OFF-GRID and inexpensive life on the open road

Living life on the road…on a shoestring budget

doesn’t leave much wiggle room financially, and I like being free of expensive habits. So here are a few of my budget-savers which you may want to adapt for your travels!

Generally, I spend less than $5 a day on food.  I don’t have a fridge in the camper, and just use a cooler, which I keep covered with a cooling cover I made with Reflectix material and duct tape.  I shop at Aldi/Dollar Stores for inexpensive packaged food and snacks.  The cooler, which I use without ice, keeps food protected from the heat and I store eggs at room temperature, hard cheese to grate, peanut butter and jelly, bread, fruit, fresh vegetables, crackers, raisins/M&Ms/honey nut cheerios snack mix, etc.  In my kitchen drawers, I store package goods — tuna salad, chili, corned beef hash, soup, stew, bags of cornbread/cake/brownie/cookie mixes, bags of chips, etc. I keep a variety to last a couple of weeks at a time. If I spend $30 on food supplies at a time, that lasts me quite a while, in part because I plan my trips to stop in for visits with family/friends and am often fed by them! (MOOCH CAMPING is fun, love visiting with them, and keeps me social/engaged with everyone!)

Cooler (front passenger seat removed)
Portable 12 volt stove with the fixins for apple cobbler

Above is a simple 12 volt portable stove which plugs into the 12volt power source on the dashboard. An hour before stopping for a hot meal, I plug in this stove while the engine is running (it looks kind of like an old fashioned lunchbox and sits in a Reflectix-lined basket in the console area of the van) and add a quick meal — can of chili with cornbread mix on top, soup with biscuit mix on top, water and pasta, French bread pizza, chicken and gravy, beef stew, corned beef hash with fresh eggs on top, you name it! Or for dessert, a brownie mix, cookie dough, or pie filling/cake mix for a cobbler or buckle (shown above, apple pie filling with a spice cake mix).  20-40 minutes down the road, the meal/dessert is ready so I unplug the stove and leave it closed and hot until I stop to eat. Costs around $30 from Amazon.

12-volt beverage heater

Remembered from my old college days, I recently purchased a new beverage heating coil, seen above, about $10 from Amazon. Adding water to a coffee mug (not anything plastic), I can plug this into the dashboard 12 volt power source while the engine is running, and heat a cup of hot water within minutes.  Great for adding oatmeal/cream of wheat packets, ramen noodles to make a quick meal, just a cup of hot chocolate or tea, etc. (I don’t drink coffee, or that would be another quick cup.)

Portable 12 volt/solar generator,

Another great money-saver is the solar/12 volt generator I use to charge my phone, laptop, Kindle, or run a fan. No need to carry fuel!!! When driving, I charge the generator through the 12 volt power source on my dashboard.  I can charge my phone and Kindle easily at night from the generator so I don’t need to run my engine.  I run my laptop for several hours a day off this generator, as I teach online classes one to three hours a day to fund my travels.  This generator can be charged one of three ways – through the 12 volt power source in the van dashboard while driving, if hooked up to a solar panel (which I may add in the near future as it is a separate kit), or through anyone’s 110 house plugin (AC input) while visiting – adaptors for all three are included. This smaller than 8-inch generator has 2 USB ports, and can be plugged into with the normal 110 current plug of most fans (AC output), and will switch from AC to DC if low on power.  It has a power level LED display, and an ultra-bright LED emergency light. The cost on Amazon was less than $145. Since there is no fuel and the size is very compact and lightweight, I can easily stow this generator out of sight when I will be away from the van.

2 gallon solar shower

Another great addition when on the road this year is a simple solar shower pump. I purchased a new 2-gallon plastic pump multi-purpose sprayer for $10 from Walmart’s garden aisle. I spray painted the plastic bottle with black matte so it will absorb the sunlight more easily to warm the water. I am currently replacing the small spray nozzle on the end with a hose to pipe adaptor and a normal garden hose sprayer.  I can pump the handle a few times and have a decent flow of warm water to rinse off feet, shower, wash my hair, or general cleanup.  2 gallons is not a lot of water, so I am sparse with the water usage.  If I want to take a private shower, I have a hula hoop under the bed with shower curtain attached and I can just hang it up from a tree limb and voila! clean and happy camper!  To be honest, I usually shower at Planet Fitness centers across the country (my only “other” expense at $20 a month to use anywhere) or at the homes of family/friends I am visiting along the way.  But this is still terrific for beach rinsing, etc.

3 drawer kitchen cart in cabinet
Washup sink area on top of kitchen cabinet

My kitchen/washing setup in the van does not have fuel, running water, or refrigeration.  I have a three drawer cart in a homemade cabinet, with a drop-in sink above and a stand for bottled water above the sink.  The three drawer cart has plenty of space for my packaged goods, cooking utensils, spices, pot holders, paper plates and plastic cutlery, cutting board and knives, mugs, etc.  The sink can be easily lifted out to toss the water appropriately.  I use the bottled water to wash, brush my teeth, and spot clean, as well as drink.  The 2.5 gallon jugs of water cost about $2 and I carry one and a spare. I also have a small mirror hanging above the sink to check my bed-head before leaving the van!

Cabinet for potty
Portable self-contained toilet with double bagged waste bag -ready for emergencies

The portable self-contained potty is stored in another homemade cabinet. This cost me $35 for a comfortable potty which I can use in the van or tent. I initially purchased “double-doodie toilet waste bags” which cost over $2 apiece – pretty expensive.  However, I do like the set up and easy disposal so I created my own, using dollar store/Aldi kitchen garbage bags, quart-size ziplock bags and inexpensive toddler disposable diapers, at a cost of less than 60 cents each. I prepare a tote bag full of ready-to-go waste bags, usually about 18 at a time, which lasts me several weeks.  PREP:  I refold the kitchen garbage bags into the ziplock bag and place a diaper in each one.  USE: Then it is quick to grab a ziplock bag, remove the diaper, unfold the kitchen garbage bag (but leaving the bottom end still in the ziplock bag!!) to place into the portable potty.  I pull the kitchen garbage bag top up and over the seat and then place the open diaper in the bottom of the garbage bag.  The diaper soaks up liquid waste, any solid waste is at the bottom of the bag which is double-bag protected with the ziplock bag.  After usage, fold the kitchen garbage bag with waste and diaper down into the ziplock bag (already “attached”), zip it closed, and dispose of the package.  To anyone concerned, this is hygienic – baby diapers are also tossed into regular trash, no medical waste requirements.

Screenhouse sets up in 5 minutes at the campsite (usually I place it over the picnic table provided for bug-free eating)

If I decide to spend some time at a campsite (rare due to expense), I have all my camping gear stored under the bed.  I have a tent, a screenhouse, and gear for cooking over an open fire.  If I do stop for some camping R&R, I will go to a state or federal park or COE (Corps of Engineers) site, which is less expensive than a private campground. I am not interested in amenities and activities, just want a private space under the trees to chill and make a campfire.

Acrylic painting from Cambodia; Cut out family pictures on the wood trim around the van interior
Cut out picture and place on sticky craft foam. Trim and hang – I just staple them to the trim.

Just as an additional FYI, I love to live surrounded by my family so I took a bunch of photos and scanned them into a thumb drive and the cloud. Then I took the original and cut around the person(s). Buy colorful sticky craft foam and attach the photo to the sticky side.  Cut around the photo leaving a colorful edge, and decorate the interior of your van.  I just staple mine to the wood trim.  My family is always with me!

Okay, this concludes some of my tricks to an inexpensive road trip.  I am leaving in about a week for four months, heading east and north.  Happy trails!


From my bookshelf:

“It is perfectly legitimate and even admirable for Americans to promote their personal values through either religious or political processes…. the role of spiritual leaders in America’s civil rights movement is a wonderful example of the healing role faith can play in our national life. But when we attempt to use our government to force others to worship as we do, or treat those who differ as second-class citizens, then we are violating the basic tenets of a democracy…. Unfortunately, many people of faith today focus more on the quarrels that divide us than on the values that unite us.”

Living Faith by Jimmy Carter, 1996