The Most Epic (Budget) Summer Vacation Idea for Teachers!

Mrs. Buff likes to get down with budget vacations while tent camping in Montana.

If you’re looking for the most memorable way to have an epic summer vacation, consider a LOW BUDGET road trip. Since most educators have time in June and July available, a low cost adventure on the road can be a lot of fun! Traveling from place to place for a couple of weeks isn’t as crazy of an idea as it may sound…or maybe it is. Regardless, the Buffingtons have done this twice – once in 2014 and another 2016.

Buffs Do North Dakota

Truthfully, you just need reliable transportation, a tent, a cooler of food, some cash, and an opportunity for adventure. In 2014 we traveled from Georgia to California, exploring the southern USA. In 2016, we left Georgia, headed to North Dakota, then drove out to Washington State, stopping at all kinds of places on the way. This was our northern USA trip.

I’m most certain that people were questioning our sanity. I take that as an extreme compliment. Glacier National Park.

If your curiosity has been even the slightest bit peaked, here are some pointers, facts, and even a few ideas to get you going:

  • Tent camping doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. 
    • We bought a $100 “Walmart Special” tent that was big enough for 8 people. There are only 4 of us. You do the math. All that extra room gave us plenty of space for luggage, and, well…some space between the children. Mrs. Buff and I got pretty good at setting the tent up, averaging around 10 minutes from opening the bag to hammering out the last stake. 
Camping in North Dakota
  • We all slept comfortably on air mattresses or sleeping pads. I bought a power inverter from Amazon that allowed us to plug-in house hold appliances like electronics and an air pump. The kids were around the ages of 8 and 5 at the time and could set up their own sleeping equipment.
    • If you’re heading out West, you need to be prepared for all temps. A 30 degree sleeping bag is pretty safe in June and July unless you’re in high altitudes. 
    • We slept good…unless there was a thunderstorm. You can always jump in the car if weather gets out of hand. 
    • Some campgrounds have electricity, hot showers, pools, and vending machines. Others are more primitive. 
  • Campsites range from free to $40, with most tent sites being around $20. If you did 21 days of camping that would be around $500. 
  • In our opinion, a tent was WAY better than a cheap motel. Often times it smelled better and felt safer. 
  • If you’re in Grizzly territory, pick up some bear spray and watch a video on how to use it. We never encountered anything unsafe, but it was reassuring. 
Camping in Oregon
  • National Parks most often require reservations because of their popularity. You can live a little more freely and not feel rushed by staying at state and private parks, living your best Anthony Bourdain life with no reservations. You can usually find a nice place within 30 minutes of a national park.
  • No reservations can be scary…but this was the key to the entire trip. When you have reservations, you are forced to make a certain time. For example, if you happened to find a super cool place on the way and would like to stay an extra day or so and explore it…NOPE, you have a reservation in the next town 100 miles away. Tent camping makes this flexible adventure a lot more feasible. 
  • Pack your own food. Bring a cooler. Drink lots of water. We picked out restaurants very purposefully, usually spotting tasty treats via Instagram. And to further save money, we would usually only dine out during lunch. 
Grocery Getting
  • Have an idea of which places you want to visit. For example, we really wanted to visit Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Glacier National Park in Montana. Those were non-negotiables. But we also had the freedom to check out other, more obscure places like a hot spring in Idaho (Really, this place looked like a scene out of the Cocoon movie). 
  • Friends and Family. This is your opportunity to pull your best Cousin Eddie (National Lampoons style) and visit long-lost friends and family across the country. It’s fun catching up, eating a home cooked meal, and taking a non-camp shower. 
  • AirBnb and Hotels. If you check the forecast and it looks like you’ll need to borrow Noah’s ark, consider staying in a AirBnb or hotel. And if you are going the “non reservations” route, you can snag some sweet last minute deals. I remember messaging an AirBnB host the day of a possible booking and letting him know what my budget was. The rate was cut significantly and we stayed warm and cozy for a couple of nights. 
Cannon Beach, Oregon (Scenes from “Goonies” was shot here)
  • Six Flags. At the time, we had season passes at Six Flags over Georgia. I found out that our passes could be used at other Six Flags parks around the country. We visited Six Flags in San Fransisco for no additional money. 
  • Electronics. Since this trip was very outdoorsy and full of adventure, I had no problem with the kids playing games or watching movies while on the road. That being said, we would set limits, giving them opportunities to do non-techy things in the car too. 
On a ferry, transporting our car and offspring. Washington State.

I have spent a similar amount of money for a 3-4 day Disney vacation, but to be honest, I felt robbed. Maybe it was the crowds and long lines, but still. 

I NEVER once felt like I was getting ripped off on a 3-4 week out west camping adventure. 

Love, Buff

Glacier National Park