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Learning to Live On Less
Welcome to Adventure On the Cheap!
I’ve spent my whole life (after the age of 17, anyway) scheming up ways to embark on epic adventures without paying an epic price tag.
I’ve used Husky trash bags for dry bags, duct tape for bike frame repairs, shipped a disassembled bike via Greyhound, run half-Ironman races in $12 Walmart shoes, slept in an abandoned woodshop, lived on 25 cent discounted nutrition bars, and eaten nothing but peanut butter and hotdogs for three days straight.
Some of these techniques worked great. Others gave me nothing but a stomachache (I’m talking to you, $0.99 hotdog-on-special!).
So here’s a compilation of what I’ve learned after decades of adventuring on a budget.
This Ain't Your Grandma's Cruise Ship!
Learning how to adventure on a budget might mean changing your idea of what “adventure” looks like.
Adventure doesn’t mean being endlessly entertained. If your idea of adventure is exchanging money to be wowed and bamboozled by the-outdoors-in-a-box, then you’re quite mistaken.
True adventure comes from challenging your mind, training your body, and committing to the destination – no matter how tired or hungry you get on the way.
As you can see in the list below, a common theme is muscle and mind over motor.
It’s a delicate balance between a pigheaded determination to push on and a Buddhist-like inner peace to slow down and enjoy the moment.
Best Adventures ($)
These activities are super-affordable and super-fun! With enough creativity, you can do them just about anywhere.
- Hiking and trail running
- Swimming and snorkeling
- Kayaking and canoeing
- Mountain biking
- Rock climbing
- Roller skating
- Ice skating)
Acceptable Adventures ($$)
If you’re a person of normal financial means, you may find these activities to be a bit expensive. Most of these adventures require lots of technical gear or a skilled guide.
In most cases, if you can do these activities yourself, you’ll save a lot of money. However, with great reward comes great risk!
- White-water rafting
- SCUBA diving
- Dog sledding
- Horseback riding
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Motorboating and jet skiing
Activities to Avoid ($$$)
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with these activities! But if your goal is to adventure on the cheap, these activities won’t help to stretch your money.
- Cruises, ocean or river
- Hot air balloon tours
- Helicopter tours
- Theme parks
- 4WD Jeep tours
- ATV tours
- Snowmobile tours
- Acrobatic plane rides
- Paragliding and hang-gliding
- Trophy hunting and safaris
Getting Cheap: Gear Selection
Where to Buy Affordable Adventure Equipment?
You have five options where to buy gear:
- Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, which are typically online-only. Examples include Hyke and Byke, Canyon Bikes.
- Retailers, which typically have both brick-and-mortar and online stores. Major retailers include Backcountry, REI, and Moosejaw.
- Outfitters, which are resellers of popular gear in their area. Some have online stores. Examples include Rock n’ Resole and VertiCall (Canada).
- Gear exchanges, where you sell or trade used gear to members. Outdoor Gear Exchange is the biggest I know of.
- Online garage sales and classifieds like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Varage Sale, etc.
- Thrift stores, which are a total waste of time – until they’re not.
Retailers typically bake in an additional 30-50% on top of the wholesale price. That’s why they can regularly sell gear at 25% off – there’s still a little margin left over!
Personally, I rarely buy gear at full price. Retailers typically offer 25-50% clearance sales at the end of season, either spring or fall.
It also pays to be a member of major retailer loyalty programs, since you’ll normally earn 5-10% in rewards points per purchase. You also get access to special deals and discounts.
Some gear, like climbing gear, I prefer to purchase new. Other gear, like kayaks or bikes, I usually purchased used.
Getting Cheap: Transportation
Best: There’s no cheaper source of local transportation than bicycle.
Better: If you can’t or won’t ride a bike to your adventure, have you considered an ebike? They are available for as little as $1,200 for well-known brands!
OK: If your travel includes highways, you might need a motorcycle or a small car. Fuel is normally your biggest expense. Air up your tires to maximum pressure to optimize your fuel efficiency!