How to save money on gas and food while traveling

There are two absolute expenses during any road trip: fuel and food. Most other factors can be fudged, but there’s no denying the need to continually fill your belly and your gas tank. While these expenditures are inevitable, there are a few ways to finagle savings and discounts.

Saving Money on Food

Fresh, cheap food is easily found at local farmers markets.Minimizing food costs while traveling boils down to one essential rule: make your own meals. The expenses of eating at restaurants too frequently will create a huge dent in a tight budget, so limit your amount of culinary splurging. Focus on experiencing local food by stocking up on produce and meat from outdoor markets and vendors. Cook veggies and meat with cheap staple foods like rice and ramen noodles (which make a great alternative to pasta if you don’t use that icky flavor packet).

Not sure where to find a farmers market in the area you’re visiting? LocalHarvest.org has a great database where you can locate the nearest farmers market using the area zip code, and find out what days its open, what they usually offer, etc.

While grocery shopping, you can often take advantage of great food offered at a discounted price due to things like dents in cans, approaching expiration dates, and damaged packaging. Our favorite experience thus far has been the “Manager’s Special,” where we got a two-day old rosemary olive oil loaf from the bakery for $1.49, and a bag of fancy sea salt and pepper chips for 89¢ because the packaging had gotten messed up. We’ve also snagged organic yogurt with honey for a few cents, milk that wasn’t expiring for another week, and even totally fresh meat through the whole Manager’s Special shtick. I totally dig it.

Oreo and butterfinger donuts at the Food Ranch in Orangeville, UT.

At smaller establishments that serve made-daily hot foods and baked goods, visiting towards the end of the day could deliver discounts on foods that would otherwise end up in the trash. Best example: The Food Ranch at Joe’s Valley. Like clockwork, every day sees a new wave of ½ off price changes on things like breakfast burritos and warm pizza sticks. The best discount to be had at the Food Ranch is on their world famous donuts: around 5:30-6:00, you can snag an entire dozen for about $2.50. I’m talkin’ butterfinger, oreo, maple with coconut, and the doughiest sugar-raised donuts this side of the Colorado River – if they haven’t sold out already.

Saving Money on Gas

The GasBuddy.com app is a lifesaver for finding cheap gas.When it comes to keeping the van chuggin’, I’ve found there to be far fewer methods of creatively obtaining cheaper gas – but it’s still possible. The first tip is to avoid gas stations located directly off the highway. If you drive a mile or two away from a major thoroughfare, you’re likely to see a significant drop in prices. Another option is to download a gas locator app like Gas Buddy, which uses crowd-sourcing to present updated prices for all the gas stations around your current location.

We also have a City Market card from our visits to stock up on groceries in Moab, which also works at Kroger, King Soopers, Fry’s, and a few other supermarket chains. This loyalty card accumulates points for every dollar spent at any of the franchises, and certain point levels qualify for 10¢ per/gallon discounts on a fill-up at the on-site gas stations. Filling up the van easily costs $100 each time, so every penny we can save on gas makes a difference.

Living on the road may seem like an expensive affair, but being mindful of your spending and seeking savings can make extended travel an entirely manageable lifestyle.

The (Ever-Evolving) Official Beginning Itinerary for Simply Adventure

You’ve all been pressing me for details about our route, our planned stops, what climbing areas we’ll be hitting up, and what our map looks like thus far. We can’t make any promises, and we are certain that things will inevitably change, but it’s about time I gave you some insight about where we’re heading in the upcoming weeks and months.

So here’s what the Simply Adventure road trip route looks like so far:

This is what we KNOW is going to happen.

Since I’m a Miami gal, I’d like to think that the route officially began at our southernmost point in 2013: Miami, Florida. We also visited Tampa and Tallahassee before finally leaving the state on February 1st. After a pit stop at a Mississippi rest stop, and filling cajun fare in Lake Charles in Louisiana, we paused for a day in Houston, Texas (more on that later – who knew Houston was so cool?).

We’re currently holed up at Spin City Washateria in Austin, Texas, and are scoping out some nearby climbing to fill the next few days until we head to Reimer’s Ranch for the weekend with our friend Teresa. Afterwards, we’ll jet across the remainder of Texas to Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso. Once we get our fill of Lonestar State climbing, the plans get a little hazier, but we’ll be heading to Joshua Tree, then up to Utah around March 8th to meet some climbing buddies for a week or so in Moab. Next, we’ll drive north for a few days in Salt Lake City, then regroup as we plan our next moves.

Here’s a very vague, and totally-going-to-change look at what our journey (kinda, sorta, maybe) will look like through August:

A very rough map of our trip outline so far.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these first few days of van-dwelling, it’s that plans are always changing, you can’t really count on anything, and making plans more than a week in advance are really just a pain in the arse. We have a lot to learn still, but we haven’t killed each other (yet), so I think we’re on the right path.

Cheers, everyone – and stay tuned for more dates and upcoming plans (that will probably end up changing, ha)! 

A Beginner’s Guide to Car-Camping

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a reader who had some questions about camping in a car. I’m not talking decked-out Sprinter van camping; I’m talking about the nitty gritty, sleeping in your sedan car-camping. For most of us van-dwellers and seasoned road-trippers, car-camping is how it all began.

A shot of the Jeep from my 2010 road trip adventure.My first big adventure was a nearly month-long journey in the summer of 2010 – traveling from Florida to Utah in a cramped two-door Jeep with three of my male climbing buddies. To call it an adventure would be an understatement. It was one of the dirtiest, haphazard, ill-planned journeys I have ever embarked on – and it also sparked a lifetime of road travel (and began the adventure-driven purpose of this blog).

Here are my top four car-camping tips learned from that trip:

  1. Less is more. Whether you’re traveling alone, or with friends, you’ll quickly discover that less is more. When packing for any road trip adventure, try to minimize from the get-go. After my first car-camping road trip, I came home and realized that I hadn’t worn half of the clothes I brought, or even touched most of the gear and food I packed. Downsize, downsize, downsize. Trust me, you’ll savor those extra few inches of space.
  2. Do some pre-trip planning. During this inaugural road trip, I basically just jumped in the car and let the boys take the lead – another mistake. We spent almost an entire month on the road, yet climbed for less than five days total. Why? Because we didn’t plan ahead. We traveled out to Arkansas to climb at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, but didn’t realize that the summertime renders this crag a nightmare of overgrown vegetation and intolerable swarms of insects. We were totally unprepared, and it took a big toll on our trip’s overall success.
  3. You can (usually) sleep in National Forests for free! The majority of our nights were spent sleeping in National Forests, which we learned are for the taking for overnight stays. For bonus karma points, explore the area around you when you wake up, and do some litter pick-up to show some appreciation for your free nights stay.
  4. Beware the wind in Kansas. Seriously, beware the wind. We had a giant canvas storage container strapped to the top of the Jeep, and during a stretch of particularly nasty gusts, the wind tore the canvas apart – and we lost nearly everything that was inside. I escaped the situation missing only my sleeping pad, but our buddy Jeff lost all of his clothes and camping gear. Major bummer. (You can read more about it in this post.)

The second road trip I embarked on was a five-week coast-to-coast excursion in the summer of 2011 with Niko – a post-graduation celebration spent exploring climbing areas, meeting new lifelong friends, and living out of my parent’s Honda Pilot (which they claim still has a faint residual odor of dirtbag, oops).

Niko sets up a makeshift kitchen atop a rock during our 2011 car-camping adventure.

Here’s what I learned during that life-changing trip:

  1. Wal-Marts are a lifesaver for late-night pit stops. If you haven’t already, check out my guide to car-camping at Wal-Mart. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Organization is key. Living out of a small space requires diligent organization to maintain your sanity. I am a huge fan of plastic tub containers, in varying sizes. I have two smaller containers for gear/random stuff, and one of those standard large ones where I keep all my cooking supplies/food. I prefer the clear containers so you can always see where things are inside without having to dig around.
  3. Crack a window. While sleeping in your car, you may feel slightly uneasy about the idea of leaving your window open – but trust me, you need some fresh air. Otherwise, you’ll fog up your interior and wake up in a pool of humid, sweaty misery. I’m paranoid, and always make sure my windows are closed enough that a wrist wouldn’t be able to fit inside.
  4. Crash pads make excellent beds. If you’re a climber, this should be a no-brainer. Crash pads aren’t just for bouldering – they make fantastic beds. My Stonelick pad fits perfectly into the hatchback of my old Scion tC, and it created the ultimate little nest. Otherwise, sleeping pads or other mats will add some comfort to sleeping in your car.
  5. Always keep extra plastic bags handy. Frequent trips to Wal-Marts during trips inevitably leaves you with a supply of seemingly useless plastic bags – but don’t toss those horrible pollutants into the trash just yet!  They make fantastic mini-trash bags, serve as makeshift gloves for scooping leftover mash potatoes out of your pot (and, you know, picking up poop and the like).

Perhaps my most powerful car-camping experience was the seven-week solo trip I took in autumn of 2011. I learned a lifetime’s worth of car-camping techniques and wisdom, and had nothing but positive interactions with fellow travelers and adventurers during my one-woman trek from Florida to North Carolina, Kentucky, Colorado, and the south.

Here’s what I discovered during my 6,657 mile solo trip:

  1. Always keep your keys within reach while sleeping in your car. Let’s face it, sleeping in your car leaves you slightly exposed, and there’s no way around that. No matter where you are, or how safe you feel, it’s always a good idea to keep your keys within reach. Don’t ever leave them in the ignition, and it’s smart if you can keep them tucked somewhere out of sight from anyone who might be peeking in your windows.
  2. Similarly, when rearranging your gear to make room in your car for sleeping, always try to keep the driver’s area clear in case you need to make a quick getaway. Especially when traveling in a smaller car, you may find that you need to rearrange your supplies to make proper room for a sleeping area. My rule of thumb is to always keep the driver’s area clear in the event that I need to jump into action and drive away quickly.
  3. Hoarding napkins is always a good idea. This goes hand-in-hand with the plastic bag idea. Inevitable visits to fast food restaurants will leave you with a mound of un-used napkins, and tucking them into that cubby on the side of your door will arm you with an arsenal of clean-up supplies. Blowing your nose, cleaning up spills, wiping down cookware, you name it.
  4. Rest stops are not as scary as you think. This is one stigma that I quickly overcame while road tripping. Do not fear pulling off at an interstate rest stop to snag a few hours of sleep – everyone else there is doing the same thing as you. Major gas stations like Loves and Flying J’s also welcome weary travelers to spend the night in their parking lots, and I’ve never had a bad experience snoozing at any of those places. Be confident, be aware, and you’ll be a-okay.

One of the most joyous occasions of my life, finally seeing the mountains as I passed through the flatlands for one last time before settling in Denver.Additional advice includes concepts like spending one hour a week to clean out and re-organize your car, make sure all your registration and tags are always up to date, keep a real map handy for those times when your GPS fails you, and always follow your urges to pull off at random places along your adventure.

Once I depart on a yearlong adventure of living out of a car, I’m sure I’ll collect a novel’s worth of advice for car-camping, but until then, heed this advice and feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments section – and if you have any additional questions about car-camping, feel free to leave comments or shoot me an e-mail directly at katieboue (at) gmail (dot) com!

Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

As much as I love to share the stories of my adventures, my best satisfaction comes from hearing about my reader’s own excursions into the outdoors. When reader Jordan Blair e-mailed me with a few questions to help him prepare for his upcoming road trip from Virginia to California, I thought answering his inquiries would make for a great post to help others plan their own trips.

Check out this road trip Q&A, and let me know if there’s anything I missed! Jordan is heading out in a few days, and is open to pretty much anything along the way – so leave him a few comments with your favorite destinations, eateries, and travel advice! He’s planning a stop in Salt Lake City, but other than that has a very open two-week agenda.

[Read more…]