My wife and I love to travel — she is active-duty Air Force and I am in school full-time using my GI Bill. We also have two kids. We currently live in an area that has nothing to entice the eye or the mind — a flat area two hours from the coast and four hours from mountains, where the only things to do include buying mattresses and eating in a drive-thru. Normally, I can make the best of any situation; I’ve lived in some amazing places like Hawaii, but I’ve also lived in completely dull places like Fort Polk, Louisiana. Sometimes, you end up in places that just suck and you have to make an effort on a budget to get some excitement. If you’re like us, you’re itching for the new, the fun and the adventurous. No matter where you live, it is totally possible to create a blast on a budget! Some of these ideas may make you say, “Oh, no … nope, I can’t do that…” but you CAN try — and perhaps you’ve just been taught NOT to!
*** Side note: I am very scatter-brained and not the best list maker. Forgive me, anyway. Hah!***
Roadblock #1: Time
We all have this issue – between everyone’s schedule, it seems impossible to find time to catch a break, much less throw some adventure in there. You’ve got the school schedules, work schedules, sports, projects, chores, grocery shopping needs — you’ve got shit to do! There’s no way you can travel — much less on a budget — with all you’ve got going on, right? WRONG!
How to Overcome It
One thing my wife had to get over was sitting in a car for longer periods than she would like; having moved to our current location from Hawaii, it is a completely different situation for adventure. The coast is over two hours away, the mountains are four and everything in between is either a department store, chain restaurant or farm land (shoutout to the cows, though, much love!). Sometimes, we do a google search for things to do in the area like mini golf and art exhibits. We have a few favorite spots we keep in mind. Sure, they aren’t as extravagant as some of the things we’d like to do or have done in the past, but sometimes you have to set your mind to get excited — the way we think of things can drastically change our experiences.
On days where we all have free time, we’ve had to get over the idea that yes, perhaps we will be in a car for a while, but the payoff is usually worth it. If your schedules are constantly overlapping, put your foot down and take time off! Even if it’s just for a single day, even if it means taking the kids out of school for a bit. In our society, we are taught sacrifice and to keep our eyes on the prize. Meanwhile, life is passing by and before you know it, while you’re waiting for the next best thing, life is over and you’ve experienced nothing. Sometimes, sacrifice means realizing that you have to step away every now and then — and that’s okay! Do you really want to wake up one day and realize you’ve spent your life on the grind and now you’ve no time left? Even if you grabbed an awesome, cheap flight to a city you’ve always dreamed of visiting and only have time to be there for one day — DO IT! It’s better to say, “I can’t believe I did…!” rather than, “Man… I wish I had…!” Have kids like we do? ROAD TRIP! Get excited, make it positive, make it happen — even if it’s only one time per year! A huge part of overcoming time constraints is just letting go and getting into a positive mindset!
Roadblock #2: But… where do we stay?
Much of the time, getting there isn’t the biggest problem — staying there is! While in Hawaii, we took a tiny charter plane to the island of Moloka’i — the #1 place I wanted to visit before moving away. Unfortunately, once we got there, we found that over half of the island had been sold off to the highest bidder; this was incredibly unfortunate as the locals on that island then lost access to ALL of that beach area. I had read personal blogs from travelers about different beaches on the islands that were a must-see, but now they were part of someone’s yard. To top it off, our only amenity choices were luxury resorts or Hotel Moloka’i which I would have LOVED, but due to our schedules, we couldn’t book during an available time. Not only that, but the prices start at $219 per night and we planned a three-night stay. So…
How to Overcome
- Getting to Moloka’i was already more than we wanted to spend for the tiny charter plane, so finding somewhere to stay didn’t excite us too much. A resort wasn’t an option because 1) money and 2) I don’t want to become one of those people who misses out experiencing the “real” place because my vision was clouded by extravagance. Don’t get me wrong — it’s fun, sometimes, but not my style. We did our research and decided to camp, instead! For $15, we got a camping permit from the parks & recreation office and brought a tent from home that we found for $25 off of Craigslist. Then, we had our choice of three different state parks that allowed camping! I realize this solution doesn’t work for some because of disabilities, perhaps health issues that wouldn’t allow sleeping outside or other reasons.
- Our other go-to for room & board upon arrival (though wasn’t an option on that gorgeous island) is HOTEL, MOTEL, HOLIDAY INNNN! Just kidding — Holiday Inn is outside of our preferred budget. However, Red Roof Inn has recently undergone renovations. Sure, it’s not a 5-star spot, but how much does that actually matter? If you’re headed for an adventure or are traveling for the experience like we do, then your room doesn’t matter. A spot to sleep, shit and shower are about all you need. After all, if I am spending enough time in my room to care what it looks like, then my trip is already a failure!
- Another option is Air BnB. Sure, many of the selections are extremely expensive, but many are not! You can find an extremely budget-friendly place on just about any corner of the globe!
- My next piece of advice, if you’re up for it and have a vehicle, is to just sleep in it! Whaaat?! Yes, you heard me! Pull up in a Walmart parking lot (they’re traveler-crashing friendly as long as you park in the back and aren’t in the way!), lay down the back seats (y’know, so that it opens up the trunk), pile up blankets and pillows for the kids and lean your seats back for some shut-eye. Keep in mind, we are in our late twenties so sleeping in a reclined car seat isn’t that big of a deal — depending on your needed comfort, you may want to consider the Red Roof Inn, instead! With the kids, that option usually only flies for a single night. I wouldn’t suggest this right off the bat considering possible safety concerns. But sometimes shit happens….
- Another suggestion is what my grandparents did for our family vacations. I did not come from money. Yes, we were far more privileged than most in the world, but Disney World never happened and Universal wasn’t a thing until last year, when my wife got tickets at a steal from the MWR office on post. So, what did we do, then? State park cabins! My grandpa always had a truck, so we’d load up our bikes (hello, local auctions!), pack some clothes and food and head out. The state parks offered all we needed — the cabin, a shower, bodies of water to swim in, trails for walking or biking and my grandpa always had binoculars on hand because many local parks will offer a birdwatching book to aid in your searches! As a kid, this was more than enough to keep me occupied and excited! Cabins are not expensive and if you have a fridge at your disposal, bring food from home! They’d choose a different state park every few years, so the view was always changing. I am from southern Louisiana, so being the sportsman’s paradise, there were many options!
Some of my suggestions may make you think, “Oh my goodness, I could never…” or, “What about the kids?!” but let me tell ya, some of my fondest memories, growing up, include the times when my grandparents or parents rigged a situation to fit our budget just so we could get out of the house for a while. My grandpa and I used to shoot cans off of the fence in the back yard, but on rainy days, we’d make wax bullets and pile a bunch of quilts at the end of our hallway and shoot those (if I remember correctly). It was random, it was out of the norm and sometimes downright strange, but those memories are my favorite — give your kids something to smile and giggle about when they grow up! “Hey, remember that time mom and dad/mom and mom/dad and dad…..!”
Roadblock #3: Equipment
No suitcases? Want to go hiking, but don’t have the right shoes? Need an umbrella? Dude, go to
- Goodwill, Craigslist, Facebook Market, a local yard sale, Facebook pages dedicated to local selling, a flea market, OnlineYardSaleDeals, Walmart or a sporting goods sale area, ask around your neighborhood, school, neighborhood park…
- We’ve gotten some awesome crap at some random places — sides of the road right before trash day, neighborhood thrift stores got us our hiking booksacks.
- I got my $60 Merril hiking shoes from a Sports Academy in Kapolei, Hawaii during one of their clear-out sales for $20. There are so many ways to get the things you need without spending a fortune, it’s a wonder these stores have business, at all!
- Have you ever checked Ross? TJ Maxx? put an ISO (In Search Of) ad on Craigslist? As long as you bring someone with you and meet during the day at a public place, I’m all for Craigslist! We have a full gym in our garage that we maybe spent $300 on over the course of two years. It’s magical!
- If you’re military, you have the thrift stores and donation area at your disposal if you’re in the lower ranks. Plus, think of it this way — outdoor adventure will get you dirty. If the stuff is already second-hand, then you don’t have to feel bad about a little mud on the bottom…. amirite?!
We are in the process of saving up and collecting items to go on a ski trip at the end of 2017 — until then, we will be searching for all of the equipment we need because even if we could afford to drop hundreds on the supplies, we wouldn’t. That money could be better spent elsewhere. Yah, it does sometimes require effort, but if you plan ahead, it’ll work out.
Roadblock #4: Food… HEALTHY food
Okay, eating is essential. Food can get expensive. Staying healthy while traveling is a whole other challenge. Fear not, we’ve hacked this — even with kids!
How to Overcome
- Nuts, oats, 100% whole wheat options, chicken jerky… all of these things will keep you fuller longer than many other options. These are also things that you can easily pack without worrying about keeping them cold. We like to pack water (grab the big gallons or fill up your own bottles and refill at rest stops) and we have a Sam’s Club membership, so we pack up on the bulk nuts and trail mix options.
- Don’t have a warehouse card? Check out dollar stores (you’d be surprised what they have).
- Buy chicken breasts yourself and make your OWN jerky like in this recipe, here (and this recipe does NOT require a dehydrator). Making your own is WAY cheaper than buying those $7 bags that don’t fill anyone up, AMIRITE?! Plus, you skimp on all that sodium. If you keep everything budget-friendly but don’t plan for what you’ll eat, you’ll quickly bust your wallet.
- Most grocery stores sell 100% Whole Wheat bread for only a few cents more than the white or white wheat. Grab some skim milk cheese sticks if you have a way to keep it cool, whole grain crackers & if you can afford a bag of nuts at Walmart, go for it!
- We like to buy low sodium V8 for when we are in a pinch — you can buy the big bottles or individual cans (RECYCLE, YA’LL!), it doesn’t need to keep cool and it is a great way to pack on healthy calories for your trek.
- What about applesauce? You can get the premade jars or individual servings or make your own and store it in a pickle jar after you’ve finished the gherkins! It doesn’t need to stay cold if it stays sealed and that natural sugar can boost your energy!
- Make sandwiches before ya’ll leave — if you do it right, many veggie sandwiches will sit just fine without staying refrigerator cold as long as you eat them within a reasonable time.
- Or, just pack some apples and bananas, peanut butter and a loaf of bread — none of that needs to keep cold and will fill you up!
- You can even create your own snack! It may take some time, but focusing on things that don’t need to stay cold and will give you the proper nutrition you need for your biking/kayaking/hiking/etc adventure is just as important as staying hydrated and usually the steps are relatively simple once you’ve mixed ingredients, so you can get it done while the kids are brushing their teeth and have it ready a few days in advance!
- How about dried fruit? No need to keep cold and it lasts longer than undried fruit. Try these tips (also no dehydrator needed). We also make fruit leather for the kids — it’s kinda like a healthy version of a fruit roll up and it’s cheaper (and healthier) to do it ourselves than to pay for a pre-made box at the store! Try it, here! This post is GREAT for fruit leather because the chef reminds you of other, healthier options for the sweetener like honey or agave!
- Then again, if you’re saving so much on travel and room & board, it’s probably a good idea to just go ahead and buy the big back of nuts to pack along — they really do fill you up and you’ll need healthy and filling options for your outdoor adventures. Eating too little can cause you to get dizzy and you could pass out — it’s not okay! You don’t have to break the bank and you don’t have to go to the dollar menu! If you’re worried about the kids not liking your options, they’ll get over it if ya keep ’em busy and hey, outside is free!
- If you’re a fisherman/fisherwoman, perhaps you already have the equipment and knowledge you need to catch your meals?
Keep in mind that food should be fuel, so decadence isn’t needed as long as you’re getting decent calorie count to support your activity!
Roadblock #5: We have kids — we can’t travel.
I get it. Even dismissing the scheduling conflicts, traveling with kids can be a real pain in the ass. They get tired quickly, they get crabby if they don’t get their way — it can be a hassle. All I can do is share some of the tips we’ve learned while trying to keep our kids in the outdoor adventure spirit!
How to Overcome:
- First off, you will deal with tantrums and crabbiness on your trips. That’s just a fact — but you’ll also deal with those things if you DON’T take a trip. The great thing about being an outdoor adventurer is that nature won’t judge you if little Kala’i throws a fit on the trail. Fresh air is SO GOOD for us and vitamin D from the sun is essential to survival. When you’re doing an outdoor family trip, the pressure is less because the trees don’t think you need to be quiet and the grass isn’t going to get offended if Constance wants to run around and do flips.
- On a road trip and Kyndal won’t stop screaming? Find a local park at one of the exits you’re passing and let her get some energy out! Maybe you’ll get to your destination later than you’d like, but hey… are you going to let a little hissy fit keep you on your couch until she’s 18? Being outdoors where you don’t have to make sure Sally stays in her high chair without flinging food is such a relief. If you’re into luxury trips and extravagant dinners, those things can work if you’ve someone to babysit the kids or you happen to have an easy-tempered child (like my daughter), but not everyone has that option and, as a mother, I know full-well that just HOPING Malakai will behave at dinner is a stress all in itself. You don’t have to panic as much when your dinner table is a tree stump.
- Sometimes, our kids get bored on trails. They don’t quite appreciate an incredible view or the crisp smell of clean air, yet, so we’ve found other ways to get them interested and excited about nature trips! Our son loves to look for bugs; once, my wife printed out an entire list with small photos of bugs relative to the area we were going hiking and challenged our son to find them all. He had a BLAST! We even went to the Dollar Tree and found him a cheap bug set – we don’t like to capture the bugs unless it’s to look for a minute and release, but it did come with some cool magnifying tools. He got a kick out of looking around under the grass and in the dirt with those. My daughter loves to climb, do flips and balance so when we see a fallen tree, we challenge her to walk across it. Some may think, “OH MY GOODNESS, what if the tree is rotted and she falls?!” Hey — she is a kid and what if she doesn’t fall? In that case, she got to do something she loves and it puts a smile on her face — no harm in that. And a little fall is good for character *har har har*.
- We try to remember to pack paper and crayons — kids really like doing rubs with leaves! Do you remember when you were putting the leaf under your paper and rubbing a crayon over it? It’s a blast!
- We also have a fun journal (AKA notebook from the dollar store) the kids tape leaves, sticks or pretty flowers into.
- Some of the state parks offer maps to navigate the grounds — perfect and fun opportunity to teach the little ones how to read basic maps and hone their navigational skills! They’ll feel so proud if they feel they’ve navigated the whole trail on their own!
- Speaking of skills, you can easily google fun things to learn in the woods or find a fun book on Amazon about it. Bring it with you on a trip and get the kids involved.
- What about rock collecting?
- Have you ever checked to see if your closest state park does guided tours or fun classes? Maybe your kid would be into learning about different trees or how to track animals?
- Perhaps you can find a spot where there is a reward at the end of a trail, like a waterfall or a swimming hole!
Don’t bring iPads, but don’t forget your camera!
Thats all… for now…
I know some of my ideas still won’t work for some of you, but I tried my best to take my own obstacle experiences and show you ways we’ve tried to overcome them. We do have the advantage of moving every few years, so a change of scenery is a privilege of ours, in a sense. I also know that even given these tips and tricks, some will take issue with my suggestions and some have special situations that will not allow these kinds of hacks — and for that, I offer my sincerest apologies. We are very lucky that we can get out and about, whereas some folks just can’t.
However, budget living is budget living, so I hope some of these tips at least helped in one way or another. The world is huge and yet so tiny. I think we are taught to ignore the wonder and stick to the grind to the point where we forget that this is the only life we have and to let it pass by is such an unfortunate waste. Everyone deserves a little adventure in their lives!