An Epic Road Trip On The Cheap

For #ThrowbackThursday, I thought it would be fun to revisit a two-part piece I wrote for Fat Girl Food Squad last year. 

Ron and I spontaneously decided to take three weeks and drive though Nevada, Arizona, and California. We didn’t have a lot of money but that wasn’t going to stop us! This was the trip that I’ve already blabbed so much about on here – the catalyst that shifted all of our decision making towards being more adventurous and embracing our unconventional goals for the future.

This is part one of two, check back for the second half tomorrow.


It didn’t take much (or any) persuasion to jump on an opportunity to leave this for a while.

It all happened very quickly. February had just begun and it seemed as if there was no light left in the dark hellscape of Canadian winter. 

I was checking my email when I noticed a major flight sale from my preferred airline, tickets to Vegas were going for less than $200 a pop. The catch was that you had to be wheels up within the next fourteen days. The plan came together easily, my partner Ron and I would fly to Vegas, visit the Grand Canyon, drive through the Mojave Desert to Joshua Tree National Park, visit buds in L.A., and then take Highway 1 up the coast until we hit my dad’s place in Santa Cruz. We would fly back from San Francisco after three weeks on the road and we were going to do it on the cheap.

To me, vacations don’t get any better than this. I want to share a few neato places we visited, plus some dollar-saving ideas because there was no time to budget properly.  


Hit up Pinches Tacos if you like food that tastes amazing and won’t cost you a ton. Also a fire-spitting mantis!

First Stop: Vegas

FGFS babe Aviva gave me a heads up that the Golden Nugget Hotel/Casino not only had a killer brunch buffet but also the heated pool has a three storey shark tank in the middle of it. PLUS there’s a water slide that goes through that damn tank. Right. Through. It. We stayed on the off days (Sunday-Tuesday) and our room was only $49 a night. The hotel wi-fi was outrageously priced so we found it for free in a small cafe on the old strip and that became our little social media hub while we were there.

I had never been to Las Vegas before but I had an idea of what it would be like based on the gazillion Facebook photos I’ve seen from buds who visited, plus a myriad of pop culture references over the years. Straight up, I had a suspicion that this would not be the place for us (we’re not super into gambling or drinking) and it took a while for the charm to set in.

We found Container Park on the second afternoon and I had no idea that it even existed. By this time we had started posting pictures on Instagram and some American babes gave us pro tips on what to check out off the strip. This place was GREAT. A small community of indie businesses, all of them running out of storage containers and most without the tourist trap prices. We went for the tacos (you really want to go for the tacos, trust) and we stayed for the atmosphere.


Revealing naiveté – I didn’t realize that it snowed in Arizona. Like A LOT

Round Two: Grand Canyon National Park

Ron and I grabbed our rental car and went straight to Trader Joe’s for road trip food. Before we left Toronto I picked up a $3 cooler that went flat in our suitcase and did a fine job of preventing us from getting food poisoning. We loaded up on fruit and veg, yogurt and scones for breakfast, some pre-made salads, tea, and the best cheesy snack ever ever ever.

You can look at the drive on a map or even street view it on Google and you won’t be prepared for how gorgeous it is this time of year. We drove through a rainbow, which I thought was impossible and the weather was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It was a cornucopia of rain, sunny skies, hail the size of gumballs, more sunny skies, that rainbow and a blizzard. It was stressful and magical.

The woman at the park gates warned us that there was low visibility of the canyon itself but we paid the ten bucks or whatever and went in. It didn’t take long to realize that we had planned our visit on the off-est time of the off-season, evidenced by the small handful of cars in the parking lot.

Even though you couldn’t see much, it was still completely breathtaking and more than worth the four hour drive to get there. Snow, so clean it was almost blue, blanketed the park and we hung out with a pack of wild deer like it was a Disney movie. The one person we did see maybe didn’t make it out alive. He was climbing down INTO THE CANYON on icy terrain, propping his phone in snowbanks to get that perfect selfie at dusk. It was hella dangerous. Bring a selfie stick, people!


A misguided selfie-focused tourist might be found at the bottom of this snowy vista

Overall it was cheaper for two people to rent a car instead of buying a pre-packaged bus tour where you have no control over your visit and you have to purchase an expensive (probably crappy) lunch. Don’t count on having access to the internets out there (plus it can be super expensive) so ask for a free map from one of the car rental joints that are in every hotel and hit the road!

Chapter Three: Driving to Joshua Tree National Park

Up to this point, Ron and I were on a more traditional vacation trajectory but this was our fourth West Coast road trip and we wanted off the beaten path. Let’s get weird.


First things first, some practical road trip advice from a paranoid navigator — gas up before you leave Las Vegas, because it’s a no man’s land the second you leave the city limits. The pumps are expensive, few and far between, and not exactly places I would want to stop on my own, even in the day time. It should go without saying but drive safe and watch your speed, there are state troopers pulling cars over EVERYWHERE. You don’t want to cut into your travel budget paying off a ticket. Bring lots of water too, just in case.

Despite attempts to get tourists to drop tons of mons on shooting ranges, steak dinners, and sporadic casinos, there are some great fun sights along the way that won’t cost you a cent unless you want to buy a cheap souvenir. On a pretty baron stretch of road you start to see the signs for Baker, California long before you get there. It’s an odd, hyper-isolated tourist hub that includes an alien-themed convenience store, complete with an animatronic family of extraterrestrials out front. Their biggest draw is a ridiculous selection of jerky but I recommend throwing a few coins in the Alien Psychic machine and taking a selfie with one of the life-size cardboard Star Trek characters in the back. Across the street is the world’s biggest thermometer, a digital reminder that you’re in the desert and it’s hot.

Drive a few miles down the highway for a cheap and terrible meal at the legendary Peggy Sue’s Diner. They’re not trying to impress you with their culinary skills but it’s a fun stop and they have plastered the walls with real and fake movie memorabilia, photos of celebs who have eaten there and don’t miss the metal dinosaur sculptures behind the restaurant.


Watching the sun set on the open road, not knowing I was about to convince myself that we were going to be murdered in the middle of nowhere

From here Ron and I made the somewhat terrifying drive to Yucca Valley. It was night at this point, you drive for miles without seeing anyone or anything, there are no street lights and the few locals that we saw were seemingly up to no good. One car drove past us at 150 km+/hour in the pitch black with no lights on and even though we were in the desert, some of the roads had been flooded out. So again: gas up, bring water, and make sure you know exactly where you’re going.

That night we arrived at our Airbnb in Yucca Valley safe and sound. It was absolute heaven.

Keep an eye out for part two of our journey tomorrow, when I decide to go hiking topless in the desert.

xo Amarina

*This post first appeared on, you can see the original post here.


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