It all started in Alaska.
As a summer Park Ranger in Denali National Park and Preserve, home to North America’s tallest mountain, I had bought a vehicle from Craigslist within 5 hours of flying into Anchorage. I had spent the summer informing tourists about bears and sled dogs. Summer turned to winter seemingly overnight, and it was now time to drive south before it became a winter wonderland.
Driving back in my 2004 Volkswagen Passat I slept in a lot of unique and interesting places. My 6,700 mile journey back to South Dakota on the Alcan (Alaska/Canadian Highway) and beyond was truly an adventure.
Here is a list of the cheapest and most rewarding kinds of places I chose to sleep.
10. Bed and Breakfasts
The one bed and breakfast I stayed at was the most expensive place I stayed on my journey. When you’re in the middle of Yukon Territory, Canada in the only city worth putting on a map and you show up after dark your options are limited. The hostel was already full, so this ended up being my best choice. Bed and Breakfasts are normally quite nice and a special treat coming at a bit higher rate. I spent $85 for this one.
9. Choice Hotels
Choice Hotels owns over 6,300 different named hotels all over the world. They offered a promotion to stay 2 nights and get 1 free stay. They are mostly budget hotels and I really had trouble with some of their washing machines, but you save money staying at them. I spent an average of $65 a night in mostly Econolodges. Of course there are other hotels I stayed at, but Choice Hotels were usually the best choice.
Airbnb is generally a bit cheaper version of staying at a hotel. If you want to feel like you do back home sleeping in your own bed this may be a decent option. I averaged spending about $50 at people’s homes. The website services many smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts as well. Many times you are staying in someone’s second house or a part of their home. Staying in a residential neighborhood can give you a more secure feeling.
I have a love hate relationship with hostels. I stayed at 2 and met some very interesting characters. Social life and meeting people is what this kind of stay is all about. You lose out on personal space and sometimes personal security. You are usually in pretty close proximity with other people and if you are a light sleeper or don’t like strangers sleeping close by, this is not the choice for you. I met some nice New Zealanders in the hot tub, but slept above a sick coughing guy one night. I averaged spending about $40 a night at hostels.
6. Tent Camping
Getting to where I was going pretty late at night, it usually took me half an hour to set up my little tent and often times I got mildly wet from morning dew. I chose this option most nights to start with. This did provide me with one night of spectacular northern lights viewing and a mountain lion encounter that I will never forget. Camping 10 miles away from any remotely paved road with a large waterfall all to myself was a definite highlight of the adventure. This cost me anywhere from $0 to $20 at National Parks where badgers can get a little too friendly.
5. Camping with Others
Going to a hot springs in Oregon turned out to be going to more or less a nudist colony. Seeing things I can’t unsee there really got me thinking about people, but I did meet a nice group of 3 from a Canadian Island. They randomly asked if anyone wanted to stay with them and we split the cost of a campsite just outside the hot springs at $4 apiece. They were a very nice brother, sister, and motorcycling friend group. They told me about some cool places to check out and even of an Airbnb yacht they stayed in. The moral of the story is you can split campsite costs if you have less than 6 people in your party in most places.
4. Your Car
This became my go to later in the trip when I was getting lazier and there were no cheap options to stay. This took almost no setup time and ensured I was not going to get wet. I had a nice sleeping pad I could blow up and give me some comfort. Make sure to park in places where you feel safe.
3. Friend’s Place
It is nice to be more than just acquaintances with your friends as I ran into 4 different acquaintances I had worked with randomly on my way back , but none of them invited me to stay with them. It was only people I have known for over a year and remain in contact with that invited me to stay. I stayed with 2 super nice friends and enjoyed catching up with them. When you are with a true friend, your presence is all the payment you need as they know you would do the same for them.
2. Relative’s Place
I stayed with 2 different cousins and my sister near the end of my travels. Relatives that are single are perhaps the best to stay with as they don’t have to ask someone if it’s ok that you stay. This is perhaps the best kind of place to stay if you get along with your relatives.
Couchsurfing was by far the most rewarding type of place I slept at. I had hosted 3 different people in Alaska and had references on the Couchsurfing website saying I was legit. I used Couchsurfing four times on my way back and wish I would have more. Each one of my hosts was excellent they made me both supper and breakfast while we talked about life. If you think the world is a bad place, think again. There are random hosts all over North America who are willing to host you as a complete stranger in their own home and maybe even cook for you. Whether it was staying in the coolest house of all time with secret doorways and pot drying above my head as I slept, or tailgating in Canada with co-ed hockey players, couch surfing is the way to go. This is especially true if you are a social person. Host someone at your home, and you’ve opened up a whole new world.
There you have it. Save money and stay in places that will not only save you a lot of money, but create memories and friends you will never forget.