If you are looking for some cheap camping spots or are RVing on a budget, New Mexico is the place to be. There are a ton of free BLM and dispersed camping spots throughout the state and the State Parks are very reasonable at $14 a night for w/e. If you are spending a significant amount of time in New Mexico, look into the annual park pass which is around $200 and cuts the nightly cost of state parks to $4 for w/e.
On average in the past 6 months, we have spent $23.51 a night on accommodation, which we think is pretty good. We spent 3 weeks traveling through New Mexico, so doing the math, that would typically cost around 500 bucks ($493.71 to be exact). But we managed to significantly cut that by more than half!!!! 21 nights cost us a total of $199.19, about $9.48 a night. AND we could have done it cheaper but we had to bail on 2 BLM sites that we had planned. Having a 30 foot class A is not the most convenient for boondocking, most of the roads are rough and rutted and sometimes the sites are too small or we just can’t get Wanda level so we have to bail.
So here is the rundown on where we camped:
1. Brantley Lake State Park, Carlsbad: $14 per night w/e
After a day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park we camped here for a couple of nights. No one mans the front entrance, you just drive through, find an open spot and pay at the self pay station. You can also reserve sites ahead of time for an extra fee. This park is kind of in the middle of the desert with not much around, but it was pretty and peaceful with a nice Lake Loop trail to take the dogs. It has the typical state park amenities: bathrooms, showers and a dump station.
2. Holloman Lake, Holloman Air Force Base: Free
This was our home base for our visit to White Sands National Monument, which was only about 10 minutes away. It was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and while we were there we only saw a couple of other campers. For your safety, the lake water is contaminated and not safe to drink or swim in. We knew this going in and just kept ourselves and the dogs away from it and had no problem. We did hear recently that public access to the area may be prohibited in the future due to the contamination, so check before heading in.
3. Leasburg Dam State Park, Las Cruces: $14 a night w/e
This is a nice well maintained state park not too far from the main attractions in Las Cruces. We ended up here by default after a BLM spot didn’t work out. There are a couple of different loops to choose from with different levels of amenities. Our loop had w/e hookup and pit toilets, but there were showers by the park office on the other side of the park. Each site has a picnic table under a covered patio and there are several trails to walk here. One odd thing we did notice on our walk to the Dam was that there was no water in it! That was pretty strange.
4. Elephant Butte State Park, Truth or Consequences: $8 per night primitive camping
This state park is very big with several developed campgrounds, but you can also dry camp on the beach or anywhere else in the park where you can find a spot. We decided to dry camp because we wanted to stay on the beach….that did not go so well as Wanda got stuck in some deep soft sand and we needed to get towed out. But after all the drama, we ended up finding an awesome secluded spot which worked our better for us anyway.
5. Cracker Barrel, Albuquerque: Free
Good old Cracker Barrel. We really appreciate that Cracker Barrels allow RVers to stay overnight. It is always good in a pinch and we usually find that they are quieter and less crowded than Walmart parking lots.
6. Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post, Albuquerque: Passport America Rate $18 per night full hookup
Free camping spots in Albuquerque are hard to come by. There is nothing really convenient or nearby, so after the first night we found this RV park through Passport America. Before we set out on this trip we joined several membership programs for discounts on camp sites. Passport America was the cheapest at $44 a year and it is by far the one that has been most helpful to us. We use it quite frequently and it saves us a lot of money as you typically get 50% off a nightly rate at participating campgrounds. We highly recommend it if you don't already have it!
Enchanted trails is a nice medium sized campground on historic Route 66 and a convenient place to stay while exploring Albuquerque.
7. Caja Del Rio, Sante Fe National Forest: Free
This was a great BLM spot we found in Sante Fe National Forest. Just be sure to take the long way to get there, the GPS wanted us to take a shortcut down a steep rutted dirt road and across the Sante Fe River. No way Wanda could have handled that, so we had to drive the long way on Highway 599 and double back.
This was probably the most popular BLM spot we have stayed in and there were a bunch of other RVers, campers, and vans but there is plenty of space and everyone kept to themselves. The Railyard and Canyon Road, popular tourist spots in Sante Fe, was about a half hour away. And while there are pit toilets located here, I wouldn’t plan on using them.
8. Coronado Campground, Bernalillo: $25 per night w/e 3 nights
This is a small campground is located right off Highway 550. We ended up here for a few days while we waited for some packages to catch up with us. There is not much to do around here but there are plenty of stores if you need to restock or have any projects you need to work on. Our biggest complaint here was that their WiFi signal was terrible and we didn't have great reception on our phones or with our Verizon MiFi.
9. Walmart, Farmington: Free 1 night
We intended on visiting the Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and almost made it, but the last leg of the trip is 20 miles on a terrible bumpy dirt road. We decided to turn around and not risk breaking something. Without a real plan of where to go we stopped at the Walmart in Farmington. They have a huge lot just past their auto center in the back and away from the highway where RVs can park. It was definitely the quietest Walmart we have slept in.
We enjoyed our time in New Mexico and were happy to take advantage of the free campsites to not only save some money but to camp the way we like, out in the wilderness on our own.
Do you prefer boondocking or full hookups at an RV park? Let us know in the comments below.
By: Ashley Quiambao
Our road trip through New Zealand was a bucket list trip for us. New Zealand has a ton of unique scenery, a lot of hiking, and plenty of outdoor activities, so it seemed like a perfect fit. But we were aware from the beginning that it was not going to be cheap, in fact it was one of our more expensive trips. With that in mind, we started to discuss planning the trip ourselves.
In the past, we have planned our own trips (albeit shorter and less complicated ones), worked with travel companies and worked with a travel agent for our South African wedding/honeymoon. Our experience using a travel agent was great, we were thrilled with the package she came up with and had an absolutely amazing trip. The downside of course, was the cost. Sometimes it is worth the splurge to have someone else plan and book everything, but we could not afford that luxury for our New Zealand vacation.
Now, planning a multi-stop international trip when you have no familiarity with the country or locations is a daunting task. Planning our trip to include both North and South Island and approximately 10 locations was extremely time consuming and a bit overwhelming. I spent hours and hours researching places to visit, where to stay, things to do and how to get there. In the end, I came up with a pretty good process for planning and organizing the trip, a method I will definitely use for future adventures. Hopefully, it will help save you some time and $$ as well!
Step 1: Research! Spend a lot of time researching the location, the best time of the year to travel, the weather, different areas you want to visit, the culture of the country, the conversion rate (this is SO important, you need to know how far your money will go) and search for activities that suit you and your travel style.
Step 2: Make a list of all of the places you want to visit/stay and what activities you want to do. Now, this may be quite a lengthy list, so consider how many days you have and how much traveling you want to do. Depending on whether you want a more adventurous trip or more relaxing trip, you will probably need to trim this list down to what is an absolute must for you.
Our list was very long and we did not do such a great job trimming it down, but our travel style is pretty much GO GO GO, see everything and do everything. We usually come home more exhausted than when we left, but that’s what we love.
Step 3: Get a map and pin every location you plan to stop at. This will help you determine if there are any outliers or out of the way stops that need to be eliminated. This will also give you an idea of where to start the trip and the most convenient order to follow to get to the rest of the destinations.
This visual was so helpful for me! I was not sure where we should fly into and what direction everything was. By looking at the map of New Zealand I was able to orient myself to where things were and decide that we should fly into Auckland first (the northernmost location we were stopping at) and then drive south through the country all the way to our last stop in Queenstown. I was also able to plan the best driving routes and minimize our time in the car by assuring there was no doubling back or driving out of the way.
Step 4: Determine how many days and nights in each location. Search for and make reservations for places to stay. Be creative with this! We’ve stayed at everything from a working farm to a tiny house. Vacation is the perfect time to experience new things, so don’t be afraid to trade in the typical hotel room for some out of the box accommodations.
A huge way we saved money was by renting apartments, baches, and even tiny houses through Airbnb and New Zealand’s own rental sites like bookabach.com (interesting tidbit, the word “bach” means a small holiday home or beach house in New Zealand). I had a budget in mind for each night and limited my search parameters to that price range. I was pleasantly surprised at the availability of rentals in each location. Word of advice here, beyond looking at availability, price and the condition of the places, make sure you carefully review the listings for any musts as far as amenities (our Auckland apartment had no A/C and the windows did not open, which was an uncomfortable mistake to make in the middle of the summer).
Before booking the rentals, I checked local hotel rates to make sure renting through private owners was the best way to go. I couldn’t find many options in our price range that weren’t dated or in inconvenient locations. When I compared hotels that were of the same quality of the apartments and houses I found, I was honestly shocked at how much we would be saving. Plus, the ability to have a kitchen and cook some of our own meals was definitely another cost saving bonus.
Step 5: Book and plan specific activities you want to do.
One of our favorite things to do is hike, which luckily is a relatively cheap hobby. In New Zealand, there are a lot of beautiful hikes and other activities you can do for free as there are no fees for most of the trails, parks, and beaches. But, New Zealand is also the adventure capital of the world, so there are also plenty of unique and expensive activities too. We chose plenty of free activities and some more expensive tours such as a heli-hike, a scenic flight and boat tour to an active volcano. For us, these tours were absolutely worth the extra cost and mixing and matching these activities helped keep our budget on track.
Step 6: Celebrate because you just saved yourself a ton of money!
Even after all our stops, activities and tours, planning the NZ trip on our own saved us around FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!! I know this because during my planning I started to wonder if all of the time and effort was worth it. So, I contacted several travel agents and asked for proposed itineraries, which included every location and activity on our list. The proposals that I got back were outrageous! We would have had to cut out several stops and tours to stay within our budget. While every country and trip is different, it was clearly in our best interest financially to plan our New Zealand trip on our own. The time sacrificed in the planning process paid us back tenfold because we we were able to stay everywhere we wanted and had the flexibility to do more activities.
I hope I inspired some of you to act as your own travel agent and use the above roadmap next time you have multiples stops on your itinerary or are looking for ways to save some money on vacation. I am sure that your wallet will thank you!
By Ashley Quiambao