Category Archives: Getaways

The Nitty And The Gritty: 10 Steps On A Solo Trip

Teri’s hilarious collection of short stories, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO,  is available at Amazon for under $5!

I often read articles that optimistically enroll me in an idea but then I can’t quite figure out how to execute it or I discover it’s not my talent. The wildly crooked, crocheted scarves I attempted in the past (and wear) are proof of this. Today’s post is shared with the hope that if you want to take on an adventure and feel confused about how to get started, some answers and some truth (the nitty and the gritty) might be helpful so…here we go.

December 2014 rolled around and I found myself once again coveting some wilderness snowshoeing. This had been a desire for years but every time I planned, weather and/or logistics derailed me. This time, the challenge was money. If I went for it, it would need to be on a tight budget. Before I continue, please know that I believe on a dime is subjective and generally I pick and choose a splurge or two so this overview is just my personal experience and money-saving strategy on this particular trip. If you stay at the Yosemite Lodge, don’t feel guilty, take a friend along…or message me.  😉

Here’s the way my Yosemite snowshoeing trip went down, step by step:

1) I found a ham on sale after Thanksgiving ($8 marked down from $27) and cut the leftovers into several portions and placed them in baggies, in the freezer. I also made split pea soup w/ ham in it. On Saturday December 20th, I packed the ham portions, soup portions, instant oatmeal (I ended up eating none of the oatmeal), peanut butter, oranges, tea bags, coffee (pre-perked in a thermos), 1/2&1/2, homemade peanut butter cookies and homemade oatmeal raisin bars, and a bottle of whiskey (splurge). Left over from another trip, I had two Mountain House egg and bacon pouches (this is a huge splurge that on my budget I don’t indulge in so I was thrilled that my guy had previously purchased these and left them behind). If you have the money, these are so EASY and no mess to clean up.

2) My gear became a creative challenge when my mat sprung a leak so I packed 3 bed pillows for cushion from the cold ground and 1 for my head. I knew I would not be backpacking so hauling stuff was doable. I brought from home – my tent, 3 sleeping bags (1 fantastic Sierra bag rated 20 and 2 cheapie 30 rated bags), camp chair, single burner stove, firewood (oak, don’t buy wood in Yosemite, it is a fortune), headlamp, lantern (I have never used the lantern in a decade so why I continue to pack it is a mystery), matches, mess kit (created from my kitchen), and cooler w/ my food. **3 sleeping bags? Yes, I used one as extra padding over the pillow bed and I slipped my Sierra bag in the other for additional warmth. I freeze easily and had noted the low 20s night temps and prediction of frost in the weather report and it had rained the previous day so it was still damp. **I did not pack a full med kit, HUGE mistake.

3) Sunday at 6am, I hit the road (cost for fuel from LA to Yosemite was $30, my car gets about 34 mpg). Arrived at my campsite at 1pm. The entry fee for Yosemite was $20 and it was $5 per night to camp in Camp 4. A good thing to know is that Camp 4 was tame and very mellow as I was there in the off-season but this is a well-known, historical rock climbing camp so in the busier season there are early lines for the first come/first serve sites of which, up to 6 tents can share a single fire ring. There are multiple bear lockers at each site and a number of picnic tables throughout.

4) I set up in about 20 minutes but left my Sierra bag and my firewood locked in my car. I do not worry about theft generally but have learned from another on a dimer – when she had her firewood stolen – to leave the important things locked when I can. After setting up, I headed out on the hike right at the base of the campsite which leads to Upper Yosemite Falls (this is an uphill climb). In all, I ended up doing only about 4 miles as I was suddenly hit with what I thought was a violent allergic reaction. I was sneezing and coughing insanely.

Hike view
THIS is the view from the hike about 1/2 way
Waterfall first glance
Yosemite Falls from the trail

5) Hiking back down was tiring and I took a quick break to call my guy and instantly felt perhaps I was suffering from more than allergies. An hour later (5pm) and I was in my sleeping bag, drinking a hot whiskey, water, and fresh orange juice. The next 14 hours brought shivering fever, sore throat, coughing, chest congestion, and finally euphoria. Euphoria? Yes but I would never in a million years suggest that this is the norm nor that it could be duplicated. I’m assuming it was a combo of the fever, whiskey, and the arrival of a couple that only spoke Dutch. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend is Dutch and as I eavesdropped on this couple clinking bottles, cooking, and making a fire, I had the supreme feeling of comfort that comes from access to something joyful and familiar. It was as if my daughter and her guy were right outside my tent. The night passed peacefully and a side note: right before collapsing in my tent, I witnessed the most glorious sunset over Half Dome. This view of Half Dome is from the parking lot of Camp 4.

Half Dome sunset 1
Half Dome sunset from Camp 4

6) I woke and felt weak but better and drank some tea and ate a Mountain House. The Mirror Lake hike (near Curry village) is a piece of cake so I strolled that one and then headed to Curry Village to hand over $15 for DayQuil (not fun). After consulting with my guy on the phone, it was decided I would sit in my camp chair in the sun and drink herbal tea all day, log some more sleep and then the following morning either head directly to my daughter’s house in Tahoe if I was sicker or go for the snowshoeing if I was better.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

7) I managed a fire with my oak and some discarded boxes left in a bear locker. Note to you: bring kindling because I would’ve been in a world of hurt if not for the boxes. I ate split pea soup and relaxed by the fire and then got in my sleeping bag with my book by 7pm.

Campfire and view from Camp #4

8) My alarm sounded at 7am and this is something to take notes on as I believe I finally have conquered breaking camp when it is hatefully cold. I activated the hand warmers, placed them in my gloves and packed up the car. Dismantling metal tent poles with ice on them was so much more doable with the hand warmers. After the car was loaded, I fired up the single burner stove and made my Mountain House and coffee while the car warmed up and melted the ice off of my windshield. **Bring an ice scraper unlike yours truly.

9) White Lightning (my little Hyundai) was pointed toward Badger Pass by 8am and I arrived 10 minutes after they opened the rental area. The snowshoes were $24 for the day and I only made a slight ass out of myself when I considered putting them on INSIDE the rental area (you attach them when you are already in the snow). I had been told by many that snowshoeing is horrendously arduous but I found it required the same exertion as regular hiking. Now, it is important to note that I was traversing snowshoe trails so the snow was pretty packed. The arduous part would’ve occurred if I had taken on unmarked areas of deeper, powdery snow. I learned this upon exploring those areas and took a few ungraceful stumbles when the snowshoes stuck. The end result was that I fell in love with snowshoeing and will do it again. There is silence and beauty and such stillness when you leave the congested areas and head into the forest. I literally only saw three other hikers for the first three hours I was out. If you enjoy company and want to skip the $24 rental fee, Yosemite offers daily guided snowshoeing hikes *Scroll to the bottom of the link and the snowshoes are included. I ended up hiking 4 hours and then had to head to Tahoe but I will absolutely return to explore more trails.

Snowshoeing finally!

Stunning stillness

10) Overall, this trip was lovely despite the complications. I’m often asked if I get lonely or am ever afraid when camping and trekking alone and the answer is, yes. Sometimes I am lonely and miss camaraderie and sometimes I am afraid but that is rare and really it’s the same experience as hearing an unfamiliar bump in the middle of the night in my home. I also have been asked if I miss luxury and the answer to that is, yes, sometimes, but I feel I experience the return to civilization in an enhanced manner after time in a tent. Soaking in a hot lavender and eucalyptus oil bath is a million times better after camping – and drinking a glass of wine with family and friends feels more joyful after solitude. There are always times of imperfection, derail, regroup, and breakdown, but the moments of sweet perfection outweigh any less than stellar experiences. It is that sweet perfection – so very powerful – that pulls me back time and time and there has never been a trip that did not deliver multiple versions of euphoria.

Finally, is this for everyone? No. I get that some people don’t derive pleasure from roughing it but for those dreaming this little dream, go ahead, what are you waiting for? If a misfit like me can figure it out, you can too. You deserve that sunrise/sunset, campfire, frosty morning air, perked coffee, aroma therapy bath. Take it.

See our other articles on Mount Whitney and Half Dome if you covet backpacking as well as our simple “how to” tab for planning.

Please feel free to share/like on Facebook. Always grateful.  🙂

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?

AND all of these places are on a map:

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

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10 Ways To Enjoy Traveling Alone

A recent solo, five day trek across four states by car left me with a new understanding. This understanding did not culminate in a – never before experienced – deep enlightenment, rather it culminated in a realization of what I truly value. This came about by simply being present to, not all, but most moments. Magnifying pieces of time that were finite, one sunset, one foggy morning, one hail storm – thankfully only one hail storm.

These steps should help imprint a solo trip right onto your heart and soul and create meaning and awe in simple, teeny – tiny slices of time.

1) Drive – Significant miles, as in 1,345 miles for moi, across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada before turning back toward Los Angeles. If you enjoy driving like I do, the miles will encourage a hypnotic trance that allows for all of life’s junk to just fade away.

2) Pause – This refers to stopping along the way and the style I chose was to avoid truck stops and gift shops and instead pull over in areas where the landscape rocked my soul. One note, watch for ants in Arizona. I was stung/bitten by some python anaconda viper boa ant that had my foot on fire for hours – talk about pause.

3) Chill – Bring a cooler and fill it with healthy food and drinks and skip the fast food along the way. To share specifically, I carried peanut butter, bagels, apples, and trail mix as well as iced tea, coffee, and water. Picnicking is more appealing when you pack goodies so I included chocolate chip cookies and banana bread as well as some favorite candy. It is much more relaxing to stare across a magnificent landscape than a busy McDonald’s at lunch rush.

4) Read – Books are a boon when traveling alone and I had a delicious one along. I ended one evening in a rain/hail storm by reading for hours and it was sublimely cozy.

5) Sing – This is one category where I part company with most solo travelers. I decided to do my five days in silence. No radio or music of any kind. I checked out of news and media with the exception of stopping and posting to the On A Dime website. I found that the silence went from a bit intimidating to a relief, however, I did engage in a bit of loud a cappella singing with the windows down. The music choice is purely subjective so if it enhances your trip then by all means, include it but if silence is enticing, go for it.

6) Write – If you enjoy keeping a journal, immerse yourself now. Consider a scrapbook with notes, mementoes, and photos. Artistic sketches and/or watercolors are also nice and don’t worry about how your art/words will appear to others, this can be just for you.

7) Watch – One morning, leaving the Grand Canyon after camping alone, I debated about where to stop for coffee when the location was suddenly right before me. A huge meadow with wildflowers. I popped out my stove (see gear) and quickly made coffee while watching the wildflowers open as the sun hit them. Another stop had me enjoying baby birds as the mother flew back and forth, bringing them food.

8) Unplug – As mentioned above, checking out of social media or even taking big blocks of time away can bring about a peace and renewal. I fall victim to thinking I am somehow unfeeling or irresponsible if I step away from news and current events and yet I know that truly the world moves right on whether I am actively in the mix or not and maybe being in the mix also means physically soaking ourselves in what came before Macintosh.

9) Reduce – This refers to your packing, your daily routine, and your place in the world. Pack lightly, eat simply, and grab the realization that not a whole lot matters beyond where you are headed and what you will pull from  the cooler for your next meal which can occur whenever the heck you get hungry, not when it’s time. As for your place in the world, revel in the fact that you are not your job, you are not your hobby, and you are not your opinion. You are only this teeny, tiny, stunningly wonderful traveler upon a new uncharted territory that is open to your visit.

10) Play – Yes, play. Claim any interpretation of this that pleases you. Splash in a creek, photograph flowers, partake in yoga on a mountain, sip herbal tea in the forest, or simply do nothing. As long as you are leaving no trace, your experience of the places you visit is yours to define. If taking a guided tour is a pleasing break from being alone, then do it or if staying solo and meditating for hours rocks your soul, then carve out the time for that. This is your play time and in this world of hard work and struggle, play time should be more highly valued. Start a trend.

Don’t wait, begin immediately. Even if it’s a weekend or a day or an hour, take some moments and call them your own. Getting better acquainted with the joyful, creative you, will be something you’ll never regret.

*Safety? See our articles on traveling and feel free to “like”/share on Facebook and/or Tweet. Grateful.

10 Safety Tips For Camping Alone 

10 Road Trip Tips

5 Things To Know About Free Camping

5 Great/Cheap Locales & Links

On occasion – ok frequently – here at On A Dime we extoll doing as we say and not as we did. In other words, skip sleeping in the car during a lightning storm but be sure to enjoy the sunset (calm) before the said storm.

This list, links, and overview offer some 20/20 hindsight from our recent road trip that will have you bypassing snafus in favor of success and we’ve broken it down into a concise little list to aid in visiting these awesome places. More in-depth articles to follow on individual areas of interest.

1) ZION (UTAH) – Utah’s first national park and well worth the time to visit. Do as we say, take time. We did this in too big of a hurry due to weather and enjoyed a hike in The Narrows but will return to explore more in depth. Weather, and we’re saying it again as it determines so powerfully how the visit goes and if you can roll with speeding things up – like we did – or delaying them then weather’s impact can be lessened. Absolutely take the EARLY shuttle from the visitor center as the popular hikes get more crowded throughout the day. Camp? Yes, however, make a reservation or get to the state campground at the noon checkout time for first come/first serve.  And here are your links. General Info. Camping (1/2 mile from the entrance). Free camping? Yes but always check current status by reading comments at the bottom of the camp listing.

2) GRAND CANYON (NORTH RIM ARIZONA) – This experience was so close to perfect that we cannot wait for the article to share. **Update – here’s our article on FREE camping at the north rim! We would’ve hit perfect if not for the weather, we endured a nasty lightning storm. This are is free. No park fees, no camp fee and there is a stunning view as well as trailhead within the camping area. You will traverse 27 miles of dirt/rock road but our Hyundai made it just fine. And here are your links. General Info. Camping. Free Camping at Locust Point.

3) LAKE POWELL (ARIZONA & UTAH) – In terms of lakes, you cannot go wrong with Lake Powell. The park entrance fee is $15 for 7 days but then the camping, ON THE BEACH, is free. You can choose fee camping at the resort or free camping and this place is heaven. And here are your links. General Info.  Camping fee and free. Top Ten Beaches.

4) PALO DURO CANYON (TEXAS) – We’re talking Texas and it’s pretty grand which is why this canyon is touted as the mini grand canyon. The soil is red and the sunrises and sunsets are stunning. We spent $5 per head to enter the park and then $12 per night to camp. There are a number of camping choices but none offer rim view sites. Recommended book to take along, LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. And here are your links. General Info. Camping. Free camping (an hour away, Lake Meredith, all sites are FREE looks worth investigating and we were sad to not have the opportunity).

5) WICHITA WILDLIFE REFUGE (OKLAHOMA) – If you ever wonder what it might have been like over a hundred years ago when Bison roamed free, wonder no more. You can camp on the Wichita Wildlife Refuge where Bison and Longhorns roam free. That’s correct, they’re not fenced in and it is stunning to see them placidly grazing on the open range. And here are your links. General Info. Camping.

These five stop-offs offer freebies and very inexpensive fees. If you are in any of these areas or road tripping, put them on your list and sit back and enjoy the money that is still in your pocket.

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Hike Narrows

9 Bold And Free Vacation Links

This Wednesday’s blog celebrates the bold and the free, as in the inspiration gained when you learn from your kids. Last Saturday the eldest On A Dime child returned from college – with degree in hand – and made good on an offer to write a blog post. This On A Dime creator was thrilled to sip a glass of wine and shout invaluable pointers into the other room such as, “don’t forget the Oxford commas; adventurers always need those while traveling!” The child – in response – took my wine away.

I was left footloose and fancy-free while my guy handled the usual tech challenges, which included the weekly undoing of damage I’d done while randomly pushing buttons and my little (big) girl tackled the creative. Too much down time can be dangerous, I realized, as I added in links to the sites we purchase gear from and pondered what I would do with the millions in commission money that awaited me from said links. I studied the spread sheet for several days and concluded I could safely spend… a little less than nothing.

And, fellow travelers, the weird part is that the financial challenge energized me nicely. On A Dime’s goal of enhanced quality of life for less financial outlay is evolving into a sweeter philosophy, one that begs a return to community and good old-fashioned give and take. So when the college kid handed in her article on Couchsurfing, I felt it was a call to something bigger than saving a hotel bill and promptly signed up. As of yesterday, I committed to couchsurf my way back down the coast in a few weeks.

Couchsurfing heads up our list of the 9 bold things to consider when dreaming of a vacation, and conserving cash is only one bonus that these nine pony up. We can confidently state that Couchsurfing is justified in going number one on our list as the article on it exploded our website in popularity, but it is not the only – out of the box – consideration, so here we go. Let’s get bold and free.

1) FREE COUCH – Couchsurfing. We could take the easy way here and tout the fact that surfing an individual’s couch (sleeping on it) is free but that would miss a huge part of the equation. Couchsurfing is for those who wish to connect on a deeper level with the places they visit. Motel 6 has its place but an individual’s home and the beautiful hospitality that is offered cannot be duplicated by a corporation. The On A Dime kid wrote glowingly of Couchsurfing and also broke down the “do’s and don’ts” involved. Check out her article and boldly head out on a journey where the lodging is free and the hospitality is stunning.

View from my host's balcony in Amsterdam
View from my host’s balcony in Amsterdam

2) FARMING – WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – Yep, it’s free. You put in 4-6 hours help on an organic farm in exchange for accommodations and food. Beautiful connections, beautiful experience. Bold and free.

Our hosts' windowsill in Bergen, Norway
Our hosts’ windowsill in Bergen, Norway

3) BIKING – Warm Showers offers a variety of freebies to those deciding to vacation via cycling. Depending on the host, you can receive warm showers (obviously), free camping, places to stay, meals and drinks. A biking vacation? Pretty darned bold!

4) CLEARING TRAILS – Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation – Free trips (food included) into the wilderness in exchange for 8 hr. work days spent restoring the trails. Located in Montana. You choose trips according to your ability with grades of “easy, moderate, and strenuous”.


5) HELPING HAND – Workaway. exactly as their site proclaims, A few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings. 

6) CAMP FOR FREE – Dispersed Camping – Yes, we put this on every single list for freebies because we are determined to make more travelers aware of this jewel. Check our links on this and also ask (call ahead!) at the ranger station in the area you are headed. We cannot state this enough, many of the sites offer solitude and unspoiled beauty that cannot be duplicated in fee campsites.

7) FRIENDS – That’s right. We have social media and it’s time we tame the beast and make it our own. More people should simply be bold and put it out there that they want to travel to a certain area and try and arrange lodging swaps.

Hammock time
Hammock time

8) VOLUNTEER – Cross Cultural Solutions. Volunteer and experience cultural emersion in a safe and structured environment. This On A Dime creator volunteered for 3 weeks in Costa Rica and can vouch for Cross Cultural’s integrity and safety. The program is neither free nor cheap, however, they have a guide on how to raise the money required for the program and this proved successful in my experience with about 80% of my trip donated.

9) PAY IT FORWARD – Watch for 2015’s Pay It Forward Day but also enact this while traveling. If you have something to offer, consider sharing or exchanging. We’ve given away extra firewood, a dinner to a PCT hiker, and hilariously, received a 6 pack of beer left carefully at a campsite. In the backcountry we (ok, I) have cried with gratitude over donated power bars and Gatorade. The best bold and free thing we can take advantage of is the joy derived from our own generosity so here’s hoping that we can offer the couchsurfing hosts something equal to their hospitality, perhaps a bottle of wine, a potted plant or the bold and free offer of doing the dishes.

On A Dime heads out on an adventure for the next 18 days to Lake Tahoe, the coast of Oregon, and the backcountry of Washington and we’ll be looking for the best freebies to pass along. If you also have secret money-savers, please let us know.

Feel free to share on Facebook and/or Tweet. We are always grateful. <3


Teri Clifton’s collection of essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon and if you plan to visit California, check out our new On A Dime Guide!

Today’s blog post is written by seasoned traveler Lexie Davis, and her On A Dime spirit offers a way to enjoy varied lodging sans fees but rife with hospitality.


By the Berlin Wall


Most of my conversations about Couchsurfing begin with the question “but isn’t it really sketchy?”, accompanied by a raised eyebrow and look of concern. It’s difficult to convince people who have no knowledge of Couchsurfing’s mission that the hospitality exchange network is not only not sketchy at all, but is in fact the best possible way travel, especially for those who want to fully and deeply experience the culture of the place they are visiting. Here are 14 of the many reasons why Couchsurfing is the best option for an adventurous and open-minded (and not to mention, cash-strapped) traveler:


The first time I Couchsurfed was in Oslo. As soon as my friend and I arrived at our hosts’ apartment, they greeted us with a dinner of trout and potatoes. Throughout the meal, we discussed the differences in Norwegian and American culture, and they taught us how to peel our potatoes like Norwegians do. During our one-week trip, we learned so much about Norwegian culture—about their history, fairy tales, customs, and social systems. We learned about all the small things that would never be written about on a Wikipedia page or in a travel book: about the raisin buns that Norwegians like to eat on long road trips and the correct pronunciation of Edvard Munch’s name (as well as the accompanying story of how that correct pronunciation has actually changed over time).


On our way to Bergen, Norway


 Most travel guides pride themselves on authenticity: If you want to do as the Hungarians do, then you have to go to eat at this place, and shop at this store. Yet nothing’s really more authentic than an actual Hungarian taking you around Budapest to all of his favorite places, telling you things about the city that only someone from that city would know. Whereas most people only get to dip a toe into another culture, Couchsurfing allows you to dive in headfirst. You may not walk away knowing all the details of Hungarian history and society, but you’ll come a way with a sense of what it’s like to walk around in the shoes of a Hungarian, even if just for a few days.


In Oslo, Norway


 When most people travel, they’re surrounded by their American friends and family. They eat with them, sleep in the same hostel/hotel rooms with them, ride the train with them,  and go to bars with them. Sometimes I travel this way too, and sometimes it can be fun. But it’s not the greatest way to fully experience another culture, and it’s definitely not a good way to escape from that safe little bubble that surrounds so many travelers, and protects them from really integrating themselves into the cultures of the places they visit. Showing up at a stranger’s home, having beers with them, and sleeping on their couches is a pretty intense thing to do for most people. Not knowing what to expect is a nerve-wracking feeling, but also an exciting one, and is very often insanely rewarding.


When I first began Couchsurfing, I thought that I would be offered a couch, and that’s it (and letting someone sleep inside your home for free is already a pretty generous offer). However, every time I’ve Couchsurfed, my hosts have given me breakfast, and on many occasions I’ve walked through the door to a home-cooked meal. Couchsurfing hosts are by and large people who share because they love sharing, and ask for nothing in return. My hosts in Norway made my friend and me a thermos of hot chocolate to bring with us while we walked around the city. My host in Ghent called in sick at work in order to show my friend and me around the city. My host in Montreal lent me a pair of beautiful Swedish clogs when my own shoes started giving me blisters. When I was traveling from Berlin to Warsaw, I accidentally missed my connection, and ended up on the last train to a Polish city I’d never heard of, all by myself, with nowhere to stay. I called the girl I was supposed to stay with in Warsaw, and in the space of an hour, she called all of her friends until she found one who lived in the city where I was headed, and set up a place for me to spend the night. All of these people had never before laid eyes on me, and were still willing to help me out in ways that normally only the closest of friends would.


 The Couchsurfing experience is most often about cultural exchange. While there are a lot of hosts who are okay with merely providing a place for a traveler to sleep, most want to get to know you, to learn about who you are and where you come from.


You might even make new animal friends, like Poulet, our littlest host in Montreal


Eating raw herring from a street cart. Going to a heavy metal concert. Riding on the back (“begagedrager”) of a bicycle. Scaling a snow-covered hill at midnight, and breaking wine glasses along the way. Trying brown cheese. Attending a stranger’s going-away party. Watching Frank Zappa documentaries until 4am. Eating fries with—yes—mayonnaise. Couchsurfing is full of surprises. Good surprises!


The “cool” bars and “trendy” neighborhoods outlined on travel sites are usually already passé (and not to mention touristy) by the time you get there. Your hosts will be able to tell you what’s a rip-off and what’s a must-see. If they’re not busy, more often than not they’ll take you there themselves. If you’re the type of person who likes to avoid tourist traps and get to know what “real” Italians/South Africans/Chileans/etc. do, then staying with a local host is pretty much the best way to do so.


It’s free. The only thing you need to provide is good company and an open mind (though offering to cook dinner or share bottle of wine is usually welcome as well). But really, it’s no charge for a roof over your head in houses and apartments that are often way cozier and more interesting than a room at a hotel or hostel. What more can I say?


The beautiful kitchen of our hosts in Montreal


 For some reason, this is the one that people have the hardest time believing. Really—it is safe. Hosts fill out a profile with photos of themselves, introductions of who they are and what they do, lists of their interests, and descriptions of their homes and where surfers will be sleeping. But couldn’t these people just be con artists, or worse—killers? How do you know they are who they say they are? you ask. The answer: when people surf at someone’s place, they write their host a review afterward (and vice-versa). It’s essentially a Yelp review for a person. Many hosts have pages and pages of these references, all from different surfers who have their own profiles with references. It would be a pretty elaborate scheme for someone to create hundreds of fake profiles and then write hundreds of fake references. People who are on the website for shady reasons are pretty easily identifiable, as they almost always those who have zero references, no friends, and an incomplete profile. Another safety feature of the site is something called “vouching”. A more experienced host or surfer can vouch for other hosts and surfers on the network who they found to be really great and trustworthy.

I’ve tried to explain to those who are skeptical about the safety of Couchsurfing that when you arrive at a hostel you don’t know who will be in the room with you, and you have no way of finding out before you arrive. With Couchsurfing, you do know who you are staying with. You talk to them beforehand, and read all about them from their former surfers. Another reason that I believe that Couchsurfing is an incredibly safe way to travel is that you have someone from the place you’re traveling to who is looking out for you. Someone who will tell you which areas are dangerous at certain hours and where to look out for pickpockets. Someone who will help you out if you get lost or into trouble. If you’re a smart person who is able to use basic common sense and judgment, I think it would be extremely rare to have an unsafe Couchsurfing experience.

For more about safety, check out the links section at the bottom of this post.


 When you look for hosts in a certain city, you can modify the search so that it only shows hosts between a certain age, or only female or male hosts. You can choose to stay only with hosts who don’t smoke or have pets, or those who speak certain languages (nearly everyone on the site speaks at least conversational English), or those who offer to host families with kids. The person you request to stay with is not random—you search the site and find a couple of people who seem like they would be the best fit for you, and then you send your request straight to them.


While looking for Couchsurfing hosts in Norway, I came across multiple grandmothers. There are also a lot of families who host, most often couples with a very small child or two. There are big houses full of roommates, as well as people who live by themselves. Because open-mindedness and enthusiasm about diversity are defining characteristics of the Couchsurfing network, it would be difficult to find a host who doesn’t welcome people of all races and sexual orientations. No matter your age or who you are, you will be welcomed by someone on the CS site, as long as you fill out your profile to best portray you who are and what interests you.


While I was traveling alone through the Netherlands and Poland, CS saved my life. I’m someone who needs company to stay energized, but always building travel plans around friends’ schedules can be limiting. Couchsurfing liberated me from my fears of traveling alone and getting lonely, because I knew that no matter where I went, I would be guaranteed to meet new people. Recently, I found out that I couldn’t fly to Amsterdam on the same flight as my boyfriend (whom I met while on a solo Couchsurfing trip, by the way). I was really bummed at first, but then I decided to book a flight with Icelandair, which offers free layovers in Reykjavik to people flying from the US to Europe. Before I’d discovered Couchsurfing, I never would have decided to plan a four-day trip to a Nordic island all by myself. Couchsurfing is perfect those who love company, but also like making their own plans.


Overlooking Oslo


 Many of us know that when you travel with a friend/family member for an extended period of time, you often start to get on each others’ last nerves. Spending all day and night with the same person or group of people (or even your lover) for days on end can sometimes get irritating, but when you Couchsurf, you have the opportunity to bring new people into the mix, which eases the tension and redefines the dynamic. Plus, after you’ve been traveling with the same person for awhile, you run out of stories to tell and things to discuss, so you will welcome the chance to hear new stories and have new discussions.


Close your guidebook. Don’t make a detailed list of all the places you need to go and things you need to see. Even if your host is busy working and can’t show you around during the day, she’ll give you advice of great places to go. Your schedule will (and should!) change based on her recommendations and pieces of local wisdom. If you know everything you’re going to do and see before you arrive in the city, where’s the fun and adventure in that? More likely than not, your host will want to include you in her plans, especially in the evening and on weekends. You might be invited to a small party where you’ll be the only American. Or you might end up at the concert of a band you’ve never heard of. Or your host might take you to her favorite dive bar, which is way better than the trendy club where all the tourists go. Vacation should be about going with the flow, and letting your whims and sense of adventure lead you. Often, your host will take pleasure in deciding where to take you, and for making the plans for the evening, allowing you to relax and just follow along. Also, it’s important to mention that most hosts don’t like to answer requests more than two weeks ahead of the date you’ll arrive. For the last-minute adventurer, this is an ideal situation.


  1. Surfing does not obligate you to host. Hosting does not obligate you to surf. There are plenty of people in the Couchsurfing network who only surf, or only host.
  2. Fill out your whole profile! You are carefully choosing the people you’d most like to stay with, but they are also carefully choosing those who they will host. Hosts want to see who you are as much as you want to know about them. Upload at least 5 pictures, and try to be detailed about the kind of person you are and your interests.
  3. Carefully read the profiles of all the people you request. Nothing makes a potential host more annoyed than being able to tell that you did not read their profile. When you send them a request to stay at their place, be specific about why you found them interesting, and why you think you would get along.
  4. Send requests out to multiple hosts. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may not get accepted by your favorite host. Have a few back ups ready, and don’t feel bad asking a couple people at once in order to better your chances of being accepted by someone. However, if you are accepted by multiple hosts, be sure and respond to all of them, even if it’s just to say thank them for their offer, and let them know that you already found somewhere else to stay.
  5. You are an ambassador for your country. Remember that Couchsurfing is a reciprocal experience; your host is offering up his home because he wants to meet new people and learn more about other cultures. Treating your host’s house with the same (or more!) respect than you would your own is an expectation. Offer to do dishes, cook some dinner, fold up the bedding, etc.
  6. Gifts are never required, but it is kind to show up with some token of thanks, such as a bottle of wine, an interesting souvenir from your home county, some cookies, etc.
  7. One of the rudest things you can do is to be accepted as a surfer and then never show up. If you find out that you are no longer able to stay with someone who offered you a place, let them know sooner rather than later.


  1. Have a high-stress personality and don’t like improvising.
  2. Are a germaphobe.
  3. Are obsessive about things like pillow or mattress firmness or softness.
  4. Have difficulty with social situations and meeting new people.
  5. Need a lot of privacy.
  6. Aren’t easily accepting of different lifestyles or belief systems.
  7. Feel you need constant access to the place you’re staying. (Many Couchsurfing hosts don’t give surfers keys. Understandable, I think, but maybe a problem for some people.)
  8. Desire more of a solo getaway or privacy with friends/significant others traveling with you. Alternative lodging ideas can be found at this link.


How to be a great Couchsurfer:

 Safety tips and information:

 Proof that if a fussy, cynical old writer for The New Yorker can enjoy Couchsurfing, so can you:

10 Vacation Money Savers

If you are pining to get out of town and the urge for a vacation hit yesterday, last week, last month, it’s not too late so let’s get it started. The goal of On A Dime Adventure is to share ideas for getaways without spending a fortune and after a recent money-saving article‘s popularity, we’re looking to provide more information that encourages travel for less cost.


1) LODGING – Yes, we here at On A Dime rely heavily on camping (see #2) for a small fee or dispersed for free, however, we completely “get” that there are non-campers so here you go. Hostels. Yep, they have gone mainstream and offer private rooms for less than hotels. You most likely will need a reservation in the peak season but if you come up empty-handed, call for last minute cancellations. We are in no way suggesting the kind of luck we had is a given but we did score last minute accommodations via cancellations for a group of 6 on 4th of July, two years in a row at the Yosemite Bug which offers a day spa as well as beer and wine in the restaurant.  After a hearty Half Dome visit, this hostel offered an amazing respite. The photo below was our view from the Montara Hostel on the coast of California. Check out our article on COUCHSURFING, written by guest blogger, Lexie Davis.

View from our room
View from our room

2) CAMPING – This is the best way to spend no money or to save a lot of money and we depend on a strategy that has been successful repeatedly. We camp first, hostel or cabin second, and then hotel for our final night. We save big time as is illustrated on this trip to Big Sur. If you compare our camping, cabin, and hotel fees, you’ll see the savings created by combining rather than spending the entire time at the hotel.

3) ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS – These ideas rock the little ones and make for some inexpensive fun for the parents as well.

4) BEACH GETAWAYS – This link makes a very good point in the money-saving game, stay close to home. Whatever body of water is closest, explore that first. To drive this home, we are including photos of Lake Texoma a huge body of water that lands 1/2 in Oklahoma and 1/2 in Texas.


tealights = ambiance
tealights = ambiance

Obviously, the ocean is lovely but there are amazing lakes that are stunning and off the beaten path. Below is Elk City State Park in Kansas.

Kansas $15 a night
Kansas $15 a night

5) AMUSEMENT PARKS – Go ahead and jump on Priceline for all-inclusive packages. This will be your best bet. The  On A Dime strategy in peak season is to get a good package and perhaps consider bringing food to the park and storing it in a locker. Heed this warning, water bottles are expensive so go ahead and bring personal (non-glass) bottles to fill from the fountains and, if you desire, powdered flavor packets like lemonade.

Sta Monica Pier2

6) NATIONAL PARKS – Here’s a timeless article on some of the stunning sites that are not to be missed. Personal experience at the Grand Canyon allows us to impart to travelers that as the day wears on, the lines to get in the parks can swell. Be an early bird and avoid the wait and the crowds.

7) GOLF VACATIONS – This link was billed as cheap golf vacations but we here at On A Dime feel it’s more in line with less expensive as golf is never truly cheap. That said, for the rabid golfers, this link does provide ideas on spending less.

8) HOUSE SWAP – Just like it sounds. Trade your house for one in your vacation location and save hugely. Adventurers, many of you are in contact with friends/family all over the world via social media. Consider swapping with someone in your circle. Also check out Airbnb for cheaper accommodations offered by private individuals. You’ll have the opportunity to choose lodging in a variety of locales with a variety of styles. Prices vary. Also Vacation By Owner (VRBO) for private homes for less overall cost. We’ve used VRBO a number of times and never had a bad experience.

9) FOOD – If eating out, SPLIT. The end. Portions are almost always way too much for one person so split your meal but please tip your waitstaff as if you’d purchased individual meals. 🙂 The service is not halved when the food is split.  The photo below is an actual breakfast for less than $10 at the Mount Whitney portal and the pancake is the bomb in flavor as well as size!

BRK Portal

10) SAVE ON GAS – Friends, we cannot impress upon you enough that sharing transportation greatly cuts your travel cost. This link offers ride sharing and possibly an opportunity to connect with other like-minded adventurers. If you feel better with buddies rather than strangers, spread the word. Share costs with another family and watch your SUV gas cost shrink by splitting it up at the pump. We managed a $40 dollar (per person) weekend by going as a group and it was a joyful time around the campfire with friends.

Share on Facebook and Tweet. Our gratitude cup runneth over.


8+ Links To Free & Almost Free Getaways

Teri Clifton’s collection of essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon!

Update! Check this link from Sunset for last minute, no reservation, campgrounds!

If you are dreaming of grabbing some time away but the hot water heater just malfunctioned and the orthodontist said Jr.’s braces will be on through his MBA, we’re sending relief your way.

You deserve a break from the daily grind that doesn’t break your bank also. Pack up a bag and choose from this list to help get you on your way.

1) FREE – Camp for free or darn near free. Yes, anyone can do it and generally there’s no real competition to get the sites. Here’s your link with sites available throughout the United States as well as a few photos of sites where we’ve stayed.

2) PETS – Bring your dog along for the vacation? Yep, here’s your link and a darn cute photo of a stellar camper by the name of Bean.

Have dog, will travel

3) LITTLE KIDS – Need to save money but also want to keep little ones entertained? This should help. And be sure to stop off along the way for unexpected fun.

The middle of nowhere on the way up and through Jerome, AZ
The middle of nowhere on the way up and through Jerome, AZ

4) ROMANCE – Pining for some romance? Camping relieves the money stress and enhances the sappiness.

5) HONEYMOON – Share the love on honeymoons, anniversaries etc. Yosemite? You betcha’

tealights = ambiance
tealights = ambiance

6) ROAD TRIPS – The price of gas is non-negotiable, however, no restrictions on throwing extra people in. Double date if you’re a couple or make it a friends weekend. Here’s the top 100 choices.


7) POTLUCK – Can’t say enough about this. Recently, I was a guest at a wine or appetizer potluck and the birthday gal specified “no gifts”. Great night, minimal expense. Get a vacation going this way also. We’re including our $40 weekend link and our potluck one too.

Crepes goat cheese

8) STAY-CATION – Yes, we are all familiar with the stay at home vacation and here are a few ideas that make it work. Fib. Yep, that’s right. Tell everyone (co-workers, mom, your best friend) you are going to be unreachable. Next, turn off the phone. And then read these ideas and embark upon your journey.


Tweet and/or share to your Facebook. Our gratitude cup runneth over.  <3

Pack Only Your Zen

Dear On A Dime travelers, I am an almost rehabilitated over-packer. Like a celebrity’s “clean and sober” weekend with twins, I tend to teetotal pack only to fall off the wagon by loading twin pieces of souvenir granite into the backseat of my car, of course only where it is permissible. It’s hard to outrun rangers with boulders slowing vehicle movement, not that I would know about that personally.

 And speaking of movement, there is an interesting one sweeping the land and we’re applying it to travel. Minimalism is the new kid in town and it feels in sync with On A Dime Adventure’s mission to travel simply and without breaking the bank although the mantra of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists might – at first glance – seem frivolous to the financially conservative crowd. Their 20/20 rule goes something like this, “Most everything can be replaced for $20 within 20 minutes”. These guys assert that the possible, small amount of money spent in a moment of “oops” outweighs the insanity of an overstuffed suitcase as well as an overstuffed life. They also make the point that, barring the extreme; generally people are within 20 minutes of a business that can replace for $20 or less whatever is needed. Socks, underwear, a pair of sweat pants, a blender…

 …Blender? Guilty. Yes I have been tempted to take along luxury items on camping trips. Fine, I have taken luxury items on camping trips. A cousin once considered poisoning me after I pranced to the top of Clouds Rest in Yosemite and bragged loudly about being first. He quickly busted me down to size with “Hey there Champion, does this ring a bell, ‘first is the worst, second is the best, and third is the one in the polka dot dress’. It’s your favorite chant when you’re in the polka dot dress.” And then to add insult to injury – in front of many other hikers – he tossed a large throw pillow at me that oddly resembled one from my couch back in the city and declared, “you’re first because someone else was carrying what fell out of your pack, Kim Kardashian.” I briefly considered trying to deny it but was afraid he’d demand a thorough inventory of my pack at which point the matching pillow and personal massager would give me away. So sue me, I have an irritable back and I like my pillows in pairs. And if I ever climb Everest, I will educate my pair of Sherpas on the seriousness of neck support. This dream is but one of many.

 In another fantasy, I pack only the exact amount of clothing I will wear on a trip, leave behind my aromatic oils, and return from the outback with slight body odor and a small wallaby. In this dream I am relaxed, joyful, and fully experiencing every second as my many – in the moment –  Facebook selfies with the wallaby attest.

Some fantasies may require an intervention and luckily help is out there. Courtney Carver creator of Be More With Less, Life On Purpose gave this descriptive of a recent getaway to France in her article 5 Ways To Make Anything Easier.

“I spent the last leg of my trip last month in Paris alone. I didn’t have wifi outside of my apartment, and had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I was excited about the trip, but I also thought it might be hard and it was sometimes. I got lost and delayed, and sometimes felt a little unsure about myself.  In between the very few hard parts though, were the amazing experiences pictured above. I had time to start to my day slowly and drink espresso while writing in the most beautiful parks and cafes. I saw amazing works of art in the Louvre and the L’Orangerie and enjoyed watching artists create new works of art by the river. Being alone gave me time to appreciate the simple things in one of the grandest cities of all.”

Courtney Carver is not alone as fellow minimalist, Tammy Strobel, of Rowdy Kittens (see her tips and stunning photos in our Tahoe article), also celebrates simplicity every single day and the stunning feeling of a large exhale is both palpable and seductive. These innovators walk a walk that is not about going without but rather shines the light on deliberate choice. They pack into their suitcases and into their lives only what is meaningful. And friends, if you really want to get radical, check out Colin Wright. This minimalist pared down everything he owns to 51 items and spends his time traveling the world. He journeys to a new country every four months and has visited the 48 contiguous states not once but twice and this guy is not yet thirty.

 Our quest to become gentle and lightweight travelers is still in its infancy at On A Dime but this week it appears we’ve been handed a challenge. In addition to a streamlined backpacking excursion in Yosemite slated for June, in December we will travel Europe for an On A Dime Adventure totaling about 15-16 days and we will only be carrying backpacks. My guy is joining and he has been known to check extra shoes, golf clubs, and a charcoal grill. In other words, he is a fellow packing-addict and enabler and this – being a winter trip – has his love of high-end backpacking clothing and gadgetry being severely tested. The gauntlet has been thrown and we will document our attempt – once we find an airline that will accommodate multiple cameras, tripods, and reflectors as we hear light can be a problem at the Eiffel Tower.

 Want more simplicity? Check out the site links in our article as the minimalists are living a dream and it’s available to all of us on whatever level syncs with our psyche. And if you crave some extra Zen, check out Tammy Strobel’s new book My Morning View. It is a healthy dose of relaxation and a reminder that life is in session all over the place, every single day.

 *The photos we chose for this article were taken during moments of abundant tranquility and not much luggage.

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B&W B&W2 B&W3

Sapphire Redefined: Lake Tahoe Sparkles

Lake Tahoe takes the definition of sapphire, as in jewel, and seemingly dismisses it as lackluster by comparison. This heavenly body of water is such a stunning initial sight that it is worth halting on a dime when traveling on a dime for the very first view. Get your camera ready and just trust that the shade of blue you’re seeing is authentic and courtesy of Mother Nature rather than food coloring.

Our blog post this week features both the amazing Lake Tahoe and the equally amazing Tammy Strobel, writer/photographer of heartfelt essays coupled with ethereal and vibrant photography. Tammy’s mission, encouraging readers to “go small, think big, and be happy”, is part of a growing movement that is stepping into the mainstream with a gentle yet undeniable presence.

*And to any of you who have ever considered creating a blog and/or website, Tammy’s $7 online book, Smalltopia, is a solid investment. On A Dime’s website/blog was in the works the day after reading her book, cover to cover, and that was a short 3 months ago. You will find a link to Tammy’s site as well as view her unbelievable I-Phone photography in our brand new Lake Tahoe article!

Round Lake swimming
Round Lake swimming