I’m no stranger to dirtbagging it for a week to save some money; after all, a campsite without a shower is cheaper than a campsite with. (“Thank goodness for baby wipes!” exclaim my armpits.)
Still, even if you shun amenities and scrimp and save, chasing adventure every weekend comes with a price. So here are a few tips I’ve picked up for saving money and affording travel.
Get a credit card with airline mile rewards
I like the idea of my money working for me. Every time you fill up on gas, use a credit card with airline mile rewards. You have to spend the money anyway; why not reap the rewards of free travel?
If your credit allows it, airlines often offer in-flight credit card details that immediately award enough miles for a round-trip in the continental U.S. and beyond — just make sure to read the fine print.
Carpool and couch surf
Get used to the idea of sharing rides, tents, floors and couches. I’ve spent some of my most memorable vacations in the basement of a friend’s house or squeezed into a bunk bed with my fiancé with another couple below us — and it barely cost us a dime.
And some of the best places to visit are the ones where you already know people.
Join an outdoor club
If you’re still in college, see if your school offers any sort of outdoor course. Usually excursions are included in the class price, so you can use your loan money toward them.
Otherwise, sniff out the bulletin-board section at your local sporting-goods store and join some clubs! Members usually split costs and share campsites and gas bills.
A few pieces of quality gear will last you forever. I think of my buying choices in terms of “cost per wear” — the initial costs lessens the more I wear something.
If I buy a pair of hiking boots that are amazing quality for $200, and wear them for the next five years, they’ll have barely cost me anything at all. Multi-purpose pieces like a wetsuit, a down jacket, a headlamp, a camp stove, a tent and a waterproof layer will be instrumental to a wide range of adventures, so invest in those first.
The best investment I’ve ever made? An annual National Parks Pass, which pays for itself in just a few visits.
Look at your hometown from a visitor’s point of view. What would you do there? Eat? See? Where would you hike?
Seek those places out and get to know them better. You might just surprise yourself.
Get inspired on Instagram
When I’m feeling uninspired and stuck, I look at Instagram using hashtags like #GTVAdventure, #dirtbagdarling, #outdoorwomen and #neverstopexploring. I can usually find someone doing something fun that I can also try right now, without spending money — like going on a trail run with my dog at a park closest to my home.
Do your research (but prepare to be spontaneous)
The best way to avoid spending lots of money is to have a plan. I’m a huge advocate of doing things on the fly, but it has cost me a lot of dough in the past.
For example: I didn’t account for rain in Hawaii, so my plans for beach camping quickly turned into a steep hotel bill when three straight days of washout rain hit.
Have a well-planned alternative and a sufficient budget to account for bumps in the road. When you budget a trip, take unexpected costs into account such as beach parking, national park entrance fees, Fix-A-Flat cans, etc. You’ll actually save money this way.
Start a food bin
Food is already a money guzzler, and you can end up spending a lot of spare cash on it when you go camping. Pick up a plastic storage bin for $6 at Target and start filling it up gradually with non-perishable leftovers: soup cans, that half bag of rice you never use, soy sauce packets from the Chinese takeout joint, plastic forks from that McDonald’s run.
You may need to invest in some food staples, but next time you go camping you’ll have much less to buy and can get creative with what you already have.
Take advantage of the off-season deals
My favorite tip is to take advantage of sales and weird hours. Let me explain: Very few people are buying skis in May, and fewer are looking at bathing suits in November.
Seek out deep discounts during these seasons. It may take some hunting to get the right size and style, but you can get expensive investment pieces for 50 to 75 percent off or more.
The same goes for activities like snowboarding (you can usually cut the cost of your lift pass if you skip the slopes during the day and get the night pass) and travel (Europe in winter is cheaper and less crowded). Get to know the sale seasons!
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