If you’re like me, then you probably daydream about traveling to new and beautiful places all the time. There's nothing more exciting then imagining what it would be like to visit your dream destination with everything you would do while you’re there. If you’re also like me, the reality that disrupts the daydream would be how to actually afford the places you’re dreaming about.
To be honest, most of my travel excursions have been funded from a very limited means of income. From experience over the years, I’ve had to learn how to stretch my money, find the local deals, and really just manage to accomplish my travel goals in the cheapest way possible.
So take a deep breath of relief, because traveling on the cheap isn’t as out of reach as you might think, as long as you’re willing to change your expectations. (If you’re looking for luxury, this might not be the post for you)
With that said, I want to highlight one of my favorite places in the world & the specific methods of how I was easily able to experience just about all of it on a tight budget.
And so the story goes…
This past summer while I was all packed up and on my drive to move to Canada, I decided to make a detour on my road trip to revisit The Grand Teton National Park & Jackson Hole. With these mountains holding such a special place in my heart, I knew I had to swing by for a few days even though all of my money was going strictly towards settling into my new home in Canada. I figured if I could budget about $100 for a week in the Tetons, I wouldn’t noticeably disrupt my Canadian savings.
This is how I hung out in the Tetons for a week on the cheap
FREE CAMPING SPOTS
One of the best things about the Tetons is the amount of first come-first serve campgrounds on the National Forest land, all free of charge! Because I was road tripping from Michigan to Alberta, I had packed my Jeep strategically to allow for a sleeping sized spot in the back instead of spending money on hotels along the way. So once I made it to Jackson Hole, I knew I could just stay in my car in any of the surrounding vehicle friendly campsites.
I won’t give away the names of all of the free and secret camp spots, but a good bet and one of my favorites to stay at would be Shadow Mountain off of the Antelope Flats Road. My advice is to scope out a site in the late morning once it begins to clear out, and set up camp by just putting out a lawn chair or something non valuable to mark your spot as taken (if you plan on leaving for the day). Sites fill up faster throughout the day as many locals live out of their vans in these spots, so just be prepared to do a bit of driving around until you find something that’s open. Shadow Mountain offers some of the best camping views I have ever experienced, as well as a beautiful drive past the historic and famous Mormon Row on your way in and out.
So you’ve just spent all night sleeping in your car. Your hair is messy, you smell like a mix of bug spray and campfire smoke, and you desperately need to get clean. Unfortunately, the National Forest campgrounds don’t always offer bathroom facilities, so finding a shower becomes your next concern. Luckily, the hostel in Teton Village offers hot showers for less than five bucks, AND they provide you with towels and soap!
Another great spot is the public restroom at the Home Ranch Lot in Jackson Hole, across from the Historical Museum. This a great place to use an impeccably clean restroom, fill your water supply, and even grab a free parking spot for the day. So in total, by camping in a free site, showering in the hostel’s facilities, and parking in the free lot, accommodation in the Tetons can set you back by only a few dollars a day.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
The great thing about being in the Tetons is that you don’t even need to enter the National Park to have out of this world views. Just driving past the famous mountain range is beautiful on its own.
There are tons of hikes and scenic places around Jackson Hole that don’t require a park pass to visit, so if money is super tight, you can always hit up some of those spots. Considering I was going to be spending more than just a day in the area, I knew I’d have to put out the money towards a National Park pass. The passes run about $30-40 but are valid for a full week and allow you entry to some of the more incredible parts of the region. To save money in the long run, I had previously purchased an annual park pass for $90 which covers all the parks in the US for a full year, and ends up saving me a ton of money since I’m always visiting National Parks.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO SEE/DO IN THE PARK
-Swimming in the turquoise clear waters of String Lake (One of the warmer lakes in the summer)
-Hiking around the Jackson Lake Dam (Where it looks like the mountains rise from the water)
-Cliff Jumping at Phelps Lake (For the adrenaline junkies!)
-Watching sailboats from the docks at Leeks Marina (Also home to some of the best pizza on Earth)
HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO SEE/DO OUTSIDE OF THE PARK
-Exploring the historic Mormon Row (A famous spot for scenic photos)
-Standing in awe of the powerful Snake River (Especially with the springtime snow melt)
-Watching people surf a river wave at The Big Kahuna (Also called the Lunch Counter)
-Wandering the western streets of Jackson Hole (Grab a drink at the famous cowboy bar!)
Before I left Michigan, my dad had gifted me with a few bins stocked full of ready to cook meals and snacks to get me through my road trip. It was such a nice send-off, and it honestly turned out to be the one of the most useful gifts I’ve ever received. Things like rice, beans, instant noodles, canned chicken/vegetables, and oatmeal can make some of the most amazing camp meals if prepared correctly.
Investing in some good spices or even a camp cookbook can really turn something like boring pasta into something you didn’t think a Coleman grill could help create. I highly suggest spending your money on groceries instead of restaurants when travelling on a budget. You will end up paying so much more if you go out to eat for each meal instead of cooking it yourself. But don't completely deprive yourself from all the amazing eateries on your trip. While in Jackson Hole, I treated myself to lunch at the delicious Lotus Café, as well as an espresso and pastry at my favorite coffee shop Persephone, which doubled as a chance to connect to some Wi-Fi.
You might be thinking… why would you go shopping if you’re trying to save money? For the most part, I try to avoid shopping when I travel because it’s so easy to get carried away and purchase something I don’t need that costs way more in a tourist town than in real life anyway. For this specific Teton trip, I was in need of a few pieces for my camp cooking setup and was on the hunt specifically for some bowls and plates. If you were to wander into a camp store and browse the cooking products, you could end up spending up to $50 on something just to eat your food off of. So my favorite thing to do while travelling is to hunt through thrift shops to see what high quality items I can find on the cheap.
Jackson Hole is booming with thrift shops that sell everything from beautiful vintage clothing to high end outdoor gear, which is really helpful when you’re trying to save money in an overall expensive town. My favorite thrift store in town is actually an old church called Browse n' Buy. Their inventory is always amazing and I was able to find a really cheap camp bowl as well as a $10 pair of Minnetonka moccasin’s I’ve been wanting forever, and a $5 Arc'teryx base layer.
Another secret to saving money is to buy your souvenir t-shirts at thrift shops. They always have a huge selection and you won’t be paying gift shop prices. Plus I’m a big believer in the recycling of material items instead of constantly consuming new products, so thrift shops are my little way of staying sustainable while travelling. :)
When it comes down to it, if you can find adventure in walking with your camera alongside a beautiful lake instead of paying money to rent a canoe, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to visit lots of places without draining your wallet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for paying to have unforgettable experiences, but I find just as much joy in making memories with the free things around me just as much as I enjoy saving up to experience something that costs money. I think a life of travel requires you to learn the balance, because life is about more than just what you can spend your money on. If you can part with your expectations and roll with whatever comes your way, you’re bound to find the adventure in any situation. And that’s not something money can buy.
Cover Photography by Nick Roush Photography http://www.nroushphoto.com/