How to Travel with Minimal Money

How to Travel with Minimal Money


6 min read

Recently, I accidentally went on a huge road trip. I say accidentally because it started off as a short drive, but plans changed as it progressed. From another road trip, I had advocated the "fast car, cheap motels" strategy. Total expenses for that one were $1085.75. I now realize there is one simple change that could have cut that trip down to $722.67:

Truck stops (Travel centers).

If you want to sleep in your car, you don't have to hide out in dark alleys or hotel or Walmart parking lots. There are literally thousands of people sleeping in vehicles at this moment: truck drivers (professional drivers), and there is plenty of infrastructure in this country (the USA) built for them, all of which is available to you. This recent road trip I experimented with sleeping at truck stops the entire time and it worked out great.

I've always been frugal with money, but not to the extent where I waste an hour to save a buck or avoid buying real assets. I always invest in myself. However, I believe some of the best things in life can be accessed with less to no money. Below is an assortment of travel tips I have thrown together to facilitate that. Perhaps they will help you if you ever decide to do a "mad dash" road trip:

  • Have an extremely flexible schedule: All you really need to take into account in a tentative plan is travel time and sunrise and sunset. Regardless of your plan, obstacles or opportunities are certainly going to pop up. For example, I wasn't even going to go to Colorado this trip, but halfway through the trip, the day before I started driving there, my rough schedule signaled that it would be possible, so I did it.
  • Stop at Walmart beforehand: Buy a sleeping bag and pad, all the water and drinks you'll need, snacks/nonperishable foods, and other supplies. You can honestly splurge and camp like royalty with all the hotel money you would be wasting otherwise. Also, buy tire chains if required anywhere. You can return them if you don't use them.
  • Sleep at truck stops: If you really need to shower, truck stops have showers that you can purchase if you want. You could also use Planet Fitness ones if you have a Black Card membership.
  • Don't pre-book hotels: If you do want to sleep in a hotel, book it the day of or literally minutes before you go inside. Flexibility is more important than meager savings.
  • Don't pre-book rental cars (Read the Edit Note): And keep in mind any age restrictions. Also, if there is any chance of winter weather, make sure to get a 4WD or AWD vehicle. I repeat: get a 4WD or AWD vehicle. You can only really guarantee this by booking day-of. (Edit: Depending on the airport, company, and time of year, it might be smart to pre-book a rental car early since I've noticed some rental cars prices don't stay the stable and start to reach scam prices online. You could also consider picking up a car at a rental car location further from the airport (usually cheaper) and returning it to the airport (if the pickup location is closed + it's more convenient). You might get a charge for this called a Drop Charge.).
  • Eat fast food: Home is for relaxing. If you're traveling, then travel. There are "healthy" fast food options.

Below are the approximate route and budget of my trip. Using a rental car upped the expenses quite a bit, especially with the "underage" rental charges, but I squeezed everything I could out of it.

Route and Schedule

Note: Both the route and schedule are approximate.

Route Map

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Wednesday, 12/23/2020

  • Flights from BOS => LAS
  • Sleep @ Las Vegas, NV (Mardi Gras Hotel & Casino)

Thursday, 12/24/2020

  • Las Vegas, NV => Death Valley National Park (2.5 hrs)
  • Explore Death Valley National Park (1 hr)
  • Death Valley National Park => Joshua Tree National Park (4.5 hrs)
  • Explore Joshua Tree National Park (1 hr)
  • Joshua Tree National Park => Tulare, CA (4.5 hrs)
  • Buffer (2.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Tulare, CA (Flying J Travel Center, 979 E Paige Ave, Tulare, CA 93274)

Friday, 12/25/2020

  • Tulare, CA => Sequoia National Park (1 hr)
  • Explore Sequoia National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Sequoia National Park => Kings Canyon National Park (2 hrs)
  • Explore Kings Canyon National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Kings Canyon National Park => Yosemite National Park (3.5 hrs)
  • Explore Yosemite National Park (3.5 hrs)
  • Yosemite National Park => Salinas, CA (3.5 hrs)
  • Buffer (1.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Salinas, CA (Pilot Travel Center, 951 Work St, Salinas, CA 93901)

Saturday, 12/26/2020

  • Salinas, CA => Pinnacles National Park (1 hr)
  • Explore Pinnacles National Park (2 hrs)
  • Pinnacles National Park => Lassen Volcanic National Park (5.5 hrs)
  • Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park (0.5 hrs. Snow.)
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park => Trinidad, CA (4.5 hr)
  • Buffer (2.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Trinidad, CA (Trinidad Southbound Rest Area - Humboldt County)

Sunday, 12/27/2020

  • Trinidad, CA => Redwood National Park (1 hr)
  • Explore Redwood National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Redwood National Park => Crater Lake National Park (4 hrs)
  • Explore Crater Lake National Park (2.5 hrs)
  • Crater Lake National Park => Battle Mountain, NV (7 hrs)
  • Buffer (1 hr)
  • Sleep @ Battle Mountain, NV (Broadway Flying J Travel Center, 650 W Front St, Battle Mountain, NV 89820)

Monday, 12/28/2020

  • Battle Mountain, NV => Great Basin National Park (5.5 hrs)
  • Explore Great Basin National Park (0.5 hrs. Snow.)
  • Great Basin National Park => Montrose, CO (8.5 hrs)
  • Buffer (1.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Montrose, CO (1440N N Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO 81401)

Tuesday, 12/29/2020

  • Montrose, CO => Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (0.5 hrs. Snow.)
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park => Mesa Verde National Park (3.5 hrs)
  • Explore Mesa Verde National Park (0.5 hrs. Snow.)
  • Mesa Verde National Park => Great Sand Dunes National Park (4.5 hrs)
  • Explore Great Sand Dunes National Park (2 hrs)
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park => Moriarity, NM (4.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Moriarity, NM (Pilot Travel Center, 305 Abrahames Rd, Moriarty, NM 87035)

Wednesday, 12/30/2020

  • Moriarity, NM => Big Bend National Park (7 hrs)
  • Explore Big Bend National Park (0.5 hrs. Storm.)
  • Big Bend National Park => Guadalupe Mountains National Park (6.5 hrs)
  • Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Buffer (1.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Pine Spring Safety Rest Area)

Thursday, 12/31/2020

  • Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park (0.5 hrs)
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park => Saguaro National Park (6.5 hrs)
  • Explore Saguaro National Park (1 hr)
  • Saguaro National Park => Phoenix, AZ (2 hrs)
  • Buffer (6 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Phoenix, AZ (Flying J Travel Center, 6700 W Latham St, Phoenix, AZ 85043)

Friday, 1/1/2021

  • Hike Camelback Mountain, AZ
  • Phoenix, AZ => Las Vegas, NV (4.5 hrs)
  • Sleep @ Las Vegas, NV (12501 Apex Great Basin Way, North Las Vegas, NV 89105)

Saturday, 1/2/2021

  • Hike Black Mountain, NV
  • Flights from LAS => BOS
  • Sleep @ Home

Cost Breakdown

Total: $2104.41 image.png