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

Adam2
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:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/recreation/rentals/

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?
http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm

AND all of these places are on a map:
http://www.recreation.gov/unifSearchResults.do

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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