Though many types of travel can hardly be called frugal, there are ways to enjoy the rich experiences engendered by seeing the world and still not break the bank. This post will not include information on air travel, though that could be a future post. For now, I will concentrate on seeing the United States as cost efficiently as possible.
For transportation there are several possibilities. If you own a passable vehicle, why not crunch the numbers and see how things look. Just take the number of miles for your round trip, divide by your average miles per gallon, and multiply by current fuel costs per gallon. If it seems reasonable, and you like driving, this may be all the figuring you need. You might want to post for a rider on the craigslist ride share board.
But there are other ways to get around that might work better. The Greyhound bus line has a pass, called a discovery pass that can be bought in two week, one month, and two month increments, and allows unlimited travel on their lines and the lines of their affiliates in the USA and Canada. Or, check out that same rideshare board on craigslist as a rider. You may be surprised at what you find. Just be sure to check out the driver with the same care you would a Match.com date.
For lodging there are several cheap options. If you have a friend at your destination, see if you can stay for a little while. Some people really enjoy occasional company. Just be sure to buy your host dinner, and respect the cleanliness and order of their space. But, if you don’t know a soul at your destination try couchsurfing.com, a web based organization to bring hosts and travelers together. There are thousands of couch surfers from hundreds of countries around the world. The website includes several safety features including identity verification, reviews of both hosts and guests, and vouching. There are also local groups and interest based groups on the site, and events for travelers and local alike to attend. Because this is a cultural exchange and not a hotel it is important to take the feeling of your host into account. It is also nice to do something for the host, such as cooking dinner or bringing a bottle of wine.
If you are not ready to couch surf, try the local hostel. No longer just for students and elders, now anyone can enjoy rates of $20 to $35 a night, more for a private room. It is a good idea to get a guide book to the hostels with up to date reviews, including cleanliness and noise levels.
The next biggest expense for a traveler is food. Try packing a selection of cut veggies, fruit, and trail mix for the road. Peanut butter and jelly and string cheese are also good choices. That way you will eat more lightly and healthily while on the road. Once at your destination, why not just shop as usual and cook with your old or new friends, except for those one or two special meals? The availability of a kitchen may vary if you are staying at hostels. In that case, keep snacking or seek out inexpensive local venues. And don’t forget to take your vitamins. Travel may be broadening, but it is also stressful.
Finally, I would suggest bringing a simple water filtration system. Bottled water has problems with carcinogens in the plastic, to say nothing of the waste issue. And now reports have come out about the safety in many municipal water systems. It is wise to bring your own filter and stay hydrated.
So if you are hearing the call of the road, start planning, and may you enjoy a wonderful adventure and not go broke doing it. Here are some useful links:
http://www.couchsurfing.com Here is the couch surfing site, a really fun place
http://www.craigslist.org Look up the Rideshare for your city
http://www.amazon.com/Hostels-U-S-7th-Comprehensive-Opinionated/dp/076274779X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1294243890&sr=1-1 If you plan to use hostels buy this book
http://www.hiusa.org The international hostel site for the United States