5 Ways I Funded My Three Month Tour Of The National Parks

If you make the time, you can have the money.

By: Danielle Tourigny
February 26, 2016

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My girlfriend and I spent three months hiking and backpacking through 15 US National Parks and 5 Canadian National Parks, and we were able to do it all on a pretty tight budget. This adventure taught me that if you make the time, you can have the money. Here are a few ways that we managed our funds to help make this trip last as long as possible.

1. Stock up on food in bulk.

I made a list of everything I thought we would need and bought it all in bulk. I then bought mountain house backpacking meals in bulk. One #10 can contains around 10 meals and costs about $30, which is way cheaper than the bags and all we had to do was portion the meals out ourselves. I bought 3 of those and if you buy them with enough time in advance the shipping isn’t too expensive. I also bought the Harmony House Freeze Dried Vegetable Sampler. It contains 15 pouches of different vegetables and costs $50. We used that to make soups and combined the vegetables with rice to make more complete meals. We used all of these things to create meals and incorporated lots of spices. In total, I spent about $600 on food and supplies at the start of the trip. The most important part of this step is that you need to eat the food you buy and do your best not to be tempted by eating out along the way. We bought fresh produce only a couple of times, but we did keep apples handy because those keep for a while. (Note: peaches will not last in a trunk...we learned that the hard way). We ate out only when we hit major cities. We ate trunk food for three months. It was slightly miserable at times, but every time I was eating freeze-dried food I thought about how I was saving enough money to be on the trip for an extra week. The most important part about saving money is being dedicated.

Explore Crater Lake | Photo: Eric Johnson

2. Keep accommodations simple.

We stayed in the most primitive campgrounds we could find. We stayed in a hotel one night, but other than that we were sleeping outside, primarily in the backcountry or in campgrounds that may or may not have a bathroom (aka a hole in the ground). One night in a standard campground (bathrooms, firepit, picnic tables, etc.) can cost upwards of $25. If you pay that every night for 3 months it adds up quickly. To save money, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. You can’t make reservations. You can’t have any expectations. We figured out where we were sleeping each night as the day went on. That allowed us the opportunity to take advantage of cheap sleeping arrangements. The day was about adventuring, not hanging out at a campsite.

3. Buy the America the Beautiful Pass.

This is a seriously beautiful thing, and I realized that many people don’t even know it exists. This pass is $80 and it allows TWO people access to ALL the national parks AND forests for a WHOLE YEAR. Everyone should be buying this pass anyway because it is $30 for a week in one park. If you go to 3 parks that pass has more than paid for itself. You can buy it at any national park. Just ask the ranger! Okay that’s all I have to say about this. Canada has a similar pass for $130 (Canadian, which equates to about $100 US). It is equally amazing, and you should buy it.

Hike Cassidy Arch | Photo: Nick Oman

4. Don’t drink alcohol.

Okay you can drink alcohol. But do it sparingly. If you have 3 drinks a week for 3 months, that equates to about $250 or more (depending on what you drink). That money could buy you at least an extra week in the wilderness. Probably a couple of weeks. We drank a few times throughout the trip and it was great, but I never actually wanted to be drinking. I was too drunk on nature. That was lame, but it was also true. So do yourself a favor and just don’t do it on your trip.

5. Don’t buy souvenirs.

You do not need them! We kept a journal, and I took lots of pictures. We got a pristine map from each park we went to for fun DIY purposes. Souvenirs exist to remember special moments. What is more special than a picture and a journal entry? What do you seriously plan on doing with all those stickers, stuffed animals, coins, or bookmarks? Maybe you are a really interesting and crafty person and you have great ideas for all of these things, but most people just have a box that they throw all this stuff in never to be seen again. So just save yourself the money and don’t buy it.

Photograph Spirit Island and Maligne Lake | Photo: Christin Healey

Taking this trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent about the same amount of money traveling for 3 months that people would spend for a one week European tour. We learned things as we went along and we made changes to our plans as we needed to. If you love that outdoors and are committed to traveling, you just need to make the time to do it.

Cover photo: Josh Packer

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.