London and Scotland trip!!
I want to visit every country in the world at least once. With the budget of a waitress facing college loan repayment, visiting over 200 countries may be a challenge, especially if I spend my resources visiting one country multiple times. Even though I had been to England once before, my attraction to the country couldn’t be rationalized and before I knew it I was in a corner fish and chips shop stuffing my face.
My cousin Kristen had married into a family in which her sister-in-law resided in London and we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to explore the city together. Since I had been to London before, I felt inclined to negotiate an additional location in order to make the most of the cost of my airplane ticket. We debated for a couple weeks until we decided to buy two train tickets to Scotland.
Being the frugal traveler that I am, I stocked up on snacks and budgeted out $1,000 (which I just want to mention, I only spent $600 of) for our 12 day trip. We saved on accommodation by staying with my cousin-in-laws and tried to eat the food we brought for majority of the day. Most of the museums in London are free so we managed to spend most of our tourist days spending very little money.
Since we were only in London for a few days, we crafted a vigorous schedule of early mornings and late nights in order to give ourselves the ultimate London experience. Our hosts, Christa and Ryan took us for authentic fish and chips, mushy peas and pickled onions. We went to some of their favorite bars, drank cider, and rode in a black taxi cab over to Brick Lane for Indian food. We checked out some Bansky originals, browsed the outdoor markets and window shopped in the famous and luxurious department stores.
While Christa and Ryan were at work, Kristen and I traveled by double-decker bus and boat cab to museums all over the city. We visited the British Museum, Tate Modern, The Museum of London, Sigmund Freud’s house and museum, the British Library and the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and advertising. One evening we took a Jack the Ripper tour which Kristen and I had both missed out on during our previous trips to London. The tour was led by an expert who took us to various locations of the famous murders and told us the tale of the famous London murderer along the way. My absolute favorite thing we did in London was going for tea. Even though it was a tad pricey, we figured it would be as authentic London as we could get. As suggested by Christa, we headed to Liberties department store for high tea. The experience was everything and more than we expected. I never knew that having tea could be such a delicate and thoughtful experience. We took care to drop a few sugar cubes in each glass along with the milk. The three tiered serving tray was a sight to be seen by two hungry girls who were trying to contain themselves and eat as slowly and delicately as everyone else around them. I discovered the magic that clotted cream and jam make on a freshly baked scone and the artwork that could be made of tiny sandwiches. Having tea in that department store full of British women catching up with friends and taking a break from running their errands made me feel like part of it all. It made me feel like a local and that I could fit in and have a life in this country across the pond. Kristen and I had tea one more time after that at another equally fantastic café and agreed that we would have had tea everyday if we wouldn’t have ran out of money.
Although we were having an unbelievable time in London, we still had train tickets for Scotland and we took 4 days of our trip to explore Edinburgh. We discovered Air B&B which is accommodation within another person’s house. Basically, people who have an extra room within their homes set it up for guests and make it available for a price. Kristen and I spent only $70 each for three nights of accommodation in Edinburgh. We took the 4 hour train ride to Scotland, got settled in our shared room and headed out to see the sites. Edinburgh Castle loomed over almost every street in the city. It seemed that no matter where we were or what we were doing, the castle was always looking over us. It is a symbol of the city and was an obvious choice for our first stop. Having only a few days in Scotland and so much to explore, I felt rushed and persuaded Kristen not to take a guided tour of the castle. I figured if we just looked ourselves, we could spend our precious time on what we wanted to see and skip those that we didn’t. The castle was enormous and winding and halfway through we both were regretting our self-guided choice. We may have missed some parts of the castle, but what we did see was beautiful, including the crown jewels of Scotland. After the initial attraction we continued being tourists and headed down the Royal Mile, which is technically one big street which leads to the royal palace at the end. We disappointingly found that most of the Royal Mile was one big tourist trap. In and out we went through various stores hoping to find something more than just over priced whiskey and Nessie magnets, which I might add, never happened. When we reached the royal palace, we did find it to be outstandingly regal but due to our low budgets and recently found lack of energy, we decided to head back to our room for a nap.
Back in our tiny shared room, we relaxed and made some phone calls, checked our email, showered and squeezed into the queen sized bed for a nap. After napping we got right back in the travel mode and began flipping through some pamphlets and books left for us by the home owners. Carefully organized, highlighted, and underlined were all of their favorite places to visit, see and eat in Edinburgh. With a day immersed in tourist traps, Kristen and I decided to heed the local’s advice and grab dinner in one of their favorite places. Under a set of stairs, we found Under The Stairs, a restaurant suggested by our hosts. The setting was fabulous and the food can’t really be explained by anything else but phenomenal. When traveling, there is really nothing else like sitting in a local restaurant or bar and just taking it all in. Sitting with the locals, eavesdropping on their conversations and people watching makes me feel like I am truly experiencing a place. I love to watch the employees because I know they are living and working in the city and I daydream about what their lives might be like. I wonder if they are going to school or saving money to travel. Could they be from somewhere else, perhaps the highlands and looking for the excitement of the city. Maybe they are aspiring writers or artists trying to make it in this interesting town.
The next day we decided to walk around the city as far away as possible from the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is really ascetically fascinating. The entire city looks like its straight out of a Harry Potter movie, which it actually kind of is. Everything looks a little rustic and old in a way that is almost dark and looming. Many of the streets are cobblestone and they wind with various passageways and tunnels. The city felt almost scholarly and literary to me. There were a strange amount of bookshops and cafes on every corner. The local universities seemed to be a focal point of the city and there seemed to be students everywhere doing something important. Kristen and I visited the Elephant House café where J.K Rowling frequented while writing the first Harry Potter. In our new trend, we had tea and a meal as we looked out the window and admired that ever present castle. It sounds cliché and perhaps a little sappy but I couldn’t help but picture Rowling herself sitting in our very seats staring at that castle for inspiration.
Touristy yes, but we couldn’t leave Scotland without seeing the Loch Ness and trying to spot Nessie for ourselves. We booked a fairly cheap tour up to the highlands with Haggis Tours and lined up early in the morning to board the van. The trip was shared with only a few others and we took a drive up to the highlands receiving a verbal history lesson from our driver the whole way. He made various stops to point out mountain passes and less famous but equally beautiful lochs. When we arrived at Loch Ness our group was given some free time until we boarded our boat. Kristen and I of course spent our time grabbing a beer at a local place to warm up before our hour boat ride in the freezing highlands. Many tourist attractions turn out to be just hyped up tourist traps, but if you have visited some popular ones, you will probably know that many turn out to be all they were cracked up to be. Loch Ness is one of them! I was expecting the Loch to be just another body of water that was talked up just to drive in tourists and their money but found that not to be true! The water was deep and black and seemed to stretch on. Looking down in to water, I couldn’t see a thing not even vaguely. It looked like black glass from the deck of our boat. Whether Nessie was in there or not, it seemed unsettling to be surrounded by such deep and dark waters. The captain of our ship showed us the sonar system, taught us about the legends and promptly returned us to shore.
We headed back to Edinburgh exhausted and pleased with ourselves for making the journey.We spent the rest of our time in Edinburgh checking out local bars and restaurants and sampling the night life. We went to the Scotch Whiskey Experience and got a lesson in whiskey tasting as well as a free sample of the famous Scottish dish, Haggis. Kristen and I took a free haunted walking tour and eventually gave in to the tourist shops to grab some souvenirs before we boarded the train back to London. Once back in our adopted home-base we of course had tea, finished up our touring and shopping and took a black cab to the airport where we disappointingly boarded our flight back to the states.
If in the UK, I would highly recommend Scotland as a destination. Edinburgh was beautiful and interesting and I would love to go back. Even though I intended to see everything I missed the first time around in London, there are still so many things I still want to experience. Hopefully during another time and another trip I can someday return to London and give it another go!
My trip to Israel
It’s not very often that I get to travel to another country for free, let alone a country all the way in the Middle East. I heard about Birthright from a family friend and figured it would be my only chance to ever visit Israel. This Israeli Government organization runs trips to the homeland for the Jewish youth amongst the diaspora. After the necessary applications, paperwork and safety arguments with my mother, I secured my spot on the winter trip. I would be going to Israel and I would be going alone.
My boyfriend drove me to LaGuardia Airport in New York, while all the while my stomach was knots. I didn’t know what my group leaders looked like and I was terrified I was going to end up in the wrong place and on the wrong plane. Once I arrived I inevitably joined the wrong group, introduced myself to everyone and began to feel more comfortable until I realized they were all getting on to a plane that I did not have a ticket for. Since I was the first of my actual group to arrive, I waited nervously until the group leaders for my accurate group finally showed up. I started to calm and tried to be brave. I made my best efforts to stave off my social anxieties and intense fear of flying. This was the first time that I would be on a plane for over 5 hours, with no one that I knew, and heading towards a potentially dangerous country in the Middle East. I made a couple new acquaintances who shared my fear of flying and helped calm me down, but as we crossed security I had to intensely talk myself out of turning around and calling my boyfriend back to pick me up. Once I got myself on the plane, I stayed put in my seat, quiet, and tuned in to the back of the seat television for the entire 14 hour ride.
When we arrived in Israel I finally got my sense of adventure back. I was in a whole new country and culture with a group of people who I couldn’t wait to get to know better. The only previous experience I had outside of the U.S was Canada. Even though I was technically in another country, Canada was not all that different. The culture and the people were almost the same and most places even accepted U.S currency. Israel really felt like another place. The people looked and spoke differently and I spent my first moments there exchanging my money for Shekels. The landscape was beautiful and I felt captivated by the vibrant green of the rolling hills and then the dusty deserts that intersected them. I watched out of the window of our bus as local farmers walked the sides of the road with their camels and cows. We made a stop to get some lunch at a place where I knew neither what the food was nor what the employees were saying to me and the signs read in a foreign text. I felt like I was the only member of the group who had no idea what a shawarma or a falafel was, but I couldn’t wait to try it. I managed to convey what I wanted, pay with my shekels and try a falafel for the first time. I haven’t had a better one since.
Our group stayed in a Kibbutz that night, which was yet another thing that I had no knowledge of. This communal farm and living quarters is where many people live and work and coexist by sharing everything. It was an ironic place to start the trip, somewhere that people lived so close together because I was there with 20 or so people I didn’t know the faintest thing about. While everyone bonded late into the night, I succumbed to jet lag and missed out on the socializing for the evening. I was more interested in learning about Israel than making new friends. For the next few days we followed our guide on hikes through the forested areas to see beautiful views of the countryside. He pointed out how the country of Jordan lie right over those cliffs, and Egypt lie around the other side. Our guide was a real naturalist and collected plants along our walks of which he made us tea. In between our treks in the wilderness we were taken to many famous sites and took a tour through the Holocaust Museum where we got to listen to a survivor tell us her story.
Our group eventually moved on to Jerusalem which was a city more beautiful than I had ever imagined. The winding cobblestone streets shadowed by the towering limestone walls of the nearby buildings had me feeling like I had stepped back into biblical times. We toured the city as a group with our guide and learned about the history and the people. A visit to the Wailing Wall seemed to bring everyone together. As we each entered through the gender specific pathways, it seemed we could all feel the sorrow and passion of the people rocking back and forth in front of the wall. I wrote down my prayer and customarily squeezed it into a crack along the wall, and showed my respect for the millions of people who had visited it before me. Our group was given free time to roam the outdoor markets where you were expected to argue over prices. I asked a vendor how much a pair of earrings cost and when I decided not to purchase them, he chased me down the street offering a better deal! The accessories and jewelry I bought in Israel are my most beautiful and prized items that I own!
Jerusalem was not only beautiful and rich in history but it also had an exploding night life. Once our Israeli guide was sound asleep, the group would sneak out to the downtown to experience the clubs. Everywhere was jammed packed with people from all over the world having a great time and with amazing music. By this time I had become much closer with the people in my group and we all made these nights out amazing. Israeli soldiers had joined us on our journey and they showed us all the best spots to club! Drunkenly stumbling through the limestone alley ways back to the hostel are nights that I will never forget.
Eventually we left Jerusalem and headed to the Dead Sea. I was eager to see if the tales were true and if I would really float atop the water. Our group spent the entire afternoon drinking GoldStar beers and floating in the Dead Sea! We rubbed ourselves in the therapeutic mud and exfoliated our bodies with the sand beneath the sea. We turned the sea into our own personal spa until the salt stung our skin so much that we had to get out. That night we stayed in a beautiful hostel which seemed like a hotel and got to sleep a mere 4 hours before we awoke before sunrise to climb up Mt. Masada. The climb took a little under 2 hours in the dark and after all of my falafel and hummus eating on the trip, I was not prepared for the physical task of it. Once we reached the top, our group now closer than ever stood together to watch the beautiful sunrise over the mountains and valleys just beyond the Dead Sea. We congratulated each other for the climb and continued the day atop the mountains looking at the ancient ruins. After our decent of Masada, the group moved on to the next adventure, spending a night in a Bedouin tent.
The Bedouins are nomads who often live in the deserts, but this particular group of them seemed to subsist on offering an authentic experience to visitors. The group all stayed together in one large tent that looked like the inside of a circus. Colorful rugs and mats lined the floors and doubled as our beds. We were able to join the Bedouins in a ceremony during which they played us music and offered us tea. Then we were served dinner in their dining tent which was almost an exact replica of our sleeping quarters. In groups we huddled together on the floor and were served our meal on a large tray from which we all ate. The night concluded with us around a fire, watching the stars above and eventually falling asleep inside our tents, cold but happy. After breakfast the next morning the Bedouins took us on my favorite part of the trip. We got to ride camels! I found camels to be a lot scarier than I had ever imagined but once atop of one, I was so excited that all of my fears melted away. I got to ride a camel, in the desert, in the Middle East! I couldn’t believe I was getting to have that experience.
I think that trip to Israel changed me in more ways than one. It increased my thirst for travel. After returning home all I wanted to do was be in another country again, struggling with the language and using my calculator to convert different currencies before purchasing a soda. It made me wonder what else was out there that I never heard of before like shwarma and falafel! The trip also helped me understand myself better and made me realize that maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought in social situations. I was able to be myself and become friends with strangers on my own. I still to this day talk to many of the people on my trip and I have gotten together with some of them as well in our hometowns. I almost didn’t go on this trip multiple times because I felt afraid. I was afraid of flying, of being somewhere new, of not knowing anyone and of missing home. I was able to overcome my fears and able to learn that I should never turn away from any opportunity if it comes my way!
Before leaving for my trip to Edinburgh I sent numerous couch requests out on (http://www.couchsurfing.org/) and had absolutely no luck. I considered a hostel, but then I found something new that I had never heard of before. Air BNB (http://www.airbnb.com/) is a mix between Couchsurfing and a bed and breakfast. People basically rent out a room in their own home to travelers for a cost. It cost me around $60 per night. The cost may seem significantly larger than that of a hostel and certainly couchsurfing but it did have some benefits. Unlike a hostel, I did not have to share the room with anyone else. I had a room to myself, a large bed, use of their kitchen and bathroom and they even left pamphlets, maps, and suggestions for me as I explored the city. There was plenty of privacy and it was certainly cheaper than a hotel. In a way, it had certain benefits that couchsurfing does not always have. I had my own room and use of the amenities, but I also felt completely unobtrusive to the lives of my hosts because I was paying for the use of their home. I was allowed to be there when they were not home and they even gave me a key to come and go as I pleased no matter how late at night it was or how early in the morning. In my opinion I think couchsurfing is much better because you actually get to spend time with the people you are staying with and learn about their lives and their culture but Air BNB is a great alternative if you want a more intimate setting than a hostel but can’t afford to stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast. Some of the places that are offering rooms for rent are pretty unique and can make for a very interesting stay.
Couchsurfing: My Experience
My personal account with Couchsurfing started when I read about it in a travel book. The book described the project as a way to travel on the cheap. Having grandiose dreams to travel all over the world on my small budget, this information on couchsurfing stood out to me as an important resource. Although the project sounded ideal for meeting my travel goals, I was still brought up to be cautious and somewhat untrusting of people and staying in the homes of strangers seemed a bit foolish. I put the project to the back of my mind for a while until it began to come up over and over again in magazine articles, online publications and even the news. Finally on a day when I was feeling the itch for travel particularly bad, I got on my computer and made myself a couchsurfing account and profile. For the next few weeks I browsed through other’s pages and learned the ins and outs of the site and all of its safety features. The profiles I came across were ones of people who were both interesting and well-traveled, people that I wanted to meet and that I wanted to be like. After a tiring mental debate, I called my cousin and frequent travel partner and asked if she would make a profile and try couchsurfing with me. Of course she agreed and we decided that we would leave Pennsylvania in December and head down to Georgia where it would be warmer and where neither of us had ever been before. Putting off homework and staying up until the early hours of the day, I searched for hosts that I thought seemed safe and compatible with our personalities. I eventually sent requests out to a girl named Faith in Savannah and a woman named Kim in Atlanta. They both responded with enthusiasm and we set the plans in stone. My cousin Kristen and I left Philadelphia around 7am and set off on our roadtrip to Savannah. We drove through a horrible snow storm in Maryland, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and battled broken windshield wipers and finding a random customer at a gas station to help us put on new ones in Virginia. My 18th hour of driving was approaching and I had to pull over and give Kristen a refresher on how to drive in a mall parking lot at 12:00 am in South Carolina. We were haggard and spent by the time we reached Georgia and couldn’t wait to meet up with Faith and get some sleep. We called her cell as instructed when we reached Georgia and got no response. After calling several times and getting no answer, we called her at the restaurant she was working at still got no response there either. By the time we reached Savannah we were exhausted and in a panic. Kristen and I drove by Faith’s work only to find that they had been closed for the night. As tired as we were we decided just to get a cheap hotel for night and split the cost. After a few hours of sleeping in the car before check-in we crashed on our comfy hotel beds and wrote-off couchsurfing forever. In the morning we awoke by a call from an unknown number which turned out to be Faith. She apologetically explained how her phone had fallen into some water at work and she was unable to get in touch with us the night before. She invited us to stay with her but we of course declined as we had paid for the hotel for the night. We did however stop by her work that night to chat and she gave us our meals on the house. It was impossible to hold a grudge because Faith ended up being so kind and we were memorized by how beautiful Savannah was. Kristen and I decided to give couchsurfing another chance and continue or trip over to Atlanta to stay with Kim. As our first official host, Kim was absolutely phenomenal. She was so passionate about couchsurfing and about people in general that it was contagious. She was so happy and kind and trusting that it was refreshing. I immediately let go of the thought of my pepper spray and pocket knife in my purse when Kim handed us the key to her home and told us to come and go as we pleased. I felt guilty for being so untrusting of her when she trusted enough of us to let us into her home where she lived alone and give us the key to her house. Kristen and I explored the city of Atlanta and then went back to Kim’s to help her prepare for a potluck dinner for her raw food friends that she was hosting in her home. We helped her shop, move around some furniture and play hostesses to her party. Her home became full of interesting and unique people who had a genuine interest in Kristen and I. They were all so passionate about their raw food lifestyle and we sat around and picked their brains, sung songs and expressed to each other things that we were grateful for. People cried and people hugged and we all seemed to form a bond just based on our similarity of being human. This seemed to me to be the perfect picture of what couchsurfing was meant to be about. I met new and different people from myself, learned about a new type of culture and tried new foods. Kim taught me how to parallel park, open Thai coconuts and how to make butternut squash soup. Among everything I learned about food, culture and Atlanta, I learned a whole lot more about people. Unlike how I had been raised, I learned that there are good people out there that can be trusted. There are people all over the world who are willing to meet you, talk to you, take you in and teach you new things for no other reason other than because they want to. After this experience I was hooked. I have couchsurfed twice since then with my boyfriend in Europe. We planned a backpacking trip and set up two hosts along the way. We stayed with a couple in Madrid who gave us directions to their home that we followed right off the plane from the U.S. With us not having a phone to contact them, they were exactly where they said they would be and when they said they would be to meet us. They showed us around, cooked us dinner and helped us get onto the train to Barcelona. Further along our trip we stayed with a host in Switzerland who again was able to meet us regardless of our lack of phone. She showed us around Bern in the rain while she had a cold, cooked us lunch and put up with our not-so-good attempt at cooking her an American meal. Since my Europe trip I have had a lull in my couchsurfing participation but am making plans to get back into it. The project turned out to be much more than a free place to stay for me. These experiences have changed the way I look at travel, people and life.
How you can afford a U.S Roadtrip
You think you can’t, but with a little guidance, you probably can. If you follow these suggestions your vacation is not going to be necessarily luxurious or relaxing or even comfortable. But just keep in mind that all of your “hardships” will be endured for the greater cause of exploring the country and seeing all it has to offer!
I am going to be upfront here and say that I spent about $2,400 dollars on this trip. Whether you think this is steep or not, just keep in mind that this number covered all expenses including gas and car trouble for a 5 week period driving coast to coast and viewing 10 different states. I personally think that this amount is much more than I should have spent on the trip. If I would have known from the start or simply obeyed many of the tips that I am providing you, it’s likely that I would have spent a good deal less.
I started saving for my June trip in December with my goal at $2,500. Putting away $80 a week is where I began my savings and my bank account quickly began to build. And if you think $80 a week is a lot, just think about how much money a week you spend at the bar, going out to eat, or even shopping? Cutting back enough to save the money instead is not that scary if you consider the once in a lifetime experiences you will have with it on your trip. I had this trip planned for a year but did not start saving until 6 months before because I knew I would be getting money for college graduation. Even though I was given much of my trip money as a gift, I would have had plenty to afford the trip if I had started saving months earlier regardless. The hardest part of preparing was paying all of my bills for my main travel month of June in the month of May, on top of my May bills! Again, I cut out most if not all of extra spending for a month, picked up tons of extra shifts at work, and knocked out my bills one by one. And I DO have bills! Rent, car payment/insurance, health insurance, utilities…all of that good stuff. Don’t think you can’t do it just because you have bills to pay! You just have to know that the trip is worth it and put in a little time and dedication. It is not going to be fun or easy but it will all be worth it when you are off from work for 5 weeks getting drunk in New Orleans or hugging a gigantic Redwood tree.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a component of your personal road trip, but it was a huge part of mine and many other U.S trips I researched. Personally, I felt that exploring these different parks helped me understand the various natural landscapes of this country on a much deeper level than driving past them. Plus all the hiking and walking helped me from keeping on all my road trip fast food weight! So if you do opt to make the national park system a key component of your trip….you should do so in the most affordable way possible. Almost all of these parks cost money to get in! I saw park entrance fees ranging from $0-$30 per car. If you are planning on hitting only 2-4 parks on your trip….it could be helpful to include as many people as possible in your car because you can split the cost to be more affordable. However, if you plan on visiting 4-50 parks on your trip….invest in the annual pass! This pass costs $80 dollars one time and is good to get you into all of the parks in the country for an entire year. The pass can also get you discounts at many National Monument sites, some camping sites, National historic sites, and some National Forests. After just a couple of park visits, the pass basically pays for itself. After gaining more experience with the parks…we also found…rather by accident…that they never completely close of the entrances and exits to the parks. If you get there rather early (6-7 am) before the park is open for the day….you can drive right in without having to pay. It obviously wouldn’t serve you to come late at night because you wouldn’t be able to see anything, but if you can wake up early….it might be worth a try. We ended up at Glacier National park at 6 in the morning one day…just because we couldn’t sleep, and ended up entering the park without showing anyone our pass…and stayed there for a few hours. No one questioned us and we were able to leave without talking with any rangers either. Most parks do not ask to see your pass or your payment stub upon leaving, but we did experience this 1 time, so you may be taking a small risk! Camping overnight in the National Parks is fun, convenient, and pretty standard if you plan on visiting for more than one day. Unfortunately the National Parks Pass does not cover camping fees so you end up paying about $12-$14 a night on a camp site. A little too late, we began to realize that there are plenty of camp grounds in extremely close proximity outside all of the national parks. We learned by accident that if you arrive to these sites, especially later in the evening (9 or 10) there is no one around monitoring the sites and you can pretty much camp for the night without having to pay (just try to leave as early as possible in the morning). It may not be completely ethical sure, but hey you are a 20’ something trying to see the country on a budget! Mostly everything inside the parks are free….but just try not to spend money on their food or gas because they raise the prices through the roof! So….get a parks pass….get gas before you enter….try to camp outside the parks……and bring your own snacks and cooking tools!
FOOD AND DRINK
Everybody has to eat….obviously….and food on a long trip like this can sometimes become a financial hassle. The most significant way to keep food costs down is to shop in grocery stores as much as possible! Before we left on our trip…we stocked up on snacks (granola bars….nuts…seeds….fruit…chips….crackers…ect.) to eat in the car during long drives…and to carry around with us on hikes and tourist destinations. Keeping snacks stocked up and available is important because it helps resist the urge to spend money at gas stations and convenience stores, as well as pricey tourist gift shops when you are hungry on the go. Since our trip included a ton of camping….we used a propane grill and cooked as many meals as we could. We stocked up on canned foods (veggies…potatoes…pasta….ramen…) as well as oatmeal, tea, and pancake mix to resist the urge of going to restaurants and still get a hot meal. We made sure to stock up on all of these items before we left, using non-trip budget money and just restocking from grocery stores along the way as we needed to. If you are staying in hostels or on people’s couches….there is usually a kitchen available, so you can try to cook hot meals there as well. Sometimes you get sick of eating granola bars and ramen and really need a break from the campfire cookouts. There are still cheap ways to eat at restaurants and try some of the local cuisine at your destinations. Using the internet and talking to locals is a great way to find out about happy hour deals in the cities and towns that you are visiting. Since we were visiting friends in Austin, Texas they already knew of a place to go for dinner with a great happy hour. We went out for $2 Tuesdays at a local place and had $2 beer, appetizers, and tacos! Four of us were able to get 2 rounds of beer, 6 tacos, and 3 appetizers for $38! In New Orleans you can get absolutely hammered for extremely little money! They have buy 1 get 2 free drinks advertised all over Bourbon street. The street is filled with bars selling the signature frozen drinks for usually about $8. These things are huge, STRONG, and tasty and you get to keep the cool cup as a free souvenir. My boyfriend and I each had one of these things…and were stumbling around New Orleans for the next couple hours. Since there is so much competition between restaurants, most of them offer great deals. We got a platter with 2 pounds of crawfish, corn, potatoes, and sausage for only $10. At Café Du Mont you can sit down, relax and get an order of traditional Beingnets (basically fancy little funnel cakes) for $2.50. One order comes with 3 and they are big so you can share. And a little warning….get drunk on cheap drinks before you start going to the Bourbon street clubs and strip clubs! We failed to do this and ended up spending $20 a round of beer….at multiple clubs!! It was a big financial mistake. In Vegas….we found it extremely surprising that you could get very drunk for very little. On the strip, Casino Royale sells $1 margaritas and Mich Ultra bottles all of the time! We also found a bar way at the end of Freemont Street that sells $1 Coors Lite bottles all of the time as well. And I am sure with a little googling you can find many more of these deals. In Portland Oregon the streets are full of unique food carts which offer delicious hot meals on the cheap….and you don’t have to worry about tipping anyone. Days of straight driving does not allow you to cook on your stove, and eating granola bars starts to get intolerable. We sadly did make a decent amount of fast foods stops. Obviously this a cheap way to get a hot meal on the road…and with the dollar and value menus of many of these places…you don’t have to feel bad about the cost….but you might feel some guilt about the essential trash that you are frequently consuming! We also ate at some popular restaurant chains who offer good deals. When I couldn’t take the granola or the fast food anymore…we would often stop in to an Applebees and split the 2 for $20 meals! We got an appetizer and two full meals all for $10 bucks a piece once we split it. It is possible to spend little money on your daily eating expenses. However we could have done a little better in this department. Josh and I both love to go out to eat and try new restaurants so we spent a little more money than we should have in this area.
Couchsurfing.org is always a great place to start if you are planning a trip in which you wish to save on accommodations! Even though we decided not to couch surf on this trip, it is always a good and completely free way to sleep with a roof over your head. Staying with friends is another great way to make a trip more affordable. We only had two places in which we had friends to stay with, but it financially is ideal and always promises a good time to meet up with friends and relatives. We stayed with friends in Austin, Texas in their spare bedroom…and we also stayed with my cousin in Denver, Colorado in their spare bedroom! Another great option is hostels! We LOVE staying in hostels. Not only are they pretty cheap ($20 to $40 dollars a night) but they provide so many important and useful resources for exploring a new city. They are full of suggestion boards for what to do, eat and see. They offer free tours and many other tours at discounted prices. Many offer pub crawls, activity nights and coupons for things in the area. Many hostels offer a free breakfast in the morning as well as a kitchen so you can cook if you don’t want to spend money out. We stayed in the India House Hostel in New Orleans which was located in a beautiful Victorian Style house. We paid $40 for one night in a private room which was located in a little bungalow in the back of the main hostel. It was uniquely decorated…had a big bed…and had air conditioning. It gave us much more privacy than staying in a dorm style room even though the dorms are slightly cheaper. We also stayed in two different hostels in San Francisco….as well as Portland. In Vegas we decided that we would splurge and get a hotel room for 2 nights. Josh checked on Groupon which is a great site for all sorts of deals and coupons on various things and services. He got us a deal was $109 for two nights in a really decent hotel located right by the strip. The coupon also included $25 worth of food at the hotel restaurant (which also had buy 1 get 1 bar drinks at their bar daily). The hotel also offered a free shuttle service to and from the strip. Including taxes and split between my boyfriend and I, we each only paid $32 a night to stay in Vegas and got a free meal and delicious free bloody marys out of it as well. Other than that, we camped for the remainder of the time. Camping is certainly a very cheap accommodation and a fun one too! We stayed at campsites that ranged from $13 to $30 a night but most of them are on the lower side of that scale. If you are doing the National Parks, camping is the cheapest option. If you really want to be thrifty you can drive around the campsites and try to scout out other travelers or young people that may be on a budget too and ask if you can share their site with them if you split the cost. This way, everyone saves some money and you might even make some new friends. We did this once in the Redwoods because all the campsites were full and we had nowhere else to camp. It worked out perfectly and the roadtrippers we camped with thought it was a great idea to save money. We probably would have done this more often if we figured it out sooner. If you don’t want to stay in the National Parks there are plenty of campgrounds lining the main highways. Just pop into any of these and it is likely that you will get a cheap/free campground for the night. And of course you could always sleep in your car or RV. Walmart actually legally allows RVs and cars to stay overnight in their parking lots. You can stay there for free without having to worry about cops knocking on your windows. Sleeping in a car is not always the safest option and since we were not traveling in an RV with window shades, I didn’t feel up to crashing in the Walmart parking lot. But with an RV, it’s not a bad idea.
ENTERTAINMENT AND TOURISM
Apart from seeing all of these amazing places there is plenty of things to be done! You can hike the parks for free and walk around the cities for free too but there are also activities and tourist attractions you can see for free or cheap as well. In New Orleans and Vegas….just walking down the Bourbon Street or the Strip is great and free entertainment. People watching could keep you occupied all day. In New Orleans there is plenty of free music to be heard on the street or inside. In the random restaurant we stumbled into…they had a great band playing for no extra cost. There are also a ton of street musicians and acts to be seen for free as well. We found tons of strip clubs on Bourbon street that had no entry fee or purchase requirement. In Vegas there is a ton of free street entertainment and musicians to be seen as well. Many of the casinos put on outside shows that run every half hour, free to the public. The Bellagio has its famous fountain show….and other casinos offer a volcanic eruption show as well as a pirate ship burlesque show. It is also free to walk into all of the casinos and check out their amazing architecture, decorations, and themes. We spent an entire day just walking in and out of different casinos such as Circus Circus, New York New York, and Paris. The Freemont Street experience in downtown Vegas offers a ridiculous LED light show that goes on for hours. In addition to the light show itself, the street is full of free music acts as well. Since Vegas offers a huge variety of different shows, we hunted for something that we could afford. We found Tickets4Tonight, which is a company that has stands all over the strip…offering discounted tickets to shows that day or the next day. We got balcony tickets for $70 a person to see Cirque de Soleil show Zumanity. Even though the seats were balcony, the theater was small and we still had a great view…and got the experience of seeing a show in Vegas. In Portland Oregon we got to visit the Rose Test Garden which was absolutely beautiful and free as well. Also in Portland, we got to take a free brewery tour of Widmer Brewery. Not only was the tour free but they allow each guest to taste 4 small beers each and at the end you get to keep the Widmer logo glass as a free souvenir. There is also the Mckminnen Brother’s theater in Portland which plays brand new movies for only $3 a ticket. The place is a restaurant and bar so you could potentially rack up a bill but if you go for just the movie you only pay the $3 price! In Boulder Colorado we toured the Celestial Tea factory for free and the tour also included a free tasting of 3-6 different teas. We also had a fun day tubing in Boulder in the creek for almost no cost. It’s fun, refreshing, has rapids, and everyone seems to be there partying and having a good time. You can buy a tube for $13 at the nearby gas station and get to keep it….and then tube as long as you want! In Denver we toured the Coors Brewery for free and at the end you get 3 ½ medium sized beers to drink. We also toured the Hammond’s candy factory for free. It is a little boring but interesting if you don’t have much to do that day and you get a free jumbo and delicious candy cane at the end! So in a new city or town…walk around all the best neighborhoods…people watch…window shop….check out the free city parks…and find free tours to take. Only spend money on the tourist destinations and museums that are really worth it to you.
In my opinion….I wanted to take a car for my road trip. After all….it is a ROAD trip and I wanted that experience and feeling of freely driving around the country wherever and whenever I wanted to go. I guess you could always hitch hike around for a more daring….dangerous and cheaper option, but that wasn’t what I personally wanted out of this trip. Try to get your car tuned up and get necessary things replaced well before your road trip. You don’t want to have to make expensive repairs that will run your trip fund dry. I only had to buy a new car battery and buy one new tire the whole entire 5 weeks! Obviously….drive carefully. Getting into an accident could cause you injury to yourself, your car, and could ruin or end your trip. Also, be mindful of the speed limits because tickets could really rack up a bill that may reduce your trip fund. I did not find there to be many tolls at all on most of the U.S highways….we spent well under $50 on tolls for the entire 5 weeks. Gas will be the biggest expense. It is annoying but necessary to get you where you want to go. It is best to take a car that is smaller and good on gas (like my little Honda civic) and also to have two or three people join your trip that can help split the cost of gas! Together, Josh and I spent about $1,268 on gas. That is $634 each to drive from PA down to MI over to CA up to MO and back down and over to PA for 5 weeks. It honestly is not that bad…and think about how much cheaper that would have been if we would have had a third or even a fourth person with us on the trip? We didn’t really need to use much of any sort of other public transit during the trip. However…New Orleans offers a trolley that runs back and forth to Bourbon street for only a couple bucks, Vegas offers the Deuce, a 24 hour bus system running up and down the strip for 24 hours at a cost of only $7 for the day, and Portland offers completely free transit to most of its major neighborhoods.
There are so many creative ways that you can save money and be able to afford a trip like this. All it takes is a little research and planning and a good bit of hard work and dedication. Have a little self control while you are out on the road and be able to realize that watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean or hiking through the Rockies is way better than sleeping in an expensive hotel every night and eating expensive meals in fancy restaurants.