From the moment I started rock climbing, I dreamed of spending a summer on the road. More than sending 5.14 or winning a World Cup, I wanted to live out of my van and climb every day.
When I was 23 years old, I was at a point in my life where it seemed like spending the summer in that manner would be a good idea—I had just quit my job and I wasn’t tied down to a lease. I had also (as the story usually goes) just broken up with a boyfriend.
There was just one problem—
I only had about one grand to spend. I decided to go anyway and see how long I could stretch my money. With a little bit of frugality and some sacrifices, I ended up lasting an entire summer (a little over two months) on the road with under $1,000. Here is how I did it.
Before you read any further, know that in order to do this, you’ll have to give up a lot of luxuries. And it won’t be pretty—you’ll probably look a little grungy, get kind of scrawny, and smell slightly worse than most people.
But that’s a small sacrifice given that you’ll be living in nature, climbing as much as you want, and meeting new people that are sure to have some good stories. And most importantly, you’ll be creating a story of your own about a summer you’ll never forget.
Regarding the $1,000—
This math assumes that you already have a car (or a friend with a car), climbing gear, and car/health insurance (if you’re into that kind of thing). It does not take into account any medical expenses or car repairs.
What NOT to spend your $1,000 on:
Buying bottled water can easily start to add up to a considerable amount of money. Instead, seek out places where you can fill up for free like campgrounds, the floral department of grocery stores, and gas stations.
There are so many places to camp for free, that spending money on a campsite is almost always unnecessary. Consider visiting a climbing area with free camping nearby. Look for BLM land, National Forest land, Walmart parking lots, and other free campsites.
Paying for a shower every week of your trip, even if it’s only $5, definitely adds up to a significant amount of money. Just find a river or a lake and jump in. Trust me, you’ll be fine. Or, baby wipes. If you absolutely need a shower, make friends with a local and ask them if you can use their shower.
Going out to eat
This is by far the most expensive as well as the most unnecessary cost of a climbing trip. This includes buying coffee at a cafe (I know, dreadful) or beers at a bar (even more dreadful). Instead, prepare all of your own food, and only buy beer (at a grocery store) after you’ve sent something really epic. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule, like dollar-a-slice pizza. Use your judgement.
Unnecessary food items
You don’t need chocolate. Or kombucha. Or Flaming Hot Cheetos.
Cancel your Netflix account (sorry). Don’t go to the movie theater. Instead, read books, listen to music, or watch free TV shows. Also, there’s no need to spend money at a cafe for wifi or to charge your phone—go to the public library instead.
WHAT to spend your $1,000 on:
Not much. In fact, there will only be two things (excluding unseen expenses) that you will actually spend money on: gas and food. Here is how to stretch your dollar on those two things:
An unfortunate necessity to any climbing trip. Obviously you’ll need gas to get you to your destination, but consider cutting down on gas costs with these tips:
- Biking, Walking, Bussing: Instead of driving to the grocery store, to the crag, or to meet up with friends, ride your bike, walk, or take public transit instead. Even if only driving a short distance every day, the money you’ll save by leaving your car behind will really make a difference.
- Destination choice: For a trip like this, it’s best to choose one or two climbing destinations and staying there for a long period of time. This will cut back on gas costs significantly. Also, make sure you aren’t going to an area where long drives are necessary to get to the crag.
- Carpool: Catch rides with other people, or pile 7 people in your van.
Don’t go to Whole Foods, unless you’re there to check out the dumpster. It’s not as bad as it sounds—many grocery stores throw out perfectly good food.
If that isn’t really your thing, find a low-cost grocery store, but don’t expect to be purchasing the amount of food you normally would. You’ve gotta eat, but prepare for your pants to feel a little loose by the end of the summer. Also, if buying perishable food, eat it quickly so you don’t also have to buy ice.
Here are some meal ideas for extreme dirtbaggery:
Oatmeal with bananas, eggs, bagels.
PB&J, veggie wraps, canned tuna.
Canned chili, soup, pasta, burritos, potatoes. Personally, I think the best and cheapest option for dinner is a simple stir fry/rice bowl/burrito—get some rice, beans, veggies, and maybe some meat, cook all ingredients and throw them all into a bowl or a tortilla.
Related: Dirtbag Dilemma: Gettin’ Hangry
Dried fruit, real fruit, tortilla chips, veggies, hardboiled eggs.
You’re gonna need a few condiments, otherwise all of this cheap food is gonna taste pretty shitty. Here are my personal must-haves: hot sauce, honey, salt, curry, garlic powder, soy sauce.
No need to spend money on any of these—go to the deli section of the grocery store and grab handfuls of the individual condiment packets. This is also a great place to stock up on napkins (one way to cut down on toilet paper and paper towel costs).
Other tips to save on food costs:
You would be surprised at how much this will save you. Find a few friends and have everyone pitch in for a full-on feast.
Expensive food items that are commonly brought on climbing trips but are pretty unnecessary:
Granola, nuts (other than peanuts), energy bars, hummus.
Expensive items that are commonly brought on climbing trips but are really, actually necessary:
High quality climbing gear (don’t buy anything used except clothing), sunscreen, and health insurance.
HOW to spend your $1,000:
Make a budget. If you’re going for two months, that means you have $125/week. Split that into food and gas.
On average, per week I spent $100 on food and $25 on gas (some weeks I drove a lot, but some I didn’t drive at all). Your breakdown might look different depending on your trip.
A great way to make sure that you’re not overspending is to withdraw (in cash) how much money you plan to spend every week and put the cash in different envelopes labeled food, gas, or anything else you plan to spend money on. Once your money for that week is out, it’s time to either get creative, or plan on going home a little early. If you have extra money at the end of the week, you can spend it on something luxurious like beers or a movie, or save it and extend your trip even further.
If you follow any piece of advice,
I would suggest it be this: be friendly and interested in other climbers. You will be surprised at how much help and support will come your way. Don’t feel guilty about accepting dinner, a cup of coffee, a ride, a shower, or a couch to crash on. Reciprocate with whatever you can, whether that’s some veggies to add to their pasta or a catch on their project.
This lifestyle gives us many amazing opportunities, but perhaps the most meaningful thing it can offer is the chance to create new friendships. Don’t be shy out there.
Have fun, be safe, and get after it!