The Draw of the Open Road

Agh … I’ve been back in the “West,” back home for less than 7 months now and I can’t shake that urge to leave again! I love the US and Canada (where Jess and I have been since we returned from China after Teaching English for 2 years), but now that we are back amongst the comforts of our own continent, life can feel a bit dull at times. We’re finding that more and more often our thoughts drift back to traveling adventures and excitement overseas.

The Open Road, Redwoods, National Park, huge, big, trees, windy, road

Perhaps this is just another case of the ”grass is always greener?”

When Jess and I were living in China we would talk all the time about things we missed in N. America, reminisce about life being easier back home and complain non-stop about never being understood, inefficiencies, feeling out of place and the massive differences between Chinese-American culture. There were massive pluses too though, like teaching english was a crazy-rewarding job and the ability to travel Asia in our spare time was awesome. We obviously enjoyed the adventure of traveling and living abroad, but after 2 years in rural China certain things started taking their toll and by the end we looked forward to returning home.

But now …. oh the present … Ha! How different life changes when your perspective changes! Now that we are back home we are finding that we miss some of those aspects of life abroad.

The novelties of western life certainly wore off quickly.

Life is indeed easier and more comfortable being back home, but it can also be more complicated as routine, obligations and social norms set in… It becomes hard to find a balance between working and finding time for hobbies, fun and adventure.

It wasn’t long being back home before we started thinking back to China and missing some of the more subtle parts of life abroad. At first we didn’t even admit it to ourselves … admitting it to one another took even longer. But now after 7 months of being home we have both openly admitted that we miss parts of living in Asia. The draw of the open road is upon us again!

Taken after paying for parking ... $11 to park!

… but North America is awesome, right?

Yes! obviously north america is awesome and provides a quality of life that has seldom been seen in history. There are huge opportunities and rights given to people of all walks of life and that can not be undermined.

… So why is it that Jess and I are having trouble acclimating back into society? Why is it that 2 years living in China has caused us to re-asses our own society and consider that perhaps there are better ways of doing things in other parts of the world?

Now don’t get me wrong… China is not exempt from those less-glamorous sides of capitalism. In fact their problems are just beginning when it comes to the mental, emotional & physical problems that individuals begin to suffer from working excessively long hours. In China though, we made more than enough money to live comfortably (we were in a low-cost-of-living location), people were always nice and life was simple.

I’m not sure if it’s the pace of western society that is hard to get used to again or the fact that capitalism and day-to-day life seem to buzz non-stop without coming up for air. There is something about traveling that forces you to “come up for air” and it is hard to jump back into the chaos after being gone for so long.

Re-assessing values with a focus on happiness.

In many ways, returning home after an extended absence has led me to consider my values and what I think is important in life. For me, happiness, relaxation and leisure time are more important than earning excess money and advancing within a career. (Check out a book called “The Joy of Not Working” for more on this). I mean come on … is working 50hrs/wk worth it just so I can afford a bunch of crap that I don’t need a healthy way to live? Is it really ethical/moral/right to work long hours at the expense of your own health and happiness in order to secure “future” happiness? …. what about your happiness NOW?

Anyway, I’m digressing a bit, but traveling and living abroad takes away all the social forces and influences that you are accustomed to and allows you to breathe for the first time. It gives you a chance to decide for yourself what is the best way for you to live. Jess and I have learned that Sustainable Travel is possible and we don’t need as much as we initially thought to be happy and get by in life. So maybe comfort, routine, career advancement & retirement security are less important to us than chasing adventure and living happier with less things and less security.

Chinese, American, Canadian, friends, teaching english, living, life, abroad, foreigners

Travel gives us perspective.

It’s one of my favorite aspects of travel… the ability to realize that your own country and culture may not be the best in the world. It’s interesting just how many people across the planet believe that their country is the biggest, baddest, greatest country to ever have existed! Americans are most definitely like this, we are taught that we are Star-Spangled Awesome from a very young age. China is probably even worse when it comes to thinking they are the best and the list goes on and on with countries who “know” they are the best country.

Once you travel to other places though, it becomes blatantly obvious that you’re country is not the best at everything. They may be the best at some things and they may even be the best country to live in (in your opinion), but your country is never the best at everything.

So now what?

So now what do we do? Jess and I are from 2 of the greatest countries in the world … but we continually get stuck in trying to love where we live. Nowhere is ever perfect, but we have been cursed with the so-called “travel bug.” Once you get it, it really is hard to settle down.

I suppose that all we can do is continue to plan trips to far away places and in the meantime, never stop exploring our own backyards. Being aware of our ethnocentric tendencies will help us to connect with travelers and foreigners who come to Canada and the U.S.

The draw of the open road may never go away, but we can learn to live with it and yield to it when necessary. Life can be great wherever we are. We will try to appreciate what we have at home and look forward to discovering new & awesome places in the future! 

We will be working here in Vancouver and getting by for now … at least until the next adventure!

birds, taking flight, nature, the city, animals in the city

Why I Can’t Recommend Mount Rushmore

Mount, Mt., Rushmore, SD

Guest Post: By Jess Roberts

Most of you know Jess by now. She's my trusty travel companion & agreed to write about our Mount Rushmore experience. It's slightly different than other Mt. Rushmore posts ...

Let me start by making a confession. I…am…Canadian.

Yes, I said it. Whew. Now that I’ve come clean about that, I have another (not so little) secret. I love the US. Seriously. I have been obsessed with the US since I was a teenager and traveled to Philadelphia for the first time. I was pretty sure I belonged there and planned on moving across the border as soon as I could.

That didn’t work out. Turns out it’s kind of hard to move to America, and it’s a lot easier to just stay wherever you call home. But I still had dreams of seeing the things that the US had to offer. I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge, and yes…I wanted to see Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore always represented the epitome of American sightseeing to me. It’s faces of presidents carved into a mountain. Like really. How much more American can you get? So, as we started our journey toward the Dakotas, I was starting to get really excited.

Unfortunately, there were several factors that slowly let the air out of my proverbial tires until I came to the conclusion that I just can’t recommend going to see Mount Rushmore.

4 reasons why I can’t recommend Mount Rushmore:

1. The drive 
Mount Rushmore is smack dab in the middle of nothing and zilch. If you’re going that way anyway (like we were), then you might as well stop by and check it out. But I definitely would not suggest going out of your way just for that.

Taken after paying for parking ... $11 to park!
Taken after paying for parking ... $11 to park!
The free view of Mount Rushmore.
The free view of Mount Rushmore.

2. The price 
Technically, seeing the monument is free. But parking is $11.00.  So if you don’t bring your car and decide to start your hike up the mountain at 3 am to make sure you catch a glimpse of it before they close it down for the night, then it’s totally free.

I’m exaggerating a bit. But it felt a little like extortion to charge that much to park in a lot for 15 minutes. And they know that nobody is just going to turn around and be like “Nope, screw the faces in the mountain … that’s too gosh darn much.” Everyone is going to grumble about it and then hand over their credit card because there’s no point in even being there if not to see this monument.

A viewpoint (free) before getting to Mt. Rushmore
A viewpoint (free) before getting to Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore map
Mt. Rushmore map

That being said, on the drive up the mountain, there’s a few areas to pull off the road to see Rushmore before you make it to the place where they will ask you to empty out your life savings to pay for parking. The last pullout that you hit before the parking lot has an awesome view, and is totally worth stopping and taking a picture from there (for free) and skipping the $11.00 view.

3. Dogs aren’t allowed
This has been a problem all along and I’ve come to expect it now; but it’s still frustrating every time I see that “No Dogs” sign. You can have them outside the actual monument area but don’t even think about trying to get a picture of Fido in front of those faces.

Dog, Mount, Mt., Rushmore, cheap, free
Barney checkin' out the monument from the free/dogs-allowed spot.

4. It’s only average
The fourth and final reason why I can’t recommend Mount Rushmore was that it’s a little underwhelming. Yes, it’s a feat of human perseverance and all that. It is quite picturesque, but it’s a lot smaller than I realized and honestly…

…it’s just okay.

It didn’t take my breath away. There wasn’t a really awesome story behind it. It was fine. And if someone asked about it, “fine” is pretty much the only word that I could really come up with for the entire experience.

** A Bonus Rant!

Crazy Horse, free, photo
15 mins from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This picture is free if you have a zoom lens. All you have to do is get out of your car before the pay booths, snap a picture and then turn around. This little trick will save you $11/person or $22/car. Ah hahaha!!! HA! Ah ahhaha! Alright that's all.

Avoiding the Top 5 Road Trip Expenses

Oh no!!! We’re trying to do the Great American Road Trip on $100/day or less and we’re completely screwing it up!

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We are only half way through our 3 month road trip and $100 a day for 2 people and 1 dog is starting to prove difficult. Each time we go over the budget we learn something though, and we try to pass the savings on to you.

Below are our Top 5 Road Trip Expenses, broken into 2 categories:

1.  The Expense.
2.  Tips to Cut Back on Spending. 

  • Cities  
    In our first month we traveled from Montana to the east coast. We passed through bustling metropolises like Missoula, MT and Cleveland, OH! … Haha, in other words we stayed primarily in small cities and towns.

In Weeks 5 & 6 though, we went to huge cities like Boston, New York and Washington DC and our wallets felt the difference! Everything just costs more in the city and budgeting becomes more important than ever.

Here are some simple tricks that will get you saving in the city:

New York Skyline
  • Get a City Pass  
    These passes can save a ton of money and allow you to clump all the major attractions of a city into one flat-rate pass. To read more and see which cities offer these passes Click Here
  • Use Public Transportation  
    Although the US is lacking far behind Europe and Asia when it comes to public transportation, every major US city has some version of it. Learn the bus routes, subways and train systems before you get there and they will save you time and money.
  • Do Walking Tours  
    Most major cities have Free Walking Tours! They are a great way to get some exercise, discover the city and save money. Free Tours By Foot offers tons of tours in the US. 
  • Parking  
    In rural America you can park almost everywhere and not really consider parking. $1-2/hr seems about right and you go about your day without giving it much thought….

In Chicago we spent $48 to park downtown! I saw a parking lot in NYC for $21.90/30 mins! Parking is insane in big cities, and you need to figure out a plan of attack before driving into them.

Cool Car
  • Spot Hero App 
    Most of us have so many apps on our phones that the thought of downloading another one can be daunting … but this one is worth it! I heard about this app from a blogger in Chicago and it’s awesome for finding the best places to park in big cities! Download Spot Hero here.

There are 3 expenditures in the pie charts above that stand out above the others: AccommodationFood and Entertainment. These were our 3 highest expenditures:

  • Accommodation  
    This has been our biggest and deadliest expenditure during the entire trip. Staying in cities with a dog brings up some unique challenges. We can camp outside of cities, but we can’t leave Barney in a hot tent while we go into the city. So that rules out camping.

Couch Surfing is an option too, but most couch surfers don’t want to host people with dogs because either they’re allergic to them, landlords don’t like them or they’re afraid they’ll fight with their own dogs or cats.

This leaves us with one good option … staying in hotels. Ah!!!! Hotels are the fastest way to blow your budget. It is almost impossible to stay on a $100/day budget and stay in hotels. If you can avoid them do it at all costs.

  • Couch Surfing 
    Send out your Couch Surfing requests well in advance. Big cities have lots of people willing to host you, but there’s tons of people asking too. Hosts in bigger cities will appreciate advanced notice and you’ll have a better shot at staying with someone you click with. Don’t know what Couch Surfing is? Click Here!
  • Camp (outside the city)  
    Believe it or not, some cities have campgrounds close to public transportation. You’ll save a lot of money by staying at a campground as opposed to a hotel. If you have a dog, this becomes tricky though because you don’t want to leave a dog in a tent all day. 
  • Budget Hotels & Motels
    If you find that a hotel room is your only option, then pick a cheaper one and try to get outside of the city. (For example, if you’re visiting NYC then try staying in New Jersey and take the bus in.)

Some budget hotels that worked well for us are: Red Roof Inn (dogs are free), La Quinta (a really nice hotel, allows pets sometimes & has some great deals in certain locations), Motel 6 and Holiday Inn (sometimes allows dogs).

  • Food  
    The Food Challenge  is my biggest frustration of the road trip. I can’t figure out how to beat the Dollar Menu! That’s an article for another day though …

There is just no avoiding spending extra money on food when you go to big cities. If you are trying to be so frugal that you miss out on a NYC hotdog, Chicago deep-dish pizza or Cape Cod seafood then you should re-consider. Trying iconic food is a small way to experience a city’s culture and I think it’s important to try it, even if it’s a little pricier.

Bush Pies
  • Eat Before You Get Hungry 
    If you can find a reasonably priced restaurant before you are starving, you’ll be less likely to walk into the first place you see. If you aren’t starving yet, you may also eat a smaller (cheaper) meal.
  • Avoid Eating in Touristy Areas 
    Many times, you can eat that iconic meal and discover great food for a fraction of the cost, by simply stepping out of the tourist trap. Touristy areas always charge more … If you can find where the locals eat and you’ll find your savings.
  • Find Hotels with Complimentary Breakfast
    Eating breakfast is a good way to start the day … Eating a FREE breakfast is an even better way!
  • Entertainment  
    This is another one that I would recommend to “take the hit on” and blow the budget a bit. There are certain things that aren’t worth sacrificing. For example: I’ve always wanted to see a Broadway Play so I spent $101 to see “The Phantom of the Opera” in New York. I don’t regret spending that money, even though I’m on a budget, because that was one of the reasons I wanted to go to NYC in the first place. Save money, but not at the expense of the vacation.

Big cities are just going to cost more … all you can do is try to make up for it in the smaller US cities. I do have a couple suggestions for you though, to save a couple dollars on entertainment:

Phantom of the Opera
  • City Pass  
    I mentioned it above, but these passes are great to cut back on entertainment costs by clumping major attractions into a flat-rate pass. To read more about these passes Click Here
  • Broadway Box (New York only) 
    If New York City is in the itinerary, check out BroadwayBox.com for some crazy awesome deals on Broadway tickets. There’s also TKTS Booths which sell half price tickets (go to the one in the Financial District, NOT the one in Times Square – it will save you hours).
  • Research Ahead of Time  
    Just Google what you want to do with the word “deals,” “specials,” or “discount” next to it (ie. Broadway show discounts). Almost everything you will want to see has a cheaper way to see it. You just have to search for it!

Learn More, Save More!

Check out more articles like this and how to save on your next American Road Trip!

6 Ways to Discover Upstate New York

Upstate New York
– As in NOT New York City –

Elmira College
Elmira College

Well, let’s just be honest … Upstate New York has been living in the shadow of New York City for quite awhile now. It’s hard to compete with 8.3 million people, Broadway shows and the Statue of Liberty!

But …. Let’s slow it down a bit and head to the north and west of New York STATE … and see if there’s anything worth checking out! If you ever drive to NYC there is a good chance that you will drive through New York State and there are some pretty awesome things to see along the way!

Jess, Barney and I headed to Elmira, NY to visit a friend who we taught english with in China.

Here’s what we discovered:

Wine-Tasting … mmmm
New York is home to some huge wineries and all of them want you to try their wine. The Finger Lakes have tons of wineries! So get some friends together, book a limo or cab and taste your way through Upstate New York. 

Wine Tasting

Visit a Small Town
There are tons of cool little towns in New York. They all have a unique culture and atmosphere that is worth checking out. There’s an interesting blend of cultures in small town New York. People have the efficient business culture of New York City, but it is combined with the down-to-earth mentality found in small town america.
Some places to start with: Cold SpringAuroraCorning, or Skaneateles 

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls separates the United States and Canada and it is undoubtedly an impressive site. If you have time (and your passport), swing on over to the Canadian side … it’s just better.

Niagara Falls - US side

The Finger Lakes
A group of 11 huge & narrow lakes make for a great place to go swimming, boating, kayaking, wine tasting or sailing! These lakes are a popular tourist destination and beautifully portray the outdoors of Upstate New York.
Random Suggestion:  Rent a cabin on the Lake, swim during the day and go wine tasting in the evenings. 

River

Glass Blowing in Corning
The Corning Museum of Glass is awesome! You can see over 3,500 years of glass blowing history along with some really cool shows. Corning Glass is a massive glass business in the United States and the museum shows the fascinating process of shaping and working with glass.
It costs $18-25 and kids (under 17) are free. You can see actual demonstrations and shows of real glass blowing and they even give you the opportunity to blow your own glass … it’s a pretty cool experience!

glass, blowing, corning, museum
cool, glass, display, corning, museum, beautiful

Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen State Park is as good as it gets for camping and hiking. If you are the outdoors type, plan on spending a night or two immersed in Watkins Glen … you will be surrounded by lakes, mountains and forests worthy of any outdoor enthusiast. 

A Christmas Story – Visit The Leg Lamp!

A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and “this thing which tells time.” That’s all that Ralphie Parker wanted for Christmas!

 And what about the Old Man ranting and swearing a stream of profanities that “is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”

Of course this is all from that great film, “A Christmas Story”
YOU can see it all in real life!
Cleveland, Ohio

A Christmas Story, leg lamp, house, ralphie

This house was renovated and restored to resemble the house in “A Christmas Story.”

Most of the movie was actually filmed in a sound studio, but the outside shots, back yard scenes, and the infamous  Lamp in the Window scene were indeed filmed at this house in Cleveland, OH. 

leg lamp

Tickets and Admission

Adults: $10.00
Children 7 to 12: $6.00
(Children 6 & under: FREE)
Seniors: $8.00

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During the tour, you can go into the house, take pictures and check out some of the most famous props from the movie! It was all very exciting! 

Quick Tip!  Don’t park in the lot right next to the house … it will be the one with guys waving flags and directing you into their driveway so they can screw you out of $5. Just drive 10 more seconds and park on the street … it’s free! 

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Yes … you too can take your picture next to the leg lamp in fishnet stockings!
For more information  on the house, the movie or the museum check out:

AChristmasStoryHouse.com

IMG_6577

A Fun Day in Chicago

Chicago, night, skyline

For this post I’m not going to give you a “Top … Things To Do” list or a bunch of suggestions of things to see and conquer during your trip to Chicago. This is partly because Jess and I are still on the road, I’m completely backed up with articles to write and … well, perhaps I’m feeling rather lazy today.

BUT!!!!! ………  The biggest reason for this lackadaisical post is because Chicago is a city that must be experienced. Chicago is a city that you can only love by walking the streets, eating pizza, meandering the water’s edge, sitting in parks and in front of fountains. Chicago must be felt!

The Bean, Chicago, self, portrait
Cloud Gate (the bean)

Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the US by population (Fun Fact: the 3rd largest by size is Houston, TX) and there is no doubt about that when you first arrive. The skyline is 2nd only to New York City (Another Fun Fact: I am writing this post from NYC) and the architecture and scope of museums, parks, fountains and buildings is overwhelming and awesome!

Chicago, America, flag, US flag flying

I love Chicago and it’s one of the few places I could almost see myself living. There’s a personality to the city that seems to almost challenge you when you get there … it’s almost like there is an invitation that hangs over you in Chicago, as if to say, “So … do you think you could cut it in Chicago?” Well if you can, it’s a city that will never stop giving!

Whew! Well that building tour was something eh?

If you want to see all those buildings check out the Free Walking Tour for Chicago! They do a pretty good job and it will give you a chance to hear some of the cool history and how Chicago burned to the ground in 1871.  It’s definitely worth learning about while you’re there.

Chicago, skyline, dog, pics, photo, stares
Nature, City, birds, geese, taking, flight, fly, urban

Alright, well now that you know next to nothing about Chicago, but you’ve seen some pretty awesome pictures!! … Let’s close with some words of wisdom from Dan:

  • Don’t Park Downtown! Holy crap it is soooo expensive, I was mad for a week about the parking downtown. Take the L-Train and avoid parking at all costs!
  • Do a Walking Tour – It’s good exercise, free and a good way to orient yourself and learn something about Chicago.
  • Go to the Adler Planetarium – I’m not going to recommend going inside, but go there for the awesome view of the Chicago Skyline. Barney is viewing the city from the Adler Planetarium (2 photos above).
  • See the Art Institute of Chicago – Whether you’re into Museums of not, this is massively famous and they have some really cool stuff in here! Even if you’re a Proud-to-be-Philistine … even you will recognize a few things here 😉
  • Eat Pizza – Chicago’s deep dish pizza really is delicious.
  • Don’t Park Downtown! – Did I mention that already? Yeah, seriously don’t do it; you’ll be mad for a week.
Buckingham Fountain
Crown Fountain

5 Things That Make Minneapolis Unique!

Searching For Your Zen’s:
100th Post!

Thanks for everyone who has followed the journey and read along … it really does mean a lot!
Today’s post comes to you from Jess (Searching For Your Zen’s biggest fan)!

Minneapolis

For this Guest Post, Jess tells us about some of the highlights of passing through the Twin Cities during the Great American Road Trip. 

Drinking From a Coconut

Leaving Montana felt like leaving a friend. It was comfortable, warm and welcoming, and I felt connected to it for some reason. We made a quick stop in North Dakota for a night to visit Dan’s brother, and then headed on to Minnesota. I was a little hesitant as we rolled into Minnesota. The midwest is often portrayed on TV and in movies (ie. Mashall’s family in “How I Met Your Mother”) as really boring, nerdy, and basically uncool.

Luckily, Minneapolis proved to be the exact opposite of that! It was lively, fun, and cool … Super cool! The people there have pride in their city, but also seem humble … as though years of TV shows making fun of them has made them feel under-appreciated.

So, here are a few reasons why Minneapolis is a gem of a city, worthy of praise, and well worth stopping in next time you’re driving through:

1. Coffee Shops, Bars and Restaurants
We only spent about a day and a half in the city, but the coffee and service at Sovereign Grounds coffee shop is worth raving about. The beer selection and board games at Chatterbox Bar are also top notch, and the fish and chips at Brit’s Pub couldn’t have been better. If only we could have stayed to try more…

Sovereign Grounds

2. Arts and festival culture
Our visit was surrounded by festivals and art exhibits. There was an India festival before we got there, an exhibit on Da Vinci’s notebook after we got there, and there was supposed to be a music and food festival while we were there (it ended up getting rained out). It seemed like no matter what time we picked to be in Minneapolis, there was something artsy and fun going on. Our couch-surfing host took us to see a silent movie that was made in the 1920’s that was scored by a live band in the theatre that night. It was a really fun experience and from what I could tell, it was just one of many events that they do in the city to try to engage the residents.

Oh, and there’s also this sculpture garden that you should go check out. It has the famous “Spoon and Cherry” sculpture among other fun and sometimes interactive sculptures.

Minneapolis

3. Bike culture
Bike culture is huge in Minneapolis. It’s one of the most bike friendly cities in the USA and I don’t think I’ve seen that many people on bikes since Amsterdam. They offer bikes for rent that can be returned to stands in many other places in the city and have made the city very easy to navigate on a bicycle.

Uptown Minneapolis
Minneapolis Spoon

4. Lakes
The lakes seemed to be the thing that residents of Minneapolis were most proud to show off. There is a chain of lakes within the city that have paths around them with tons of people walking, riding their bikes, and jogging. They also have docks that you can fish off of, and places to swim or hang out on the beach.

Calhoun Lake Minneapolis

5. Mill City and the Mississippi River
Mill City is a flour mill with a troubled past. Built in 1874, it exploded in 1878 killing 18 people. It was rebuilt, but then over 100 years later it almost burned down again. The remains from the fire can still be seen from the Mississippi River as you walk down the Stone Arch Bridge. It has been turned into a museum which runs tours Tuesday-Sunday and costs $12.00 for adults.

Mill City Museum

Bonus! 
The Mall of America is in Minneapolis, but don’t tell the locals you went there :/

Minneapolis has so many great things and a ginormous mall has a way of taking the limelight away. Check it out, but really try to experience all those other things that make Minneapolis a unique city!

Mall of America

We Blew the Budget the 1st Week! – How Not to do What We Did

The Breakdown

Week 1 Breakdown

Costs by Category

Week 1 Road Trip Expenses

After all the planning …. All the budgeting … trying to save money at every turn ….

We ended our first week in the red! What a bummer! Well, this is a re-cap of our very first week on a 3 month US road trip.

Our Goal is for 2 people & 1 dog to travel for less than $100/day.

As you can see, our first week was well over the budget at $118.13/day. So what can we learn from our first week? We decided to look at the numbers a little closer and this is what we came up with …

5 money saving tips and ideas for saving money on a US Road Trip:

1. Upfront Investments:

After looking at the numbers a bit closer, I started to realize that a lot of our costs in the 1st week were Investment Costs. In other words, they were big costs that would help us save money in the future. Here’s a look at some of our bigger costs:

  • Oil Change – $53.00 (Inevitable and on this kind of road trip everyone will need at least one)
  • Road Map (Canada & US) – 21.00 (Many places in the US don’t have good reception and wi-fi doesn’t exist on most highways. So, having a physical map has already proven to be a good investment. We only have to pay this once.
  • American National Parks Pass – $80.00 (This is our best investment so far! Because camping is one of the cheapest ways to travel, we are fully planning on spending a lot of time around National Parks throughout the US. They are beautiful places to visit and have decent places to spend the night. By buying the Parks Pass we can now get into every national park in the US for free for a year.

2. Coolers ‘N Ice:

We are still working the kinks out of the food challenge. Food was our largest expense during the first week  and we are determined to figure out how to get this cost down!

One thing that seemed to help cut costs was using a Hard Shell Cooler (insulates better than soft-shell) and Block Ice (lasts longer than cubes).

With a cooler and ice we could hit the deli section of supermarkets and have a place to store 2-3 days worth of meat and cheese.*

* We are still spending a ton of money doing this though … it’s a work in process and We’ will write an article about The Food Dilemma in the future. Ultimately the goal is to beat the Dollar Menu at McDonalds. If you can’t beat that, then what’s the point of going to all the extra effort.

More to come on our War With the Dollar Menu!

3. Gas (Is It An Unavoidable Cost?):

The short answer is YES! All you have to do is stop driving entirely, sell your car and then hitch-hike the rest of the way. Easy right!

Well, let’s assume hitch-hiking isn’t your thing.  Gas will be a continuously reoccurring nag at your budget. You might even get to the point where you consider staying in a place longer so you can cut back on that next gas-consuming leg of your journey … but then you end up spending more in accommodation and you still have to cover those miles!

It’s frustrating, but there are in fact a couple ways to save money on gas. We just stared our road trip, but here are some money-saving tips when it comes to gas:

  • Buy a Fuel Efficient Car – If it comes down to picking the F150 or the Honda Accord, pick the Honda. When you are looking at these kind of miles, fuel efficiency will equate to hundreds of dollars.
  • Buy Gas in popular areas off major highways Gas prices can fluctuate a ton even within one state. It’s a supply-and-demand thing. The more you need it, the more you’ll pay for it.
    • Avoid rural Gas Stations – If you need gas and see “next gas station 57 miles,” then you’re probably going to spend a lot more on gas that day.
    • Avoid National Park Gas Stations – National Parks charge a ton at their gas stations because it’s “convenient.”
    • Look at gas prices before you go – For example, Chicago is crazy expensive for gas prices. If you can fill up before you get within a hundred miles though, you may save some money by only having to fill up once (or maybe not at all) once you get into the city.
  • Cruise Control – It may seem like a small thing, but set your cruise control when you’re on highways. It uses less gas than continuously accelerating and decelerating.
  • Use the Cheap stuff – If you can get away with just “regular” then go for it. There’s no reason to spend extra on premium unless your engine demands it.

4. Camping Adds Up!

Camping isn’t always as cheap as you think. Most camp grounds seem to cost $20-$35/night and that isn’t exactly a bargain when you consider that YOU set up the tent and provide everything yourself!

We racked up some decent camping-related charges and as a result I think we’ve figure out a few things NOT to do while camping:

  • Fires Every Night! – I LOVE campfires and I want a campfire every single night. Firewood is really expensive though!
    • Try having a campfire every other night to save on firewood
    • Buy Firewood outside of the campground – the campground is almost always more expensive
    • Bring your own lighter/matches/kindling – Campgrounds know these are essential for people who want to have a campfire. (We learned this the hard way after spending 4 freakin’ dollars on matches!)
  • Camp outside of National Parks – They are just more expensive and super competitive for campsites. Save the money and stress and camp outside of the park.
  • Don’t pay extra for water or electrical hookups – As a camper, you don’t need this stuff. Pay 65 cents at a grocery store for a gallon of drinking water and charge all your electronics in the car during the days.

5. Laundry – A Small But Nagging Cost

Laundry is something I never thought of before we started the road trip. It is absolutely necessary though and it can start adding up eventually. Here are some tips to keep those laundry costs manageable:

  • Buy laundry soap beforehand – If you’re buying single-use laundry detergent at the laundry mat you are definitely getting screwed. Buy a large bag of detergent beforehand to avoid buying over-priced detergent.
  • Couch Surfer/Friends/Family Laundry Machines – If you can use someones personal laundry machine you will save tons on laundry. Most people are more than willing to let you use their laundry machine if you’re staying with them. It’s a small cost for them and it helps travelers a ton! It is one thing I will always offer Couch Surfers when I host them because it’s an easy way to make a big difference.
  • Laundry Mats are cheaper – I hate laundry mats! It just seems like the epitome of wasting time. Watching my dirty socks do somersaults for 2 hours isn’t exactly my idea of a good time! Unfortunately though, this experience can save money. Laundry Mat machines are usually the cheapest out there. If you use campground machines or hotel/hostel machines, you’ll pitch a little extra for that pesky “convenience” factor.

Barney’s Version – Missoula, Montanta

My mom and Dan packed me up after we were done in Glacier National Park and we headed off to Missoula, MT. I think we left in such a hurry because I started a fight with a Great Dane and showed him who’s the boss around these parts and we had to keep moving in case there were other monstrous dogs to keep in line.

*Jess side note – Barney tried to show the Great Dane who’s the boss, and was instantly shown that the Great Dane was indeed the boss.

Dog Camping

The first night in Missoula, we drove around a lot because we couldn’t find a campground. We finally found one but they made us camp out in a field in front of the office … we didn’t even have our own site! The parentals were pretty upset but I didn’t see what the big deal was, there were plenty of good pee places!

The next night we stayed at a KOA though… we really like KOA (Kampgrounds of America)! They have big sites to pee on, pools (but I’m not allowed in), wi-fi which keeps Dan happy and they even had a dog park for ME!

Either way, I’m finally getting used to this whole “camping” thing. We had a spot in the middle of some trees and a squirrel kept coming down and taunting me, but I couldn’t have a squirrel lunch because Mom tied me up. Apparently “camping” means being tied to things all day and sitting around something hot that makes my eyes burn called a “campfire” … I think I’m still afraid of it :/

The Big "M"

Missoula, Montana

Missoula was my favourite place that I have ever been. As we drove there, I stared out the window and watched all the mountains go by. Once we were there, we went to a carousel (which I couldn’t ride, but I watched). People who were riding the horses kept trying to grab for some rings that were beside the carousel. Apparently if you get a special one, you win a free ride on the horses.

Missoula Carousel

Missoula Carousel

The Buttercup Market Cafe

The Buttercup Market Cafe

We went to coffee shops and as I was laying on the sidewalk at one of the coffee shops, a mail lady went by and gave me a cookie!! Can you believe it? The people in Missoula are so nice! We also went to my favourite dog park in the world called Jacob’s Island Dog Park. I got to run through trees, hop over rock beds and splash in the river. All in the same park!

Orange Acres Farm

Orange Acres Farm

At Jacob's Island Dog Park in Missoula

Barney by the River

Flathead River

Flathead River, Montana

We decided to give camping a break and stay on a farm! There were two other dogs, some chickens (real ones, not like my  toy Chicken), sheep, rabbits, and a bunch of people who stayed and helped on the farm and who pet me whenever they saw me. I loved it on the farm. My mom and Dan helped out too while they were there.

So there I was, hanging out with Dan by the rabbit hutches when, completely unprovoked and out of the blue, a wasp stung me! I took it like the big tough dog that I am. (Dan side note – He actually did not handle it well) But my eye got really sore and itchy. My mom gave me something to help with the swelling and it knocked me out so I spent most of the rest of the day pretty out of it and napping. When I would go outside, I was kind of jumpy around other little creatures. Who knew that something so small could hurt you so much?

Poor Barney Got Stung By a Hornet

Dog Stung by Bee

Anyway, the other people on the farm thought I was a good boy and well behaved and they invited me back if I want to come be a farm dog for awhile. Oh and I guess Jess and Dan were invited along too.

And before I forget! I am a swimmer now. No big deal really, I just swam in the river for the first time …. ALONE!

Barney's First Swim!

Dog Learning to Swm

Barney Can Swim!

Barney Swims

See you at the dog park,
Barney
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