living as a freelance writer and this is no way to get rich. So the real answer is that I can afford to travel so much because I know how to travel extremely cheaply.
If you have the time (time is priceless) you can afford to take a road trip! To start, I’m going to focus on the four major costs of traveling: fuel, food, lodging and entertainment.
Fuel: No way around it, gas sucks. I just returned from California, where I paid as much as $4.80 a gallon. Here in New Mexico gas is closer to $3.20, but it still sucks. However, at any rate, gas prices are a shitty excuse for not hitting the road because GAS IS NOT GOING TO GET ANY CHEAPER. If you’re going to wait around for the clean car revolution before you see your country, you’re never going to see it. But despite how much we all hear and fret about gas prices, when I total up my fuel costs from my past few trips, it’s really not that bad. Driving from Maine to New Mexico in April cost me $430 in gas and my most recent road trip from New Mexico to San Francisco and back cost $150, each way. Compare that to the cost of plane tickets (not to mention the stress of air travel). One tip for saving money on gas: avoid interstates! Driving 70+ miles per hour burns gas like you wouldn’t believe. Stick to the back roads and keep it under 55 and you’ll see a real difference in your mileage per gallon.
Food: Road Tripping Rule #5 is Always eat local. I love this rule. Fried chicken in the South, seafood in the Northeast and real Mexican food in the Southwest are priceless road trip experiences. Just don’t splurge on every meal. When I’m on the road, I usually aim to order one meal a day off a menu. The rest of my food I buy at grocery stores and cook over a camp stove. On my two-week Maine to New Mexico trip I spent $80 dollars at grocery stores and $110 at restaurants.
Lodging: I hate hotels and almost always camp out when I’m on the road. I usually seek out National Forests, where campsites run from free to around $10 a night. State parks can be pricey ($35 a night in California!) and National Parks can be crowded, especially on weekends. If the weather is especially terrible – in April I drove through the midwest during peak tornado season – I pull my handy nationwide Motel 6 directory out of my glove compartment and find the closest $40 dog-friendly room. On my Maine to New Mexico trip I spent $85 total for one room, and four campsites. The rest of my nights were free! Gotta love our National Forests.
Entertainment: You and I might differ on what we consider to be good road trip entertainment. My absolutely favorite thing to do when I’m on the road and I want to get out of the car for a few hours is to go for a hike. Hiking is free. I also really love visiting odd museums, where admissions usually run from free to around $10. What can I say, I’m a cheap date. You might also want to spend money on gifts, souvenirs and drinks, but you can save a lot by sending postcards, taking photographs and drinking water instead.
Some people consider traveling a luxury, but it doesn’t have to be. I live very frugally, at home and on the road and so I’ve been able to see a great deal of the world without my car, my dogs or myself going hungry. Start saving now (quick tip: stop buying stuff you don’t need!) and you’ll have a few hundred bucks for a road trip in no time!