Campground Fire

Skip the Hotel! Adventure Travelers Get to Sleep In Tents & Cars

Travel Talk

When I first started traveling the outdoors I would spend my days getting dirty in the mountains only to return to some local business hotel, sneak my muddy boots past the reception and crash for a few hours before doing it all again the next day. Even with a pile of points from my professional travels and a knack for finding deals (hello Priceline), the classy approach made my trips downright expensive. More than that, I was just wasting it. I’d never be in the room long enough to enjoy it or even use the perks (6am breakfast means missing sunrise!)

Sunset Heading out of the Snow on Hwy 395

This continued for several years until I started adventuring with a different type of traveler, climbers and consistent travelers who showed me the wonders of skipping the hotel. They helped me accept that the best way to stop along the entire trip was a dispersed campsite or a rest areas, $15 a night or less.

These days you will always find a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow Jeep, I rarely even bother with the tent if it’s just me. Instead, I’ve learned to embrace the fun of staying right on the road, truly “car camping” right under the stars and thus being right near where I want to go. Forget the cost of a hotel, it’s a bundle of firewood, a meal and a great night’s sleep on folded down seats or a cot under the air and with a lot less effort.

Home, sweet home. Cherokee Style.

Home, sweet home. Cherokee Style.

Tips for Truly Car Camping It:

  • Learn the rules of the rest-stops in your state and any others you’ll be passing through. For example, I can sleep for up to 8 hours in most of Washington.
  • Chart out state and federal lands along the route you’ll be taking. BLM / US forest lands tend to allow dispersed camping for the cost of a parking pass.
  • Few mountain trailheads mind people taking short, in the car nap before hitting the mountain or before heading home. If in doubt, ask the rangers.
  • Look at boondocking sites to scope out other sorts of free places that RVs and vancampers use.
  • If you’re in a commercial area, do patronize the business of course, avoid leaving trash, and stick to short stays.
  • Load up a cooler with snacks and loads of extra water to avoid having to run to town along the way. Having a nice meal or snack definitely helps it feel like a day well spent.
  • Pick up a gym membership from a national chain and you’ll have a shower, place to charge your phone, and stretch out in most major cities.
  • For other shower options, look for hostels, well equipped campgrounds, and even ski resorts which often sell facility passes for a few bucks.
Campground Fire

Relaxing by the fire at my $5 / night campground.

With a little planning, a few essentials in the car and the willingness to buck the norm, you can save not just money but time on your adventures. I’ve gone from business events in a suit to napping at a rest-stop before a climb all in the same day for free. That said, do be aware of your surroundings and personal safety, I prefer campgrounds and forest lands where overnight stays are common but even still, there are times when it’s just smarter to move on and find a hotel for the night.