Travel offers the opportunity to see and experience amazing corners of the world. But the exorbitant cost of many eco-adventures can put them out of reach. Depending on location, flights and comfort level, vacations within the U.S. alone can cost anywhere from $500 (drivable weekend trip) to more than $1,500 (flight, four to seven days). Add a rental car or side trips and you’re well over $2,000. Traveling out of the country will hit your wallet even harder.
But with a little creativity, there are plenty of ways to experience nature’s wonders within your means.
Embarking on the Cheap
Planning your own road trip helps you control travel costs. Plan to drive to where the cost of living is lower (think Tennessee rather than New York City). The closer to home, the better. Search out the 100-mile radius around your home, and research budget lodging options—such as rural bed-and-breakfasts, cheap motels and campgrounds—and find out what activities are free or inexpensive. Wine tasting at an organic winery costs about $10-$15, and admission to state parks is about $3. Dine at restaurants only once a day; pack an ice-filled cooler with breakfast staples and lunch fixings, plus a variety of snacks and reusable water bottles.
If your wanderlust takes you farther, a number of outfitters offer guided backpacking trips, such as A Walk in the Woods’ long-weekend Appalachian Trail trip ($670) and Yosemite National Park’s four-day Buena Vista Lake trip ($400).
Sierra Club’s backpacking trips range from Hidden Splendors of Mineral King, Sequoia National Forest and Park in California (July 25-August 2, 2010; $645) to Goat Rocks Splendor in Washington (August 8-14, 2010; $595). “Trip leaders are volunteers, so you’re getting the expertise of people who are passionate about the area and have extensive backpacking résumés,” says Jason Halal, marketing manager for Sierra Club Outings.
Volunteer on Vacation
For extra eco-benefit, consider a volunteer vacation. On Sierra Club service trips, work can range from cutting fallen trees to weeding out invasive plants to changing drainage systems. Other service trips take volunteers on archeological digs or have them assist in research projects.
Trip price includes food and necessary supplies; travelers pay their own transportation costs. This summer, volunteers will clear trails and restore campsites in Selway-Bitterroots Wilderness in Mon-tana and Idaho (August 15-21; $495). A conservation-based trip to Mt. Agamen-ticus in Maine will have travelers doing trail maintenance to reduce erosion and protect the local ecosystem (September 12-18; $495).
“You feel like an insider, working with park rangers and getting a behind-the-scenes look at parks,” says Halal.
The American Hiking Society offers six- to 10-day volunteer vacations—costing $275 for non-members—that take place in dozens of hiking hotspots from Hawaii to West Virginia. Stewardship projects involve controlling erosion, whacking invasive plants or constructing new trails. Costs cover food, campsite or cabin fees and park entrance fees.
“People can explore a place that they may not have been before while giving back to the hiking trails that they enjoy,” says Libby Wile, the society’s volunteer programs manager. And such service trips also offer travelers a chance to meet people with similar outdoor interests.
Join one of the Col-orado Trail Foundation’s 15 work crews for a weekend or a week. After setting up camp, the week includes training, trail maintenance and time for hiking, fishing or relaxing; evenings are filled with campfires, games and free time. The $60 per week or $30 per weekend fee covers food, leadership and supplies.
Not into trail work? A volunteer stint with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) could have you working on an organic farm, tending hens, feeding livestock, turning compost, planting, harvesting and more. “WWOOFers get to travel and see beautiful rural places that are often unvisited,” says spokesperson Ryan “Leo” Goldsmith.
In return for half-days of labor, volunteers get food, accommodation and learning opportunities; the cost is a $20 membership fee. With more than 1,200 hosts in the network, you can find a farm that fits your desired length of stay, accommodations, work preferences…and budget.