Traveling on a Budget- Some of My Favorite Places I’ve Been & How to Reduce Costs

Hello, friends!

I wrote this blog post sitting in my bed on Monday instead of at work per usual because strep throat apparently doesn’t discriminate against adults!  (Seriously, who the heck gets strep throat despite having their tonsils taken out 15 years ago?!)  So while I was fairly immobilized and contagious, I wanted to type up this blog post JUST in time for Spring Break.

It’s no secret that I love to travel, but I’m also a fairly thrifty person who definitely tries to get the most bang for my buck.  Traveling has a way of refreshing us and revitalizing our souls, but it can also be pretty draining for our wallets, so I wanted to talk about some of my go-to tips and tricks for saving money while traveling.

Now, if you are the type of person that enjoys going all out for traveling and sparing no expense on the experience and have the means to do so, then do it!  I like to give myself a ballpark number for my budget because 1) I am on a preschool teacher’s paycheck and 2) I almost enjoy seeing how much I can save by cutting a few corners when prepping for/actually traveling.

So below I have gone through and compiled some of my absolute favorite tricks for saving enough money while on vacations, which makes it possible for me to take multiple trips per year!

Look Locally

Behind a creek opening at the Steel Creek Campground.

How gorgeous is that turquoise water?!  This was on the Buffalo River in Arkansas and one of my favorite trips ever.  It was actually the first trip my boyfriend, Blake, and I took together!  I have incredibly fond memories of our first campfire-side conversations and trekking through winding roads together, unsure of what our next step was.  This was only about a 5 hour drive from where I live and it flew by!  The drive took us through the gorgeous scenery of southern Missouri and I still can’t believe how close this gem of a place was to us.

  • Cutting down on travel distance is going to help cut costs for obvious reasons.
    • Gas isn’t free and minimizing how far you have to drive (and eliminating the need for airfare) is going to save you a big chunk of money.
  • Go to to look for the best experiences locally.
    • This website is awesome because it can give you everything from festivals, food experiences, and attractions that you may be totally in the dark about.
  • TripAdvisor is the lifeblood of finding cheap, nearby activities for you.
    • You can search for activities within a certain radius of you and before you know it, you have a ton of options to research and reviews at your fingertips.

Prep the Bulk of Your Own Food

I seriously adore cooking and planning meals for those I love, so it is always a fun adventure for me to figure out what kind of meals I can prep/bring on my trips!  I tend to make sandwiches on whole wheat subs paired with some sort of fruit for lunches and I prep foil pack meals for our dinners, while Blake enjoys taking on breakfast.  When it’s just him and I on a trip, we both enjoy saving money by only eating at a restaurant once or twice the whole time and prepping the rest of it.

Foil Pack Dinners for the Win!  This was in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas en route to New Orleans and Florida for a family trip.

If you are a big camper or will have access to a grill or campfire on your trip, foil pack dinners are going to be your new best friends.  Foil pack dinners are essentially the easiest thing anyone can ever cook, but they used to intimidate the heck out of me.  I always assumed they wouldn’t cook correctly, they would be messy, they wouldn’t be filling, etc.  But boyyy was I wrong.

  • Pinterest search “foil pack dinners” and you will be amazed.
    • Pinterest will completely inundate you with a million options for foil pack dinners, lunches, breakfasts, and even desserts if you go looking for one.  I haven’t found one recipe from there that let me down!
  • Customize your meals to your tastes.
    • On the above picture, I was cooking Italian Sausage and Potatoes for dinner.  I had marinated turkey sausage, shrimp, green beans, and red potatoes in Italian spices and olive oil and then just threw it in a square of foil, wrapped tightly, added another layer of foil, and then they kept in a Ziploc bag in the fridge until our actual trip.  This was a perfect meal that kept me full for hours!  I took the original recipe and switched it around a bit to suit my tastes more.  All you need is a protein, some veggies, and spices and you are set.
  • Prepping cold-cut sandwiches for lunch make the days so much easier when we’re in the middle of a big hike or prepping for some fun excursion.
    • To bulk up the sandwiches and increase their staying power, I make them on whole wheat 6-inch subs, add tons of deli meats for satiating protein, and save lettuce/tomato to add last so the bread doesn’t get soggy.
  • Stock up before. 
    • Buying protein-rich and portion-controlled road trip snacks before actually getting on the road helps me feel much more in control of my cravings and makes me less inclined to want to pull over for some drive-thru food.
    • Some of my favorite road trip snacks include: beef jerkey, protein bars (FitCrunch is my favorite brand), cutie oranges, grapes, protein chips, skinny kettle corn, cheese sticks, protein shakes, etc. 

Save for the Excursions You Actually Want to Do

It’s easy to save money when the only thing you do on your trip is hike, right?  And while some people would be completely content doing that, not everyone is going to want to.  Excursions can be pricey, but prioritizing the things you truly want to do and eliminating the activities you are so-so on will help you save tons of money.

Kayaking in the Buffalo River.
  • Do your research when it comes to which company you want to go through.  Every company is going to promise you the best deal, the best package, the best experience, etc.  Going online and finding out which company will actually be the best deal and fit for you can save you hundreds on trips.
    • When Blake and I wanted to go kayaking in Arkansas, we knew that we were going to look for which company had kayak launches closest to our campsite, which company had the time slots we wanted, and which one was reasonably priced.
  • Put first the things you for sure want to accomplish on your trip and put last the things you could live without doing.
    • My dad and I recently went on a trip to the Rocky Mountains and when we talked about possibly going skiing, I thought about a couple things first.  I knew that I have been skiing before and I could live without doing it on this trip, there were sights that I have never seen before closer by, and skiing is uber expensive.  So instead of spending hundreds on something that I have done before and would only last a half day, my dad and I decided to drive almost the entire southern range of the Rocky Mountains and make new memories for us to share.
  • Cut corners where you need to.
    • If you know that there is something you absolutely have to do on your trip, cut corners with food and lodging and go all out with an experience that will leave you truly satisfied.

Find Cheaper Lodging

This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but hear me out.  How many people actually end up spending more on lodging during their trips than anything else?  When I’m staying with family or friends, sometimes I don’t have a choice where we stay but if it’s a more laid back trip and I have choices, I almost always choose the cheaper lodging options.

Jurassic Park-esque Campground below enormous bluffs in Arkansas
  • If you can tolerate it, camping is going to be your cheapest option available.
    • The only cost that camping requires is normally a pay-per-night rate that can range from $10ish-$30ish per night, just depending what state park you are in.  Some state parks allow you to camp wherever you want along trails, you just may have to pay a flat fee once you get there.  The only other basic cost for camping that I can think of would be buying firewood if you don’t have access to fresh, dry wood.
  • Split the cost with friends, family, or a significant other.
    • If you don’t have a huge say in where you are staying, suggest splitting the cost among your group to reduce individual costs.
    • Airbnb is a relatively new-ish website that has the most amazing places available for stay at a relatively cheap price.  You just simply have to comply with the owner’s rules, but there are endless ways to customize your stay and look for exactly the perfect place.  You can even choose to just rent a room instead of an entire place to reduce costs even more!
  • Consider your resources.
    • If you know someone that lives close by where you are going and you are close enough to ask, you could essentially stay somewhere for free.
    • When I went to New Orleans this past summer, I reached out to a family friend who owns a bar on Decatur Street and has apartments to rent above his property and he let us stay there for free!  We had prime access to one of the most popular bars in New Orleans, some of the best restaurants in New Orleans, and everything was within walking distance.
    • As I mentioned, my dad and I recently went on a trip to Colorado and he has a close friend who owns a property in downtown Fort Collins, so we ended up staying there for free as well!
    • E027BAE1-C7A0-40D2-9AF7-C1767A175839
      We went snowshoeing on a frozen lake, which was only about an hour from where we were staying.  The lack of lodging costs easily outweighed the driving.

Utilize *Free* Activities

This is my favorite way to save money on trips.   There’s almost always some sort of free activities near you and there will almost always be an activity to satisfy every person on the trip!

  • Hiking
    • Bet you guys didn’t see this one coming 😉  Hiking is one of my favorite activities in the world.  It’s good for you physically, mentally, and it doesn’t cost anything at all.  You can look up hikes on Google near you and find ones that fit your level of physical fitness, the sights you will see, weather warnings, trail closings, and duration.  Hikes can easily fill a day if you want them to or be a quick warm up before moving on to another activity.
      Mina Sauk Falls Trail at Taum Sauk State Park, MO
      Lost Valley Trail in Ponca, Arkansas

      Exploring the sand dunes at Grayton Beach State Park in Florida
  • Zoos
    • There are a number of  free (or incredibly close to free) zoos in each state and zoos are great for those with children or in the company of children.
  • Walking around downtown areas
    •  This is an incredibly underrated form of immersing yourself in a new area!  Touristy sights are great, but I personally enjoy traveling the most when I feel like I’m a part of the town I am in.  You get the sights, smells, and sounds all in one area for fairly low costs.
  • Museums
    •  History museums are one of my favorite pastimes and a great way to learn about local or global history, but there are other kinds of museums available based on your tastes.
  • Historical Sights
    •  Many historical sights and landmarks are pretty darn cheap, or even free!  Google historical landmarks around where you are or where you’re going to be and you can find anything of interest to you.

I think that about sums up today’s blog post!  Traveling on a budget is not for everyone, but it can most definitely be done by everyone.  I am not an expert on budgeting by any means but I’m always looking to learn more through my and other people’s experiences.  I hope you all got something out of this post and use some of these tips the next time you embark on a trip to save some $$$!

Be on the lookout for a recap of my next adventure next week: state parks in Texas and New Mexico!


xoxo Jordan