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fieldwork for free(ish)

Megan Betz

Here's what was in my bag all week: a field notebook, a folder of study information sheets, a camera, a scarf, the iPad. That's it, and it's all I needed.

Here's what was in my bag all week: a field notebook, a folder of study information sheets, a camera, a scarf, the iPad. That's it, and it's all I needed.

When I received the Odland scholarship to support my fieldwork this summer, I knew I needed to make the entire trip to Berea fit into that budget. I also knew that I wanted to see how much of my life I could bring with me--and here, I mean my daily practices and my eating habits. I try to live as simply as possible, consuming as few resources (particularly water, plastics, and foods from outside my local community) as possible.

When I found the Boone Tavern Hotel, I knew it was a luxury--a significant part of my funding, but also something that really expressed my values, as it's LEED certified and allowed me to walk everywhere for the entire weekend. So, from there, I took some basic steps to ensuring the rest of the trip was as low-impact as possible. Here's a look:

  • I emptied out the cabinets before coming down, packing tortilla chips, trail mix, hummus, veggies, and other miscellaneous goods to snack on. These kept me from eating at restaurants for lunch. I also brought a water bottle, so I didn't have to buy any at gas stations or anything.
  • I know we don't really like to talk about this, but I live by the "If it's yellow..." rule. It's the easiest way to save gallons upon gallons of water every day--up to two gallons per non-flush. I also didn't shower every day. (This decision is made easier by having hair, forgetting a shower cap, and detesting blow driers.)
  • I keep the "Do not disturb" sign out for my entire stay. I can make my own bed, but more importantly, I don't need new soaps, the vacuum running, or any of that extra stuff. I just wash my water glass and coffee mug in the morning and am good to go. 
  • I keep a bag for my recycling, since hotels still don't have a recycling receptacle in rooms. (How is this possible?)
  • I ordered a pizza, which served as several meals. Otherwise, I ate at the restaurant to save on to-go materials and packaging.
  • I used a bunch of free apps on my iPad rather than bringing (or even buying) any other lab equipment.
  • I didn't drive over 70 when it was the speed limit at times, and I didn't drive over 60 when the speed limit was between 55 and 60. This really maximizes fuel economy; here's proof.

None of these are earth-shattering, but it did save me money and result in a bag of recycling to bring home. I managed to come back with about $8. (I guess I should have splurged on more coffee refills.) That's right: I managed to be gone for 5 days and spend $492 on driving, lodging, and eating. We graduate students are experts at living on little budgets, and I'd love to hear how other students take their lifestyle with them and save money while doing fieldwork.