When I plan for a road trip there are three things I like to keep in mind: how I’m going to get there, how I’m going to sleep and of course how I’m going to eat. Whether it is a weekend excursion or a month-long adventure, these are the three most critical things to consider before your next big drive.
Everyone has different interests and things they want to accomplish while traveling, but say you don’t want to go to the big cities, spend money on hotels or eat out at nice restaurants. This post is for the slightly more adventurous travelers who won’t mind getting down and dirty to keep their budget happy. This is my idea of the ultimate road trip – one where you’re living out of your car, cooking your own food, and visiting as many national parks as you can. Most of my favorite memories I have made FOR FREE. If this interests you, let me help.
First things first, you’ve got to have some wheels. I mean some good, reliable wheels you can trust to get you from Point A to Point B.
I drive a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (4.0L V6) with four-wheel drive capabilities. I was fortunate enough to buy the car from its original owner when I was just sixteen. It’s been a great car, durable enough to take it off the beaten path and safe enough to know I will make it to my destination. My car is my home, so I treat car expenses as rent; inconvenient but essential. I do my best to keep it maintained – diligently checking oil and other fluids and replacing parts when necessary to keep my baby happy and mobile.
My Jeep gets about 18 miles to the gallon, which is not the most efficient vehicle to use as a mobile home, but I’m willing to take the hit for the extra space and the off-road capabilities. A smaller sedan would get better gas mileage, but lacks the space for gear or sleeping arrangements. Plus it most likely can’t get you down that dirt road you’ve heard leads you to an epic hike or viewpoint.
Whatever you might prefer, I suggest getting a gas card or credit card that rewards you fuel bucks or dividends – anything to save a buck or two on your next fill up. Pay attention to the fuel prices and stop where gas stations are plentiful so there are competitive prices. If you’re taking the road less traveled, be conscious of when the next fuel station might be because you never want to miss a chance to fill up, even if your tank is half full.
Organizing your vehicle to optimize space is crucial. If you tend to overpack, remember there’s typically a higher chance of casualties when you’re constantly on the move. Every time I get home from a trip I can count at least 10 things I didn’t need to bring and 3 things I misplaced, so keep it light! Just pack the essentials. If you’re bringing a passenger, make the “good roommate” conversation a priority before you embark on your grand adventure. If you’re OCD like I am, get a couple of storage containers to keep yourself organized (and sane). Save a storage bin for safety supplies, make sure you have protective cases for your electronics and keep those charging ports accessible.
I keep all my outdoor gear and toys above my vehicle. I use a Yakima Showcase 15 cargo box for camping gear and any larger miscellaneous gear,Yakima Jaylow to carry my kayak and Yakima Frontloader to mount my mountain bike.
You might be wondering how I afforded all the name brand vehicle add-ons. Well, the answer is easy: I worked for it. I worked at REI for six months one winter and took advantage of the employee discounts and pro deals. I bought my kayak, mountain bike and snowboard used off craigslist after investing some time to shop around until I found an affordable price for me.
If it’s something that you want to invest in, you have to be willing to sacrifice in other parts of your life. When traveling, I want to have access to any road, lake or trail so I do what is necessary to live a life of endless adventuring from the back of my car. Which brings me to my next point…how to sleep with peace of mind on the road.
I always travel with a tent, hammock, sleeping bag and sleeping pad so I can pretty much camp anywhere. It’s not always easy, but it’s an affordable way of living that only costs the time you take to set up your gear in a secure location. You can camp out in almost any recreational site, state and national park for a small fee or sometimes BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land for free.
However, every night isn’t nice, warm and relaxing. You do have to battle the elements sometimes, which can make that decision to pull into that hotel and pay for a room seem justifiable. But maybe you’re heading to an area with no hotels available, or rooms that are out of your price range. This is why I suggest having space to set up camp in your vehicle.
I have spent one a many night in my sleeping bag rolled out in the back of my jeep. This summer I made a switch that honestly made a world of difference. With the help of some friends, I was able to collect the materials to build a bed frame out of plywood and two by fours. It’s elevated so I can still use the floor space underneath for storage while still having enough headspace to roll around in my sleep. I have a cheap foam mattress and a variety of blankets and pillows to keep myself warm and comfortable no matter the environment.
It’s amazing how many more doors open up when you tap into the convenience of sleeping in your car. You can pull off the side of the road or in a parking lot with the knowledge you’re going to get a good night sleep, protected from the elements, and not have to pay a cent.
However, the most frequent questions I get are about showering and doing laundry.
Fair questions. Honestly just more compromises you must chose to make, as those luxuries aren’t always going to be readily available. Fortunately, I have friends all across the country that I’m able to stay with and use their showers and laundry facilities. Unless you want to pay for campground amenities or laundromats, I say take advantage of visiting friends or family when you can.
Don’t have friends and family to take advantage of? Typically, campgrounds offer showers and most towns have public use showers and laundromats. If you feel you’ve saved enough money by living out of your car, then, by all means, treat yourself and find a hostel or cheap hotel so you can clean yourself up and feel fresh.
Every once in a while I’ll do this, but I prefer spending my money on local cuisine. Although I don’t suggest doing this every day, if you come across a neat town ask around about the popular cafe for breakfast or a unique restaurant for happy hour. The experience is half of what you’re paying for and what better way to experience a new place than by experiencing it through taste.
For every day sustenance, I highly recommend going to the grocery store and stocking up on dry foods and snacks. I prefer fruits, nuts and anything with low starch and sugar. If you make wise, healthy food choices you can make out like a bandit with plenty of satisfying meal options and a happy wallet.
I travel with a Jetboil for boiling water, a single stove burner, a small skillet, a spatula and knives, a cutting board and an assortment of seasonings. I also carry an REI Camp Roll Table that I can easily stow away, as well as a Yeti Roadie 20 that does an incredible job keeping ice cold and produce fresh.
Kellie and I would always have granola in bulk and some yogurt for breakfast. We’d either have a honey, peanut butter and banana sandwich or a protein of some sort with cheese and avocado quesadilla for lunch. For dinner, we’d take a pack of dried pasta or rice and prepare it in the Jetboil, then add a can of chicken or other protein and be feeling fat and happy before bedtime.
I’m not telling you what to eat or how to eat, that’s a personal decision. These are just some dining suggestions and tips on how to survive while living on the road and eating on a budget.
I hope you take this post into consideration on your next road trip. Even if it is a spontaneous trip or if you just flat-out hate making plans, be sure to have access to a safe and efficient vehicle, an idea of where and how you can sleep at night and a budget and plan for what you’re going to eat. This way of traveling can be challenging and isn’t for everyone, but if it’s the rich experience you’re after and the unexpected moments that you live for –> grab your keys and go.