“To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone. The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself.” – Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
From August 16 to September 21, 2012, my wife and drove over 7,000 miles, visiting 10 states, 7 National Parks, and 2 countries. We spent 18 nights camping, 11 nights with friends, and 6 nights in hotels. We ate countless meals out of the car, drank lots of coffee, and took over 3,000 pictures.
And yes, when we returned to Black Mountain, NC on September 21, we still had our home, our jobs, and put food on the table. How did we do it? I’ll tell you, right down to the dollar.
Colorado (Colorado Springs, Red Rocks, Ft. Collins, Estes Park, Crested Butte, Rocky Mountain NP)
Wyoming (Jackson, Grand Tetons NP, Yellowstone NP)
Montana (Missoula, Glacier NP)
Canada (Waterton NP)
Utah (Ogden, Arches, Canyonlands, Moab)
Build Your Credibility: You can’t simply take off after a year and expect everything to work out. I have been with my current employer for 3 years as a full-time worker, with an additional 6 years of part-time work to back it up. There needs to be a high level of trust between both parties to make a trip like this work.
Give Back Money: I had 2 weeks of vacation, but was going to be gone for 5. So I offered that for 3 weeks, they did not need to pay me. They accepted (of course), and payroll was taken care of. I think this made perfect sense, because I’m not working, but don’t try to weasel your way in to some extra money you didn’t really earn. Just be up front and say you don’t need to be paid for the additional time off.
Plan Ahead: We have been saving up for this trip for months, being intentional about our spending. Whenever we would put something back we wanted, or click away from a page, it was easier to think about what we were being able to say yes to. Saying yes to this trip and all it entailed.
Savings: We saved up nearly $5000 for this trip, to cover any crazy stuff that happened, even the possibility of the car breaking down and needing to fly home. Luckily, we came in well under budget for a trip of this magnitude, and probably could have done even better with our costs. I will say traveling as a pair increased the expenses in ways you don’t really think about. Both of us are comfortable being a little dirtbaggy, but we definitely spent more money at times in an effort to help each other feel more comfortable. We spent a night or 2 in lodging we may not have, and Morgan definitely put up with my tastes for coffee and beer, when that could have certainly been less.
Auto & Fuel: It is what it is. We spent approximately $1200 on gas, needed 2 oil changes, and drove 7000 miles. The 4Runner is a 2002, and began the trip with 216,000 miles! Not many people would load up a car with that many miles with the intent of driving as far as we did, not to mention the long stretches of road where we didn’t see any signs of human life, save for the road. We could have flown in to Denver and rented a car, but the cost of a long-term rental (including fuel) would have actually been more expensive. We drove 4000 just going from Colorado Springs, all over, and back, which would have been an approximate fuel cost of $700 anyway! So, though the road was long, and we were increidibly blessed not to have car trouble, it was definitely the right choice.
Food: I now see I have a problem with food spending. I buy a lot, eat a lot, and thankfully move around a lot. I thought we were smart with our food purchases, buying groceries and eating out of the car or our backpacks, not going too crazy. We had countless meals of beans and rice, oatmeal for breakfast, and made our own coffee almost every day. Still, we ended up spending $1,358.56 on food and drinks. I was dumbfounded. I thought the costs would be half of that. I had stopped stressing out over food costs during the trip, justifying that we buy food everyday back home, so why worry about it here? I began to think I had chilled out too much! So I went back to 2 seperate months in the past year, to do a comparative cost analysis of what we normally spend on food and drinks in a 5 week period.
Houston, we have a problem! During those 2 months, we spent an average of $1,496.85 on food and drinks! Now I was embarrassed. We actually saved $138.29 by going on vacation! I can’t really wrap my head around the fact that I’m basically a fit glutton, but I was shocked. Stay tuned for Matt figuring out how to budget properly!
Lodging: This is what really made the trip possible, by the kindness of several friends who welcomed us in to their homes. We spent 11 nights on the extra beds, futons, and air mattresses of these special people, and this saved us a big chunk of money. We spent 18 nights camping, which cost $171.75 ($9.54/night). We spent only 6 nights in paid lodging, which cost $399.75 ($66.62/night).
Total, our lodging costs for 35 nights was only $571.50 ($16.33/night). A huge thank you to String, Andrea & Joifre, Bryce & Spesh & Cap, and Colin for allowing us to stay in your homes!
Miscellaneous: There were bits of other costs, strung together to keep us moving along. We went to REI 3 times for equipment, most of which was needed. I bought a new ground pad, and Morgan bought several ornaments to hang on our Christmas tree. We rented mountain bikes in Moab, which cost $118 and was the only recreation “extra” we paid for. Artistically, we were able to get tickets to Mumford and Sons show at Red Rocks, which was amazing! Those tickets ran us $190. We considered fly-fishing and rafting, but didn’t get around to it. The fun we had we carried on our backs and were supported by our feet. Total, we spent $200 on gear/clothing, and $95 on souvenirs. All well worth it.
Total Costs: $3782.70
- Gas – $1200
- Restaurants – $788.50
- Groceries – $491.20
- Camping – $171.75
- Hotels – $399.75
- Misc (Gear/Rentals/Tickets) – $731.50
Camping & Hiking: We both had a sleeping bag, ground pad, ENO hammock, overnight backpack (55L+), and day pack. We had water bottles, extra camping goodies, and iodine tablets to purify creek water. For cooking, we used the Snow Peak Giga Pro stove and a single 20 oz titanium pot. For entertainment, I carried a harmonica I never played, and we both had our Kindle e-readers (which were indespensable).
Clothing: We packed pretty strict, not wanting to overload ourselves. We both were limited to 5 shirts, 2 jackets, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, 4 pairs of underwear, and 3 pairs of shoes. This made for some entertaining packing, but paid off when we didn’t have to carry a ton of stuff in the car. We were able to fit all of our clothes in to 1 large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole 90L). Since many of our clothes were quick-drying, they could be worn a couple of days in a row, and some freshened up after a rinse in the stream or sink.
Cameras & Tech: We purchased a Nikon D5100 camera before we left. We had toyed around with buying a nice DSLR for years, but had always held off. No longer! A trip of this magnitude deserved to be captured by a fine camera, and we were not disappointed! To see the pictures we took, go to our trip website at Ramblewith.us (I didn’t want to photo-bomb you guys with unrelated pictures). We also carried the Pentax Optio waterproof camera, a great little outdoor point-and-shoot. Both of us brought our computers, to stay in touch and put pictures online, and our Kindles as well.
Car: As mentioned earlier, we drove around our trusty 2002 Toyota 4Runner, which began the trip with 216,000 miles. I can’t say enough about this car, and the reliability of Toyotas. Most car owners are looking for a new ride with this many miles, not driving to Canada! The car stayed pretty organized, thanks to our big box system. There was a box for camping gear, a box for tech and miscellaneous gear, a bag for the clothes, and a box for food. Of course things were strewn about at times, but re-organizing was a relatively quick process.
The total cost for the trip was approximately $3782.70. That’s an exact number for an in-exact calculation, guessing that I missed a couple payments, rounded up, and hoped for the best. I had also purchased a $900 camera before the trip (Nikon D5100), knowing that a trip like this deserved more than a point-and-shoot to immortalize it. Camera included, we spent under $5000 budget. Basically, we took the trip of a lifetime for $110/day, all-inclusive, with transportation, lodging, and food provided.
If you consider though, the fact we spent less money on food, and have a gas expense anyway, the cost drops significantly. If we had stayed at home and carried on, business as usual, we only had costs of lodging, gas, and souvenirs/gear. The true cost, over our normal living expenses, was less than $2000.
I highly recommend a trip like this, or any trip that will stretch your comfort zone and make you consider what it is you’re doing with life. To stand beneath something grand and realize how small you are, but at the same time how much you are loved. I can’t put a price tag on that experience, and I may never get the chance to go again. I can be ok, and know I have scratched one of the great itches in my life. A long, rambling trip through the West, with no time frame and surrounded by beauty. The next time you find yourself with a few weeks to spare, consider the road and the expanse of the woods. They won’t let you down.
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