4300 Miles on the Road | The Nitty-Gritty of Cheap Travel

Turns out, when you pack a backpack, get in a little SUV with two sisters, and start driving several thousand miles to see overgrown mountains and ditches, you get questions like, How are you even able to do this? and statements like, That’s a dream trip, you’re just really lucky.

Here’s some real-life, unorganized and non-categorized perspective for these kind of questions and comments.

A couple weeks ago, or maybe a month and a half by now, MaryKelli came home from work, bounced into the kitchen, and, in the tone that accompanies her mischievously raised eyebrow, said something like, “So what if the three of us camp in the Midwest for a week this summer?” In two minutes flat, we agreed and the next day we cleared two weeks of vacation with bosses and clients. That’s how this started.

Several weeks later, the AC in my car went out and I opted to not replace it immediately because the cost of repair was a close equivalent to my anticipated trip expenses. The trip held higher priority for me. I’ve been driving a car with no AC in Mississippi in June and July. When I return in August, I’ll still drive a car without AC.

There were plenty of family and friend discussions about the safety concerns of three women traveling through mountains and deserts alone, questions about the necessity and importance of this trip (and especially the timing as we’re all in or near career and school transitions), and stuff like that. All good questions and concerns that gave us the opportunity to test our commitment and dedication to this trip idea. These conversations challenged us to form solid answers.

We are incredibly fortunate to have friends who let us stay with them along the way and who connected us with other really neat people who let us crash on their couches and take showers. Other than our first night at the Tetons when we paid $30 for a campsite, we’ve either stayed with friends or car camped. Car camping is its own story for its own post. But for now, its free and makes us extra grateful for our beds back home.

salad in a bagAbout food—we ebb and flow. In cities with friends, we’ve gone to really great local places. On the road, we make a lot of salad and bean dishes on the bumper of the CR-V. (Hit me up if you ever need 99 ways to fix canned beans without a stove.) Sometimes we go to cafés and get a beautiful little spread for brunch, then finish whatever is in the cooler for the rest of the day.

We bought a year-long national park car pass for $80. That’s our entertainment. So, we hike, swim in frigid mountain water lakes, and spend our mornings perched on the sides of canyons.

Unless we’re spending a 10-hour day driving. Then we listen to music or audible books (currently, Road Back to You by Ian Cron is opening new worlds of perspective and spinning our minds dizzy) and sleep, journal, or change all our plans, again, for the next few days (Okay, I’m the guilty one here. But there’s always new ideas for rerouting…).

We get showers every three or four days (unless we’re at a friend’s house. #blessyou).

We split the gas three ways.

Some of us are doing a couple hours of remote work on the road (and in laundromats).

Our car life, tourist life, and hair life doesn’t look like the glamorous travel life stuff that makes “adventure” look so cool on Instagram.

But it’s all very worthwhile. It’s quite an adventure and we are having a blast.

We’re sharing memories together. We’re learning about what stresses or annoys each other, and how to better support the others. Some days, we’re all a tad bit grouchy and some days we think we’re unicorns and life is magic. We have a growing collection of proof that we’re dearly loved by the Creator of the universe, and that he’s really into delighting us with the most perfect little details.

We temporarily chose beautiful landscapes and experiences over our usual comforts, and we chose to put a lot of cash into the gas tank. Yeah, we will each be a little tighter on the budgets in the weeks following our return home, but I think that’s the beauty of this trip. It’s doable for anyone willing to make a couple unconventional choices for an unconventional priority.

MK and sunrise


4300 Miles of Road | Update from a Laundromat
4300 Miles of Road | Days 1-3

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