Frugal road trips

“They weren’t satisfied, where they were?” asked the little prince.
“No one is ever satisfied where he is, ” the switchman said.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince”

I love me some road trips. I was raised on them. My parents (or grandma) would pack us all in the car, possibly tow the boat along, and we’d leave. We’d pick somewhere to explore, and we’d have no set plan. We did it when we were poor and we did it when we weren’t poor. I do it now.

Road trips can be cheap if you know how to do them right. Here are a few tips:

– Forget hotel rooms. Get a tent and some very basic camping supplies. You can often camp for the whole vacation for the price of a night or two in a hotel.
– Use your state and national parks. Camping at Texas state parks runs eight to ten dollars a night, plus day use fees. They double as cheap and fun attractions, too. Among other activities, you can fish, hike, and bike, and it goes to support the local economy and often the local environment as well.
– Take a cooler and food. Traditionally, my family always takes along “hangdowns,” aka, summer sausage, crackers, and cheese, along with fruit, bread, lunch meat, tuna, water, soda, and other quickly assembled and cheap meals. Occasionally we eat out on the road, but usually we save that for small local joints that look promising.
– Avoid the big ticket places. We don’t do Disneyland or any of those other money-hungry behemoths.
– Make an itinerary…or don’t. We hardly ever have a set goal in mind other than “I’d like to see this place, and this place and this place are nearby.” If it takes us two days to do a place, then it takes us two days. If we have an extra day, we might head back early, we may stop somewhere else and see something. It’s very laid back. On the other hand, if having no itinerary will get you in trouble, then make a plan…just make sure to allow yourself wiggle room if something happens.
– See the little stuff. Sometimes places that sound ridiculous (the Ramen Museum in Japan comes to mind) are the most fun.
– Know your tourist traps and avoid them.
– Just say no to souvenirs. A memento or two is fine, but buying things without thinking first will get you in trouble.

But the single most important thing is to have fun and enjoy yourself. If you don’t, find out why and change it. Vacations aren’t supposed to be miserable.

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