How To Travel All The Time… Forever

Ellen and I get asked all the time, “How do you do it?!?” With baffled looks, most people begin to wonder whether we are trust fund babies or maybe secret oil barons.

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Well the truth is, neither of us come from any money at all, and contrary to popular belief, photographers and yogis really don’t necessarily make a ton of cash. So we’ve learned to be… well… resourceful.

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Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

The road to Willow Lake

Don’t get me wrong, we do just fine and feel so blessed to be able to do what we do and not worry about paying our bills or having enough food for our bellies… most months :)  “So what’s the secret?” you may ask.

silhouette of a man and woman holding hands at dusk with the Tetons in the background

We don’t have children, spend much money on clothes, or even own a home. We have chosen to “invest” our money in experiences. True, they are fleeting, and probably we won’t be able to retire until… well… ever.  But when I think about it, we would both do what we’re doing if no one was paying us, so why would we ever make a goal to retire from our passions??

Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Here’s the deal; we have very different priorities from most folks our age.  And that’s okay.  Our way is not better than the folks that prefer the security of a steady job, and making sound financial investments, and sacrificing their lives to raise children.  In fact, those are all wonderful and even very noble things.  But they aren’t what God has called us to in our lives. At least not yet.

So for now, we travel.  And I might even venture to say we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So I’d like to share a few things that we’ve learned over the years to cut costs and keep the dream alive.

Sunlight Basin Road (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wy

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

First thing’s first… once you’ve determined the where, you have to be able to calculate whether it will be cheaper to drive there, or fly and rent a car, or take public transport. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Figure out your gas mileage and divide that by your calculated total driving distance (I recommend very liberal estimates… better to over-prepare and stay under budget than the reverse), then multiply that number by the average price per gallon of gas.  There’s your travel cost for driving.  Sometimes even though driving may be cheaper, the amount of time (including food + lodging) ends up making it a better deal to fly. Know when to say when is too far a distance to drive.  For me, there is no such thing. Except for ocean crossings! But a deal is a deal, and if I can fly for cheaper, then that’s what I’ll do.

van life, early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

Travel is your first major cost that you can’t really get around. It’s essentially fixed.  The next few elements are more variable, depending upon your resourcefulness and desired comfort level.

Coleman tent with Tetons in the background

Lodging is something that Ellen and I have down to a fine art. Most locations we visit we camp 6 out of 7 nights.  So for our three week Pacific Northwest trip, I only budgeted for three nights in a hotel.  This saves you… big time.  You can expect to camp for an average of $0-35 per night, depending upon the state/ country you’re in, and what regulations they have.  This info is super easy to find nowadays online. I recommend camping in undeveloped National Forest campsites as much as possible. They are free and usually the most beautiful and quiet. Developed sites usually cost between $5-20.

Camping is hands down, the best way to save money, making it possible for you to travel all the time.

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Sunrise over the Winds near Soda Lake, lit Nemo Tent, man camping

Food is the next (somewhat) variable expense.  We try not to eat out much on the road, as it is typically unhealthy and expensive. But it’s not always easy to travel with groceries. Especially if you elect to fly, coolers can be a hassle. But you can always pick up a $2 styrofoam cooler at Walmart, and that will give you a huge advantage when on the road.

If we’re driving, we bring a regular sized cooler, and keep just the essentials in our car at all times: breakfast (coffee, eggs, butter, yogurt, granola), lunch (peanut butter & honey, tortillas, chips, fruit), dinner (veggies, meat), and snacks (nuts, crackers, snack bars, water, etc.). Clearly, this kind of living is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Especially in the U.S.  But the fact is, many of the people of the world live this way because they have to. Sometimes I think of that fact when I’m growing weary of living out of my car, eating peanut butter and honey.

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Cooking over an open fire really can be such a simple way to “spice up” your meals.  Just some fresh veggies and meat (or eggs even!) will break the monotony (and unhealthy nature) of eating on the road.

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And chopping wood is might fine workout, and often free fuel.

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The truth about travel is that it can be really expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be. You just have to have a realistic budget, a good dose of planning, and expectations to match the budget.  If you desire to travel, but don’t have cash to throw around, just be truthful with yourself and manage your expectations.

Morning brings dramatic light on the Winds

Oh yeah… one more thing that’s really important… work. Most folks with steady jobs can’t just pick up and travel all the time, forever. Well, if travel is your thing, I would sincerely consider a career change. But really, nowadays, a lot of jobs can be done remotely. There’s nothing wrong with working while you travel.  That’s what we do. It’s rare that we take an actual “vacation”.

So it may be worth having a sit down with the boss to see if you have the option of working remotely.  Because if not, it may be back to square one.  But there are a lot of ways to make a living from the road.

Travel writers, food bloggers, consultants, photographers… people are even making money from their Instagram following. If you have something to say, there are advertisers that will gladly partner with and enable you to make a decent living from the road.

Ellen Slaton hiking to and looking out over Seneca Lake in the Wind River Range

All of the images in this post are from a Wyoming/ Montana/ Colorado road trip we did this summer. We partnered with Ambler, a fantastic hat company out of Canada to make it happen, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities.  They’re out there.

Ellen Slaton hiking Bridger Wilderness

When wanderlust takes hold, it can be insatiable. And those of us who aren’t independently wealthy need to get creative to carry out our dreams.

Don’t let life on the road intimidate you… you might find it as exciting and fulfilling as we do…

— andrew


 
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