Here are the best resources and tricks for traveling on the cheap that I have found so far…
Books, News, Education, etc.
|Hoopla Digital – a free resource for eBooks, audiobooks, movies, and TV shows, with your library card
Library digital subscriptions – your home library probably has online databases you can log into from anywhere
REI Classes – the outdoor adventuring co-op also offers free (often) classes on a variety of useful topics for those looking to explore the great outdoors, from outdoor cooking, photography, map and compass skills, and more.
|Museum reciprocal memberships – buy a membership to one museum (around $100-$200/year), get in free to many more! Pick your museum wisely, as they may belong to different reciprocal programs. Look for NARM (has the most, with over 900 museums) or ATSC (for science centers) or Time Travelers (for historical sites) or Smithsonian (for their affiliates). Some museums belong to multiple.
Nature centers reciprocal memberships – nature centers have the same deal (around $50/year)
Botanical gardens reciprocal memberships – so do botanical gardens (around $30/year)
National Forest Pass – $80 a year (discounts for seniors, disabled persons, volunteers) for admission to all national parks and other federal lands. Does not include amenities while you’re there.
National Park Service – find interesting historical sites, parks, museums and more
Groupon – sometimes you can get a good deal on an event, class or experience, but some offers aren’t much of a deal.
Meetup.com – there are lots of meetups all over the country, and you can look to see what’s in your current area. Many groups will be happy to have a newbie drop in for free the first time, even if they know you’re just visiting.
Cosmic Calendar – plan to see awesome astronomical events
WWOOF USA – work half days on an organic farm and learn about farming, sustainable agriculture, develop global community consciousness, in exchange for room and board ($40/year membership).
|AllStays – ($9.99) a great way to find free and paid places to stay at short notice, including parking lots, federal lands, Walmarts, campgrounds, truck stops, RV parks, rest stops, and much, much more.
PlugShare – free app and website intended for electric vehicles to find charging locations, it also includes regular wall outlet spots and you can filter the search to find where you can charge your battery system.
GasBuddy – there are many gas price comparison apps, this is just the one I use. It is free, though has a lot of adds for their services. I have saved a lot of money simply by being able to look up nearby gas prices, and driving a few blocks farther or waiting to the next town (or fill up now because the next town is more) often saves me enough to make it worth it.
Traveling and Planning Travel
|freecampsites.net – a free website listing places you can camp for free, including federal and state lands and more
Campendium – also a free website listing places to camp, both free and paid
iOverlander – another free website to find places to camp, both free and paid
National Forest Service – also a place to find camping, experiences, amenities, etc. on federal lands
Boondocks Welcome – a membership service ($30/year for guests with perks if you host, too) of people in cities and rural areas willing to let van dwellers and RVers park at their place for free, often a night or two but occasionally longer
America’s Scenic Byways – find less traveled and interesting routes to take instead of the main highways and interstates
Walmart – most 24hr stores will let you park in their lot overnight, but be considerate and don’t hog the customer spots right up front
NOAA – find out if any severe weather is expected where you’re planning to go next
The Weather Channel – and an overview of the weather outlook
AAA gives out free maps of US states and Canadian provinces to members, as well as guide books for things to do and see
Many state visitor centers also give out free maps of their state, as well as brochures for places of interest
Places for free Wi-Fi
|Most libraries and some other public buildings
Most fast food restaurants and coffee shops
For any of these, sometimes you can get a signal even if you’re just in their parking lot
Fresh and Local Foods
|Find a Spring – find fresh spring water just bubbling up from the Earth, filtered through tons of mineral goodness
Slow Food USA Events – get together with other people interested in slowing down and enjoying cooking a meal together
Find a Co-op – a directory of co-op grocers across the USA
Raw Food Recipes – lots of free recipes to eat insanely good produce and other gifts of the Earth
Local Harvest – a resource for finding local farms, farmsteads, farmer’s markets, organic grocers, and similar
Eat Wild – a directory of local, grass-fed and pasture-based farmers selling meat, dairy and eggs
Little House Living – a wealth of information on living simply, including preserving food, making pantry staples from scratch, frugal living tips and more
Farmers Markets – a quick internet search for where you are and “farmers market” usually gets results for where to buy local food wherever you are
Free microwave use – Whole Foods and other major chain natural and organic grocery stores often have a small eatery area up front with a microwave for customer use. Good for heating up a nice cup of tea on a cold night.
The Van Conversion
|Habitat for Humanity Re-Store – a great resource for new and used building materials. Contractors and homeowners often donate their leftover, mispurchased, removed or otherwise unwanted materials from building and renovation projects. Stock varies from day to day, so check often. I got some amazing deals on insulation, paint, wood, screws, hooks, all sorts of things.
Habitat for Humanity Lending Library – they also lend out tools! The Re-Store in my area had a tool lending library that I made extensive use of to borrow tablesaws, jigsaws, sanders, extra clamps, all sorts of things. The membership was $20/year and I took full advantage of it. Not all Re-Stores have one, but some do. Check in your area.
Reddit Vandwellers Forum – a wealth of knowledge for information on the different systems and stages in the conversion and living in a van. With or without signing up, you can search almost any topic and find a huge resource of informational posts with actual people’s experiences, how-to articles, questions and answers, etc.
What are your best resources and tricks for traveling on the cheap? Please share in the comments.