MagazineAugust 20088 Ways to Save Money on a Supported AT Hike

8 Ways to Save Money on a Supported AT Hike

Jen and I haven’t had a formal budget on the trip. That’s because neither of us like keeping track of our money (and yes, that’s something we’re both going to have to work on as we get further along in our marriage). But it’s also because we’re by nature very thrifty people. I shop at Frugal Backpacker or online at sierratradingpost.com for my outdoor gear; Jen just gets her stuff for free. And when we eat out, a lot of times we use a coupon book I got from a student last spring. We also know where the deals are. For example, did you know you can get an enormous burrito, chips, salsa, and a drink for $5 at Moe’s on Monday nights? That’s almost $4 off the regular price.
Even though we don’t have a budget per se, we do have a general idea of what we want to spend every week on this trip, and that figure is $200. Jen’s mom sounded really impressed last week when I told her about our quasi-budget, so I thought I’d share some tricks for completing a supported AT hike on a shoestring. Some of these suggestions are no-brainers and some are a bit of a stretch (Ok, a complete stretch), but I’ll include everything to be as helpful as possible for future hikers and their support crews. . .
Get a sponsor. This only works if you’re a Hiker Princess like my wife. Still, if you’ve built a substantial hiking resume or if you have a particular cause that could garner some publicity, you may want to approach a local outdoor store. Diamond Brand Outfitters hooked us up with everything from sleeping bags and shoes to Clif bars and a stove, and we’re extremely grateful to them for their generosity. Jen also got a sizeable stipend from Mountain Tech, an outdoor equipment research company, and we’re indebted to them, as well.
Find hotel deals. I mentioned in another blog that whenever I can, I go by the interstate visitor centers and pick up coupon guides. We splurge on hotels about twice a week, and I bet we save close to $20 every time because we use coupons. We tend to stay at the Econolodge variety more than the Hampton or Holiday Inns, but as long as the we get a bathtub and wireless Internet and there aren’t police in the parking lot when we check in, we feel good about it.<br>
And when we can’t find deals, we make them. When we stayed at a hotel in Monson, Maine, I mentioned that we were newlyweds and the manager took off $20 and gave us a private room instead of one with bunks. A lot of places offer hiker discounts, too. Also, if they seem willing, I negotiate with the managers. When we were in Tyringham, Massachusetts, I called several hotels and all the prices were around $90. Then I called a Rodeway Inn that was two miles off the Interstate, and told the lady we didn’t want to pay more than $60, and she said Ok.
Borrow maps from a friend. Jen’s buddy Warren, who is the AT version of Yoda, lent us his atlas/gazetteers for Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Nowadays, you can’t find atlases for less than $20. But then again, you have to know someone who’s got them lying around.<br>
Apply for those “club” cards at grocery stores. I don’t always know how many times I’m going to visit a particular chain, but even if it’s only once, I take the three minutes and apply. I now have a collection of cards from Shaw’s and Price Chopper in New England, P&C in New York, Martin’s in Pennsylvania, and Kroger in Virginia. I’ll throw them away after the trip, but I bet I’ve saved $150 using those cards. The other day we got buy “one get one free”; pints of blueberries. Mmmm. . .
Coast on the down hills. This is where I’m probably crossing the line from penny-wise to missing some screws, but on some of these windy, rarely used mountain roads, I shift into neutral and coast down the mountains. My mom told me years ago that she used to do this with her high school buddies back in the day. I think she also told me it’s illegal now, but hey, extreme gas prices call for extreme measures. I don’t feel like I’m being irresponsible because these roads are almost NEVER used and I always stay under 30. Well, almost always. . .
Find a wife who doesn’t use expensive facial soap, shaving cream, or make-up. This probably doesn’t apply for most of the folks out there, but maybe it does for some. I’ve known for a while that Jen didn’t wear make-up, but I didn’t know about the shaving cream until she pointed out that she’s shaved with regular soap for years. It’s like even before she met me Jen knew she’d marry a poorly paid schoolteacher.
And finally. . . accept the generosity of caring friends. My friend (and groomsman) Miles gave Jen and me twelve dozen homemade cookies and probably 10 bags of Trader Joe’s trail mix after our wedding. The C’s, the K’s, and our friend Jay brought threw us a picnic of sandwiches, salads, brownies, and beer at Kent, Connecticut. They also left us with about a month’s supply of nuts, fruit chews, granola bars, summer sausage, beef jerky, and instant oatmeal. Our new trail runner friend Steve, who owns a chain of drug stores in New York, gave us 10 free bags of Kettle Chips when he found out Jen liked them. And all along the trail, kind people have asked us to stay with them, do laundry, or shower at their place without expecting anything in return. And we’ve had loads of folks in TN and NC offer to bring us food and drinks as well.
So that’s the formula we’ve used. Sometimes it’s tough cutting corners like this, but when we get home, Jen and I are going to use the money we saved to get Swedish massages and spend a day at the Grove Park Spa. And that’s when it’ll all be worth it.

Places to Go, Things to See: