The classic conundrum for anyone young and full of wanderlust: traveling costs a lot of money. How many people forego traveling until they’re older because of student debt and other money issues? As far as I know, no one has studied this, and for good reason. A statistic of delayed dreams doesn’t make for good reading.
Traveling across America might just be a better financial decision than going to college. Yes, college is worth it, in part because stats show college grads make more money. But if you’re the type of person who learns from experience more than books, and you’re all about meeting new people of all ages and from all walks of life, a great American adventure will serve you well. You’ll have the opportunity to meet people all over the place and make friends who could stick with you for the rest of your life. And anyone who knows anything about getting a great job is well aware that it’s more about who you know than anything else.
The list of pluses to traveling is as long as the road. But before I jump into an article that will take you a year to read, I’ll outline some of most salient points, considerations, and questions.
Is Your Hometown Right for You?
You don’t know the answer to this question until you’ve experienced life somewhere else. Once you do decide a different city is where it’s at, there are entire guides on moving to a new state. A site like AngelList will help you secure a job with a startup company, and about $1,100 extra cash will provide a good buffer when unexpected expenses show up on your doorstep.
On the other hand, plenty of people travel only to realize their hometown is precisely where they belong. Sometimes, an urge to live somewhere else is more wanderlust than good sense. Why wait to find out?
What Do You Need for Your Trip?
There are multiple ways to go about this. To RV or not to RV? This question pretty much sums it up. An RV would allow you to do away with lodging expenses (besides the price of an RV park, if you go that route) which—if you’re traveling during the winter—consume a big chunk of change. An RV would also help you prolong your trip. And, thinking in practical terms, your journey will end, but you can own an RV for the rest of your life, which will make future travels all the easier.
But, as things go, an RV or a camper van are not absolutely essential. Should you go without one, and are planning on driving, here are the things you’ll need:
- Big jug of water
- Map (your smartphone won’t always get reception)
- Extra fluids for car engine
- Spare tire, tire iron, jack
- Cooler (even if you can afford to eat out all the time, it’s not smart)
- Flashlight (or headlamp)
- Foodstuffs (preferably more of the non-perishable kind, such as trail mix)
- Travel-size tissue and toiletries
- First-aid kit
- Vehicle emergency kit (reflective cones or flares, jumper cables, spare belts for engine)
- Warm clothes
- Swimsuit and towels
- Sleeping bag or good blanket
- Duct tape
- Music (no way you’re going that whole time without tunes you love)
- Cash for any cash-only roadside food trucks (and other cash-only things, of course)
- Writing materials (or a smartphone notepad, if you prefer)
- Smartphone (a map app will be essential)
- Small garbage bags for car
Can you think of any more essential road trip items? Feel free to comment.
What Are the Best Places to Visit on a Budget?
US News’ list of the best affordable destinations is good, but strangely enough, there’s only one national park on the list—the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, Money Crashers gives us a list of affordable cities, with some actual numbers on what things like cheap transportation and lodging cost in places like San Antonio and San Diego.
Really, the best places to spend your hard-earned (and limited) cash are national parks and state parks. At Glacier National Park in Montana, the glaciers are quickly melting due to climate change, with just 26 of 150 left, so it’s best to see them before it gets too late. When you pay the price of admission at a state park, the rest of what you do can be free, exciting, and breathtaking. When you pay a toll to drive into a city, you’re opening a Pandora’s box of potential expenditures at shops, restaurants, and bars.