On the road
(now the fun begins !)
DO lunch -
Suit yourself, but I found that life on the road was not the culinary escapade most people believe it to be. You can enjoy the local cuisine on short trip of a week or two, more than on a year-long journey, for two reasons; First, to eat three sit-down meals would cost at least $30 day, and if you have that kind of budget, you're playing a different ball game than I was, and you might want to just close this chapter right now; Second, if you eat three sit-downs a day, after a while, it seems like your life is all about eating, as this can burn up 4-5 hours each day.
I got along pretty well on less than $5 a day for food. I'm not saying it's a healthy diet, but I usually ate one "real" meal each day, and that was lunch (some kind of sandwich.) I made up a daily ration to hold me the rest of the day. I never went hungry, even if I was stranded for days. Here's the mix (1 batch makes 15 servings, for about 2 weeks:
- 6lb bag of pretzels
- 3lbs of trail mix
- 2lbs of creme cookies
The pretzels and trail mix are available at warehouse club stores, such as Costco. I would open all of the packages one night and dollop handfuls of each ingredient into quart-size Zip-loc bags. This easily took care of those afternoon munchies you get when you pay for gas and walk past shelves of $1.99 bags of potato chips.
These little bags of K-rations cost about a dollar a day, leaving four whole dollars, with which you can just go freaking nuts at lunch time.
I know there are plenty of great deals out there, such as the happy-hour buffets, and if you played it right, you could eat royally on a pauper's budget, but when you're in a different town each day, just finding these deals takes too much time. I never did try crashing wedding receptions or funerals, or even family barbecues, but it is an amusing thought...
One acronym, three letters: AAA. Join the club before you leave, and use it as much as you can. Get two maps for each state you visit, because you'll lose or destroy one (they make great gifts, too!) These aren't the best maps available, but they're good. Don't just ask for state maps, but also for city and tourist maps as well, and don't be discouraged if your AAA office doesn't have a city map of Houston, for example. When you get to Houston, stop at AAA and you'll find the map there.
You'll easily save the membership fee in maps alone, but don't forget the towing, hotel and campground discounts, emergency check cashing and other services.
Cash flow -
This has become very easy, and when traveling, you should carry a couple of credit cards, one bank card and only a little cash, which I needed only for food, tolls, park fees and minor purchases. I would withdraw $200 at a time from an ATM, put $20 in my wallet and hide the rest in my camper.
ATM fees are ridiculous, but then, so is the concept of getting cash out of a machine anytime of the day or night, practically anywhere in the world. Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate those fees. First, your bank may charge you up to $2 or even more for the privilege of using another bank's money. I use a "cyberbank" which has no storefront or ATMs and would be fairly embarrassed asking customers to pay ATM fees. (My checking account with Principal Bank, in Idaho, is completely free.) You may also find similar terms with small banks near you, or with credit unions.
Second, the bank which owns the ATM you use will also want a couple of bucks for their trouble. I have found that many credit unions waive this fee. Also, if you make a purchase at a department or grocery store, you may ask for cash over the purchase amount. These are usually fee-free, but you should ask. I found that a few Wal-mart stores which had ATMs in their stores, waived the fees on them, but not all of these stores.
Calling all adventurers -
Long distance rates are absurdly cheap, but calling cards attached to your home telephone service are still a rip-off compared to pre-paid calling cards, and here's why:
- They are too expensive. I haven't found one for less than a dime a minute, whereas I found a pre-paid card at Costco for only 6 cents per minute. I can call from Kahaluu, Hawaii to Key West, Florida for six minutes for the price of a local call from a pay phone.
- They rip you off. They promise a flat rate, but you'll find that if you're calling within the same state, the cost is a few cents more.
- You have less control. While on the road, you may not see your phone bill for months, and have no idea how much you're spending, or how much they're overbilling you. With a prepaid card, you get your balance information on every call.
- I'm not done! Some long distance phone companies love to charge you as much as an extra dollar each time you use their calling card. Again, this is something many people don't find out about until they get back home. With a pre-paid card, you are usually charged about 30 cents extra to make a call from a pay phone. This was ruled by the FCC to appease the pay phone owners who didn't like giving away the use of their phones. However, if you make a call from any private phone, it will cost you only 6 cents for every minute -- probably less than the owner of the phone would pay.
I climbed a steep learning curve here, as technology and society improved during my trip. The biggest pain during the first half of my trip had a simple solution which made the second half so much easier. Since I rarely stayed in hotels, I had a major problem connecting to the Internet. I tried public libraries, but they won't let you near their phone lines, and many are on ISDN. I tried airports, and found a few pay phones with data ports, but parking is a problem, and the calls cost 35 cents. Some hotels and convention centers have dataport pay phones, but not many. I tried computer stores (and other stores, when I was desperate) but was usually greeted with very mild enthusiasm. If a store owner says they have their phones hooked up to a pbx and their computers to ISDN lines, ask if you may use their fax line. That'll either have them thinking of another excuse or will get you in. I didn't dare ask a host if I could use their home telephone line, as I felt it was about as innocent a question as this stranger asking to "take their 4-year old child for a walk." Many hosts did offer, however.
My worst experience was when I purchased an acoustic coupler. This device cost me nearly $200, was a pain to use, and in the rare moments when it did work, it did work lousy. I spent so much time kneeling in front of pay phones, looking like a repairman, that I considered joining their union. I suggest that you buy one of these pieces of worthless junk only if you enjoy standing outside in the 100 degree heat, squinting at a washed-out screen, dropping quarters into a phone that will not work, juggling a handset, coupler and laptop when you don't even have a lap, and reacting to annoying questions of annoying passersby; "is it broken?"
The solution I found, friends, began with a red-haired kid somewhere in California. This guy opened up a copy shop, and then another, and a few million others, and now, in most major U.S. cities (and many minor ones) any person can just walk in, plug in and groove. It's a great idea, and has been a real savior -- I just don't know what I would have done without Kinkos. Ask to use their "Laptop Station" and you will have free use of a data line, as well as a telephone, bathroom, desk, chair... You will be so freaking excited, you may even buy a copy or two.
Once you have a telephone line, you still need to connect to your ISP. This is where it pays to abandon your local service and enlist with a national provider, such as AOL or ATT. These companies have modems in cities throughout the country. I used ATT and had pretty good luck connecting. When there is no modem in your area, then you can dial an 800 number to connect. This call is free -- sort of, because you pay your provider for the line. (I paid ATT 10 cents/minute.)
Sleeping it off -
There is not much life can offer that is quite as exciting and quite as unnerving as not quite knowing where you're going to sleep tonight. I was very fortunate in this regard, because I developed a system that was so unusual, it worked.
Saying thanks. No matter how many doors I knocked on, and no matter how often I was turned down, I held onto my pride. This wasn't difficult, as I knew all along that I was on a worthwhile and honorable journey, and those people who were suspicious of me, just didn't know me. It was perhaps because of the doubters that I constantly maintained integrity with everyone else.
When you travel, you will have four basic needs each night. Buying a trailer solved at least the first one: Shelter. During the brief weeks which I had to plan this event, I had considered staying in hotel rooms, which would have cost $18,000. A week into the trip, I found a camper/trailer to pull behind my motorcycle.
"Is it safe?" my mother asked me (of course she did.)
"Oh, sure," I replied. "It acts like the tail of a kite, and keeps you going straight." If you know what a great load of bull that was, then you can appreciate that my dear ol' Mom didn't know that it was -- it was a white lie I was proud of. Little did I know how wrong, and right, I was. This trailer was the principal cause for two accidents in which I was thrown from the bike and injured enough to make me regret lying to my own mother. But in all honesty, that trailer definitely did save my life. See, it forced me to ride slowly, and I plodded along most of the time between 50 and 60 mph. Without that trailer, friends, I would have toured this beautiful country at a clean 90mph, and I would have regretted such recklessness for only a precious, short time between that inevitable moment when I would have lost control of that handsome machine, and when my foolish heart just stopped beating.
But getting this camper was one of the best moves I made. Frankly, I have such distate for the lousy, rude service you get at most hotels, that even if I had the money to bed down each night, I doubt that I would have cleared this tour without getting into at least 13 fist fights with desk clerks. As far as camping, I could not have lasted a month in a tent -- I surely would have gone crucking fazy.
Only in Alaska, can you just pull over just about anywhere and camp. Yes, you still can do this up there, and in the northwest as well as Alaska, you can also camp in the parking lots of many department stores. (Wal-mart, Fred Myers) I guess the campground lobby in the east is strong enough to fight this.
It is possible just about anywhere in this country to find an abandoned road somewhere and pull off for the night. I rarely did this for two reasons. First, I was always alone and that would generally make me outnumbered by any a gang of drunken kids cruising by looking for a good time. Second, I was on the road for nearly 600 nights, making the odds pretty darned good that I would meet at least one gang of drunken kids.
Many of the smaller towns, particularly out west, allow people to camp in their parks, fairgrounds or other select places. You may be required to register at town hall, so check first. Ask around for a free place to camp, and people will usually say something like; "I see people camping by the river." Also, churches will often let you camp (how could they refuse?) Still, I prefer to stay off of public land, because any gang of drunken kids has as much right to be there as I do, and it's hard to fall asleep when you imagine that any car driving by is loaded with shotguns, booze and embarrassment. I would often sleep with my pants on, just to avoid the utter embarrassment of fighting in my underwear.
So, I chose to sleep on private land. Now, this is a pretty foolish idea, since my hosts could pretty much do whatever they wanted to me, without much fear of being caught. But, I was pretty lucky, and I never had a single problem. My first rule was simple: always get permission. I only bent that rule a few times (by getting permission from a neighbor) and only twice was I kicked out. I stuck to this rule because I certainly wouldn't want someone camping on my land without asking me first.
I solved this problem with a 12volt DC to 110volt AC inverter. I had a tough time with it, and actually burned out a few inverters. I also drained a couple of motorcycle batteries, but you should have better luck in a car or RV.
During the very cold months, when the temperature regularly dropped below zero at night, I bought a small heater and an extension cord, and I would ask my host to let me plug in. The heater made me comfortable, but asking the favor made me very uncomfortable -- I was fortunate to meet very pleasant and hospitable people who usually obliged.
Water. You need this to drink and clean, but I found that you don't need very much. I kept a water bottle for brushing my teeth, and I cleaned myself each morning using "Handi-wipes" - they've been good enough for babies, why not adults? I could go for three or four days without a real shower, and I'm embarrassed to say how long I actually did go, at times.
Regarding my, um, plumbing, I had a strategy. Eating my main meal at midday -- and basically not eating a whole lot -- kept me from having to, ahh, process a whole lot, and I seldom had the need for facilities while I was camping. I do remember some mornings when nature called and I had to hurridly strike camp and roll out of there to a bathroom, and it was amazing sometimes, how very far from one I could be!
It would have been very easy for me to exploit the fine people who hosted me. I could have asked them for, say a drink of water, to start, then to maybe use their phone, and then, gee, that food sure smells good... It would have been a slippery slope to ride down, so I chose instead to keep a clean, honorable image.
A second rule I had was; "no sleeping with the subject." Often, someone about whom I was writing would offer to let me stay on their land. I did this a few times, but always felt that I was putting them in a bad position. This was unfortunate, actually, as these were very good people whose company I would have been pleased and proud to make.
My only request was that I use a piece of their land for the evening, and I kept it to that. I didn't play any games, either. For example, I probably could have asked questions like: "Is there a laundromat nearby?" and they probably would have offered to wash a load for me.
Often, people would, out of the blue, offer me food or a shower, and I actually turned down many offers for such hospitalities, until I realized that my demural was actually received as an insult. I just wanted to ensure that when I rode off on my steed the next morning, that my hosts would have a good feeling about what they did, and that they didn't feel the least bit used. To seal this deal, I drew up a letter, and in what became a little ceremony for me, I would sign one, slip it into my hosts' mailbox and ride off into the sunrise, laying it heavy and loud on the lower gears as a sweet goodbye.