Three months traveling with help exchange vs. one week in Vail

On my drive from Moab, UT to Estes Park, CO, I saw a sign for Vail. I had seen photos of this town and had heard about the famous people who frequent it; I almost expected “Vail” to be written in diamonds on the road sign. I bipped my blinker and decided to use a fancy lodge’s restroom instead of a gas station’s.

Vail is nicely surrounded by huge mountains and they were covered in snow, pleasing the skiers zipping down. I drove past lodge after fancy lodge after extravagant lodge. I felt very less than. I felt dirty, like I hadn’t showered in days. I hadn’t brushed my hair in at least a week, because my brush was in my broken down car for the week in Grand Junction. I was wearing the same boots that hiked over forty miles in the desert and they were filthy. I got out of the car and scooped up some snow to put in my cooler so I wouldn’t have to buy a bag of 99 cent ice to cool down my v8s.

In this moment, I was struck with how different my way of traveling was from the family crossing the street with their skis and Louis Vitton bags. I wondered how much a week at a lodge here would cost, so once to Estes Park, I looked it up:

5-star hotel averages $330

3-star hotel averages $230

To stay one week at a 3-star hotel in Vail, CO, it would cost $1610. Of course, you’d have to add the cost of activities like touring castles and riding in horse-drawn carriages and ice skating and skiing; and then food and beverages. I imagine it’d easily be between $3000-5000 for a week long trip, depending on taste in wine and frequency of room service matched with said wine.

The adventures I’ve taken, New Zealand and this US road trip, have been much different. I learned about help exchange and working a few hours a day for food and lodging, and it opened up a whole new outlook on traveling for me. I can make $2,000 last well over three months (with gas for 11,000 miles, the occasional local amber ale, the not-just-occasional Americano, and a meal out every once in a while). I know not everybody can spend months away from their homes and jobs. I chose to leave my job and I moved out of my apartment, so it has become a lifestyle instead of a vacation. If you are not thrilled with your current situation, I encourage you to look into help exchange here.

Here are pros and cons of help exchange for three months vs. one week in Vail, in my humble opinion:

Help exchange/staying with friends and family and friends of friends or family


Free housing.

Free food. And it’s so nice to try new things and expand your “go to” food list, like roasted beets with rosemary or pickled mussels.

More destinations. (This four month trip has taken me from FL to NC, OK, NM, AZ, CA, OR, WA, Orcas Island, ID, MT, UT, and CO!)

An extended adventure! So many possibilities. New people to meet. New mountains to climb.

Satisfaction of earning your keep for a few hours of work a day.

An average of a 15 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week.

Variety. This is a huge bonus for me. Mondays are all different and that is thrilling.

Learning new skills. I never knew how to poach an egg! Or use an electric drill.

Sometimes you’re staying in a really stunning place, on a mountaintop or with a view like this:

2013-10-03 02.27.34

Staying with local people perhaps provides more of a “genuine” experience while exploring a new town.

You get to stay a while and enjoy and not feel bad about taking a nap if you’re exhausted. You’re not wasting $230, you’re resting after working hard for three hours.


Sometimes you don’t want to pull weeds or clean gutters.

Living out of a suitcase for months at a time.

Being on somebody’s else schedule for part of the day (this can actually be a good thing as well).

Your $2000 will be gone in three months and you will most likely not be saving for retirement as you go. I have a couple part time jobs I can do on the road, but I am definitely not contributing to a 401(k) like I should.

Sometimes you’re staying in a place called “The Gorilla Hut” and the septic tank overflows:

2013-11-20 18.26.03

Staying a week at a 3-star lodge in Vail


Being able to leave your shampoo and soap in the shower. Seriously, packing everything up after every shower is almost worth the $230.

Nice, comfortable things like bath robes.

Extravagance is downright extravagant.

Control. Freedom. A completely open itinerary.


It’s only one week.

You no longer have $2,000.

It’s only one week.

Days are most likely packed and you might be exhausted when you return home from “vacation”.

It’s only one week.

You only see Vail.

One thought on “Three months traveling with help exchange vs. one week in Vail

  1. I might reblog this piece. You’re absolutely right. I know some people have turned up their noses when it comes to budget travel along the way, but I think you’ve got it right. And I’m sure glad that my best friend is a girl like you and not a girl like that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: