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Tips for traveling on a tight budget

Updated on May 26, 2015
Two Buttes mountain
Two Buttes mountain | Source

Where to go and what to do?

The first step in planning a leisure trip is deciding where to go. Sure, many of us would love to go around the world, but a tight budget doesn't really accommodate that notion. Yes, you can search for (and find) deep discounts on airfare, accommodations, etc. That can be time well spent. This article is not about that though. This is a little more simplified and focused on one destination at a time.

This is what I do and it has worked really well for the past twenty odd years. I sit down and figure out what I'd like to see and do. I will use my latest trip as an example. A few days ago I had what I call "itchy foot", which means I feel the need to go somewhere fun. I thought about what I wanted to see/do and came up with the idea of going to a reservoir that is close by. The area this reservoir is located in is a state wildlife park, called Two Buttes.

Two Buttes is a small mountain in the middle of the prairie in Southeastern Colorado. Activities offered there include fishing, hiking and camping. I am not a fisherman nor did I want to go camping this time. I wanted to do a little hiking and take some scenic photos. Two Buttes is about 35 miles southeast of where I live. This made it the perfect out of town destination, yet close enough to home to make a decent day trip.

The idea of a leisure is to have fun and take time away from mundane life. My first tip is to choose a destination that offers activities that you will truly enjoy. You want to experience your trip, not merely go there. Make a list of places, within your state, that meet your activity needs.

Fairly simple so far, right?

Small waterfall at Two Buttes
Small waterfall at Two Buttes | Source

How, where and what?

The next step is figuring out some of the important details.

How- this refers to how long you plan on being away. A few hours? Days? This is important to figure out so you can pack accordingly.

Where- this refers to where you are going to stay. If you plan on being gone at least one day and night, then you need to consider lodging options.

What- this refers to what mode of transportation you plan on using. Are you going to drive? Fly? Take a train or bus?

Once you answer these questions, the next step is figuring out how much money you need to have to meet these requirements. Lodging and meals and transportation can run a pretty big tally, unless you can figure out how to cut those costs drastically.

Freeze dried entrée and dessert; peanut butter
Freeze dried entrée and dessert; peanut butter | Source

Money, money, money!

Okay, this is the part that I'm most proud of: being a penny pincher. I have figured out all sorts of ways to cut my travel expenses. I have taken many trips in my lifetime and many of those didn't cost me a dime. And yes, that includes overnight trips. I'll break it down by the earlier mentioned sections.

Lodging-

If I decided to be gone one night, then I would sleep in my car (not really advised in this day and age unfortunately). I would park in a rest area with several other travelers. The trick to that was choosing a rest stop that had frequent traffic as well as police presence. Many of the rest stops on interstates and main highways met this criteria perfectly. I never once had a problem. I traveled by car from Colorado to Tennessee that way once. I brought my own food and only ended up spending money on gas.

Please understand I took proper precautions like having a self defense weapon and of course locked all of my doors and covered my windows. I also never slept at night. I drove at night and rested after the sun came up and people were around. Even though I had great success with this, I would not advise anyone to try this today. I have not done this in over a decade.

Now I stay with friends/family if possible to save on lodging expense. When this is not possible, I do my homework (shop around for best prices) and book a room during the off season. Rooms tend to be cheaper during the week than on weekends too. I will say something about the "super cheap" rooms, you have to be careful here. I am willing to pay a bit more to not have any uninvited guests (roaches, bed bugs, etc) sleeping with me!

Another great way to save on lodging expense is to travel in a motor home or have a travel trailer. I am also a fan of traveling in a group. You have people to share your experiences, as well as expenses, with and it's more fun. Please, choose travel companions you know, not strangers. Perhaps I'm not very trusting, maybe even a bit paranoid, but safety first.

Meals-

My rule of thumb is to take my own food and drinks. Convenience store food is very unhealthy and expensive. I am a huge fan of peanut butter sandwiches when I travel. Peanut butter offers nutrition, energy and I like it. I also like freeze dried meals (found in the camping section of many stores like Walmart). You add hot water, wait and voila! Perfect meal in a bag. No muss, no fuss.

There is nothing wrong with splurging a bit and eating at a restaurant once while you are away. After all, you are there to have fun. I just don't recommend eating all meals at restaurants. I am a fan of the infamous continental breakfasts served at most hotels. Free coffee (gotta have my morning java), juice and assortment of pastries/cereals and other fare.

Transportation-

I prefer to drive to my destinations whenever possible. I am not a fan of flying or buses. I have taken one trip on a train and it went well but I don't plan on doing it again any time soon. I like having my car available instead of having to get a taxi or other public transit whenever I want to go site seeing.

I like seeing what is in between my home and my destination. I personally feel that my car is more comfortable to travel in than any other form of transportation. It's familiar, I know what to expect from it and it's cheaper than any other mode for shorter trips (up to 1000 miles from my home).

I will mention here that if you drive, make sure your vehicle is good condition before heading out. Inspect your belts, hoses, look for signs of leakage, check your brakes, tires and be sure to bring tools and spare parts (hoses, belts, tire, fluids). Breaking down on the highway is no fun at all. Neither is paying the tow and repair bills.

For those of you that prefer to let someone else worry about getting there, do your homework. Shop and compare prices from different companies. Buy your tickets in advance. and call to confirm a couple of days before you are set to leave. This also applies to hotel rooms. Always call to confirm!

Two Buttes reservoir
Two Buttes reservoir | Source

Final details

We have covered some ways to save on transportation, lodging and meals. That's about it, right? Wrong. I have a more tips for your travel adventures.

Souvenirs-

Everyone wants to remember a fantastic trip. Unfortunately, everyone knows that souvenirs can cost a small mint. So how do bring home a memento without blowing all of the money you saved?

One way is by taking lots of pictures and maybe even videos. You don't even need a high dollar camera for this. Most cell phones are capable of taking good pictures and videos.

Document your adventures by keeping a journal that coincides with the photos. You can turn that journal into a scrapbook for future enjoyment. Round it out with little things like business cards, drink umbrellas, restaurant napkins, hotel stationery, etc.

Remember that free is good. I make it a point to only visit places that are free of charge to walk/drive in. I have seen some of my state's most beautiful areas without spending a penny. There are plenty of things to see and places to explore that do not charge admission fees. From wildlife parks to concerts to museums, you can plan an awesome leisure trip for next to nothing.

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