Borrow, Improvise, Buy: My Budget Travel Mantra

As I’ve been preparing for my upcoming trip, first and foremost in my mind is the cost of this thing. Traveling is fun and refreshing, but it can get expensive if you don’t pay attention. My budget travel mantra is Borrow, Improvise, Buy.

You absolutely don’t need to rush out and spend a million dollars on travel preparation. You may think you have nothing you need to do a trip like mine- four weeks, seven states, countless campgrounds. Fear not, fellow budget nomads! With my handy mantra, you’ll be surprised at just how prepared you are for an adventure of your own.

When I first started plotting this trip, I thought it might remain a dream forever. I was planning a multi-state camping trip and I didn’t even own a tent. The obstacles were everywhere: My hiking shoes were too small. My car needed new tires. I didn’t have any camping gear.

The most important thing about budget travel is really the planning. You have to know what you need, and what you want to do before you can figure out the cost of a trip. When my trip was still just a wanderlust daydream, it seemed overwhelming. I felt totally unprepared and I had no idea how I would afford it.

Once I got down to the planning things started to come together. My goals for this trip were simple: I wanted to spend a lot of time in nature, and I wanted to check a few things off my bucket list. I created the trip I wanted to take, figured out where I would be spending the night and the general activities I wanted to do. Then I got down to figuring out how I would do it.

Once I had the trip planned out, it was easy to figure out what I needed. I actually did own very little, but by borrowing and improvising, I’m feeling really good about my trip. I’m lucky to have generous friends! Here’s a partial list that shows how I put my mantra into effect.


The Borrow List

-Tent. I was planning on buying a tent but I failed to pick one in time. Damn my indecision! I borrowed a tent from my generous roommate.

-Sleeping pad. True story- I was going to use my yoga mat as a sleeping pad on this trip. #frugal, amirite? My roommate came to my rescue with common sense and her pad.

-Headlamp. Not something that I feel I needed to purchase. I didn’t think I’d get a lot of use out of it outside this trip, so I borrowed one.

-National Parks Pass. This was a tough call because I do want to support the National Parks. A good friend has a pass, and he wasn’t going to need it. I decided to snag it.

-Housing. A.K.A staying with friends. I’m staying with three friends in three different cities on my trip. Thanks for hosting me y’all!


The Improvise List

A little imagination can go a long way. By repurposing things, or by using things I already own instead of getting the ‘travel’ version, I’ve saved big bucks.

-Tiny spotlight. I worked a catering event recently that featured a table centerpiece that came with a little spotlight. At the end of the event they were going to toss it, so I snapped it up! This is a super bright light that will serve as my backup flashlight on the road.

-Snacks. Catering once again comes to the rescue. I’ve got roasted almonds, craisins, brownies, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and a bunch of other things. I started snagging things a few weeks ago, and it’s added up! (What would my life be like if I didn’t have catering leftovers?)

-Camping comforts. This is what I’m calling my bedding (my own sleeping bag and pillows) as well as the fork, knife, spoon, mug and cutting board I’m taking with me. No need to buy special camping ones when I have all this stuff anyway!


The Buy List

-Camping stove. I actually bought a camping stove for my road trip to Big Bend in May and never used it. It’ll come in very handy this time around!

-Food/Water. Catering leftovers will only take me so far. I’ve hit up Costco and my local grocery store. I’ve got enough food to last me about three weeks, and I’ve only spent $70 so far. I also bought seven gallons of water, and have three more gallon containers in my house.

-Hiking boots. I bought hiking shoes last fall, but they weren’t the right size. My feet ached after just a few miles in them, so new ones were essential.

-Storage. I needed something to put all my food in, so I picked up two large plastic containers from the dollar store.

-Camping pot and skillet. I went to Goodwill and got a tiny, one-person pot and skillet for my camping needs. I spent around $11 and they both fit on my camp stove.

This is just a partial list. I’ll do a post soon about staying in your budget when it comes to food and accommodation on the road. But you can see that by following my mantra, I’ve avoided buying quite a few big ticket items.

Always ask around and see if you can borrow things first and foremost. Most people have travel gear they don’t use all the time and they’re happy to let you use it. Then take a look around at your own things and see if you can use any of them to fit your travel needs.

Any questions on my budget travel style? Leave them in the comments! I’d love to discuss travel tips with you. And check out my Instagram for all my travel photos!

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10 Replies to “Borrow, Improvise, Buy: My Budget Travel Mantra”

  1. I love the strategies that you used to save cash. I bought a tent and various related items earlier in the spring and I never even went on the camping trip this summer. Oops. Tried to return the tent, but It cost too much to ship it back. The only thing I’ve really borrowed is international adapters for electricity.

    What sorts of foods did you stock up on for the 3 weeks? I’m wondering how one would keep perishable items cold for that long? But I guess it depends on what types of food you are going to cook/eat….

    1. I’m not bringing that much perishable food. I’ve got Lara bars, fruit snacks, roasted chick peas, oatmeal, trail mix, dried fruit, apples, carrots, tortillas, peanut butter and plums. I’ll supplement by picking up some veggies in grocery stores as I go!

    2. I hope you’ll still use that tent! Fortunately, they last forever. 🙂

  2. I completely love your travel philosophy. We are as guilty as anyone of buying all the things for camping, but you completely do not need all of that stuff to get out and enjoy nature and the national parks. Though I *am* glad that your roommate insisted on lending you her sleeping pad! A yoga mat is not enough padding for your back! 🙂

    1. Hahaha, when I told her that she just said ‘you know I have a sleeping pad too right?’ She has really helped a lot, this trip wouldn’t be the same without her assistance.

  3. I love this list! I think this is a great philosophy for most things!

    1. Thanks Melanie! 🙂

  4. […] with From Frugal to Free said it best – borrow or improvise before buying anything for a trip. That includes camping! […]

  5. Very useful lists. Now i know what to add into my to buy list. Thanks a lot!

    1. You’re welcome!

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