Climbing, Venture Ready

How to Adventure on a College Budget

Cumberland Transit Ambassador, Rose Aldrich, shares how she makes the most out of her vacation time without spending most of her money.

When I informed Mount Juliet Fire Department that I would miss training the first week of March to go climb in Utah, my captain looked over at me and scoffed, “Broke college kid, yeah right!” We laughed, I continued mopping the floor, and then three weeks later my friend and I high-tailed it to desert country for my final spring break. Two months prior, I had returned from my first-ever ice climbing trip in Ouray, Colorado, and two months before that, I had set out to tour my favorite parts of the Southwest. So, I hear this question all the time: “How do you afford so many trips, college kid?” And I tell the world, “It’s easy, if travel is your priority.”

You need two things to travel, expendable time and expendable money. As a college student, I get a lot of breaks. Fall break, winter break, spring break, summer break—and then glorious amounts of holiday.

Expendable time? Check.
Expendable money, man oh man.

I labor some jobs, but I don’t work full-time. The words “disposable income” are not exactly in my vernacular. But I have learned: it’s not how much you make, it’s how much you save.

Here are a few ways that a travel-hungry college kiddo surviving on less than a grand a month, can afford to go out West each break and have adventure-fulfilling weekends and still pay rent!

I offer this disclaimer: my travels lack glamour. My trips are the kind where I eat cliff bars all day, roll around in the dirt, and sleep in a fetal position in my car. If your thing is hotels and expensive drinks, that’s awesome, but I won’t be much help. If you don’t mind roughing-it for the sake of pure adventure, I hope this small account of my financial expenditures can help in some fashion.

Regular Life Budget. In a nutshell, a budget is the key to funding adventures. I’m a rigid budget-er because I have goals, and dammit, goals cost money. Tracking money on spreadsheets used to be an actual chore, but since we live in the digital age where everything is tailored for convenience, there are so many apps to facilitate this process. Some apps even coach you into making specific funds for oh, I don’t know, travelling out West every two months?

Be cheap. That means different things for established people with full time jobs. For me, it’s every area of my life. I don’t splurge on rent, skin care, groceries, eating out, shoes, haircuts, clothes, or style. Let me give you some examples:

  • Just about every morning, I’ll put something on and say to myself, I think I’ve owned this since middle school. I wonder who else can tell. My clothes are worn until they’re riddled with holes, then they become my outdoor wear, then they become my bathroom cleaning rags.
  • Once, Tupelo Honey cosmetology students were giving out free haircuts for ‘learning purposes’. I waltzed right into that clean, white salon with my Chacos, sun-charred skin, and untamed mountain hair. The lady chopped off about 5 inches more than I asked for and made it lopsided. Although it has grown out a little, the left side is still longer, and unless anyone trained wants to fix it for free, that’s just my style now.
  • Regarding groceries, I hate ramen. But it turns out if you mix ramen, an egg, and a quarter bag of frozen veggies from Aldi, you have yourself a meal that hits every food group, for like 43 cents. And if you get tired of eating that, just dream about the day when you’ll get a real job and suck it up for the time being.

Find like-minded friends. Or, addendum, like-minded friends with generous hearts and wallets. So if you say to them, “no I can’t go out, I only have $8 in my bank account that I’m putting towards shoe resoles,” they reply, “Me too, let’s do something free instead.” Or, “Don’t worry poor college kid, I got you.” Whichever friend they are, they absolutely rock.

Gear is expensive. I have yet to meet someone with a hobby that has not rendered them broke. When you’re about to take a vomit-inducing fall while climbing a route, the last thing you want to worry about is the integrity of your rope because you bought it off Craigslist. Reliable equipment is the one area where I firmly suggest paying full price—and becoming friends with your local outfitters so they can help you out but not sell you out.

On the Road
The 350 rule. No matter the trip, I budget for $350. So far, I’ve never gone over that, and I usually come back considerably below that spending limit. That budget includes everything: food, permits, postcards, guidebooks, but mostly gas. I even included lodging in the budget once, for that epic week on Colorado ice.

Drive. So you don’t have to pay for flight tickets, carry-ons, overpriced airport coffee, a rental car, and any other surprise fees. Survey the people joining you on your adventure, approach the person with the most fuel-efficient (and mechanically reliable) vehicle, then grovel at their feet and weep until they’ll do anything to get you to stop. Proceed to drive their car West.

Grocery shop. When I’m out adventuring, I personally stick to no-cook solutions. But a Jet-Boiled meal of rice and beans will actually be delicious if made under a sandstone tower. This is a fact. If I do cave and end up buying a meal, it’s going be off the dollar menu at the local fast food joint. Maybe once during the week I’ll go into a restaurant where shoes are required.

Clown-car it. That Ouray trip I was talking about: I made it there and back to Nashville spending $63 in gas. That’s because four of us rode together and split the cost. It’s worth mentioning you shouldn’t hate the people you’re driving with—you might even want to like them, because you’ll spend days hunched over with them in eight square feet. No relief.

Car camp. In the age of Instagram, not only has the #VanLife movement caught fire, but so has the good ol’ regular #CarLife. Creative solutions to making a comfortable bed in your economy-savvy vehicle exist in abundance on the internet. Take advantage! I went on a road trip last summer and car-camped on a cot I bought at Aldi for $20, suspending it from the grab handles of my car—rigged with gear I already owned. Of course, nothing supplements the majesty of a bed, but there’s also nothing like waking up to a bunch of snowy mountains or raging rivers. Compromises.

Freecampsites.net. You can car camp and still end up paying for a place to park overnight. Or, you can use this wonderful website. It’s usually accompanied with pictures, reviews, and even little graphics showing you how good cell service is, so you can fall asleep with one thumb scrolling through your Instagram feed, just like you would at home!

Follow Rose’s adventures on Instagram @rosealdrich

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