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When I was in my early twenties, I was hungry to travel. I still am and still plan to, but at that point in my life, I just happened to be in a position to do so indefinitely, with no specific goal or object in mind.
When most people plan to take a road trip, they put aside a few weeks, maybe a month, after which they are resolved to go back to work, back to school, or back to anything most people would call 'the real world.' However, some of you might not want to put a time limit on your adventure. If you're like me at that time, you're thirsty for something more. You don't want to compartmentalize your time into a series of brief holidays to be relished in between long stretches of labour and dreaming.
Maybe you want to create your own sense of time; your own understanding of what it means to explore the world in a way that is not beholden to a rigid schedule. You want freedom to be a lifestyle.
Now, my experience should hardly serve as an authority as to how one should scratch this particular itch, nevertheless, I do have a few things I learned along the way which can hopefully serve to give you inspiration or ideas you can make your own.
The formula I like to use is Preparation=Liberation. Think of freedom as something of a sport. It is something you can cultivate and master slowly over time. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in those instances when one undertakes a long journey, or a series of long journeys. One must always hold one's survival, one's wellbeing, one's finances and one's future in mind without letting them become obsessions, sources of great anxiety, or worse, excuses to forgo the whole endeavor. They must become points or conscious spaces around which one is always adjusting or building one's way.
The trick is to do this in such a manner that, while everything is prepared, there is still room to improvise. It's hard to improvise if you are going with a few hundred dollars which you don't plan to replenish until you get back to your job, or if you are relying entirely on the comforts and preferences of other people. In fact, what I am about to suggest works better if you are entirely like-minded in your planning endeavors and in your propensity for improvisation with another traveller, or if you are going it alone. You don't have to go it alone the whole way, but ultimately, if you are serious, if you want a singular experience that you will always remember and which will change your life, you have to be willing, hopefully in a congenial manner, to drop people off at the places where they are comfortable to stop, should that place end before you consider the trip over.
As in all adventures, you are undertaking a risk, but it is a risk which is enormously rewarding. Below is a list of things that are good to keep in mind before you embark on any road trip, which doesn't have an end date on the calendar.
1. Have a Reliable Vehicle
This one is pretty straight forward. Check your fluids frequently. Check your tire pressure, especially in changing temperatures. Take care of any of those problems you've been holding off on fixing, unless your car is a piece of junk fit only to get you to work. You can never pay too close attention to the state of your vehicle.
You will also want to make sure you have roadside assistance. These days, most insurance agencies will have this as an option. Make sure your tags, registration and license will be up to date for the duration of your trip. This will save you worry and stress.
Naturally, you'll be going with some money, both in your account and in the form of cash in your wallet (but don't carry too much cash on you). However, if you don't have a definite end date for this trip, the last thing you'll want putting a limit on your trip is an absolute vacancy where money once was. You don't want to race back home across the country because you only have a few hundred dollars left for gas and no food.
It's now easier than ever to work around the country doing odd jobs. If you have a newer vehicle, you can try Uber, Postmates or any variety of online service jobs with a fancy app. However, with these, there are only so many cities in the country that offer such services.
If you need something more by-the-hour and less constricted to large, popular cities, you might try temp work. These days, many temp agencies will keep your resumé and application on file so that you can apply at more than one office. Use your smartphone to send your application out to different offices a few days in advance, call them, and set up an interview. Depending on where you go, they can set you up with some work for a few days, a few weeks, or sometimes longer. You'll just have to make sure to figure out how you are going to receive your checks, as most temp agencies pay you the Friday after your work week (you can sign up for direct deposit at most agencies, but it usually takes a few pay periods to actually kick in).
It would also be counter-productive to rent rooms at hotels, as even the ones with the best rates would drain your wallet of all the money you worked for to extend your trip. This brings me directly to the next point.
3. Room and Board
Now is the time to finally visit all the family you've been promising to see and all your college friends you joke around with on Facebook. Even acquaintances, distant relatives and friends of friends are prospects for room and board.
Call everyone. Keep dates and the windows of time you are going to stay with them as consistent as possible, even if you are traveling haphazardly. Give people enough time to think about it, so that you're not putting them in a spot where they feel like they can't say no.
Accept any room you feel comfortable with graciously. Don't complain. Bring gifts. Do dishes. Take out trash. Be the best guest in the world. Communicate about expectations. Figure out if they have spare keys they are willing to give you.
Be a good listener. You'll find on your travels that nothing is Facebook/Instagram perfect and peachy. People in your life are low-key struggling with their finances, in their relationships, or with their families. Or they might be at an amazing crossroad, from which you can learn. Your timing in these matters can be quite uncanny. Stay up until the wee hours with them. Have drinks. Give them an excuse to visit local hot spots they felt they never had the time to see.
Also, be prepared to stay both longer and shorter at your respective visits than planned. Never ask to stay more than a few days, however. It's awkward to leave early if you get uncomfortable when you originally planned on staying longer. Some people in your life don't need three weeks of your life, but your relationship does just fine for a few days, or hours, of quality time.
On the other hand, other people in your life might be in a position to create a terrific month-long memory with you that you wouldn't get the chance to have again, and from which both of you will grow immensely and enjoy more than if you'd done otherwise. A few of my friends were meant to be three-day stops, but ended up spending closer to a month because of an invitation, or because there was some event coming up they didn't want me to miss.
Bring a tent with you on your travels.
Don't skip out completely on treating yourself to something extravagant now and then. You might regret not getting a suite overlooking the river and the city lights in a place you've always wanted to visit, or an evening dinner on a riverboat, listening to jazz. Put aside a little money to reward yourself for roughing it all the other times.
But also, you'll want emergency motel money if you can't push through that last hour in bad road conditions and are too tired to drive.
Sleeping in your car could be a point or article in itself, so I'll just say this. Do so at your own peril. It's illegal in most places and, ironically, the places it's the most legal seem to be the least safe. Use much caution, know your surroundings, educate yourself, figure out the bathroom one and two situation for the night, and stay warm (never do this in the dead of winter—even if you don't die, you will suffer one way or another). I once slept in my car in the back alley behind a restaurant and did a job interview the next day. I'd taken my bath and fixed my cow-lick out of the water from a McDonald's cup. I wouldn't recommend this to many people but it worked. I even got the job and the next evening was spent at a cozy, cigarette-smelling hostel, which was really just a hotel room with a bunch of bunk beds put in.
This is too important to put under another category. Do not, I repeat, do not wait until you are on empty to fill. At the very least, fill up just below the half a tank line. You don't want to run out of gas in the middle if the desert at ten p.m. Anyone who has traveled through the southwest will know what I'm talking about. You also really don't want to pull off at the first exit you see to fill up in a bad neighborhood at one a.m. in the morning. Anyone who has visited certain big cities on either coast from out of town will know what I'm talking about.
5. Use More Than One Means of Direction
GPS is a tool but it's not all there is. Communicate with people at your destination. Use a paper map—I don't care if it makes you feel like a dork. Ask directions. Pray to God. Google is no substitute for intuition and human charity.
6. Take Fewer Pictures Than You Normally Would
I know. This just sounds contrarian. But the culturally conditioned, pathological need to center and freeze every activity you value will stop you from having a real adventure. You can't leap into a waterfall with your phone or your camera.
Put the equipment down and meet people. Don't let the only time you talk to people be when you're asking them to snap a picture of you.
7. Stay Centered
It can be lonely. If you're like me, and you like to create meticulous playlists that have the net effect of doing a number on your mood, you might be predisposed to add to the intensity of those feelings that manifest, just because you're a romantic bastard. I mean, you're seeing lots of sunsets and sunrises in many different places. You're bound to let your mind wander onto hurts of the past, nostalgia for happy times or doubt as to whether or not what you are doing is a waste of time.
I suggest mindfulness, prayer, journaling, or even just making an effort to call people back home each night or when you can. Just because you're on the road by yourself doesn't mean you are alone.
Take hold of the opportunity to hit the road, but if you don't want it to merely be a potlatch off pleasure and fun, but a transformative experience, I recommend you try some variation of the tips I've offered above in order to turn your adventures into a lifestyle, rather than items on a bucket list.