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  1. Default Long Road Trip Chi --> west

    Hello All!

    Hoping to get some suggestions for an epic, cost effective road trip starting in Chicago and heading northwest. I am traveling with a friend and neither of us have much experience with national parks, road trips, camping etc. Our plan is to stay on the road until our money runs out. We have a couple of ideas to make some money while on the road so hopefully we can just travel forever!

    We definitely want to see as many as national parks as possible on the way to northern California before making our way down the coast through Vegas to the Grand Canyon. We're loading up a small Kia Soul with whatever can fit. We want our money to last so will definitely be camping in a tent and sleeping in the car whenever a cheap room isn't available. Just looking for any info anyone can provide on things to do, places to see and how to do it all as cheap as possible! Thanks!


  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Sounds like a lovely trip, though always plan to head back BEFORE your money runs out. :-) Making money on the road isn't always easy, or more people would be doing it. But it's possible.

    One cost-saving measure would be to buy a national park annual pass at the first national park you stop at. It will set you back $80, but with some parks charging $30 for a week's entrance, and others $15-20, it pays off with about 3 big parks, these days. (Yellowstone/Grand Teton, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon are all $30 parks this year.) Bear in mind that this only pays for the entrance fees -- doesn't cover camping or anything else.

    Best bet for national park campgrounds is to camp outside the park, perhaps at a national forest campground, and then get into the park by about 9 am to get one of the first-come, first-served tent sites. The good news is that most of the bigger national parks have a shower facility available somewhere, but usually there is a charge.

    We don't usually recommend that you sleep in a car. It's not very comfortable, you don't get a good sleep, and unless you choose your parking place carefully, you're likely to be awoken by security or a real police officer and asked to move on. If you must sleep in your car, the best bet is in a truck stop.

    First thing you might want to do, if you haven't already, is to get an atlas or set of maps -- you can get maps free at AAA if you're a member. Start tagging the places you'd like to see, and a route will start to form.

    You might want to check out a forum on this site, called Saving Money on the Road. There are all sorts of tips in there. Several of us who are regulars, are "budget travelers".


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Camping on public lands.

    Most of the above is great advice, and you would do well to check it out. Let me add that 'cheap' camping is available almost everywhere west of the Mississippi.

    Look for State Parks and Forests. The ones which have camping and allow campgrounds are marked with a little tent or triangle, on your maps. Then there are the National Forests and other lands managed by the BLM.

    Whenever you see a rangers/BLM office be sure to call in and get the good news on these campgrounds from them. (In the past I have not found website information up to date or accurate.) If you do not see an office, ask at the local Welcome or Visitor Centre. They will know where the offices are. The people who manage these campgrounds are the ones who will give you the best information. Some are free, niost have a token charge up to around $20. As Donna mentioned, all have toilets, some have water and most have picnic tables.

    Even in the middle of summer these campgrounds are underutilized.

    At visitor centres staff and volunteers are often told to recommend the commercial RV parks. I camped in some lovely and cheap and free spots in and around Pinedale WY, which the staff told me they were not allowed to recommend.


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