How to Travel on a Very Limited Budget

Totally broke and dying to get out of town? Looking for some adventure without breaking the bank? This article will explore some ideas for how you can travel as cost-effectively as possible, perhaps even for free. The key is do some research and be flexible!


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    Choose a mode of travel that fits within your budget and which you are comfortable with. Here are your options, from the cheapest to the most expensive:

    • Hitchhiking. It's generally safe if you do it during the day, and seasoned hitchhikers can cross the entire US in four days or less.
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    • Train hopping. It's free, but it can also be dangerous and stressful. Looking over your shoulder for train yard workers and being ready to hop out of a moving vehicle when someone gets creepy with you may not be everyone's idea of fun. In addition, this is illegal, and may net you felony trespassing charges if you are caught.
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    • Canoe. If you have one and the weather is good, consider canoe camping.
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    • Take a bicycle ride. You don't move as far as a car in one day, but you cover more territory than walking. Like hiking, you get to see the countryside up close and meet interesting people. Bicycle Touring.
    • Motorcycle or scooter. If you have one already, it's just about the cheapest way to propel yourself over long distances, because of the low fuel costs. If you don't have one, look into the cost of renting and compare it to the next few options.
    • Buses and trains. This is safer than the previous options, but you'll need to check the fares for the trip you have in mind to determine how cost-effective it is.
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    • Driving. This is comparable to bus and train fares in terms of gas costs, but if you don't have a car, you'll have to rent one, which can get pretty pricey. However, there are several ways to push down the cost of driving:
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      • Carpool and split the gas/rental costs. If your friends don't want to come along, check the rideshare section of your local craigslist:
      • Sleep in your car. This will save you money on lodging, unless you were going to secure free lodging anyway.
      • Hypermile. If you follow the techniques carefully, you can save plenty of money on gas. See How to Hypermile.
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    Plan where you will sleep.

    • Sleep on the couch. Even if you don't have friends you can stay with, there are a few ways to get around that:
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      • Network. Ask everyone you know or even anyone you chat with throughout the day if they know of anyone you can stay with. Ask in your Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook updates.
      • Go to and find someone who's offering up their couch. The website has a vouching system to help address concerns about safety.
      • House-sitting is a good method of obtaining free shelter, though it comes with responsibilities. Some websites list house-sitting opportunities for free, and others will charge you.
      • If you live in a city or region where others want to travel, you can arrange a temporary home-swap with people who live wherever you'd like to stay. This can be coordinated through Craigslist and other sites.
    • Sleep in your car. Many interstate rest areas allow overnight parking. Vans, pick-up trucks with camper tops, and even small hatchbacks with the rear seat folded down can make comfy beds. And you will be especially thankful when the rain starts pouring down, and you can just pull over and not worry about setting up a tent. For some additional tips, read How to Live in Your Car.
    • Go camping. In state and national parks in the US, campsites are often cheap, or even free. (Chain campsites, and large resort-type ones with pools and arcades will often cost you as much as a hotel would.)
    • Look for hostels. This dorm-style lodging is usually cheaper than motels.
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    Plan how you will eat. Generally, the less prepared food you buy, the better.
    • If you have or can borrow a camp stove, you would be surprised how easy it is to cook a cheap and delicious pasta feast in a parking lot or rest stop. See How to Use a Trangia Camping Stove.
    • Stuff a jar of peanut butter and some crackers in your pack to save you from the overpriced gas station snacks.
    • Dumpster Dive. This can also be useful for finding cans and glass bottles and getting cash for them in some cases.
    • Find Wild Edible Plants --especially berries (like dewberries) and other fruit. If you're in the desert, you might be able to gain sustenance from yucca and prickly pear cactus. A word of caution, however, be sure you know what you are eating and that it is edible. Some berries and other plants are very similar to others that are very lethal. As long as you know what you're eating berries and other plants are a great way to get free food!
    • Bring energy bars. They might be expensive, but they'll hold you over when you need to avoid the temptation of buying food at a restaurant so you can wait until you get to a grocery store and buy much cheaper food that you can cook yourself. If you have the time, you can make your own energy bars before you go.
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    Brainstorm ways to make money on the road, if you need to.
    • Can you play an instrument? An afternoon of busking on a busy city street may get you some cash to buy a meal or gas to get you to your next destination. See How to Make Money Busking (Street Performing).
    • Panhandle Please note that panhandling is illegal in some places. Know the law to keep yourself from getting in trouble.
    • Farm labor. Go to websites that list farms and farm work opportunities and look for operations in the areas you plan to travel through. Call in advance and ask if you can work for a full day. If they can't give you cash, maybe they'll give you food and/or lodging.

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    Bring helpful tools and supplies.
    • A comfortable bag. You might need to do a lot of walking, so choose a backpack intended for that purpose. Make sure it has support straps across your hips and shoulders, and the straps should be padded.
    • A folding bike. If you're not traveling with your own means of transportation, a portable bike could be a sensible investment for if you need to travel from your campsite or the place you're staying to a local grocery store, or so you can explore areas easily when you're not hitchhiking. When you're not using it, you can fold the bike and carry it with you.
    • Baby wipes. Bathing can become an issue when traveling in this fashion. You may not have daily and immediate access to a suitable shower. Baby wipes will allow you to freshen up easily. You can buy some or, better yet, make your own.
    • Camp stove. As mentioned earlier, this is handy for making your own food anywhere.
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    Scour freebie websites before you leave.
    • Most major cities have all types of free entertainment and services; which can be found, on sites like Lafreebeee and, depending on where you live.

      • Museums are free on certain days of the month or if you have a student id.
      • You can see free movie screenings if you know where to look and how to sign up.
      • Sign up for free coupon offers and take the coupons with you on your trip.
      • There are free medical clinics in many major cities.
    • Free food coupons can be found on and Freestufftimes.


  • Choose travel companions carefully. Think about whether you will still like a potential companion after being in a car with them for ten hours in one day.
  • If you plan on road-tripping even just a few times a year, getting a AAA membership is well-worth it. Free towing and roadside assistance can keep your trip from coming to a screeching halt when something unexpected sneaks up on you. Plus, you can get free maps, planning assistance, and discounts at hotels and countless other businesses.
  • People may give you funny looks when they see you brushing your teeth or washing your hair in a public bathroom, but you probably won't ever see those people again, and you probably shouldn't care what they think.
  • The single-occupancy bathrooms commonly found in fast food restaurants are good for changing clothes and washing hair.


  • Traveling in this fashion puts you at the mercy of a lot more factors than staying in a nice safe resort or hotel. Be careful. Use your common sense when acquiring food, communing with nature, taking rides, etc. Nothing will kill your fun faster than being stuck in a car with a crazed motorist, coming down with food poisoning, getting covered in poison ivy, or any number of other things that could happen if you're not thinking things through appropriately.
  • No one likes a bad house-guest or a spare-changer. Be self-reliant, and plan your trip appropriately, so no one else has to pull you along.

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