We’ve been spending (a lot of) time on the road lately, and it has been an adjustment to stay healthy and present without blowing our budget or dirtbagging it too severely. With a bit of planning and a little resolve, you can keep your travels relatively cheap and fairly healthy if you keep your on-the-road lifestyle flexible. Here’s a few tips & observations from our spring and summer travels that allow us to make the most of our time on the road in a positive way.
Get a (really good) cooler. The importance of this in saving you money and keeping you healthy whilst on the road cannot be overstated, seriously. Don’t go cheap; you don’t need the biggest cooler you can find but you do need the best. We use a fantastically roomy NRS cooler with some cheap shelving to maximize space and cooling; wire cabinet organizing shelves do the trick. Keep your in and out trips of the cooler to a minimum to save on ice and prolong the life of your food.
- Bring what gets you moving. For me, it’s my running shoes, so I have a little bag with layers, extra socks, water bottle, and my iPod as well as my tennies, and it rarely leaves the truck. I know everything I need to go for a run is an arm’s reach away. Make a point of creating space for your bike, kayak, discs, or yoga mat- and make it a priority!-, and you’re already halfway to keeping up with your fitness while on the road.
- Technology is your friend. I use my smart phone to its full capacity to keep track of my fitness while I’m on the road. I can log runs, hikes, and paddling with the touch of a button, and seeing my progress and commitment while traveling keeps me motivated. We often take advantage of free wi-fi for an afternoon to catch up on work, banking, and communication which helps us stay on the road longer and with less stress.
- … so is the grocery store. While I love post paddling Mexican as much as the next dirtbag, it adds up quick when you’re on the road for a few days, and it can pack an unhealthy punch. Allow yourself to indulge here and there, but don’t forget you have tons of nutritious and cheap food at your fingertips with a little creativity. Stock up on portable snacks like apples and granola as well as easy meal staples at the local store; bananas and peanut butter are go-to foods for us while beans and rice make it into the truck with every trip. Your options are infinite if you’ve got that slammin’ cooler we talked about… fruits, veggies, eggs, yogurt; the culinary world is your oyster.
- Budget time whenever possible. Traveling isn’t supposed to be fast, and it’s supremely difficult to do it on a budget with health in mind when you’re zooming around on a super tight schedule. Keeping your time flexible allows for a morning run, afternoon hike, or picnic lunch in a park instead of hitting the drive through… this might look like hitting the road at 6am or the night before instead of mid morning day of to give you some more leisure once you actually start your travel.
- Scope out free camping. It’s a real thing! Public lands are free for you to camp provided you adhere to certain guidelines, so make sure your tent, rain gear, sleeping bag & pad never leave your car. Bonus points if you drive a vehicle you can sleep in as you can park all over the place and crash without cost. Check out this online database here for camping details, or download this app that allows you to search free camping all over the country.
- Visit the laundromat. Planning for laundry on the road means keep your necessities bare and, more importantly, light. You can wash workout clothes, paddling layers, and whatever else you need for just a few bucks just about anywhere, extending your travel while keeping your load light and simple.
- … and your friends. Don’t be afraid to ask to crash with a buddy! More often than not, friends are way too accommodating in letting you stay a night (or several), and it’s a great way to catch up and see old faces. Don’t abuse the hospitality, though; bring toilet paper, offer to cook dinner, pack up your stuff each day, and always leave a cleaner space than you were first treated to… you’ll be much more likely to be welcomed back in the future.
- Do your research. I am always checking out local trails and possible road routes to take advantage of first thing in the morning or during any downtime I might have. I also like to be in the know about local grocery stores, laundromats, and camping in case our plans change or we need something on the fly. It’s great to be familiar with area medical and transportation services, too.
- Be nice to and make friends with locals. They know the area best and can let you know when the best kept secret in town runs mid week specials, where the farmer’s market meets on weekends, and the best place to camp. They might even bring you fresh produce next time you meet or cut you a deal on your morning coffee, but either way, you’re sure to have better luck traveling being friendly than otherwise.
- Pack light. This is almost as crucial as the cooler. Avoid packing in a hurry so you can pull what you think you might need and take a hard look… then leave half of it at home. I’ve learned through (cold) experience to bring base layers and a hat and jacket no matter how warm temperatures may be, and I keep everything else super simple. Layers will afford you the most options while traveling and give you some flexibility when the dirtbagging gets really serious and it’s a few days until the next laundromat.
- Bring (lots of) water. A big camp jug or a few gallon jugs go a long way. It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated on the road but that’s a quick way to feel crappy, fast, and packing your own water keeps you from buying it impulsively. Having a water stash while you’re traveling also makes it easy to cook quick and on the cheap.
- … and coffee! The French Press cannot be overstated, and you need to invest in a good mug. I’ve gotten a full mug of coffee at gas stations for pennies on the dollar because I brought my own mug instead of using disposable cups.
- Keep it sanitary. Don’t skimp on hand washing or first aid while you’re traveling, especially if you’re with a group. I keep hand sanitizer around for dire straits and we carry a comprehensive med kit on and off the water to keep little annoyances from becoming trip ender-s.
- Plan a few meals. A few go-to recipes go a long way when you’re hungry and on a budget but trying to eat mindfully. Have a few go to meals and carry the staples with you; we love hot oats in the morning with peanut butter, honey, and whatever fresh fruit is cheapest, so we are sure to have the essentials with us and pick up the fruit along the way. Beans and rice can easily become a stick-to-the-bones post paddling meal with a tomato, avocado, and a bit of yogurt. Check out some easy one-pot meals here and here.
- Basic meds are crucial! Ibuprofen, antacids, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone… those and a few others never leave the truck. Make a list of medications and creature comforts you frequently turn to and keep a store with you in the car to keep from buying on the fly and having a rough day go from bad to worse. Bonus: I always have ear plugs and apple cider vinegar with me. The prior lets me sleep through just about anything and the latter is good for everything from poison ivy to upset stomachs.
- … and so is sleep. I repeat: bring ear plugs. You’ll sleep better, feel better, and be more likely to make the most of your day in a positive way. Pack a pillow if you can’t sleep without one or even a bandanna for areas with irregular lighting to ensure you sleep like a baby.
- Bring a friend. We run, hike, paddle, and cook together while we’re on the road, and there are two of us to share the work load instead of one. Plus, a buddy helps with motivation when you’re thinking about ditching the river for the day because it’s chilly or caving to a hotel room instead of saving some money by camping.
- Cook! I can’t get over some of the meals I’ve made on the road. With water, a cooler, and a decent propane stove, you can make anything from a simple one pot pasta to fajitas or a stir fry; the possibilities are endless. We have a big kitchen box that tags along with us for longer trips but your cook gear can be simple, and should be multifunctional. A big pot with a lid, an eating dish that doubles as food storage, a good knife, and a serving spoon can allow you to make just about anything on the road if you’ve got a picnic table
and a headlamp. Throw in a basic spice kit (salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the like) and you’re sure to eat well on a budget. Here’s a sample list of what to make sure makes it into the car for on-the-road cooking.
- Stay organized. Everything should have a box or a bag, and push yourself to know what goes where, and keep it there when you’re not using it. We’ve got a food box, kitchen box, and cooler for all things food, and gear bags for the fun stuff. This keeps it easy and efficient for us to load and unload, cook, and play while we’re traveling. A plastic bin works great for store wet/smelly gear/layers without messing up your whole car. Bottom line: keep the essentials easy to reach and access, and prioritize what can stay buried.
- Enjoy the best of what’s around you… usually free. Take advantage of National Parks and Forests and the amenities they can offer: free camping, fitness, and adventure, at little or no cost. Check out local museums if that’s your thing and see if you can plan a visit on a day or night when admission is free or reduced. Explore local green spaces and experience your current locale while getting some exercise; cook a group meal with the buddy you’re crashing with and save some cash on dinner out while getting to spend time with friends.
The most important road rule? Keep it simple and be flexible. You’ll be better suited to more fully experience all that is around you while traveling leaving you happier, healthier, and with a bit heavier of a pocket.