I consider myself a semi-experienced traveler — someone who has taken the initiative to see the world but still does not possess the ease or confidence of a seasoned pro. After having visited four continents and eleven countries I still feel there is an unimaginable amount to learn. It can be overwhelming to contemplate.
Driving on a solo, 48-state road trip across the United States has been an eclectic and satisfying way to broaden my education as an explorer of the world. If you are like me, or are new to camping or road tripping all together, the following tidbits I’ve picked up along the way may be of use.
1. Don’t wear flip-flops in the car.
If there is a stereotype about Californians wearing sandals year-round then I am certainly a poster child for it. My toes breathe freely every month of the year, even during the wet, West Coast winters. Driving with feet happily nested in my favorite turquoise Tevas makes for an idyllic road trip scene. That is, until after hour five in the car I develop the awkward and uncomfortable side effect known as cankles. Skin feeling tight, ankles and legs feeling fleshy and bloated, it makes for an unpleasant drive. Sitting for long periods of time jars the flow of circulating blood in the body. Wearing sneakers, as well as socks that are slightly tight near the ankles, counteracts the sedentary side effects and makes for a much more comfortable drive.
2. Condiment packets are a prized possession.
I spent about a year and a half preparing for my road trip. During that time I recruited friends, family, and coworkers to help collect condiment packets. It was such a sweet gesture every time someone handed me a fistful of packets that they had carefully harbored from their last to-go meal. Now, this isn’t just about your run of the mill ketchup and mustard. The box of condiments I have weighs about twenty pounds (yes, you read that correctly) and is filled with the most satisfying array of flavors. Everything from hot sauces (Sriracha, Tapatio, Tabasco), mayonnaise, soy sauce, marmalade, maple syrup, barbeque sauce, relish, coffee creamer, varying salad dressings, and peanut butter are sorted into Ziplock bags. They make meals on the road much more varied and dynamic. Not only do most condiment packets not need refrigeration, they are single serve, can enhance the most bland camp meal, don’t take up much space, and are FREE. I do not recommend outright stealing handfuls of packets from delis, gas stations, and fast food joints, but in my opinion taking just a couple extra packets along with a purchased meal is ethical.
3. Where there is coffee, there is wi-fi.
I only drink coffee occasionally, more for the taste and the warmth of a cup nestled in my hands than the effect of caffeine. After receiving several Starbucks gift cards as bon voyage presents it dawned on me that they had a dual purpose. During breaks from rural areas I could use coffee shops as a way to connect with loved ones, blog, and research upcoming travel options. Even without a gift card, buying a cup of tea or coffee is much cheaper than finding an elusive internet cafe or hoping to snag a spot at a public library computer. I support local businesses back at home, but having the availability of a coffee chain that has over eleven thousand locations in the U.S. makes finding a work space on the road a stress-free experience.
4. Company in the car isn’t always a passenger.
Being alone is something I am familiar and comfortable with. By majority, I am an introvert. This makes extended car rides particularly challenging though. I can only karaoke and bop around in the car for so long before I exhaust the fun out of it. I have learned to use “driving days,” the parts of my trip where it is necessary to spend up to a dozen hours straight driving to the next location, as a way to ground myself. I use lengthy, flat highways as an opportunity to catch up with family and friends on the phone. Conversations make the time go by faster and provide the unmatched comfort and satisfaction of sharing part of my trip with someone I love. Just make sure you follow local cell phone driving laws so you don’t get a ticket.
Audio books and podcasts are the other saving grace for days spent behind the wheel. A lot of local libraries now have an app that allows anyone to check out audio books remotely from the convenience of a smart phone. I also took advantage of a three month free trial from Audible, Amazon’s online audio entertainment store. Between the two apps I have listened to ten books in seven weeks for FREE. (Thank you George R.R. Martin for the 30 hours of Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire.) There have also been dozens of podcasts that have helped kept me entertained. There has been an unfathomable amount of time spent wallowing in the lulling voices of Dear Sugar’s Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, riding the emotional rollercoaster of the absurdly delightful narratives of The Moth storytellers, filling my brain with the illuminating knowledge from Radio Lab, and getting my fix for the frightening and abnormal from the true crime stories of Casefile. There are hundreds of podcasts to choose from so there is something for everyone.
Lauren Ahlgren is an ever-curious adventurer from America’s left coast. She believes that travel is the key to understanding not only ourselves, but the rest of the world, people and cultures, and nature. Her most current passion is to encourage everyday people to become explorers too. Follow along with her road trip here and on moderndaywalkabout.wordpress.com.