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$100/day road trip

I’ve had a few people ask me how I traveled during Covid. I returned to one of my favorite forms of travel - solo road trips. When I first moved to Colorado, the ski resort hotel where I worked would close during the spring and fall off-seasons, so I spent my time exploring the West via road trips. My career choices have always required me to be a savvy budget traveler but I still want to stay in unique and inspiring places. They have to have an energetic, yet peaceful vibe to them, have a comfortable bed (check the pics), and some type of cooking capability. I’m not a multi-night backpacker or triathlon competitor, but I do take my hiking boots, bike, and inflatable boat on road trips. I’m just your average gal who likes adventure, but needs some TLC along the way, so I joined a national company called the Joint Chiropractic and AAA for car emergencies.

So here’s what my $100/day road trip looks like…

Lodging (obviously the bulk of the budget - $50/day average)

*I often use Airbnb,, and local bartenders to search for unique, small places like tiny homes, cabins, cottages, apts, etc… I’m looking for a place with decent pictures and a price between $35-75/night. I set the filter to weed out dives and luxury places. Cheaper than $35 and it's usually skanky meaning it’s dirty, the bed isn’t pictured or looks like a bowl, or has sheets from a 1950s Kmart. Over $75 is just not affordable on a $100/day budget.

*Anything rated below a 4.5/5, or 7/10 is not worth looking at because it shows that the owners are not fixing the problems mentioned by guests. On the other hand, the hosts don’t have to be superhosts (Airbnb) to be great, maybe they’re just new to the rental market. At a minimum, the place must have a small frig, microwave, and sink.

Here are some of my favorites from Airbnb from a recent Tennessee/Carolinas trip:

2. Lebanon, TN Tiny House

3. Jonesborough, TN Fairy Tale Cottage

5. Lake Norman State Park, NC camping

*Camping, I think, is fun and necessary to stay on budget. When solo I tend to stay in state parks since there is usually a crowd there, and decent toilets. I narrow the gear down to one storage tub. What’s in the tub?

  • Jetboil for cooking, that’s it, no cook stove

  • French press for coffee - MUST have for me!

  • Hammock

  • Ax and firestarters, lighter

  • First aid bag

  • Headlamps, flashlight, solar lights

  • Tarp and compressible down blanket

  • Duck tape (don’t leave home without it)

  • Tupperware with silverware, openers, extra ziplock bags, etc…

  • A few plates, bowls. Cups, cutting board

  • Towel paper, Clorox wipes, and female urinal with toilet wipes

  • My sleeping bag, pad, tent, and pillow roam around in the car

Food Staples (small cooler and dry food box in the car - $25/day average

  • Dressing, mustard, relish

  • peanut butter and jelly

  • cheese

  • yogurt

  • coffee creamer

  • premade salad bag

  • Smoked salmon

  • veggies (I buy veggie trays and dump them in ziplock bag)

  • fruit

  • Drinks: V8, water, rum or Bailey’s!

  • Tuna fish cans/bags

  • Granola bars

  • Protein shakes

  • Oatmeal packets

  • gatorade powder

  • Sugar and spices

  • Coffee/tea

  • Crackers/bread

  • Soups

  • Backpacking dried meals

  • Salad fixings like dried cranberries, nuts, etc.

  • Dessert - for me this means chocolate of some kind

*The trick with food is to keep it less than $25/day. This means rarely eating out, but having enough variety with you that you don’t get too bored with your choices. Street food is great!

*Do treat yourself to wine/beer/spirits if you like. (I include that in food costs.)

*Do a grocery run every few days so you have fresh stuff.

*Take advantage when your accommodations have a grill to prepare a steak or fish; use the leftovers for salad toppings the next day.

Gas ($15/day average)

*I have a manual Toyota Corolla then gets 30 something to the gallon, so I budget $15/day for gas. There will be days where you hardly drive, then others where you go through tanks.

*There will also be days where you blow a tire going down a gravel road, so a AAA membership will save a heart attack, not necessarily a panic attack, but hey it’s all part of the journey!!!

Entertainment/shopping ($10/day average)

*Take your toys with you. I have my hiking shoes and poles, beach towel, inflatable boat in the trunk, and my bike on a rack. Notice this means free, free, free!

*Make a list of the toy accessories you will need. For example, for boating I need: a life vest, paddle, straps, water bottle, phone case, dry bag, paddle pants/jacket, and a small cooler.

*For every piece of new clothing purchased (usually on sale), toss an old piece.

What else is in my car?????

  • Camp chair and sunshade (half tent) for the beach

  • 6 gallon water jug

  • Computer, kindle, camera, cord bag, wireless speaker, hot spot

  • During Covid bag: wipes, air purifier, UV blue light, lysol spray, digital thermometer, maks, gloves, hand sanitizer. Obviously some of this is now not necessary.

  • Health bag: ice/heat pack, massage gun, ace rap, tiger balm, ankle brace

  • One carry on suitcase for clothes, shoes get tossed on the floor

  • Cosmetic bag

  • Tool box (not because I know how to use everything, but my boyfriend insists)

  • Various water bottles

  • Road atlases

  • Personal toys (ladies we'll talk vibrators in another blog)

Some days I spend $150 because I splurge on a meal, but then others I only spend $50 eating soup and salad. I also stay with family/friends along the way for breaks, and the company of course. I try to keep laundry down to once every 2 weeks.

I usually plan 25-50% of my stays in advance, leaving lots of open nights for the “feel of the open road”. I try to stay at least a few nights in each place to fight against travel fatigue. Having to make all the decisions when traveling solo is exhilarating and freeing, but can be exhausting, so I’ve had to learn over the years to be nice to my body, mind, and soul. Trusting your “sixth sense” is always a must. If the situation feels weird, leave, period! Once you’re out there for a bit, you’ll find your rhythm and reconnect with nature. Hope to see you on the road - enjoy the journey!

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Tanis Pettit
Tanis Pettit
Jul 05, 2022

Thanks Heather, happy travels!


These are fantastic lists and great ideas. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I plan to keep a hold of these for future potential adventures of my own. 😊

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