When’s the last time you saw the stars? Like, really, saw the stars? And pointed out constellations?

I hope it was yesterday. But in reality, it was probably a lot longer ago than that. Too long.

It had been for me. Up until this past weekend, which I had the pleasure of spending in Joshua Tree National Park.

While stargazing (or, let’s be honest: pointing out the two constellations I know), I realized that THIS would be a perfect getaway for those of you limited on time or money.

Lotsa Joshua Trees.
Lotsa Joshua Trees.

As I like to say, banish those travel excuses!

If you can’t get away for a week, why not go away for a long weekend? If you can’t afford to stay at hotels and eat out, why not go camping?

A few days and nights spent at a state or national park is a fantastic way to satisfy your travel bug and your need for fresh air — without breaking the bank or using your vacation days.

And since it’s not an expensive vacay, it’s also a great way to reunite friends and family from around the area. Just make it easy for them by committing and providing the deets — and they’ll probably join you. (Our group ended up being 12 people!)

If that weren’t enough to sell you, just think of this: you NEED time in nature and away from your screen! Here’s evidence of how it benefits your mind and your body.

Another free activity is to watch dudes fall off their tightropes when they’re really high up. (Don’t worry — he had a harness.)

There are parks in every state — more than 400 in all. Woot woot! So that banishes the time excuse, because there’s got to be one within driving distance of your house.

And now to deal with the money excuse…

At Joshua Tree, the entrance fee is $15 for 7 days. Note that this price is per car, so if you go with a group of friends, this cost will be split among you. If you’re active military, or go on a holiday (like we did), it’s free. The next fee-free weekend is April 19-20. (If you’re planning on going to several parks throughout the year, it’s worth buying an annual pass for $80. Learn more on the informative National Park Service website.)

There are tons of free activities that you can do in a national park — everything from interpretive walks to mountain biking to multi-day hikes. Or alternatively, drinking beers while you take in the magic of it all.

That’s what these lovely strangers are doing. Just soakin’ it in.

Though personally, our group did spend more on hotel, food, and activities — the point is that you CAN do this type of trip for very little money.

We weren’t trying to go low-budget on this trip. If we had been, we could’ve made it much cheaper by camping, cooking our meals, and sticking to free activities. That’s the takeaway here.

And if I could get a drum roll…

Here’s what a three-day weekend camping trip would’ve cost:

Gas: $60/2 people = $30 (you’re carpooling, right?!)
Lodging: $10/night (for up to SIX people) x 3 = $30/2 = $15
Food: $30 (for simple food like pasta and sandwiches to cook at camp)
Drinks: $20 (one box of wine should do ya)
Park pass: $0 (holiday, bitches!)
Activities: $0 (hiking, stargazing, mountain biking, birdwatching, ranger activities, photography)

TOTAL: $95

Under $100 for THREE days/nights of fun?! Can you believe that? To put it in further perspective…

Here’s what you’d probably spend on a three-day weekend at home:

Gas: $10 (driving around to activities, restaurants, etc)
Night out: $50 (let’s be realistic: this is a low estimate of what you’d spend on dinner + drinks)
Brunch: $20
Groceries: $10 (food you’re eating at home)
Coffee: $5 (gotta have your hangover latte!)
Movie ticket: $12 (Muppets movie!)

TOTAL: $107

That’s MORE than our budget weekend at Joshua Tree! I think that’s worth it for three days of fresh air, adventure, and fun — don’t you?

Even if camping is not your thing: don’t despair. As you can see, there are ways to travel on the cheap. You just have to set your mind to it and be creative — and you might just end up with a weekend getaway for under $100!

When’s the last time you visited a national park? 

In case you’re interested, here are my specific recommendations for Joshua Tree:

29 Palms Inn: An adorable collection of adobe cottages on its own oasis shouldering the park. Many of them have their own fireplaces and outdoor spaces. They had a pool, art center, and awesome restaurant and bar. We especially loved the free breakfast and free weekly yoga class. Cost: $70-$169/night (depending on room + dates)

We are rock climbing. Obvs.

Cliffhanger Guides: Since Joshua Tree is famed for climbing, we decided to do a rock-climbing lesson. My friend found and booked a group introductory lesson with Cliffhanger Guides, and we loved it! It was well worth the $90 fee (including five hours of instruction and lunch) to get over our fears and get up that mountain! (Note that this is a group rate, and the lesson is much more expensive with only a few people.)

Downtown Josh: This dive bar was steps from our hotel, and was only denoted by a giant “Cocktails” sign on the outside. That was enough for us! Offering a jukebox, shuffleboard, and pool tables, this cash-only bar was a blast to spend an evening in.

Keys View: This viewpoint inside of Joshua Tree National Park offers gorgeous views of the Coachella Valley and San Andreas Fault.

The way down from Lost Horse Mine.

Lost Horse Mine Trail: It was hot outside, we were hungover, and we needed a nice easy trail. This fit the bill. Only four miles in total, with barely an incline. It took us about two hours to complete at a slow pace. The old mine was semi-cool, and the views coming back down were really nice.

Pappy & Harriets: Good times and good food are served up at this saloon in Pioneertown. (Hat tip to Jen!) Though it’s a little far from 29 Palms, it is well worth the drive. I mean, this was the music performance we saw. Need I say more?