Being on the road for an extended period of time is fantastic and freeing, and it isn’t always cheap. But it can be! There are some things you can’t avoid like gas (until I get that Tesla…) so it’s great to find ways to save money elsewhere. If you’re not too high-maintenance you can save a ton of money by sleeping nearly free every night of the week. Keep in mind this is based mostly on U.S. travel.
I check this site almost every day while I’m on the road. It has a great map layout that allows you to see each campsite with a colored pin. One is for free, one is for permits, and one is for cheap (meaning under $12.) I’ve used this site constantly since I found it years ago, and I’ve stayed in some amazingly beautiful places thanks to it. It’s a user-based site so if you find something put it on there! And leave comments if a site is great or bad or exactly as advertised! It really does help. I always read the comments before I go somewhere. Some BLM roads are for 4×4 vehicles only so you don’t want to get stuck there, and sometimes land ownership or rules change. Some places only allow car sleeping or RVs, but many are open to tents as well. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed. www.freecampsites.net
Sleep in Your Car
Sleeping in your car conjures images of someone with the seat reclined, uncomfortably tangling their legs around the steering wheel while putting a permanent kink in their neck. It doesn’t have to be that way! If possible, take a car you can sleep in the back of. A small SUV or hatchback with back seats you can lower will do. I sleep in the back of my CR-V with a sleeping pad and pillows lying down flat at 6’4″ tall. I’ve done the same in the back of a Ford Focus hatchback in Australia that I rented! If you have an RV or camper van that’s even better! If you’re stuck in a passenger vehicle and you’re alone I highly recommend sleeping in the passenger seat to avoid that pesky wheel.
As simple as it seems, sleeping in your car can save a ton and make finding a place to park overnight very easy. Whether it’s a rest stop or a Wal-Mart you can almost always find a place to sleep in the car for a few winks. Many Wal-Marts have encouraged RVs and travelers in cars to sleep in their 24-hour store parking lots for safety (and of course assuming you’ll probably come in and buy something.) Having a bathroom easily accessible is great as well. It’s always nice having a sink to brush your teeth and freshen up in the morning. You can use this site to find out which Wal-Marts allow overnight parking or refer to the site above or Google Maps to find rest areas.
Couchsurfing.org is a wonderful community of people who offer their spare beds, couches, or floors to travels around the world. It’s an amazing way to meet people wherever you go. I’ve stayed with people all over the US, Canada, and Australia, and I still keep in touch with a bunch of them. Some have become great friends that I still visit when I travel.
Some people have expressed their reticence to stay with strangers, which I can understand, but I have found nothing but good people out there. The site utilizes a review system that allows surfers and hosts to review each other, so if anyone is out of line it will be noted. The site allows for open communication before you make definite plans with anyone, so you can chat and even meet up in a public place ahead of time to see if you’re a good fit. Women can request that only women stay with them which can help with feeling safe for some. The community is thriving and hosts often love showing you around their city and going out to hike, explore, or get a drink with their guests. I’d say give it a try if you’re at all curious! Try hosting first as a way to learn about the lifestyle and give back!
Sometimes you just need a hotel. Having a real bed and, almost more importantly, a shower is just necessary once in a while. Google Maps has integrated a great search function for hotels that will let you know the prices for all the hotels in an area and you can filter for prices and hotel ratings. I’ve stayed in hotels for as little as $29. You might not think a $29 hotel would be nice, but they’re honestly usually just fine. I read some of the comments, but they all have negative reviews even if you look at the pricy places, so just take that with a grain of salt. I sometimes ask the clerk to let me see the room I’ll be getting before I commit. Just last week I stayed at a Motel 6 in El Paso that was $45, and it was one of the best hotels I’ve stayed it. It was clean, comfortable, good wi-fi, good location, and great staff. If you’re traveling with someone splitting a cheap hotel is less expensive than a KOA campground sometimes.
There are obviously other ways to sleep cheap, but I won’t go into detail on them all. Stay with friends if you know people where you’re traveling! It’s great to spend time with people you don’t get to see as much. As with couchsurfing, try to be a good host, take them out for dinner or drinks, and don’t overstay your welcome. Stay at small campgrounds if you see them. AirBnB is a thing that I have never used, but I know it’s a great resource. String up your hammock and have a nice nap somewhere if you don’t get a perfect night’s sleep. Napping is a great luxury of being on the road! Just use your imagination and take any opportunities you get!