Our California On A Dime Travel Guide is on Amazon for under $4, check it out also Teri’s collection of short hilarious stories, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is out at Amazon and under $5 so grab it for some daily exploits from an adventurous misfit.

*See bottom of this article for useful links.

Lodging is a subjective experience and finding the right “fit” is part of the equation. What one adventurer loves, another is not so enamored of. This traveler has slept out under the stars, in a tent in the snow, in numerous hostels, and in the lap of luxury in a cozy bed with a fireplace glowing. Those experiences and many more have combined to create a myriad of beautiful memories, the vast majority in the spirit of on a dime or less.

You know yourself better than anyone, so it is the hope that this page will define and explain some different options enabling you to take off and explore what syncs with your being. Here’s to finding some new cost saving ideas for places to stay while traveling.

Dispersed Camping (very often free) – This form of camping and the example of California’s Bureau of Land Management availability is for the sort of camper that is not intimidated by orange shoveling it (translation: if you can take care of bathroom business behind a rock, dispersed is for you). Now, that said, there are also dispersed sites (Walker Lake, a fisherman’s dream) that have pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables, but this camper has yet to ever come across one with running water. At this point you may be thinking, “I can pay and I like running water, why would I need to do this?” There is a more elusive answer. Solitude. On a trip to the Alabama Hills, at the base of Mount Whitney, an almost extinct experience was observed for hours on end. It was a euphoric, absolute silence. From 4am-6:30am, as the moon set and the sun rose, not a rustle, not a peep, not a chirp. This is a treeless area so even the early birds were absent. If you think you might enjoy sitting in a camp chair, cozy in your sleeping bag with not a soul around, dispersed could be for you, and adventurers, fear not, the bathroom au natural can be navigated with some wet wipes and a baggie to pack them out. Always check Bureau Of Land Management for dispersed sites in the locale you will be visiting and stop in the Ranger Station, as these guys really know the lay of the land and can advise on all varieties of camping.

Dispersed in California under soaring trees with a lake below.

Campsite under the trees
Campsite under the trees

Dispersed campsite in Sedona, AZ

Dispersed camping Sedona

Fee Camping – Most of you are familiar with campsites that come with a nightly fee. Amenities that are offered can vary but no one will argue that the availability of a hot shower and/or cleaning station for dishes can be pretty righteous when stinky and exhausted. These campsites generally book out quickly in peak times so try your best to plan in advance or travel in the off-season. Your camping experience will likely include a fire ring that allows for cooking as well as a picnic table and, in bear country, a locker for food. Often there will be access to a lake with boat rentals and/or camp market. At some of the more luxurious campgrounds (Convict Lake), you’ll be able to get coffee or even dine in a restaurant.

Convict Lake campsite
Convict Lake campsite

Fees for camping run the gamut from areas like Tuttle Creek near Mount Whitney in California at $5 a night to beach camping at Leo Carrillo in Southern California for $45 a night. Whatever your preference, there is a wealth of choices and all will be less than a motel.

Fee campsite Angel Lake, NV

Hostels – Some of you reading this may not have any idea of hostels beyond a place where college kids crash while traveling Europe. Hostels have gone mainstream and tons of people, all ages and all walks of life, are getting on board. This traveler has stayed at many and had varying experiences. The one thing to take into consideration when booking a hostel is your “go with the flow” tolerance. Hostels are less money for a reason; they are not touting a 24-hour concierge and room service. Once again, you might be thinking, “but I have the money for a hotel so why would I do this?” Hostels encourage more of a feeling of community as most have a guest kitchen and communal living areas. Shared baths are also not unusual. HI Hostels has a reputation for service and cleanliness that has proven reliable on the many trips we’ve taken, and the Yosemite Bug has been consistent in quality on the 5+ times we’ve stayed there. A thing to note: the Yosemite Bug even has a cafe with beer and wine on site as well as a day spa with yoga, massages, and private herbal baths. The beauty of hostelling is you can cook in the kitchen or eat out, you can socialize at the hostel or hunker down for more a more intimate stay, and any way you dice it, you will save considerable money. A recent trip to Point Montara Hostel, had us in a room on the ocean for less than $75 a night. The only thing to consider when hostelling is to clarify any rules related to your stay i.e. quiet times, alcohol regulations, and parking.

View from the room at Point Montara Hostel.

View from Point Montara
View from Point Montara

Hotels/Motels – We won’t spend a ton of time on this as it seems most travelers are very familiar with hotels and motels and a fair amount are well versed in shopping around online and seeking the best deal. The usual discount for Sunday-Thursday applies at a number of places and off-season can yield some savings as well. We took advantage of this on a stay in Cambria at the Little Sur Inn.

On A Dime’s adventurers have bunked in everything from $25 hostel dorm rooms to $200 a night cabin/houses. We don’t really stray above $200 nightly (this is a splurge for us); however, multiple adventurers, chipping in on higher end places opens up the options a bit. When traveling on a budget with a group, another consideration is VRBO, Vacation By Owner. We’ve over-nighted in a large number of these and never had a bad experience. One strategy that seems to bode well for most is to look online at the reviews for a place. It can be revealing if the number of comments lean one direction or another, and we avoid places that lack an abundance of photos.

This photo was taken from a 16th floor room at Circus Circus in Reno. I am not a casino girl but under $60 online? Yep, and lo and behold, non-smoking, plush, large tub and a even an early morning rainbow. We were the only people checking in, carrying backpacks and a single burner stove.

Rainbow Circus, Circus

And on a final note, for the true, out of the box hippie traveler, either Airbnb (charge for renting a private room) or  Couchsurfing (FREE for someone’s sofa). That’s right, go ahead, and click that link. The younger adventurers in my motley crew have couch surfed and also taken advantage of ride share and found these to be advantageous for the budget minded, though using common sense is always strongly advised. One of my crew swears that Couchsurfing is the absolute best way to travel (especially for those wanting to more fully dive into the culture of a new place), and has never had a bad experience. Her guest post in the blog section can give more insight for those that are intrigued.

 Adventurers, the options are plentiful so here’s hoping that no matter your lodging, you find a home away from home on your journey and that many on a dime, larger than life, moments are offered up in which life is in session.

*Gimme Shelter (digital guide to National Parks)

*National Forest and Campgrounds

*Dispersed Camping BLM

*Federal Parks

*Free Campgrounds and more freebie camping

*Reserve America Campground Directory

*Hostel Rocket

*Hostels HI

*Vacation By Owner


*Home Exchange

Life Is In Session