It is finally summer, the season of travel, and it’s the perfect time for a road trip to shoot footage for the documentary you’re making.
“The best way to avoid costly travel is to plan well,” said Johanna Divine, director of the Media That Matters Film Festival winner, Young Agrarians. “Always budget more than you think you might need.” The film was shot on a road trip from Palmer, Alaska to Tumacacori, Arizona in the summer of 2003.
Travel can be expensive and, on a small film budget, you’re going to want to save money any way possible. Here is your on-the-road guide to cutting costs when it comes to your vehicle, lodging, and food so you can focus on getting that footage you’ve been needing to capture.
Vehicle and Travel
An important factor in a road trip is the type of vehicle that you drive. Essential traits that your vehicle should have are: safety, reliability, and good gas mileage. You also want to make sure that there is enough space to accommodate your equipment and possible crew.
According to Divine, the best vehicle to drive is either a minivan or a station wagon. “They have accessibility and space, which make it easy to work out of your car,” she explains.
Divine also suggests having a storage box on top of your vehicle to store the things that you do not immediately need. As long as you lock the contents of the box in your car at night, or bring them inside with you, your possessions will be safer.
Before leaving on your trip, make sure that the vehicle you’re using has recently been inspected. You don’t want any avoidable problems to arise when you are on the highway far from home. Also, it is a good idea to get AAA services, in case an unforeseen emergency happens, such as running out of gas or a flat tire.
To protect yourself from other unexpected damage, Divine suggests getting a short term insurance policy for your equipment.
“I’ve heard nightmares of people getting equipment taken from their cars,” Divine said.
An unavoidable expense on your road trip will be gas. However, there are small things that you can do to ensure you get the best gas mileage. Driving slower, using cruise control, and using less air conditioning can help your car be more fuel-efficient. Every gallon counts when you’re driving long distances.
Another way to save on gas is to plan your route beforehand. Divine likes to contact all of her sources before leaving so she can “figure out the route that makes the most sense.”
Divine also says it’s a good idea to call your sources a few days before you show up to make sure the plans are still on.
“People appreciate time and people want to know your questions ahead of time. You get a better response,” she contends.
There are many tools on the Internet that can help you plan your route, such as Google Maps and Mapquest.
“My overall advice is to do as much as you can during each visit. In some respects, the need to travel really makes you focus on what you want to get,” said Elizabeth Miller, director of the Media That Matters Film Festival winner, Water Warriors.
Miller traveled from Montreal to Detroit to make the film. “If you are prepared and have done all of your pre-production, you can get a lot done.”
Eating on the road is also something that you need to think about before embarking on your journey. Simply eating at the nearest rest stop along the way can be unhealthy and expensive.
The best way to ensure that you eat healthy and save money is a combination of stopping at grocery stores and farmer’s markets along the way and choosing healthy, cheap restaurants.
Some important things to bring are a cooler, a small camping stove, and pans. These will be your key to making sure you’re eating economically and healthy. Camping stoves can be used in the parking lot of a rest stop or a hotel, and almost any meal can be made with them. Just bring along some dish soap and a sponge, and cleanup is easy.
Driving long distances and working long shoots can make you and your crew hungry. Be sure to bring some healthy snacks to avoid purchasing expensive and unhealthy gas station snacks along the way.
“I would say stock up on energy bars so you don’t lose energy during a long shoot,” Miller said.
When you need a break from cooking your own meals, seek out inexpensive restaurants. Stop at visitor centers along the highway to obtain a list of restaurants in the area.
Johanna Divine likes to patronize “Mom and Pop” stores during her travels.
“It helps the communities that you want to support,” she said.
She also suggests going to farm stands, and asking her subjects to recommend food co-ops and natural food stores.
“You can find great food all over,” she said.
Lodging can be another big expense while traveling, but there are a few ways that you can cut the costs.
Miller’s solution to cheap lodging was making friends with Detroit residents.
“I only stayed in a hotel the first trip out there and during that trip I let everyone I met know that I was looking for a place to stay,” said Miller. “Many people want to contribute in some way to a film project and this is certainly an important way.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to have subjects open their homes,” said Divine. Asking your subjects where to stay is also a good idea, noted Divine.
During the summer travel months, camping can be a great option. It is much cheaper than a hotel, and you can enjoy the great outdoors at the same time. It is also the perfect place to use a camping stove, or cook over the campfire.
You can obtain a list of camping spots from state visitor centers. State parks usually offer camping, but there are also privately owned camping spots. Another option is to visit Camping.com while planning your trip to explore camping areas along your route.
If you’re just in need of a few hours of sleep, many rest areas offer overnight parking for free. If you choose to do this, try not to do it alone, and make sure that you use caution. Make sure that you lock all of your car doors before falling asleep, and try to find a rest area with a night security guard.
Hostels are also a good option. Many cities across the country have hostels, and most are very cheap. It is also an opportunity to meet interesting people during your travels. You can find and make online reservations at hostels across the U.S. at Hihostels.com.
No matter where you stay, make sure that your equipment is safe at night.
“Use caution,” said Divine. “Bring your tapes and camera with you at night.”
Preparation is the key to successful traveling while making your documentary. By planning your vehicle situation, food, lodging, and shoots, you can make the most of your trip.
“Planning can save so much money in the long run,” Divine said.
- Meals Matter: Meal planning, nutrition, and healthy eating
- RoadTrip America: Roadtrip resources
- Camping.com: Camping locations and resources
- Couch Surfing: A network for making connections between travelers and local communities
By Brittany Mayne