Affordable Road-tripping: Here's how you do it!
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Today's post will be about how you can optimize your time and money to get outdoors more often, as well as some of my favorite products and apps for adventuring. Thanks for reading!
Some people love to do things on a whim, but the traveling I've done in the last year has taught me that you definitely want to have a plan and wing it along the way.. not plan to wing it! lol. I recommend planning trips earlier rather than later. You will find you'll have more options for anything you may need to rent or buy if you start planning early. Leaving things until the last minute means overpaying because you're left with little to no options. Planning will also look different based on how long your trip is going to be.
How to Save on the road:
One of my favorite things about weekend trips v longer trips is they are super affordable! The absolute cheapest way to weekend road trip is to camp and avoid staying at hotels or paying for lodging. Most recreational campgrounds can be pricey and they book far in advance. Well I have the solution to the problem, dispersed camping. Dispersed camping means no bathrooms, water, or trash cans which means you have to pack out what you pack in BUT they are almost always free or super cheap. Your best options for dispersed camping are going to be BLM LAND and National Forest Service Land! These are both different bodies of land spread out all over the U.S that allow for camping unless otherwise posted! I'll go over what I use to find my campsites down below. You can camp in your car, a camper, or in tents for up to 14 consecutive days in these areas. Now with that said, lets talk personal hygiene and pooping in the middle of no where.. cause we all know you gotta do what you gotta do! HAHA. To keep camping areas sanitary and protect natural habitats, it's common practice to bury human waste when in the back country or dispersed camping areas. Here's what I've learned and what I know:
Using the Bathroom
Keep a trowel or a shovel in your camping/hiking gear to dig your hole with.
You should be at least 70 steps away from any campsite and at least 100 ft from any body of water. Your hole should be at least 4 inches deep and as wide as you see fit. Recommendations I've seen are ~8 inches. If you’re just on trail hiking for the day and an emergency hits.. just try and get away from being visible from trail! But be safe!!
My pro tip is to dig your cat hole as soon as you get to camp or right after you set up your essentials. There's nothing worse than waiting until right before you need to go to dig your hole.
Carry some form of garbage bag to pack out all of your used toilet paper or purchase true biodegradable wipes and burry them in the hole. I highly recommend the first option. Feminine products or any other waste should be packed out and not buried.
Make sure to completely cover your hole and pack down the dirt when done.
Yes, it's dirty. Hand sanitize and wash them hands! You'll be okay!
If cat hole is an absolute no-go for you. There are portable toilet options, but you will still have to deal with getting rid of your waste off site from where you camped.
Most people think that just because animals can poop/pee freely in nature we should be able to too, but animals don't live a life full of processed food and chemicals. Our waste has a lot of things that are harmful to not only animals, but the soil, plants, and micro-organisms, etc. It's very important to practice leaving no trace and burying your waste to preserve these beautiful areas!
Showering and Personal Hygiene
If you're one of those people who has to be clean all of the time, camping just may not be for you.. but I say do it anyways! Sometimes you just have to tough it out and be a little stinky, but there are ways to keep clean and feeling as fresh as possible:
Baby wipes. Hit them hot spots! Sometimes a shower just isn't happening. Keep a pack of baby or water wipes in your car and wipe down your body at the end of the day. It's not a shower but trust me it'll help!
Portable showers. If you plan on making road tripping a habit, you might want to invest in a road shower. There are tons of different options. I'll include a link to those and after I get mine set up, I can do a review on it. There a huge range of portable showers from basic water bags, to systems that can heat your water for you. Those are more expensive so i'll include more details about them in a later post!
Utilizing rest stops or campground bathrooms. If you don't mind paying a little extra for a developed campground. A lot of the time they will have coin operated showers (COVID depending). Bring flip flops!! Rest stops also sometimes have coin operated showers and laundry. I've never done this before but always see people doing it while i'm on the road.
Rinsing in nature. Taking a dip in a river or lake will naturally rinse some of your natural oils off. You can also purchase a bio-degradable soap, if you're up for bathing in nature with some of your own water! This is the least recommended option, but if you do it eco-friendly it won't be the end of the world.
This YouTube video goes over some options if you’re more of a visual person! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KdTM3QOzwYU&feature=youtu.be
Packing and Cooking Food
Whether you're riding solo or traveling with others, buying groceries and cooking your meals will always save you money! You'll have to invest once in an ice chest but you can get a good one for a super reasonable price. REI, Big 5, Walmart, and outdoor stores should all carry different sized ice chests. The ice chest I'm currently using is the Engel 30 Quart. Its a perfect small-medium sized cooler and it's done nothing but a great job. Sometimes ice will last my boyfriend and 1-2 days before we need to top it back off and it fits the perfect amount of food for 2-3 days for two people. The only issue with dispersed camping is most of these areas don't have firepits and with all of the wildfires a lot of areas have fire restrictions. This means you will have to have a gas burning stove. Luckily, my boyfriend and I inherited an old school Coleman two burner from his grandparents so we haven't had to invest in one yet! This article will give you can idea of what you're looking at when shopping for a camping stove.
Utilizing the National Parks
Entering a National Park typically costs you $30. Most people don't know that this pass lasts you 7 days from your date of purchase which means you can really get your moneys worth with every park you pay to enter. Want to avoid paying the $30 entry fee every time? If you plan on becoming a national parks explorer, you can purchase an annual national park pass for $80. This will get you into all of the national parks as many times as you want for a year from the month of purchase. I got mine as a birthday gift this year and it's already saved me so much money. It can also save you time at the entry gates sometimes. I can't recommend it enough!! It makes a perfect gift to yourself or someone you know loves to go to the national parks. Current military, homes with a fourth grader both qualify for a free annual pass, and parks also have certain days of the year that are free! You can find that here. Senior pass is $80 for lifetime, or $20 annually.
Long Road Trips
Longer road trips require more of everything. If you're on a long road trip, you're going to need to eventually stay somewhere with shower unless you have a cool shower set up. We don't have one (yet) so we break up our days at camp sites with an airbnb or hotel stay. This is where you want to utilize planning ahead to get the most affordable place if saving money is your priority. If you don't mind spending a little extra and enjoy the airbnb experience, planning ahead will give you more options for cool or unique stays. Longer road trips also mean laundry is necessary, at least for me. I usually try to find a place with washer/dryer or will find a local laundromat! You'll have to plan to save more money in general on these longer trips, but food is a big one. Again, you want to pack food and cook most of the time. Save your meals for special local eats, things you're really looking forward to, or for those nights you just feel too lazy to set up and cook yourself. My last recommendation for longer road trips is planning to bring a tent. Taking breaks from sleeping in your car will feel good since you spend so much time in it on the trips as it is!
Apps/Websites I recommend:
FreeRoam and freecampsites.net for finding free campsites. Most of these will be the BLM or National Forest Service land discussed above and are not "traditional" campgrounds.
Hipcamp and airbnb for finding paid campgrounds and unique stays.
Instagram, All-Trails, and The Outdoor Project for planning your road trip stops!
You can check out my upcoming blog post for an depth review on all of my favorite outdoor lovers must have apps and websites!
Overview of supplies you'll need:
Cant stress the importance of a reliable car. SUV/truck more comfy for sleeping and space but not required!
Ice chest, Gas burning stove, Cooking utensils, Ice/Grocery/Water, Camp tables/chair for extra comfort. Remember to leave no trace and pack out what you packed in. My go to move is to throw away our garbage when we will up our gas.
Gear for whatever activity you'll be doing. I recommend making a check list!
I'm going to wrap it up with bringing up having an open mindset. You have to be willing to tough it out by sleeping in your car, going a couple-few days without showering, eating sometimes weirder than other camp meals, pooping in a hole.. LOL. I could go on and on. The key to pulling off affordable road tripping and road trips in general is going in with a positive attitude. You have to be willing to experience and learn new things. I promise the pros outweigh the cons. Happy, safe road tripping to you all!