New Leaves

Looking in through the sliding door

Homestead, FL

How It Works

Feb 22, 2013 by Bonnie

Here are some keys to making budget travel work.

1) Look at the big picture. Some days you may spend more on gas, and other days less. One day you may go out to a restaurant, or visit a special place that has an admission fee. We are checking our total spending by the week. Be sure to set some money aside for upkeep on the van too.

2) Plan to take it slow and 3) Follow the seasons. Both of these keys depend on putting a little thought into your trip, even if, like us, you want to “go where the wind blows.”

It was hard at first to think in these terms.We’ve always been used to trying to fit as much into two weeks’ vacation as we can. Now that we’re retired, we can afford to slow down and “smell the roses.” The fewer miles you drive each day, the less you spend on gas. On our first trip we took five days to drive to our daughter’s home, which is normally just three hours away. The first night we got as far as Asheville, and we realized that if we had not been obligated to be at Brenda’s on a certain day, we could have spent several days exploring that one city. Yes, consider visiting the AAA-rated sites, but you can also ask the locals about interesting places to see and eat.

Whether you are on a short or a long trip, think in terms of the outdoor temperatures. Check the weather web pages to find average temps in the areas you’re planning to visit. Then you can choose when to go. Or if you choose the time first, choose the place with the climate in mind. If you use the van like we do, you will have a wide range of temps that are comfortable, especially in the lower ranges, because the space is small and your body heat helps keep it warm inside the small space. We’ve found that we can be comfortable at night (under a heavy-duty sleeping bag, which I covered with a home-made quilt/duvet cover) in temperatures down into the 30s. We haven’t tested the upper limits yet, but our van has side and back windows that open, and still leave the van secure, so we’re hoping that will help.

4) Use free facilities. We camp at Walmarts, and use the internet at Lowe’s, McDonald’s, or Dunkin’ Donuts. We usually find a park when we need to prepare a meal, and refill our water jugs whenever we see a spigot, although we sometimes buy drinking water if we’re not visiting with friends or family. We use the Walmart restrooms morning and evening, if we’re staying there (we also have a porta-potty in the van). As to entertainment, decide what you like to do, and think creatively. You see the same ocean whether you’re paying for a high-priced seaside hotel or walking over from your parked car. Scenic drives, parks and recreation areas, libraries, town squares, shopping malls, and bookstores are all facilities that we have used in our short time on the road.

5) Camping tips. Sometimes you will want to visit campgrounds, the “luxury” side of stealth camping. They are especially nice if you want to have a real shower (instead of sponge-bathing in the van), and don’t want to pay $8 for a shower at a truck stop. You can buy guidebooks with listings of free or nearly free campgrounds (Don Wright’s Guide to Free Campgrounds is a good one), and AAA now gives members the excellent Woodall’s directories instead of compiling their own. Between these and the Tour Books, AAA is an excellent resource to have. Also, a US government Senior Pass will cut in half the admission price to any national park or campground, and you can include guests! On our first trip we happened across a National Forest Campground where we stayed for $5 a night with our Senior Pass. Instead of men’s and ladies’ restrooms, it had four complete bathrooms that could be locked. Each was bigger than the bathrooms in our home!

I will share other cost-saving ideas as we go along.

NEXT TIME: Summary of our first month’s expenses