Last year I made the oh-so-wise decision to move to the Sonoran Desert over the 4th of July holiday with my adventure loving boyfriend. For the first week or so we basked in the hot summer sun, took pictures of the Saguaro cacti, and laughed about how silly the “exaggerated” horror stories of Phoenician summer heat were. Fast forward five weeks and you could find us in our skivvies laying on the floor directly under the ceiling fan, cursing the hot Phoenician sun and the 115 degree heat it brought down on us day after day after day after day…
Fast forward 10 months and you would find us excitedly making plans to get the *@!# out of the desert for most of July when both of us would be on summer break for work. Our strong passion to beat the heat coupled with some seriously amazing places to visit close to our now-home drove us (pun intended) to plan and conquer what I consider to be a true American pastime: The Road Trip.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that it is impossible to go on a Road Trip and not spend any money, but there are some areas that we put a new spin on and others that we eliminated completely in order to cut costs. The impact of the decisions we made were thoroughly felt upon our return home in August moreso than when we were actually on the road, but I believe that is a good thing. Our road trip strategies saved us nearly $1,000 in less than one week, so I want to share how we were able to do it!!
Everything we did or didn’t do on our Road Trip fell into one of three categories
We are not experienced campers (in fact the first night of our road trip was our second night in our tent!), but camping was a great way to save a MINIMUM of 80 bucks a night. There were other benefits too—like no electronic distractions, easy access to nature, meeting new people, and an excuse for snuggling once it became chilly. Because camping isn’t always just Kumbia and smores, there were also downfalls. Like the first night when our front row seat to a big bad thunderstorm had me convinced that our Road Trip was going to end right there in that dark, wet tent because of death by lightning strike. During the first half of our trip, we camped out at designated campsites until the final night before arriving at our family’s home—your welcome family, for splurging on that pre-arrival shower To find our hotel we used booking.com and picked one of the least expensive options which saved us about $30 extra we would have paid had we called the hotel directly.
People often default to booking a hotel when they know they will be on the road, but it is probably the most expensive option out there. Keep an open mind to explore sleeping options that are outside of your current comfort zone.
My fiancé gets a high five for putting up with me and my extremely “mindful” tendencies when it comes to food purchasing and consumption (okay, maybe I should be referring to them as “slightly obsessive” tendencies but it’s my blog, so I’m not). The thought of wasting food makes my skin crawl, so luckily—and quite differently from the whole “tent” thing—my personality naturally lends itself to saving money on grub while Road Tripping. Because we didn’t have a refrigerator running in our car, we had to be smarter about when and how much food we purchased. Leftovers (my personal favorite) were not an option.
A typical day in the Brit+Joe Road Trip diet looked like this: Breakfast – Munch on the fruit and/or non-perishable snacks (protein-packed) that we loaded up before leaving home. Snack–Find something for less than five bucks at a gas station or café that can comfortably hold us over until we eat our Lunch/Dinner Combined – one “big” (American) meal was all we really needed each day, and sometimes we would even go to a brewery or restaurant and order just one meal and one appetizer to share.
In addition to mindful snacking (eating snacks—many of which we packed prior to leaving our house—that would keep us full) and combining lunch and dinner to eat just one “big” meal per day, we also threw stereotypical “mealtimes” out the window. Instead of eating within designated time slots, we just grabbed a bite when we were hungry, and it actually helped us save a fair amount of money AND kept our bodies feeling pretty great despite being on the road and out of our normal routine.
There were several strategies we used to make sure we didn’t end up spending an embarrassing amount of scrilla on supplies as we trekked across the country. First, I researched destinations I thought we would enjoy and determined what we would need to have with us once we were there in order to have the best time possible. Spending a day at the Grand Canyon, including hiking trails –better pack those camelbacks (or should I say off-brand Costco water backpacks). Taking a tour of some canyons in the middle of the desert—plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and a couple pairs of sunnies will be necessary for an optimal time. Sleeping in a tent—extra blankets, sleeping bags, an air mattress (most clutch item packed), bug spray, and a cooler full of choice beverages were all loaded up before heading out. Planning ahead allowed us to get items in bulk at stores like Costco so that we weren’t wasting money on big time mark-ups in middle-of-nowhere places.
In addition to researching our destinations ahead of time so that we could cut the cost of supplies down by purchasing and packing before we began our venture, we also withdrew cash from our checking accounts to use as spending money instead of just running our debit or credit cards. Using cash made it much easier to gauge how much we were spending, what we were spending on, and prioritize what activities/items were most valuable to us. Having a limited amount of spending money also served as a great reminder to take advantage of the low cost (and sometimes free) activities and landscapes that can be found all across our country. Appreciate.
And here is the photographic proof that monitoring your spending does not equal BORING
Just $10 got Joe and I into Arches National Park for the day. I could have posted 20 pictures of this place alone. It was amazing.
The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ only charges $12 to get in, and you are able to see the telescopes that were used to discover Pluto and the rings around Saturn and I touched a chunk of a meteor that hit Earth a loooooong time ago.
At $75 the tour of Antelope Canyon was our “splurge”. Well worth it, and still cost less than a day at an amusement park.
Walking the streets of downtown Durango was free, which made it possible for us to enjoy a local brewery with plenty of freedom for spending.
I was really excited to learn that it only cost $25 for Joe and I both to get into Grand Canyon National Park.
What are some strategies you’ve used or discovered that help you save money when you embark on a classic American Road Trip?
Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!