As you might have already noticed, many of my photos are of the Canadian Rockies. Specifically the Banff and Jasper areas. This was my first major solo trip and I have learned many things regarding gear, basic day to day things, and how to do it on a budget. The latter I will be covering in this post.
Now this is likely not the first “Traveling on a Budget” post you have seen, nor will it be the last. However, I feel compelled to share how I traveled to this beautiful area on a limited budget. Being a recent college graduate and saving for other life things… like food, car, and basic necessities. The boring stuff. I decided to go full steam ahead on being cheap as possible but at the same time experiencing as much as I can.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide and it might not fit your specific budget.
Keep an Eye, or Multiple, on Flight Prices
One of my tips is once you know where you want to go keep checking those flight prices. For example, one of the trips I am planning I have seen it range from 700$US to 5,000$US. Reason being they have certain times of the month that they have non-stops out of Boston (700$ flight). Or a multiple layover flight that goes pretty much in the opposite direction you want to be going (5,000$ flight).
Going on a shoulder season or off season can be a huge cost saver. Even though it may be shorter days or not as warm, it still presents a unique experience that is cheaper! As a photographer I tend to welcome harsh weather as it can make for a better photo! Another benefit is less people… I avoid people like the plague. If I see a photographer in a spot, I go and find my own. Reason being I like to get a different perspective on things. Especially in the heavily photographed locations, IE. The rock pile at Lake Morraine is the worst.
Live in Your Rental Car or Bring a Tent
The biggest cost saver for me was basically living in my rental car (Large SUV). I saved nearly 300$ a day with this method. It may not be as comfortable; cold, hot, hard bed, and smelly. Though in my view its worth it. If that doesn’t suit you, many national parks have campsites for ~10$ a night which includes a shower. They fill up fast, but if you plan far enough ahead, you will get a spot. If you are feeling risky one day, some camps are first come first serve.
The icing on the cake is the convenience factor. I stayed in my rental at a trail-head to wake up at a later time for some sunrise photos. Really rainy conditions? Drive somewhere else and stay there. Got some advice from a local for once in a lifetime spot that is 6 hours away? Just hop in your car and stay in a parking lot nearby. The amount of flexibility of traveling this way is amazing for a landscape photographer. Being tied down to a rigid plan of hotels, using public transportation (which is only available after sunrise and before sunset) can almost ruin a trip. Yes, something can be said about touristy spots with all the nice hotels and public transportation.
I have to say though, there is nothing like experiencing a place that has not been “discovered yet”.
Eating Like a King
Since I was living life like a nomad, food became an issue. Specifically anything that goes rancid in a short amount of time. So bring on the nuts, jerky, and protein bars! I virtually only ate out twice. Which was at an airport on the way there and on a “off-day”.
Stop by a grocery store and stock up. It is cheaper then eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was about 20-30$ a day in food.
Do Not Fall for It!
Avoid the shops at all costs. These stores mark up everything just for the traveling person. I have fallen for it myself on many occasions. Yes, its nice to have a memory of the place for you or others, but I would rather spend my money on future experiences. Selfish? Maybe. Don’t waste your money on a t-shirt that says “Location* with a fancy graphic. Skip that. Take a photo and look back when you are sitting at home.
I hope this helps if you are planning any future excursions.
Last few words of young wisdom: Take a-lot of photos, meet new people, and DO NOT forget a neck pillow like I did.