Earlier this summer, my boyfriend Austin and I took a two-week road trip through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The first week of our trip was spent camping at various places and the second week was split between time with my family in Montana and Austin’s family in North Dakota. While time spent lodging with our families was free of charge (thank you, you guys are the best), the first week of our trip was funded by Austin and myself.
We discovered that there are a lot of easy ways to save money and travel inexpensively. This road trip allowed us to stay within our budget while exploring beautiful places in our country that we had never seen before! We ended up purchasing an annual pass to the US National Parks and are planning to go on more inexpensive adventures soon. If you are planning a trip, here are some helpful tips for saving money while you travel!
Quick side note, I have an amazon page here with a ton of camping item suggestions if you want to check it out. I will be posting a more complete packing list soon, but for now, some of the items I talk about in this post (and more) can be found on my amazon page.
What is Worth the Investment
First off, here are some things that are inarguably worth investing in before you leave because they either
- Help you save money in the long run or
- They are necessary for traveling.
Sometimes there is no way around spending some money, so here are the things that are worth your while:
- A tent allows you to camp (duh), which is much cheaper than staying in a hotel. Most of the campsites we stayed at were $30 a night. Campsites often have nice bathrooms, water and gas fill-up stations, and beautiful nature views! It’s not that bad, I promise. Plus, all you need to do at your campsite is sleep. You can spend the rest of the day out exploring. Linked here is the tent that Austin bought last summer if you want to check it out. The setup was super quick and convenient.
- Tip: If you are feeling adventurous and are comfortable without modern amenities such as running water or toilets, there are many locations in national/state parks that you can set up a tent for free.
- Second Tip: If your campsite doesn’t have a good bathroom setup, check out different, nicer, campsites OR stop in gas stations to brush your teeth, wash your face, etc.
- A grill was one of the best purchases we made before the trip! It allowed us to cook all of our own meals and eventually saved us a lot of money on food. Click here for the grill we used, it was so portable and worked great for every meal we prepared. We also used it to boil water for tea and coffee!
- A High-Quality Cooler
- We were lucky enough to borrow an Ozark Trail cooler from Austin’s family, click here to check that out. There is an abundance of other brands of coolers that also work well over extended periods of time. I found an article you can check out by clicking here if you are interested, it compares a ton of different cooler brands.
- Having a high-quality cooler saved us money in the long run. We saved a lot of money on ice by having a cooler that keeps ice frozen. We filled up the cooler with ice the day we left and only had to buy ice two more times throughout our two-week trip. We also were able to pack groceries in bulk which allowed us to cook our own meals and buy groceries in non-touristy places (the prices for everything gets so inflated near tourist locations such as Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons).
- Tip: Keep the ice inside of the bag you buy it in. This keeps everything from getting soggy and wet when the ice eventually melts.
- Pour Over Coffee Maker
- Insulated Sleeping Pad
- An insulated sleeping pad is something Austin and I regretted not having during our trip. We slept on an inflatable mattress that was somewhat inconvenient to fill with air each night and consistently deflated by early morning. The ground was also quite chilly at night, something an insulated sleeping pad would combat. We both decided that for our next trip, an insulated sleeping pad like this would be nice.
- Bear Spray
- If you are headed into bear country, which is something I highly recommend researching before you set out on your camping experience, then you really should travel with a can of bear spray. It’s around $40 typically, which isn’t awesome. But hey it’s a lot better than being attacked by a giant grizzly bear! Here is the “top-rated” bear spray on Amazon.
Where You Can Save Money
Now that we have covered the necessary investments, let’s get into the money-saving tips you all came here for. To start with the most obvious money-saving tips, traveling in a car instead of a plane and sleeping in a tent instead of hotels is going to significantly cut your traveling expenses. In addition:
- Make Your Own Meals
- Eating out is far more expensive than making your own meals. Making your own meals on the road will save you a lot of money in the long run, especially when considering the inflation of restaurant prices in popular tourist spots. Pack all refrigerated items in your cooler (an essential investment previously mentioned in this post) and buy freezer items, such as meat, as needed at grocery stores and gas stations. Eat your packed food as often as possible to avoid waste 🙂
- Tip: Find an awesome lookout and set up your cooking station. Austin and I had some of our best meals when we cooked for ourselves in front of a fantastic landscape.
- Pack Prepared
- I plan on posting a complete packing list soon (so don't forget to enter your name and email down in the subscription box at the end of this post to get notified when new content is uploaded). Until then, just know that it is to your advantage to buy all the necessary camping/traveling items before you leave. This way you can get the best deals by comparing prices online, in several stores, etc. Popular tourist and camping sites are counting on the fact that you will forget essential items and as a result, they jack up the prices of things such as firewood, propane, fire starter, groceries, blankets, etc. Pack everything you need beforehand so you can avoid these cost traps.
- Tip: If you have room, pack dry firewood (the firewood purchased near our campsites was almost always wet and generally expensive) and propane cans (for your grill) in bulk.
- Another important tip: Pack for all weather no matter the forecast. We left for our trip at the end of June and traveled through the beginning of July. Although it was summer, I really could have used some warmer clothing! Seriously, a winter jacket would have been helpful in the high altitude locations. We were so cold some nights in our tent that we debated buying a two-person insulated sleeping bag from local stores (they were like $600 !!! so no thank you). I cannot emphasize this enough: pack prepared.
- Get off the Beaten Path
- As mentioned, groceries, drinks, clothing, camping tools are all priced higher in tourist-heavy locations. A nice dinner in a small town in the middle of nowhere is going to be a lot less expensive than dinner in Jackson, Wyoming. Make stops in lesser-known places, you might stumble upon some great establishments 🙂
- Brew Your Own Coffee
- Coffee is expensive at coffee shops! It is an awesome treat, but you will seriously save a lot of money brewing your own coffee in the mornings. All you need is a pour over coffee maker, coffee grounds, and coffee filters!
- Talk to your Friends & Family
- If your neighbor owns five awesome Yeti coolers he never uses, don’t be afraid to ask if you can borrow one! Talk to people you know about camping supplies. You might be surprised how many items you can borrow and don’t need to buy. Austin and I borrowed many things from our families and friends. This saved us from having to spend a lot of money.
- Go Thrifting
- If you do have to purchase items before your trip, take a look at nearby thrift stores. Our little red kettle is so cute and only cost $3 at savers! Quality pots, pans, and other utensils are often abundant at thrift stores.
- Tip: check out thrift stores in popular camping locations, you could find some awesome items. I bought a pair of used Vasque hiking boots (usually $180) for only $8 at an antique store in South Dakota!
- Ask About Deals
- Camping sites often run deals such as student discounts, AAA discounts, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask about deals!
- Tip: If you are traveling to a lot of national parks in the following year, buy The U.S Park Pass. It’s $80 for the year and grants you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. Considering a 7-day pass to Yellowstone was $35 per vehicle (we were going to have to purchase two passes to cover the 8 days we were traveling through Yellowstone), the annual pass is quite the steal!
- Second Tip: For $15 you can buy a day pass to Life Time Fitness. This gives you the chance to get a great workout in AND a warm shower! Check out the deals at workout facilities in areas you are driving through. It is always nice to get a good sweat in.
- Use Reusable Water Bottles, Containers, and Dishware
- This is a two-fold tip: money-saving and economically responsible. Reusable water bottles and large water containers allow you to fill up with free water at campsites and gas stations, thus preventing you from spending money on plastic water bottles every time you are thirsty. Additionally, reusable dishware and utensils are great for using when you make your own food and brew your own coffee (some great money-saving tips we already covered). I added some examples of dishware and utensils to my amazon page if you want to check out my suggestions.
- Don’t Shy Away From Free Things
- Make friends with your fellow campers! As you are arriving and they are leaving, they could offer up some free things to you that they don’t need anymore. For example, leftover firewood, food, etc. Take the free things and run with it, we are trying to save money after all 😉
That wraps up tips for inexpensive travel, I hope you all found this post useful 🙂 I encourage you all to add a little adventure into your lives, there is so much to see in this world! Enter your name and email in the subscription box down below to be notified when new posts are uploaded onto my blog. There are all sorts of travel tips and travel guides coming your way soon! (Along with more health, fitness, & lifestyle content).
Until next time, thanks for your support! Have an awesome week.