Photo courtesy of Michelle Berkes

The “Unsexy” Truth About Budget Travel

Let me be the first person to formally introduce you to a new friend: Unsexy Travel. Oh, you’ve never heard of her? That’s probably because no one on social media wants to admit that they’ve slept in their car at a truck stop. She’s the girl behind my #summitselfies; the Instagram husband of budget travel. And she’s excited to meet you! Most bloggers and influencers won’t tell you about Unsexy Travel because she’s, well…unsexy. They want to sell you a dream. Don’t worry though, I’m here to tell you about reality.

Photo by Michelle Berkes

The truth about budget travel is that it’s often unglamorous. It’s full of PB&Js, very long drives, and weeks without showers. But when it comes to national parks, it’s also full of the most mind-blowing views you will ever see, meals with strangers-turned-friends, and epic memories that will last a lifetime.

I’d sleep on the ground for that.

Photo by Michelle Berkes

I never set out to specifically become a “budget traveler,” and there are times that I don’t stick to a strict budget, but as I’ve traveled, I’ve found that I’d rather pay $100 for a whole weekend trip than $100/night for a hotel. Having this mindset has enabled me to visit 23 national parks in the past two years alone—all while holding down a normal full-time job. The more I travel, the more I learn new tricks and ideas for making it more affordable.

Of all the places you could choose to go, a national park is honestly one of the best options when purse strings are tight. When compared to entrance fees to Disney World or museums and other city attractions, $0-30 for a week of entry to a park doesn’t look that bad. Take Great Smoky Mountains, for example: entrance is free, hiking is free, ranger programs are free, and frontcountry camping ranges from $17.50-27/night. Pack yourself some sandwiches and apples from your pantry, and even if you stay at the most expensive campground, you’re looking at $54 plus the cost of gas to get there for a weekend adventure. Bring a friend and you’ll cut the price in half.

Photo by Michelle Berkes

It’s not always that easy, but we’ll talk about more of the logistics for traveling on a dime in the future—where to get cheap gear, what parks are most affordable, and some of my favorite budget tips. Before we get into all of that, though, it’s best you make friends with Unsexy Travel. She’s running the show here. Once you get to know her, she’s really not that bad. I’ve actually come to prefer her over her more loved sister, Sexy Travel. The views are arguably better, and there’s no question about the quality of adventure. Best of all, she allows you to take hold of opportunities that, without her, would not seem achievable. If money is the thing holding you back, know this: you can make your national park dreams happen.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Berkes

Header photo: Courtesy of Michelle Berkes

Michelle Berkes is an adventurer chronicling her travels on her blog, Head Along with Heart. She started visiting national parks at age 23 on a very limited budget. Since then, she’s been pushing her boundaries as a road tripper and outdoors-woman in order to see all 62 national parks as completely and affordably as possible.


Spread the news: