Its no secret that if you are on the actual trail, the footpath itself, you can't spend money. Unless you have a cell signal, I guess, and could order stuff via credit card, or book a room in the next town.
Most money is spent, and wasted in town. So, to stay on budget, or work with small funds, my number one rule is to limit town time.
When I first started long distance hiking, we would hike a week, head into town, get a motel room, then proceed to do laundry, clean up our packs, buy food and eat out.
Because we split the motel cost, it wasn't too bad. But, by the time a person eats three meals in a restaurant with tips, catches a movie, rents a car or uses a taxi perhaps, the money adds up.
When I started hiking solo, I found the days spent in town were not restful. I slept better in my tent, and felt more relaxed beside a lake.
I developed a style where I'd spend about $30 bucks on food for the next week, and head back to the trail.
By keeping my expenses down, I could work seasonally, and enjoy many more long distance hikes.
This is the big picture.
I realize the first step in budgeting is proper mindset.
If you feel deprived, in a scarcity based mindset, depression, fear and worry will overtake you. This is no way to hike a trail.
Joy and freedom, with a measure of physical challenge, should be the prevailing mood.
Not that there won't be miserable days. But never quit in the rain. Never quit from boredom, or minor pain.
Its important to feel in control of your destiny, no matter what your budgeting style is.
With that in mind, I'll share my strategies for luxury on a budget. This is my lifestyle, which I practice on or off trail.
Your mileage will vary.
Number One-Limit Town Days
On any long trail, there are various towns used for resupply. The Appalachian Trail has more than most and in three seasons, the closest towns are aware of the trail and its hikers.
There are scores of hostels, motels and post offices which assist the hiker in their journey.
A person could sleep on a mattress, or head into town every three days or so. Of course this lessens the pack weight, but it seriously impacts the trail experience and budget.
If you chose to stay at a "donation only" hostel, please do contribute a donation. Just because we're on a budget doesn't mean we're cheap or stingy. Remember that hikers are grouped together and what you do, how you conduct yourself will impact the way the next group of hikers are received.
One motel closed its doors to hikers entirely when a person rented the room for the night for one occupant. He then proceeded to let all his friends , eleven total, take free showers. Not good.
I chose towns that are about a weeks hike apart, and use near the trail convienence stores (within two tenths of a mile) for additional snacks whenever possible.
Be aware, though, in this economy many smaller shops may have changed their hours or closed entirely. If you read in someone's journal about a cute cafe' just down the highway, try to get up to date information before wasting time on it.
If you are using the post office to send or receive stuff, head into town on a weekday. I've know guys who got in on a Friday evening, only to find the post office already closed, not open on Saturday, which meant they were hung up in that town until Monday morning. This is very costly.
Check your trail guide or data book and configure the mileages to get you into town mid week if possible.
If you adopt the No-over-nights in town hiking style, camp within a few miles of the road. In the morning, rise early, eat breakfast and get into town before lunch.
Eat a nice lunch, or whatever you're craving so that you're not shopping on an empty stomach. Stop by the post office. If there's a hiker box, see if there's anything you can use.
Next, go shopping for food and fuel, carrying a handbasket so that you are aware of the actual weight. If things have been lean, you'll over compensate and end up with a ton of food in a cart. Thats why I carry a basket.
Next, head to the laundromat if the town has one. Using the bathroom, strip to rain pants and top, all the rest goes in the washer. While the washer and dryer is taking care of the laundry, repackage food supplies into your pack, cleaning out garbage as you go.
Treat yourself to some town food, or a hot meal, then head back to the trail in time to get a few miles past the road.
This is a basic town scenario.
Being adaptable to your location, group size or special circumstances will make it fun and lively.
Nothing is set in stone. I have been able to resupply nearly half of my needs out of a hiker box at a cheap motel frequented by thru hikers. We split the room three ways, making that town stop very affordable as well.
While in town, unless you actually need something, try to avoid gear shops. Especially if you're with other hikers, its easy to drop some cash or use a credit card on impulse purchases.
We'll write about preparing gear for the trail next week. For now, in budgeting, we'll assume your gear is in order.
Always carry the repair kit of needle, dental floss, electrical tape and free flowing super glue for gear to avoid expensive town splurges.