[title_box title=”Opinion: 6 tips for an epic road trip on a microscopic budget”]
Sometimes, a spring break trip to the beach just doesn’t cut it.
If spending a week in the crowds of PCB just doesn’t appeal to you, consider breaking the mold this year and taking a week to venture out into the great expanses of our country, mom-and-pop style— that’s right, I’m talking about a road trip.
I’m talking about seeing the sun set over the edge of a canyon instead of squinting as it rises over a littered beach on the trudge back to your motel. Gazing up at giant red rock formations surging from the desert sand instead of neon signs advertising cheap drinks and late hours.
I’m talking about rolling through mountains, deserts and canyons in a car with your buddies, sleeping under the stars and coming home recharged instead of hungover.
I’m talking about an epic, grungy, crowd-free, no beach body needed, good old fashioned, cross-country road trip.
Here’s your insider guide to planning an awesome trip for a fraction of what a week at the beach would cost you.
1. Plan Your Destination
Going west is always a good idea. National parks make great destinations, though there are also plenty of worthwhile state parks and forests. Pick one spot you’re dying to see (I’d recommend Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon, for starters) and find out what other attractions are within a six hour radius of it. Find the most efficient route between these locations and let this be your (tentative) itinerary.
Try to get to your first destination in one long drive. That could easily mean 20+ hours of car time, so take turns driving and plan to stop every couple of hours for snacks and caffeine.
If you have to sleep along the way, pull into a rest area, lock up and take a quick snooze. (It’s really not as sketchy as it sounds.)
2. Opt for Tent or Car Camping
This is a road trip, so skip the hotel. Get the full dirtbag experience by tent or car camping instead.
Most national and state parks offer campsites for $7 to $15 per night. If you’re going to try to snag a spot inside a park, claim your site in the morning before your day’s adventures. (Most of these are done on an honor system, so don’t be tempted to skip out on paying.)
If you’re looking to go even cheaper, look for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or other public lands that offer free camping (and usually no amenities). Lots of towns have websites devoted to tracking where these places are, but they can be hard to navigate to nonetheless.
3. Get the Gear Basics
You’ll likely never find yourself too far from the car, so for this you’ll only need the gear basics: a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a small stove, warm clothes and comfortable shoes.
If you don’t have these things, there are lots of alternatives to buying brand new gear. Rent it from the UT Outdoor Program or check out used gear stores or websites.
4. Calculate your Budget
Calculate how much the trip is going to cost before you leave. Factor in gas, campsites and park entrance fees (most national parks cost $25 per car per week). Divide that total cost by the number of people going on your trip and have each person put their share into an envelope.
This envelope becomes your trip fund. Rather than taking turns paying, just pay all of your group expenses out of this fund to keep things even. When the trip is over, the leftover money gets divided back up.
5. Go Grocery Shopping Beforehand
An easy way to ensure that your road trip stays cheap is to grocery shop beforehand.
If you prefer group food, where everyone eats out of the same stash, factor that cost into your trip fund. Ration out each person’s food at the start, so that everyone has the same amount and can pace themselves accordingly. (This way, if your buddy runs out of Cuties on day 3, it won’t cut into your own Cutie consumption).
Lots of people would rather take the “Every Man for Himself” food approach, which works better if your group has drastically different eating habits.
6. If you’re Starting to Smell….Find a Shower
Have no illusions—a road trip is not meant to be a glamorous endeavor. You’re going to smell. Your hair will be a mess. Try to embrace this.
But if you can’t, there are showering options on the road. Many RV parks or Rec Centers will sell showers to travelers, usually ranging from $3 to $12 (though, I personally wouldn’t pay more than $5).
Another hygiene option—though not as satisfying as showering— is to take a pack of baby wipes and use these for mini-baths along the way.
This spring break, skip the beach and head for the hills. You won’t regret it. (And your Instagram pics will be sweet.)
Featured Image by Aftab Uzzaman, obtained via creativecommons.org
Edited by Jessica Carr