One very important word on planning: DON'T. That is, don't plan too much or for too long. Nothing can ruin a trip easier than over-thinking, over-hyping, over-planning it. I spent about one month planning for this 19-month tour, and though I recommend a little more time than that, I'm glad that I didn't spend a year going over details, most of which I certainly would have changed after the first month.
Count on things changing. If you spend months planning a trip with your friend, your friend will surely drop out, and where will you be? This is not a 7-night stay at Club-med, so you have to remain flexible and adaptive.
Pack Lightly -
Before you leave, take all of the bags, clothing, tools and other crap that you planned (a-hem) to take with you, and toss it on the front lawn. Load about one-quarter of it into your vehicle and give the rest to your neighbors. They'll be thrilled and, down the road, you will be too. C'mon, you can either get rid of it here, or somewhere in Montana. LOSE WEIGHT NOW! SHOW US HOW!
Secure your Valuables -
The best way to do this, is don't bring them! Out on the road, you want to look poor, unattractive and homely (real easy for some of us.) Leave the jewelry at home, buy a $10 watch, and give your brother your CD collection, because the little monster will take better care of them than the joker who smashes your car window just to pawn the things.
Get the ugliest luggage you can find, and beat it up. Put your name all over it and beat it up some more. Are you bringing a camera and laptop? Make them look old (bumper stickers!) and write and etch your name and driver's license number on them. Always keep them in the same cases, in the same places all the time, so you will always have a feel for where they are.
Secure your Personal Data -
You will need to store information, such as phone numbers and credit card and bank numbers. First of all, only bring one or two credit cards and an ATM card. Close the rest of your accounts.
Take a large sheet of paper and write down all the information you need, which is basically the name and phone number of each bank or company, and your account number. You should only have a half-dozen of these, and if you just can't get it under ten, you're too rich to play this game.
Encode the information. Count on losing it at least once, so make it useless to anyone but yourself. You can make some pretty clever codes, but be careful that you remember them! This is what I did:
- Rename the companies. Call your Visa Card "Victor Cassidy" and AMEX "Arthur" or whatever. Make them look like names of your friends.
- Remove all "(800)" from the toll-free numbers so they look like personal phone numbers. This is hard to do now, with "888" and "877" numbers, so figure something out -- geez, I can't do everything.
- Change the account numbers somehow. You can reverse them, remove the first three digits and put them on the end, or both. Again, it's easy to get really clever, here, so take it easy. You'll find yourself at a payphone in the middle of the Mohave, trying to decode your account number, and it's amazing what the 110 degree heat does to your brain.
- Enter these into your computer in a simple listing, along with the phone numbers of your friends and whomever you need numbers for. Print it out on a card, as small as you can. I think I used 6 or 7 point type. Put a copy in your wallet and give a copy to your travel partners. Give one to a friend whom you can call in the middle of the night in a rainstorm in Georgia to pour your heart out to. You may even post your list on a hidden page on your own web site.
Throw your address book away and use this card only. You need to be as self-contained as possible, as you do not want to have to unpack the (freaking!) car to get that stupid number. During the trip, write numbers and other information you need along the way on the back of this card.
Hide your Keys -
Everyone in your party should have keys to the vehicle. If nothing else, this takes away a hearty dose of power and control when settling the many arguments you will surely get into. Then, tie the keys to your body. I spent 19-months on the road (oh, really Mark? Tell me again...yawn) and not only did I not lose any keys, but I never had to ever look for them. I put my keys on a small ring, on a two-foot length of string, and clipped them to a belt loop (I'm not into nipple piercing, but there's an idea!) I found a lightweight, large clip at a tackle shop, and it all worked perfectly. Hey, could thousands of janitors all be wrong?
OK, confession time. I rode a motorcycle, for which the key is only needed to start, then it went back in my pocket, so your situation may be different. However, I've owned a few cars in which the key would slide out of the ignition after you started them. Good luck.
Build a Web Site -
If you're a geek, you already know how to do this, and if you're not, you probably won't want to. At the least, you could enlist a friend at home to build and maintain the site, to whom you will email text and photos.
I have been contacted by a company called www.zinecast. com which, I understand will host your site for you, give you templates to use and even send you traffic through their site. It was free, last time I checked (supported by ads in a frame around your site). I honestly have not checked this out, but you might. Keep in mind that there are probably others doing the same thing.
I recommend that you get your own domain name. You will have to repeat it to hundreds of people each day, and it is the single-most important facet of your web site. Some companies will host you for free, but they insist that your URL be tagged onto theirs, and that is only acceptable in one situation.
Your best bet, actually, is to be a content provider for a web site. This is very tough for larger companies, but it might work for a smaller one, especially on a short trip. Your trip will probably need to have focus, and that should be where you start. For example, I know of a small firm in Texas that designs roller coaster rides. Well, if your goal was to travel the country and ride every roller coaster (been done) then such a firm might be interested in hosting you.
Since my trip was all about discovering this country, I actually had set my hopes on working with Discover Card, and having a little button on their site called "True America." The speed and arrogance with which these hopes were ruthlessly crushed made a fine example of the heartless disconcern with which corporate America would address my life's passion.
This can easily be the most frustrating, fruitless part of your entire trip, and it all depends on determination and contacts. I met a lady who was traveling and writing, and she scored $20,000 from a phone company and free use of a car. I wasn't very impressed with her project, but she had two things going for her. She had co-written a book, and in her freelance career, she made some contacts, which she exploited. (I'm not saying that in a bad way -- not necessarily...)
The larger the company, the smaller your chances, especially with a short lead-time. Also, instead of asking for cash, I had the most luck with getting services, such as web-hosting, paging and bike maintenance, in exchange for what little recognition I could offer. There are thousands of people trying to get free things and making grand promises of publicity, and you are just another one of them. So, until you become a proven commodity, don't let the word "no" get you down.
Attaching yourself to a charity is one way of supporting your project, but that road is rife with corruption potholes. I refused to do this, even though I know of, and donate to, several very worthwhile charities, because my heart was not in it. My project was about journalism, and I had to stay objective. I would think that if you traveled for a cause, you would have to support that cause every day, and, of course, share the proceeds heavily in favor of that cause.
I could go on about this forever, but everybody's situation is different, and only you know what you can do. I can only suggest that you be creative and honest, keep your spirits up and be very, very persistent.