Americans love dinosaurs; Canadians love the crown, but everyone loves Mexican food.
You are in the middle of an existential crisis. You drink yourself numb. You wake up the next day and the thought comes to you over pop tarts, “I know what will give meaning to my life! I should drive to another country! But wait… I’m broke...” Don’t give up on your dreams! That’s what credit cards are for, you dummy!
I know, I know... No one wants to max out credit cards and spend the next fifteen years paying for a road trip. No, sir! But you have the heart of an adventurer (in a past life you were a park ranger). You find a way to go on the cheap, and you take a big gulp of that adventure punch Gatorade. Here are a few skills that helped me quench my existential thirst when I drove by myself from San Diego, CA to Waterton Lakes, Canada.
Buy a map. You are not a cookie cutter person, and neither is your trip. Gadgets are great. I love them, but you might lose reception and end up in the Iowa instead of Canada. That’s all great. I mean, you are still adventuring, and I’m sure Iowa is great... But is it as great as swimming in cold Canadian waters? You be the judge. Maps are inexpensive, and, unlike toilet paper, don’t expire. Buy one. Keep it in your pack pack.
I have a large one-page map of the US that I bought at a gas station in Utah, and I use every time I go on a road trip. It gives me the freedom to choose my own adventure. At the end of each road trip, I take a marker to the roads I took. I keep it on my kitchen table as a visual reminder of my badassness in times of existential crisis and as a unique conversation piece.
If you are going to another country, and have X amount of days you can take off before your boss hires someone else (like mine), take a car. If you have a reliable and gas efficient vehicle, I suggest using it; if not, rent one. Because this will probably be the most expensive item on your trip, it’s important you find a good deal. Airports have the best deals on cars (keep in mind insurance is optional and your own insurance probably already covers the rental car as well). Unless you are driving to a place with lots of snow you can rent a cheap car that is good on fuel. As you can see from the picture, I rented a Nissan Versa. Sure it was slow uphill, but it got me there. Also, I washed the car before returning it and asked for a discount when I returned it. They shaved 15 buck off the bill ;) Whatever you do, don’t hitch hike. It’s not worth it.
Note: Most car companies won’t let you drive a car to Mexico or below, but they are okay with Canada (pfft… racists).
Sure you can stay at fancy hotels with HBO and bidets, but wouldn’t you rather spend your money on graphic Ts and bumper stickers? I camped four nights, slept in the car once, and spent the night at Best Western hotel on the way back.
Camping: This is where the map comes in handy. Once you locate the major highways, you can look for state/ national parks. You are very likely to find campgrounds in the area. Even if you don’t have a reservation, still show up. They have first come first serve spots for adventurers like us. If you are one or two people, you can always ask campers if they are willing to share their campsite. There is a maximum of eight people/ two tents/ two cars per campsite, so if you see one tent with a few friendly people you can share the spot. It’s common courtesy to offer to cook a meal for people who are letting you stay at their campsite. Campers are friendly and happy people. Be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you. I’ve suggested this technique to friends, and it worked wonders for them. If that doesn’t work you can ask a ranger for information of campgrounds outside the park. They have a list with phone numbers, and they are very happy to provide as much help as possible.
AirBnB: On this trip I booked a room through AirBnB in Bozeman, MT. The people were beyond nice. I was only there for a few hours, before I went to sleep. Woke up the next day and left early for Yellowstone. It’s a great way to meet new people and exchange life stories.
4- Pack light (see blog post “Packing Light”)
If this is the kind of trip where you will live in the car, you can take a few additional items (like jello and troll dolls). Keep in mind, you will have to take out what you put in the car. The more you bring with you, the more you might lose, the more you will have to clean later. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
5- Camping supplies
You probably already have a few of these. If you don’t have a tent or sleeping bag be resourceful: ask your neighbors or friends on social media. Here are the basics:
Tent, tarp (underneath the tent), sleeping bag (pillow? Use your clothes, you turkey!), water containers, a plate for each person, a cup for each person, two little pots, a fork- knife- spoon set p/ person, paper towels, biodegradable soap (for dishes and body- Campsuds is the most efficient and least expensive), flashlight/ head lamp, toilet paper, paper towels, one towel p/person, a little first aid kit, one good knife.
Optional: skewers, or something that resembles a long piece of metal to roast veggies and Smokies (like a cheap hangers from the cleaners). If you are taking a trip in the dead of winter please take many blankets. When it’s very very cold, I use my sleeping bag as insulation and a blanket for warmth over my body.
Not bad for ten days of living in nature :)
You’ll probably eat the same stuff every day. For the most part I had oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast, lots of fruit, instant mash potatoes, Smokies, canned soup (both warm and room temperature), and Snack Packs. You know, easy stuff. Any kind of just add water and heat on the stove instant meal. Remember: It’s not about the amenities, it’s about the adventure.
These are some ideas. Now it’s up to you to figure out what to do once you get there. There are a million things you can do for little to no money at all. I am happy to answer any questions you might have about embarking on a spontaneous adventure. I know it seems a bit scary before you take off, but once you do it, you are going to feel like you can accomplish any goals you set for yourself. Look at me. I could have stayed home that Fourth of July and gotten drunk by myself while watching the Twilight Zone marathon on TV. Instead, I drove to Canada. Remember: Be the maker of your own dreams.
Ashley and Cecilia work hard, play hard, write stuff, read stuff... because they don't know what else to do with their lives.
I- We should buy something superficial
II- Buy odd clothing
I- An Unusual Social Event
I- We should go somewhere with dangerous animals
I- Somewhere with strange food
When we get ten total votes, the item with the highest number of votes will be our next expedition.
(One vote per reader, per category).