Posted February 25, 2012 by in Backpackology 101

Weekend Destination: Top 10 Free Vacations (1/5)

This article is part one of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.”

10. The Great American Ghetto-Ass Road Trip
With the price of gas alone, a road trip has no place on this list—but it was really hard to come up with ten free vacations, so give me a break, you’re not perfect either.

That being said, with a few filthy hobo tricks, an epic road trip is feasible with the most emaciated of budgets, so listen up.

First, eliminate the costs of accommodation: Trawl through the seedy annals of Craigslist or Freecycle to pick up whatever free camping gear you need—camping in National Forests is easy and fun, and won’t cost you a dime. You can also sleep in your car, in dark residential side streets or truck stops (which usually have showers). But my favorite sleeping option is WalMart parking lots, which eagerly welcome sleepy drivers into their warm, corporate bosom. The beauty of sleeping in WalMart parking lots is that, if at 4:30 in the morning you suddenly realize that you need an industrial bag of Doritos the size of a toddler, it’s only a few lazy paces away.

Which also helps with food costs. Pack (or borrow) a cooler that you can cheaply stock by buying things in bulk at Walmart, or places like Costco. If you want to eat out on your trip too and you’re really, really counting your pennies, then Dollar Menus at fast food joints will provide you more than enough calories to survive, for about $10 per day. Sure you’ll feel bloated and disgusting, but this is an American road trip, and that’s what America’s all about, right?

Which brings us to big, scary fuel costs… An easy way to save money on gasoline is by syphoning it out of other people’s cars in mall parking lots.

Kidding! Maybe.

These days, mobile Gas Price Calculators and Price Compare Apps like “GasBuddy” are widely available on smartphones, which will help you find the cheapest gas and save tons when going to the pump.

But when it all comes down to it, the best way to save on gas prices—and the best way to do a road trip—is by sharing it with a car full of friends.


For more information on minimizing gas costs, check out

For help locating free places to camp, visit, or check Google Maps to find the closest National Forest.

Best Time to Go: May to October
Length of Time: However long you can afford
Cost: Accommodation can easily be free, and if you’re buying food in bulk and supplementing it with the Dollar Menu, then $10-15 will cover food. How much you spend on gas is entirely up to you.
Airfare Estimate: Free! It’s a road trip!

9. Crewing a Yacht in the Caribbean
Call me a wet diaper, but serving appletinis and day-old shrimp cocktails to fat, hairy, sausage-fingered businessmen is the last thing I would describe as fun-in-the-sun. Still, many a fellow backpacker sings sweet praises of crewing yachts in the Caribbean. Some even claim it’s a fun and sociable experience—no feeding grapes or fanning of palm fronds required. I remain dubious. The experience is very free, nonetheless, and some recruiters will even pay. All you need to do is sign up online (or rock up to the marina) and let the captains know you want nothing more in life than to scrub some floors, repaint some handrails, and dice an unspeakable amount of vidalia onions. Prior experience in such lofty tasks is seldom required, though some background in hospitality services probably wouldn’t hurt. If rubbing sun cream on cantankerous, Russian trophy-wives sounds like your cup of tea, head on over to to find out more.

Best Time to Go: Mid-December to mid-May
Length of Time: Everything from a weekend to a year
Cost: Almost always free
Airfare Estimate: New York to Miami: $199 RT; Los Angeles to Miami: $280 RT

To be continued next week, when we go to to Europe and Nepal…


For destinations #8 & #7, continue to Part Two.

This article is Part One of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.” You can find destinations destinations #8 & #7 in Part Two, destinations #6 & #5 in Part Three, destinations #4 & #3 in Part Four, and destinations #2 & #1 in Part Five.

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