I have always loved to travel. If I stay in the same place too long, I get antsy. There is something amazing about seeing more, doing more, meeting new people, trying a new life for a bit. If I could, I would travel constantly. The problem is that it's so damn expensive! AAA says that the average family of four will spend $261 each day of vacation for just food and lodging. And some of the best stuff isn't even included in that amount. Yuck!
On top of that, there's the whole issue of "vacation time" from work. Many jobs don't offer vacation time anymore, or they offer just a week. This is hardly acceptable for the avid wanderer. It's hardly acceptable to chose to take just one vacation a year or to take time off without pay.
For the first few years that I lived on my own, with no vacation time, and little extra money, I was stuck at home constantly. I was miserable. Now, I travel several times a year, sometimes even taking a couple trips in a month. How? By rethinking my idea of a trip.
For me, a trip is about exploration and awe, not about seeing your typical Navy Pier, White House, Mount Rushmore tourist traps. I have no need to see what everyone else is seeing; I just want to see something new. So I take day and weekend trips within my state or one state away. This is cost effective and I still find amazing places.
Because I am staying so close to home, my transportation costs are minimal. I don't have to buy a place ticket or spend $1000 on gas. I don't waste precious time waiting in an airport when I could be out exploring.
I live in the middle of the state, so I can get everywhere in the state within a few hours. There are lots of great little towns within an hour and a half. I love to pick a town and then explore it thoroughly. I find coffeehouses, thrift stores, antique malls, strange museums, state parks, and amazing little restaurants.
I don't waste money on things that aren't important to me. I would rather eat at a diner in a small town than at a fast food joint on the way. I plan ahead by packing a lunch and some snacks for the drive. I can eat dinner at a local place if I want. I don't like seeing what everyone else sees, so instead of going to the mainstream museums, I'd go to the Hopalong Cassidy Museum. I don't care to have souvenirs filling my house, instead I'd like some photos of an amazing state park. Gas is always more expensive than I'd like to pay, so I look for ways to optimize my gas mileage (cleaning out the trunk, proper air levels in tires, not speeding) .
When I decide to spend the night somewhere, I will not pay $200 a night for a hotel. I can camp out in a tent at a state park for under $20. The Evil Place (Big Box Store) allows campers to sleep overnight in the parking lot in the hopes that they will buy supplies the next morning, although this is not required. On some trips, Trucker and I will take turns driving and sleeping. If we want a hotel, there are two options for dirt cheap accommodations. Either stay in some terribly seedy dive along the old highway, You know, the kind that you can't sleep in because you know someone died in the bed. Or you can find discounts for a nicer place. My entertainment book gives me discounts or two-nights-for-the-cost-of-one coupons. Google can turn up discount codes. For most of my trips however, I will simply park someplace safe during the day and get a few hours shut eye.
Food on the road is wonderful if it's local dives and small bakeries. It's terrible if it's the golden arches or day-old gas station coffee. I always pack food and drinks so I don't have to stop for gross food and can either save my money or hold out for some great local place in my destination. For drinks, I make a thermos of coffee and fill up two travel mugs. I make kool-aid and fill two reusable bottles 2/3 full. I freeze these and before I leave the next morning, I fill the rest of the way up. I bring a couple tea bags, hot chocolate packets, and some instant coffee. Most gas stations let me get some hot water if I fill up the tank. For food, I pack a meal such as pasta salad, lunch meat sandwiches, or chicken salad for sandwiches (packed with ice). I also bring snacks such as granola bars, beef jerky, homemade muffins, cookies, chips, trail mix and fruit.
My best vacation so far was for my birthday last year. Trucker and I decided to drive until we felt like stopping. We stopped in the first small town for lunch at a local restaurant (I had a BOGO coupon in my coupon book). A few towns down we stopped for a few hours of wandering through an antique mall. The next town had a museum dedicated to one of my favorite old-time actors. Next we stopped at a thrift store that just so happened to have a bag sale going on, so for $5 we were both able to find some goodies. Then we crossed the state line and went to a couple art galleries before taking a sunset stroll down the river. The total cost for the day, including gas: $65.