Cheap Trip Tips

Jun 05, 2020 · 23 mins read
Cheap Trip Tips
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Jeremy and I have learned a few things since we started traveling together:

  • How to handle Jeremy’s fear of flying.

  • How to handle my fear of getting lost.

  • To find a coffee shop like the ones we love at home, search “coffee roaster” instead of “coffee shop.”

  • Budget more money for food than we’re expecting.

  • Always bring a passport.

Of course there’s more, and a lot of what we’ve learned is intangible. Traveling, and especially traveling together, challenges our worldview. Especially mine, considering I’m the less traveled one of the two of us. It causes us to question why we live the way we do, and makes us question our comforts. We learn about each other. We learn how to handle each other’s stresses. We learn how to handle our own stresses. It makes us stronger, so that when we function in day to day life it becomes an intricate dance.

But that’s all a conversation for a different post. What I’m here to talk about today is what we learned on our last trip - Cheap Trip. We set out to make a trip as cheap as possible, and we failed in some ways but succeeded in others. Here are a few tips for your own Cheap Trip: Pop tarts and breakfast bars, recipe courtesy of Minimalist Baker

  1. Make your own snacks.

I’m putting this one first because it might indeed be the most important. So much money gets gobbled up on food (pun very intended) and we learned pretty early on that road food sucks. But what are you supposed to do when you’re driving through the desert staring at nothing but red dirt for 5 hours and you suddenly come upon a Burger King in the middle of nowhere? Is it a mirage? No, but its nutritional value is. The shining beacon of hopelessness. It’s an oasis. Paradise. You ask for a Whopper, yes with cheese, and you suddenly don’t even mind that your stomach is about to be as charred as the “angus” beef you’ll ingest, your guts as pink as chicken puree. You’re just happy to have an ersatz social interaction and a meal that looks like at least 1/5th of it was alive and breathing at some point. While it’s a fun adventure, it’s also fun to have functioning organs. So it’s a good idea to just plan ahead and make your own snacks to take on the road with you (trail mix, duh).

Here are some links to some of my favorite recipes to take on the road. Camp in your car!

  1. Make your own bed.

Okay, so you get across the desert or the mountains or the ocean or whatever enormous landmass you must be trekking through, and you make it to your destination. Have you thought about where you’ll sleep for the night? No? Well you’re in luck! I can say from experience that even a sports car can be converted into a makeshift bedroom. Once, Jeremy and I were camping and we didn’t own a tent (we still don’t, because we still just sleep in our car) so we folded down all the seats in his tiny Honda Prelude and piled up a bunch of blankets, ran some sheets and sun shades all around the windows, and called it home. Certainly not the most comfortable option, considering our feet were cramped together in the trunk, but it worked. And then we did it again with our dog. That was a little crazy. Now we have a Volkswagen Passat, and not only is that passable, it’s actually really comfortable. Most campsites allow you to just pull your car up into a parking spot, and we’ve found some camping spots for as little as $7/night. Of course, if you’re a real cheapskate, you can always park in a Walmart parking lot and sleep for free. (Note: I use the word cheapskate here as a term of endearment, not of derision. It’s long been my dream to travel across the country in a van and sleep in Walmart parking lots for free. I envy you, oh brave ones.) Of course, not everyone has a car that can accommodate two grown adults laying down, and even if that’s an option, it’s certainly not glamorous. So if you’re looking for something a little less crusty… Tiny House in Omaha, Nebraska

  1. Airbnb.

I swear, I’m not being paid to plug Airbnb on this blog. Actually, I wish I was because I mention it a lot here, so if someone could hook me up that would be sweet.

I get a lot of looks when I tell people about Airbnb, and a lot of comments like “how do you know you’re not staying with a murderer?” and “you really stay in a stranger’s house?” Agoraphobia sure is fun, right? I choose to believe that a good majority of the 7.125 billion people on Earth are not in fact axe murderers, and even if some of them are, would you really rather stay home and not experience the fullness of a dangerous, scary, beautiful, and magnificent life? Or would you rather take a risk and find out that, given the chance, people are actually good and decent and kind, and though the world is scary it’s also incredibly, unfathomably beautiful?

Enough of the stranger danger rant… Where was I? Oh right, Airbnb is generally cheaper than a hotel room, if you’re lookin’ right, and let’s face it - every hotel room is generally the same. Go ahead. Check the bedside drawer. Yes, there’s a bible there. Is it the same bible as the last hotel you stayed in? Does the hotel room in Flagstaff smell exactly the same as the one in Milwaukee?

Yes and yes. Airbnb affords you much more interesting and various room options. You can choose to stay in a house all by your lonesome, or you can choose to stay in a room in someone’s home. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, try staying in a shared room. That’ll really test that natural fear response.

Probably the best feature of Airbnb, though, is that you get to stay with locals who know the area and could even turn out to be friends. Which leads me to my next point… Making Friends in Eldorado Springs, Colorado

  1. Make Friends.

This seems obvious, right? But it’s difficult to know how to make friends in a place where you don’t know anyone and you don’t have a routine so you don’t have the chance to make natural friendships. That’s where Airbnb comes in. We’ve made a couple of friends this way that have invited us to come stay with them in the future.

Staying with people isn’t the only way to make friends, it’s just a really easy, fun, and fast way. Another way is, if you can believe it, to talk to people. Introduce yourself. Go out. Not just to bars, but to bookstores, coffee shops, grocery stores, anywhere. Live like a local. Make small talk that turns into big talk. Introduce yourself. Tell people you’re not from there. I’ve found that especially in places with great city pride, if you introduce yourself as a foreigner, people are quick to take you in and help you find your way around. In Portland, we had lunch at a food truck and when we sat down to eat at a picnic table, another couple asked to sit with us. Actually, I don’t remember if they asked, but the important thing is that we were sitting at the same table with people we’d never known. We struck up a conversation, talked about our lives and what we hoped to do, and it turns out we had a lot in common. We exchanged numbers and, even though we haven’t talked much since, I still have their phone numbers so when we go back to Portland, we’ll have some friends to meet up with, who will know good ways to have fun without spending money. Boom. Lake Dillon, Colorado Loveland Pass, Continental Ridge, Colorado Devil’s Backbone, Colorado

  1. Spend Time Outside.

Seriously. If outside time isn’t part of your normal routine already, what’s wrong with you? Just kidding. (No I’m not.) Outdoor activities are maybe one of the only free amusements left in the world, or at least in America. Of course some things cost money, but usually you know which outdoor things will be worth your pennies, like, say, I don’t know, Rocky Mountain National Park. Or hell, Eldorado Canyon, where $5 gains you access to some pretty incredible hiking and rock climbing. Colorado and Oregon both have a ton of parks, and Colorado especially has a lot of land that has remained undeveloped but can be freely explored, a pretty novel concept to us good young capitalists who have learned that development and growth are king, but not so foreign to our Norwegian brethren (and probably most of the rest of the world). Not only is going to the park and spending time outside good for you both physically and mentally, there have been studies linking access to parks and outdoor recreation to socioeconomic stratification. So even if you’re like most Americans and spend 90% of your time indoors, give your wallet and your lungs a break and just go outside. Cheap Trip / Days 6 - 9 July 7, 2015Cheap TripKendall Quack

I’m not sure how to begin this post. I sat on it for a couple of days after we got back, trying to sum up this trip in a short and sweet paragraph, but it’s difficult, and the words escape me. So I’ll be honest - there are a lot of things I learned being out on the road again for the first time since… what, November? But they are all things I’m still trying to figure out how to articulate. Stay tuned for some small revelations over the next few days - I’m sure I’ll be bubbling over in no time. ‘Til then, here’s an update on the final few days of our trip to Colorado: Tumbleweed Tiny House Showroom in Colorado Springs Tumbleweed Tiny House Showroom in Colorado Springs

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Colorado Springs > Eldorado Springs

Our second day in Colorado Springs we found the Tumbleweed Tiny House showroom and got to poke around and ask a bunch of questions on behalf of the Tiny House Collective. We got lots of inspiration to continue building our own tiny house, and found out that these are Amish built, which helps to explain the level of quality in their craft. We also got to peek at the original tiny house that helped to kick off the current movement, Epu, built by Jay Shafer himself. Rad. A couple of nights before, we had looked up what kinds of Airbnb listings were in Eldorado Springs, the tiny town just outside Boulder that I mentioned before. Only one came up, and it was a red cabin built into the mountain in 1906. Initially hesitant, we decided to make a leap and book it. On the 5 minute hike to the front door, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Some of the walls were built straight into the hillside, and the porch looked out over all of the town, a fairly small feat considering the whole place contained about three unpaved residential roads, an art center, what used to be the nation’s largest swimming pool, and a park well known for its rock climbing. Hiking up to the cabin in Eldorado Springs near the canyon Hiking up the mountain in Eldorado Canyon On the porch in Eldorado Springs, local beer, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin

Friday, July 3, 2015

Eldorado Springs

This was a good day. We woke up and made breakfast, and our host woke up and came upstairs to say good morning so we ended up having a really lovely breakfast and coffee with him on the porch. Afterwards he asked me to play some music with him and, having been pretty eager for opportunities to overcome my shyness about playing music in front of others, I said yes and we headed up to his studio to play some Pink Floyd. Only briefly - after about 20 minutes, he had to get going and we took off to go on a hike in the park where we watching braver souls than us scale the sides of the mountains. Then we hiked to the top of one ourselves, and reached the ruins of an old hotel. We kicked around there for a while, then came back down and headed into town to check out the University. Then we got some beers and went back to the cabin, where our host followed us shortly after and made dinner and ate with us again on the porch, and again with more music playing afterwards. This time it was Ramble On by Led Zeppelin. Tiny House on Wheels just west of Omaha, Nebraska

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Eldorado Springs > Boulder > Omaha

We spent this 4th of July in the most American way we know how - by road tripping across the plains to a tiny house on a small goat farm in Nebraska and watching Dances With Wolves while knitting and making things. We’ve stayed in this house once before, and so it was a nice transition back into familiarity, and a much better drive than the 9 hour stretch across Kansas.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Omaha > Kansas City

It’s difficult to be present when good times are already memories. There’s this sense when Jeremy and I travel that the things we’re experiencing are already gone by the time we’re realizing them, and that’s sad but also makes us want to experience more. The whole time we were away I kept thinking, “I can’t lose this, I have to hold on.” It may be my youth, but I want to remain soft so that experiences like this can shape me. I don’t want to be cold, and I don’t want to live in a cold place. And so much of the midwest can make us cold and selfish, despite our reputation for being relentlessly friendly. There’s an important lesson here, and I’m not sure I’m able to quantify it yet, but there’s something about a sense of place that shapes who you are. People who live in more dramatic landscapes seem to understand their own scale a bit more, and seem to have a perspective on things that is harder to grasp as a flat lander. I don’t think that’s a generalization, either. The people I’ve known who have spent a majority of their lives in mountains experience life on a different scale. Maybe it’s the order - human society has order but it’s manufactured and sterile, where nature’s order is based more in purpose and function. Even in coldness, nature has a reason. Nature is a pragmatic thing when humanity is not. They are both beautiful and mysterious and powerful, but there must be a balance. All of this, all of life, is about balance.

We’re back in Kansas City now, and that’s fine. It’s good, actually. This city is good. It’s beautiful, with very nice and thoughtful people, with beautiful parks and vibrant sunsets, rolling thunder and several communities of incredibly driven people. The sun sets, though, behind a flat horizon that leads you to believe that all you can see is all there is. And the walk up to my apartment isn’t nearly as grueling as the hike up the hill to the house in Eldorado Springs. And when I retreat into my head, swimming in my thoughts, I look out my window and the plains attempt to humble me - taking the place of the mountains. These are things we take for granted. None of it is bad or good, it’s just different, and worthy of respect in its own right. I’m stumbling for the perfect ending, the same as I stumbled to begin this post. Maybe the reason I stumble is because the world keeps spinning on. Cheap Trip / Days 1 - 5 July 2, 2015Cheap TripKendall Quack

Cheap Trip has been going now for 5 days and when I set out to make it a ~thing~ I didn’t anticipate that maybe I’d want to take some time to enjoy my time off instead of blogging about it. So please excuse the lack of updates, but the whole live blogging your vacation kind of defeats the purpose of the whole vacation thing, right? That doesn’t mean this project is dead. At all. But I am shifting a little bit. Instead of keeping up as we go, over the next few weeks, I’ll be slowly rolling out some things I’ve discovered on this mini journey through Colorado, which will include all the things I promised to write about regarding Cheap Trip.

Anyway, we’re about halfway through and here’s a quick breakdown of where we’ve been and what we’ve done: Boulder, Colorado Boulder, Colorado

Saturday, June 27th:

Kansas City > Boulder

We booked a room with a woman in Boulder via Airbnb right in the foothills of the mountains. When I say right in the foothills, I mean right in the foothills. Like open the front door and step out onto a trail that leads up the mountain. Behind the house was Wonderland Lake. Seriously? Right as we drove into Boulder, having not had the best time the last time we came to Colorado, I said “I don’t know, Boulder’s fine it’s just not a place I’d want to live.” Immediately after saying that, the mountains shot up around me, cool mountain air greeted us, and a socially aware oasis sprouted up before me that I wasn’t even aware of. Way to prove me wrong, Colorado. How could I be so silly? Once we settled into our room we took a walk up into the hills and then went to Pearl Street to watch the tourists watching the street performers, and headed back to our home base to have local craft beers in the park like any good hipster would. Devil’s Backbone, Colorado Devil’s Backbone, Colorado

Sunday, June 28th:

Boulder > Devil’s Backbone > Golden > Eldorado Springs > Boulder

I realized pretty immediately that Colorado is the perfect place for a cheap trip because everything you’d want to do is outdoors, and almost everything outdoors here is free – a pretty novel concept to a midwesterner like me who has learned, like a nice and good little citizen coming up in a capitalist society, that there is money in everything. We went up to Devil’s Backbone and saw some pretty impressive formations and sat in the Keyhole for lunch. I promptly got a sunburn, and then we drove down to Golden for ice cream and wandering because why not? The drive from Boulder to Golden was only about 45 minutes, which from our apartment in Kansas City would get you only barely to the edge of the suburbs. That’s something else we’ve noticed ‘round here - where a 30 minute drive might only get you halfway across town in KC, it gets you to a completely different town with a different landscape, a different way of life. That became even more evident when, on our way back into Boulder, we stopped in at Eldorado Springs, a seriously beautiful tiny town tucked up between two mountains, home to what used to be the US’s largest swimming pool and Eldorado Canyon. The coolest part, though, was that this tiny oasis was only 15 minutes from Boulder – so close that we followed cyclists back downtown.

Monday, June 29th:

Boulder > Lake Dillon

We set out at 9 in the morning. We were headed West on i-70 towards Glenwood Springs and Hanging Lake, and that’s about all we were sure of. Our rest stop would be Vail, but while wedged between a sign for $25 Foie Cheeseburgers, a woman in heels talking about making an offer on a house, and a toddler with a Starbucks cup, we quickly realized it was not our place. It was beautiful from afar, but sorry, Vail, we fell in baby love with a tiny town called Frisco right next to Lake Dillon, still only about an hour and 20 minutes from Boulder. We stayed there overnight after limping our car to an open campsite and exploring the peninsulas that jutted out into the reservoir. We had a beautiful, perfect campfire with corn, s’mores, and the sound of wild dogs howling at the full moon, and set up camp in the back of our Volkswagen.

Tuesday, June 30th:

Lake Dillon > Glenwood Springs > Lake Dillon

This day was less than charming. We spent most of it in the car, grumpy and sweaty as we waited in line to try and get into Hanging Lake - a park that we didn’t realize was such a tourist spot but were not surprised when we learned - and then decided to forget it and headed to Glenwood Springs. We got to Glenwood, walked around for a bit, saw how many people there were and realized that all we really wanted was to be in the wilderness alone. So we ate lunch and turned back toward Lake Dillon. I’ll admit, we were impatient, and maybe should have waited in line for Hanging Lake or at least gone to the hot springs. But the threat of having to stand in more lines and be around more people had us longing for the solitude that Lake Dillon gave us, even if it was all in our heads. Another thing - Glenwood Springs had significantly fewer evergreens than where we came from, and felt a lot more like desert. We weren’t down with that. Deserts aren’t our thing. We like evergreens. We love evergreens. We went back. Loveland Pass, Continental Divide Loveland Pass, Continental Divide Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Wednesday, July 1st:

Lake Dillon > Colorado Springs

This morning was beautiful. We made a simple breakfast, headed out around 10am, spent a couple of hours kicking around Frisco and learning about the town’s history. Turns out, it was filled with some tough as nails women who stepped up to run the town when the men wouldn’t – and this is before Women’s Suffrage. We checked out some old cabins that had been moved from their original spots to recreate this little “Old Frisco” – a tourist destination no doubt, but a nice one. A free one. And a good place with a picnic table for lunch in front of the oldest building in Frisco.

We also learned some stuff about Dillon and the areas surrounding the reservoir. Dillon, a town by Frisco and right on the edge of the reservoir, used to actually be at the bottom of where the reservoir is now. In 1961, residents were told that they needed to relocate because they were beginning construction of a dam and the little valley between the mountains that Dillon was settled in would be flooded. Many of the buildings from old Dillon were moved to the top of the hill to create the new Dillon, and many of them were moved into Frisco. Apparently, now, you can dive down to the bottom of the lake and find ruins from the old town that was allowed to flood.

Coming back through the east side of the mountains of course meant that we had to cross the continental divide. Last time we took the Eisenhower Tunnel, but this time we chose to take Loveland Pass, where we saw cyclists climb the 11,990 foot mountain and receive a well deserved round of applause by those of us at the top. Even in a car we were a little white knuckled, especially after having some car troubles near the lake.

And now we’re in Colorado Springs – a place I was admittedly a little afraid of coming to – but we saw a beautiful thunderstorm come down over the mountain (and the air force base) as we drove in, and we went to Garden of the Gods before going downtown for pizza and coming back to the little room we booked, again through Airbnb, this time in the basement of a house built in 1918. Tomorrow we’ll be on a search for tiny houses and then we’ll be, we think, headed back to Boulder for a couple of nights before going back to Kansas City by way of Omaha, where we’re hoping to stay in a tiny house on a goat farm that we stayed in about a month ago.

Phew. Wow. So there’s a midway update on this little trip of ours. I’m all kinds of inspired after staying in the mountains for a few days, and have so much more to write about. But there are always more adventures, and always more time for blogging about them when we’re not busy having them ;) Until next time…