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Case Study: How We Road-tripped Across NM For Less Than $100/day

Natural Hot-springs, Sledding Down Sand and Snowball Fights!


How to cut your lodging cost by 50% or more while staying in the coolest places in the world

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by Isaac Navias in Road Trip
January 22, 2018 0 comments
Today I want to show you how you can experience epic, incredible things within a 5 hour drive from your home at a budget almost ANYONE can afford! When I was younger I always thought I had to travel abroad to experience something epic.
But, as I got older I discovered there’s epicness so close to us here at home, in America, with some of the most breathtaking landscapes ever in the world!
On this trip, we were off to New Mexico. Our first stop: Hillsboro. A 5 hour and 40 minute drive normally, but we took some amazing scenic routes that caused it to be closer to 7 hours. We’re also gonna break down every single expense we incurred to show you how affordable doing luxurious, amazing, incredible things can really be!

Day 1: driving day

How To Make A 7 Hour Drive Feel Like An Adventure Instead Of A Boring, Long Drive

We started hitting some really beautiful awesome sights about half an hour outside our house on Route 60 after Apache Junction, AZ. Route 60 to Miami (Bienviendos a Miami)!! Is a very nice and awesome drive and quite close to Phoenix, AZ.

So we took 60E to 70E all the way to Lordsburg, NM. From there, we took Route 90 to Silver City, New Mexico! In Silver City we hopped on Route 152 and THAT is when things got really fun. Now I’ve gotten very good at reading Google Maps and figuring out where scenic byways are based on switchbacks. And that’s how I found out about Route 152. It led us to the exact location we wanted to be at. It was about an hour longer travel time and takes you off the main highway, but MAN was it awesome! We entered the Gila National Forest and drove in between the Cross-O Mountain and Sawyer’s Peak which was incredible!

After driving through the mountain range for about half an hour to 40 minutes, we stopped at a pull-off to read about the history of the mountains here. When we were getting back in our car, I noticed a small, brown sign that said Emory Pass with a skinny road going up. Kim was quite nervous, but I was like “We’re going to see where this road goes!” And MAN are we glad we did!

At the top of Emory Pass, there was even snow! Not only did I get to pee in it, but we also had an EPIC SNOWBALL FIGHT!

After we went to Emory Pass, it was just a short 40 minute drive to our destination for the night: Hillsboro, New Mexico!! We got in at about 7:00p and we were going to get some food but our hosts were awesome and invited us to hangout with them and their friends, as well as offer us dinner! They fed us with DELICIOUS steak, alaskan reindeer sausage, biscuits, potatoes, and a colorful salad! Day 1 was a great start to an unbelievable trip!

Total Cost Breakdown:

Entertainment (Gas): $22
Housing: Airbnb $29 (with fees $33)/night
Food: Subway $8, TraderJoes Snacks $11, Dinner Free 🙂
Total: $74

Day 2: Let the fun begin!

Finding A Hidden Gem

We had heard about this really funky town and their incredible hot springs from a Couchsurfer we had stayed with previously. So on Day 2, we decided to go check out Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico! The town itself was pretty funky. It was a mix between like a nice artsy community, like Sedona, ….and a ghost town. The first thing we decided to go check out was the Elephant Butte State Park. This was quite a LARGE lake in the middle of New Mexico where there’s really not much other water. The landscape was unique because the area surrounding it was quite desolate which doesn’t really happen around water that often. We got to see an epic-ly large Dam and some Elephant Buttes.

After checking out a few cool shops in town, we went to get our soak on at, what is our opinion, one of the nicest hot springs in America! Riverbend Hot Springs. I booked us a private spa and for the luxurious view and facilities, the cost was truly astounding.

For only $30 You…Get…This:

We had the Apache private spa all to ourselves at a comfortable 103-105 degree Farenheit temperature overlooking these stellar mountains while bathing in a mineral bath so close to the Rio Grande river. We couldn’t have asked for a better view or a more romantic way to spend 45 minutes of our time. Yea, you bet we totally stripped down the second we got in there. I mean there’s no cameras watching us and nothing that says you can’t soak nude so why not? So after being all fancy and shit, we headed back to our AirBnB for the night but we took a little scenic route on the way back which was quite beautiful.

Total Cost Breakdown:

Entertainment: $30 for a 2 person private hotspring for 50 minutes
Housing: $33
Food: Breakfast Oatmeal, Lunch Self Made Sandwiches $8, Dinner $22
Total: $93


Day 3: the journey to white sands

Wait…what?? An old hotel and a missile range!

We started the day in Hillsboro, NM and took Route 27 to 26 to Highway 25. Now one of the most affordable and most entertaining aspects of any road trip is the “hidden scenic byways and scenic routes.” Many of which are not marked or advertised anywhere. 27 was one such route. Once we got off the scenic byways, we ran into a little town called Hatch, which is apparently the Green Chile capital of the world! From there, we went to Las Cruces and took a detour towards the Organ Mountain Range before heading to White Sands. I actually found this trail on AllTrails, an app I regularly use. So, we hopped off Route 70 and took Baylor Road which drove us right in front of the mountain range. From there, we took Dripping Springs Road and we ended up in a National Monument we had no clue existed: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

National Monuments usually have a very affordable fee, (this one was $5), but because we have the National Park Pass, we got in for FREE! We took the Dripping Springs Trail which actually turned out to be a really, really awesome trail! Not only was the landscape incredible, the Yuccas were HUGE, but we actually got to see an old hotel built in the 1920’s. It used to be a luxury resort, 2 stories high, up in the mountains. Overall, we really enjoyed the Dripping Springs Trail. We give it (thumbs up emoji). From there, we got back on Route 70 to drive to White Sands National Monument.

Though, in order to get to White Sands, you have to drive through a US Government Missile Testing Range…we did not explode in the process. We made it White Sands at about 4:30p and we decided to do one of the shorter trails before it got dark. We decided to take the Dune Life Nature Trail Loop which wasn’t that far into the park, but we got to see an incredible, amazing sunset over the mountains and reflecting onto the mountains behind us. White Sands wasn’t exactly what we were expecting when we got in since there were many shrubs and meadows about. But, the sunset was beautiful and we were excited to explore deeper into the monument the following day.

Total Cost Breakdown:

Entertainment (Gas): $13
Housing: $45
Food: Oatmeal $2, Lunch: Grass Fed Burgers $23:  Dinner: Shared Chicken Fried Rice + Chicken Satay $16
Total: $99

day 4: from sand to snow

An epic journey from white sands to mountaintops

We woke up with a spark, ready to get our day started! Soon, we were heading to White Sands National Monument with a sled in tow. We got there early around 8:00a…37 degrees Fahrenheit. We got into the park and started heading to the deeper portions. It wasn’t long before the road ended and a sand road began. The sand road was SO firm that Kim didn’t believe that it was made of sand til I showed her the sign that said “ROAD ENDS HERE. SAND BEGINS.” Once the sand road begins is really when White Sands takes form. The dunes get larger and the brush slowly disappears. It wasn’t long before we found out first hill and we were ready to get our slide on!

Here’s Kim’s first experience sledding in sand:

As we explored deeper into the park, the landscape completely transformed into something we had never seen before. We made it to the end of the sand road and parked, and starting walking on the Alkali Flat Trail. However, you can walk WHEREVER YOU WANT. So, instead of following the bright, red posts and the trail, we just meandered through the dunes with our sled in hand. We had found our steepest hill yet!

…And mayhem occurred…

After I biffed it real hard, I stood up, shook it off, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sand easily fell off. From then on, I no longer worried about getting sandy, even rolling in the sand and just shaking off caused all the sand to just fall right off of you. Not only that, but the sand stayed cool throughout the whole day even with the sun shining on it all day long. As we ventured even deeper into the park, we saw an epic hill on the horizon. The steepness of it caused Kim’s heart to skip a beat. We met two new friends at the top and they showed us where the steepest part of this dune was. I launched myself off the edge and about halfway down, the speed picked up even more as I yelled “HOLY SHIT!!!” As I hear Kim, at the top of the dune, just screaming her lungs out! Haha! Even as I hit the bottom of the dune, I still kept going for about 10 feet from the momentum I had built up.

After some epic sledding had been done and the Alkali Trail completed, we headed back to the beginning of the park to grab some food from the Gift Shop. We definitely needed some time to get out of the sun because the sun really does cook you non-stop with no cover in the White Sands. After we replenished, we headed out to the Backcountry Camping Trail. We stayed more on the trail this time, but as the loop ended, we decided to continue journeying further out. It wasn’t long until we found the tallest dune that we came across in the entire park. This dune overlooked most of White Sands. Even though we were only slightly off the loop trail, when we looked around, there was no one in sight. We decided this would be the perfect time to get intimate (winky face) in the White Sands. Now, let me just tell you that this is the most comfortable sand we have ever come across in our entire lives. After we were fully satisfied, we headed back to the car.

The sun was fading fast and we were planning on doing some sunset catching tonight. After making it back to the car, we quickly starting heading to Cloudcroft, NM, a quaint, little town up on a mountaintop. Our first goal though: catching a sunset on top of the mountain. We took Route 82 up to Cloudcroft. However, we really couldn’t see much from there so we ended up taking Route 130 to Sunspot Highway. On that highway, we found two beautiful vistas to watch our sunset at different points. One was a pull off right off the road and the other one was a short loop trail that we found just on the side of the road. Since we were over 8,000 feet, standing at about 10,000 feet, there was SNOW!!! This was the first time in our lives that we had been on both sand and snow on the same day.

After catching a beautiful sunset, we were famished and it was time to eat at Big Daddy’s Diner. Since we had an intense workout and burnt a lot of calories that day, we decided to splurge! I got the All-You-Can-Eat Catfish for $14.95. I ate 5 Catfish, 4 Hush Puppies, Fries, a thing of Coleslaw, and a small soup. I was still full the next day and it felt great! If you ever find yourself in New Mexico, be sure to check out Big Daddy’s Diner for some delicious food in a jaw-dropping location!

Total Cost Breakdown:

Entertainment (Gas): $0
Housing: $45
Food: Breakfast: Diner $14 Lunch: Sandwiches at Park $14 Dinner: All you can eat Catfish $30
Total: $103  (Yes we did go over our $100 a day budget today because I got the all you can eat Catfish Special…#worthit

day 5: the  most epic journey to a volleyball game ever!

Did you say switchbacks? YES PLEASE!

Day 5 was primarily an all driving day and we had a time crunch because we had to get back to Phoenix by our 6:15p sand volleyball game. However, we learned one of the biggest secrets to make a road trip or long drive seem like nothing: finding the scenic routes and the scenic byways. Not only is it incredible to view and you see something new every time, but it re-energizes you and excites you about driving. If we were to take the basic route back to Phoenix, primarily on I-10, it would have taken us 6 hours and 40 minutes. However, I found a alternate route where my intuition just told me that it would be a scenic drive. It did add 1 hour and 20 minutes to our overall journey, however, it made our journey seem so much quicker and shorter.

I really had no information about this route, but I’ve gotten really good at spotting switchbacks on routes. And switchbacks almost always means we’re going to see something amazing! So, we left Alamogordo, traveling on the main highways until we hit Route 180 to Silver City. Silver City itself seems like a pretty cool little town. We had an excellent little lunch at Diane’s Restaurant and Bakery and then we hopped back on 180 West. From there, we hopped on Route 78. Once we passed Mule Creek is when this drive really got exciting. We passed through some beautiful grasslands and rolling hills. We were already 6,000ft. up so it was really a unique landscape that we hadn’t quite seen lately. Then, we passed into Gila National Forest which quickly transitioned into Apache National Forest. And THAT is when things got REAL.

As we turned the corner on one of our switchbacks, I threw my hands up on my head and yelled “OH MY GOD!” As Kim and I both go “WHOAAAAA!!!!” I only caught the view from the corner of my eye and still, it invoked such emotion and shock for me. At the first pull off, we quickly pulled over and stepped out into THIS:

Not only was this view MASSIVELY epic but right before we got back in Kim’s car, I decided to give a holler, and it echoed back at me in a way that Kim and I had never heard before! The echo seemed to go all the way down the valley to our right, then come back behind the mountain in front of us and slip through the crack in the mountain to yell right back at us! IT WAS WICKED!

Check out this video to hear the echo yourself

As we continued on, we came across more switchbacks and ended up driving an extremely fun, twisty, turny road down the mountain. Without knowing what to expect, the scenic drive from Mule Creek on 78 to a little past “Threeway” 191 was one of the most scenic drives and we had some of the most epic views we have ever seen on any of our journeys. From there, 191 connected to Route 70 which connects to Route 60 back into Phoenix, Arizona. This is a drive we often take heading back into Phoenix instead of I-10. It’s only about 10-15 minutes longer total, and you get a very beautiful drive instead of a very congested one with less than extraordinary views!

P.S. We absolutely won our sand volleyball game too! (winky)

Total Cost Breakdown:

Entertainment (Gas): $35
Food: Breakfast: Mad Coffee $11 Lunch:Diane’s Bakery (Awesome sandwich shop) $17  Dinner: Panda Panda Panda $16
Housing: HOME!
Total: $79

We sometimes use affiliate links for products or services that I love and use.  If you click on an affiliate link and purchase a product I may be compensated.  This does not increase the amount that you pay for an item or service, should you choose to purchase it through an affiliate link.  These links appear in posts where they are relevant and I feel like they would benefit the reader.

If you’re wondering what type of amazing vehicle I have, it’s a 2014 Ford Fiesta and is INCREDIBLE on gas mileage as you can tell from this case study.

Side SIDE Note:

You’re probably also wondering what hotel only charges $30-45 per night right? AIRBNB!!! And lucky you for reading this far, because we just gave you $40 off your first stay at any Airbnb! Click here to claim your moolah!

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How to cut your lodging cost by 50% or more while staying in the coolest places in the world

Quit saying I’ve always wanted to do that and travel today within your budget!

100% FREE!!!
Get It Now!