As most people who know me are aware, I’ve done more than my fair share of rambling across the United States from coast to coast, sometimes for months living in tents or vehicles. I’ve been pissed off and I’ve pissed my companions off, which is without a doubt going to happen if you’re living in an 8 by 10 foot space with someone for weeks, months, or even just days or hours. This is my guide to a happy, safe and productive road trip.
1. – You are a democracy.
Everyone should get a say in major decisions and even minor ones, and be cool if someone opposes your opinion. If you’re on a long road trip, you’re essentially in a polygamous relationship with these people. You don’t want to get “kicked out of bed” do you? Keep in mind if you’re always the one bitching about everything, you might have a restructure of the “Roadocracy” on your hands and find yourself ganged up on. Be considerate if someone asks you to change the music, and if you’re not into the same music as them, put up with theirs for a little bit. Maybe they don’t think the bluegrass tribute band of the Jonas Brothers is as cool as you did when you were blasting them earlier. I’m currently on the way to Florida and have been listening to my brother blare death metal music for hours, which is perfectly cool because you can: Bring some headphones and listen to your own music while they drive if you can’t handle listening to theirs. The driver should never have to put their headphones on! Which, contradictory to the first rule, brings me to the second one:
2. – The driver is the Dictator of the vehice.
When you’re spending hours and hours driving across the country the driver is your monarch. I once took a trip west with three friends and the first leg of the trip was a 26-hour drive non-stop from Ohio to Texas. After a while, none of us wanted to drive, or be awake, or around each other, or possible even alive. So whoever’s turn it was to drive was our pimp and we his loyal bitches. He/she gets first pick on the music, let them borrow your sunglasses if they lost theirs, and for fuck’s sake make this man a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Also, don’t constantly pester them about their driving. Unless of course they are slam-dance hammered, in which case you should pause before shouting and ponder how you arrived at such a situation. And maybe buckle up.
3. – Have AAA
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten came from a friend who told me I MUST have AAA roadside assistance. It costs around $80-150 per year depending on your coverage, and it’s totally worth it. This one is a little long, because I can’t stress enough how important it is to GET AAA. On top of roadside assistance, including bringing you gas or getting your keys out of your vehicle, you also get discounts on many motels and hotels. This though, is the main reason:
On my second trip out west, I decided it would be a wise decision to see how the Ford Taurus we were driving could handle a random gravel forest trail in the middle of the Black Hills, South Dakota. It actually did pretty great at first, until the gravel turned to dirt, and then the dirt into a muddy ATV trail surrounded by steep drop-offs on either side. Needless to say there was no turning around, so we just kept on-a truckin until we came to a split in the trail with a giant mud pit on one side and a huge boulder about 100 yards down the other, which I conveniently found after driving the said 100 yards on the trail. So I backed out and was finally able to turn around, but on my way back up the original trail, one of the mud pits we had made it through earlier turned out to be a shit-storm of fuck-mud when coming from the other direction and I had to floor it to make it through, artfully smacking the bottom of the car on a large rock in the process, which we eventually found had ripped off the muffler and put a nice-sized hole in the oil AND transmission pans. When I say “eventually” found out, I mean we found out one second later when the car suddenly sounded like a pissed off lawn mower. In this instance we were lucky enough to make it to the small town of Spearfish, SD before we exploded into a fiery ball of dead and stupid. There we were able to hang out for a couple days while the car was fixed. But you won’t always get that lucky, and if we hadn’t made it to Spearfish we would have been screwed. Unless, of course, we had ran into some friendly bears who by sheer luck were also mechanics. The Black Hills in that area isn’t exactly known for being populated. We didn’t have AAA which would have been a quick phone call and some belittling from a tow-truck driver away.
On a different trip, the van my friends and I were driving blew a spark plug at around 2:30am on our way to Lake Tahoe after leaving the Grand Canyon. This was after I had gotten the advice from my friend which I had promptly listened to, and I was glad I did. They were very helpful, which is more than I can say for Geico with whom my conversation eventually turned into an angry shouting match, and mine and one of my fellow traveler’s commencement of drinking, after they told me their roadside assistance wouldn’t tow the camper we were hauling because it could technically still be pulled with another vehicle. I believe my response was something like: “That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. So if I called you and told you this son of a bitch was floating in the middle of a lake, you would tell me ‘Welllll technically you could still pull it with a boat?!’” (We had more problems with them down the road, I would strongly recommend you steer clear) But, I digress…
I called AAA and they sent someone out right away, who was kind enough to let Corey and I drink in his tow-truck on the way to the campsite he was hauling us to. He also coined the phrase “Goddamn Geico, they’ll fuck ya dry with a sandpaper condom!”
Note: This tow cost us $200 dollars for the little pop-up camper because I had gone through Geico for it instead, which didn’t cover jack shit. AAA saved us an additional $200 or more for the van I had covered through them. That instance alone (which has been one of many) more than paid for my AAA coverage.
4. – Always talk to the locals!
Some of the greatest places I’ve been to while traveling I NEVER would have found had it not been for someone who had been there telling me or even taking me there. Always talk to the locals, for more reasons than just seeing off-the-beaten-path destinations. Traveling is all about meeting new people and gaining perspective of life. I think it’s important to immerse yourself in other cultures. Some of the coolest people I’ve met have been completely random people I’ve started a conversation with on the road. With that in mind, use your best judgment and don’t be naïve. As sad as it is to say, sometimes it’s best to judge a book by its cover while traveling. If a dude looks like a meth-head, don’t make him your new best friend. However if you do want to meet some drug users who are harmless and entertaining, take a trip to the town square in Arcada, California. The stoner-kids there quite interesting to say the least. When we went to leave almost all of them were asking if they could go with us. “We haven’t even told you guys where we’re headed, how do you know you want to go?” … “It’s cool man, we don’t have to know where, do you have room in your van?”
Just to convince you how important talking to the locals is, I’ll impart a secret must-see spot that someone passed down to me: If you’re ever in Idaho, make your way a couple hours down a dirt road to a place called Pine Flats. There is a hot spring there that comes out of rocks on a cliff face making a hot springs waterfall complete with a little natural hot tub at the bottom. One of the most amazing places I’ve been to. You’ll be able to find Pine Flats, Idaho on a map, but you’ll have a hard time finding the waterfall unless you know where to look. Amazingly, it’s not listed in ANY of the Idaho visitor’s material I’ve found, even on the interwebz. Shoot me a private message on the Tom Edwards & Friends Facebook page, and I’ll fill you in 😉
Pine Flats, Idaho
5. – Get creative with food
Did you know gas stations will let you use the hot water from their coffee machines to make ramen noodles? Bring in a cup of ramen, fill it from the hot water tap on the machine, and get back on the road! Most gas stations also have microwaves, so stock up on some dry-storage microwaveable food.
I also carry a backpacking stove with me. Just open up some canned food, set it right on top of the stove and heat it up. If you’re looking for a quick snack: beef jerky, granola bars, apples, bananas, mixed nuts, canned fruit, and good old fashioned peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches are the way to go. Try to stay away from potato chips and candy bars- they don’t have enough good calories and protein to fill you up for very long, which ends up being just a waste of valuable trip-money. I usually have a cooler with me to keep butter, lunchmeat, and sometimes even steaks, ground beef or orange juice in. It costs next to nothing to keep a cooler acceptably cool. Always keep a good amount of water in it so you’re not trying to completely fill it with ice each day. If you’re really low on cash, most fast food restaurants will give you ice for free to top it off with.
That being said STAY AWAY FROM FAST FOOD! It’s much cheaper to plan ahead and buy your food at the grocery store, plus it’s bad for you 😉
6. – If you have a smartphone, use it
Also, if your provider offers mobile hotspot capability for cheap, it’s not a bad idea either. On my most recent extended trip, I would be sitting co-pilot finding our next route, looking up a close grocery store, or finding our next spot to camp. Which brings me to……
7. – Freecampsites.net is your best friend
If you’re on an extended road trip and want to keep it on the cheap, you don’t want to stay in any motels. Campsites are much cheaper, and because of this site, my most recent trip cost next to nothing for boarding expenses. I’m talking MAYBE fifty bucks for a month of traveling. You can search by state, and it will show little pop-ups of campgrounds on a map with a description, directions, and even reviews by other campers. We found some awesome campsites on this site. If you’re ever in southern Colorado, I strongly suggest you check out the campground on East Fork Road. Uhhhh-mazing. There are also some cool free ones in California along the coast on Highway 1 near Big Sur.
East Fork Road free camping, Southern Colorado. This was taken from one of the mountainsides surrounding the campsite.
8. – Check out your vehicle before you leave
This is a simple, but effective one. Change your oil and air filter, check your tires, and make sure your doors aren’t going to fall off twenty miles down the road. This could potentially save you some huge headaches on your trip.
9. – Don’t over-pack
It’s hypocritical of me to even offer you this advice, as I’m guilty of doing it on almost every single trip I take. You don’t need three different coats and five pairs of shoes to travel. Keep it simple. Try to remember that all of that shit is going to get in your way constantly. So ask yourself on each item if it’s worth it. I always end up with some big item; a backpacking pack, a fucking P.A. system, etc… On the trip out west I mentioned earlier with some of my buddies, I can’t tell you how many times we had to re-arrange everything in that goddamn van. It seemed like a conversation something like this would take place almost daily: First person: “Hey man, can you grab my headphones out of my bag?” ….Second person: “Ahh fuck I think it’s back under the instruments. Or maybe by the folding chairs.” …Third person: “Nah dude I’m pretty sure it’s buried under the food stuff.” …First person: “Just forget it, I’ll find it when we camp.” ….Is your sweet battery-powered box fan worth digging around to grab a banana?
10. – Don’t overcomplicate, have fun!
Unless you’re traveling for business, and even sometimes in that scenario as well, the main reason we travel is for pleasure. You don’t have to have a day-by-day itinerary and in fact I suggest avoiding one unless you’re on a time-constraint. You never know when you’re going to be hanging out with a new friend in Arizona and they ask you if you want to go on a three-day hike through the Grand Canyon on a path the tourists don’t know about. Keep it simple. Have a basic outline of where you want to go, but don’t book everything in advance, and don’t worry about the little things. It adds a level of excitement to have no exact idea of where you’re going to be the next day. Browse through camping websites on your way, and form a plan then. Don’t really feel like driving that long today? Find a closer campsite that has some cool stuff to do in the area and maybe even stay a couple days there. Feel like driving for hours to make it further towards your next destination? Look up a few campsites before and after where you think you’ll be ready to call it quits and pick one when the time comes.
The American road trip is all about impulse and freedom. Be impulsive yet decisive, be friendly and meet new people, treat your traveling companions well, and follow these tips to have a fun and unforgettable travel experience!
Sunset in the Grand Canyon with our own personal tour guides / friends Anna and Zach. =)