Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

campingAs you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.arches national parkThe next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.
jason
I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

Out-Of-State Moving Checklist: Tips For Relocating And How To Survive The Drive

stressAs I mentioned in a recent post, I’m currently en route moving from Seattle to Boulder, Colorado. This isn’t my first out-of-state relocation, by any means, and at this point, I’ve got it down to a science, after the movers haul away what I can’t cram into my car.

Because summer is peak moving season, I thought I’d share some tips with y’all to make your pre-move checklist and journey less painful. Even if you don’t have time to make a relaxing road trip out of it, there are still ways to fit in a bit of sightseeing or leisure time.

Before you move:

Reputable moving companies always offer free estimates (the cost is based on weight, so hold that yard sale before you make an appointment).

If you’ve had a good experience with a long-distance mover before, see if they have an affiliate in your new hometown; it also pays to check reviews and get a few other estimates before hiring a company.

Make a list of all accounts and the like that require address updates, and get it taken care of. Likewise, cancel/transfer utilities if necessary.

Tune up your car or get a full service; be sure to tell them you’re moving out-of-state and to perform a thorough road safety check that includes tire pressure and wear assessment and windshield wiper replacement (if needed).

Check your car emergency kit (you do have one, right?), and make sure you’ve got replacement oil of the correct weight, and windshield cleaner, as well as flares and jumper cables. And replace your spare tire if it’s more than 6 to 10 years of age or has been stored in extremely hot conditions.

If you have pets, make sure they’re up-to-date on rabies and other required vaccinations, and check on requirements in your new state. If they’re not good travelers (especially crucial for cats), you may need a sedative prescription from your vet; it’s a good idea for your furry friends to have a physical before you depart. And be sure to keep cats in a carrier in transit; trying to extricate a tabby from beneath your feet while flying down the highway is not fun, believe you me.movingGive your houseplants to a good home, or make sure they can fit in your car. Moving companies won’t transport them.

Update medical insurance if you have a PPO; most carriers have affiliate providers in other states, but you need to apply and qualify to get a good rate.

There’s usually a window in which your movers will arrive at your new home. Be sure to load anything essential to your existence in your car: basic cooking equipment, utensils, medication, etc. Also, pack valuables like passports, extra checks, tax records and other essential and/or private documents, just in case some of your belongings go missing during the move.

I’ve asked all of my previous movers what’s considered a proper gratuity. All of them have told me that while they never expect it, it’s very much appreciated, but so is buying them breakfast or lunch. Movers work long, hard hours, often for paltry pay. If your move is nearly bankrupting you, you’d be surprised how far a round of coffees and breakfast burritos go. And always offer to get them water or soft drinks while they’re working. You’ll find their gratitude is matched only by the extra care they take with your belongings.

En route
roadside attraction
Even if you have a new job to start the second you arrive, plan time for breaks. It’s hard to start work when you’re dead. By the same token, road fatigue really takes a toll. Don’t sleep in truck stops, the side of the road, or parking lots. Even if money is tight, spring for a cheap motel, or at least a campground, and get a good night’s sleep. It pays to make reservations if you’re traveling in isolated regions.

The worst thing about moving, in my opinion, is the deadly boredom of certain routes. I will do literally anything to avoid Interstate 80 through Nevada. Anything. Research beforehand, and try to plan routes with great scenery, or some redemptive attributes – even if it’s just a great roadhouse burger – to look forward to. For mapping, I love Rand McNally; don’t rely solely on GPS, which may not take road repairs and other delays and detours into account.

Keep an emergency stash of No-Doz or energy drinks in your glove compartment, but avoid driving if at all possible when exhausted. Even a 10-minute catnap can work wonders.

Avoid driving at night, and ladies, study up on what to do if you have a breakdown en route. Do not get into a stranger’s car, under any circumstances. Wait in your car with windows up and door locked until police or a tow truck arrive, and ask to see proof of credentials. A little caution is worth appearing a bit paranoid. Keep your cellphone charged, have an emergency roadside plan (if you don’t have AAA, many car insurance companies offer it, free of charge), and have a back-up plan if you don’t have phone service. Always let someone know your route,road estimated ETA, and where you plan to stop along the way (even if that plan changes).

Pack a jug of water and snacks to minimize unnecessary stops and to tide you over in the event of a breakdown or other delay.

Upon arrival
You’re likely to have a different set of movers offload your belongings. So yes, you’ll need to tip again, and up the ante accordingly, depending upon how far they’ve driven. A follow-up with the company’s office with praise or constructive criticism is always appreciated. If damage is incurred, be sure to fill out the paperwork before the movers depart; it’s also your responsibility to be there to check off that all of your items are delivered from their master list.

[Photo credits: stress; Flickr user bark; truck, Flickr user Scrap Pile; melon, Flickr user Tempesttea; road, Flickr user TheFriendlyFiend]

Tips for Packing and Moving

How To Sleep In Your Car In (Relative) Comfort

sleepingSince it’s peak camping and road tripping season and I’m in the midst of moving from Seattle to Boulder, using my car as a motel room, I decided it’s time for an update on car crashing (of the slumbering variety).

Last year, Gadling contributor and musician Elizabeth Seward provided useful tips she’s picked up during her years on the road touring. Like Elizabeth, I feel eminently qualified to discourse on this topic, but for different reasons.

In my mid-20s, I lived in my car for a summer. Not by choice – unless you take into account the fact that I chose to follow my recent ex-boyfriend, at his suggestion, to San Diego, despite my lack of a job, friends or housing. These situations seldom have a positive outcome, which is how I ended up living in my aging Volvo sedan and peeing into a Big Gulp cup at 3 a.m. – more on that in a minute.

I was in good company, however. The cul-de-sac where I parked was located just off a prime surf break, so each night the street would host a line-up of battered VW buses and surf-rack-bedecked, decrepit cars, as homeless surfers pulled in to roost.

The point of this anecdote is that I have a long, if somewhat cramped, history of sleeping in my car. It helps that I’m 5’2″, but I’ve known many men who have also resided in their automobiles (my brother once lived in his pickup for an entire semester of college).car camping I’ve also logged a lot of zzz’s in cars because I travel a lot. I frequently road trip on assignment, but I’ve also made numerous drives to and from the West Coast to the Rockies over the years, for long-term moves and seasonal work.

For the most part, I enjoy sleeping in my car for the spirit of adventure it conjures. Sure, I own a tent, but when I’ve logged 10 hours behind the wheel and the weather is vile, I’d rather just bust out my sleeping bag, tuck a thick blanket over the console between the front seats (if the back seat and rear of my Honda CRV are loaded) and pass out.

For a more restful car-sleep, here are my non-negotiables (Elizabeth covered the need for adequate padding and a sleeping bag in her post):

LED headlamp and extra batteries
Not only is this helpful for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips if you’re in a campground, but it will also save your sanity if you like to read and/or are an insomniac (I fall into both categories). It also prevents draining your car battery by using the overhead light, and won’t attract attention should you be parked somewhere public but not necessarily legal for overnights.

Reading material
See above.

Sleep aid
I’m not advocating pill popping, but it can definitely be helpful to take something if a good night’s rest is crucial. If an iPod does it for you, use that. Drinking alcohol just means having to get up to pee more often, and a dehydrated, puffy-faced morning after.
cup
A large cup
How do I put this delicately? Sometimes, you’re just not parked in a place where it’s feasible, as a woman, to pop a squat. I learned this while “living” in San Diego. All of the homes in the cul-de-sac had motion sensor lights and a lack of shrubbery, making bladder relief extraordinarily complicated. After complaining about my issues peeing in a spotlight, a fellow car-dweller told me, “Dude, you totally need to get a Big Gulp cup.” Dude, it totally solved the problem. Just remember to dump it down a storm drain, and not on someone’s landscaping. You’re not an animal.

A shower plan of action
Depending upon your situation, you can often shower for free at the beach (skip the soap and shampoo or ask a ranger or lifeguard if biodegradable products are okay to use), or pay at a rec center, gym or campground. I confess I’ve snuck into campgrounds before and poached a shower but I try to avoid such nefarious behavior (mainly because I’m afraid of getting caught). Tip: Baby wipes and skin-cleansing towelettes are your best friends on the road. And be sure to keep a clean bath towel in your car at all times for these situations.

Extra supply of drinking water

Do your research
If you’re somewhere urban, be sure to scope out signage so you don’t end up ticketed or towed. It’s a fairly well known fact that most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking; there’s even a locator app for it. It ain’t the Ritz, but it works in a pinch.

Lock your doors, but crack your windows
Don’t compromise your safety, but you do need fresh air.

Be sure your cellphone is charged and within reach
This is useless if you’re in an area without service (if you have an inkling that’s going to be the case, call, text, or email a family member or friend with your approximate location for the night before you get out of range). A phone can prove invaluable if you run into trouble.

[Photo credits: napper, Flickr user miss pupik; car, Flickr user russelljsmith; cup, Flickr user Bruce W Martin II]

Gadling’s 2011 New Year’s travel resolutions

New Year'sIt’s that time of year again. A time when we all make certain promises to ourselves, in an attempt to make our lives more organized, our bodies stronger or leaner. We vow to spend more time with loved ones, give back to others, or ditch that cubicle job. And some of us…well, we just want to keep on traveling, any way we can manage to finagle it.

In the spirit of New Year’s, I asked my fellow Gadling contributors about their travel resolutions for the coming year, and came up with some of my own. Our goals are all over the map (no pun intended), but a common theme emerged. Despite our love of exotic adventures, most of us want to spend more time exploring in our own backyard (that would be the United States). That, and invent musical underwear.

Leigh Caldwell

  • Go on my first cruise.
  • Spend a weekend somewhere without Internet access, and, if I survive that…
  • Celebrate the Fourth of July with my family in Banner Elk, North Carolina, home of the quintessential small-town Independence Day. There’s a three-legged race, a rubber ducky race down a mountain stream, and a parade filled with crepe paper, balloons, and every kid and dog in town.

McLean Robbins

  • Quit my “day job” so I can do this full-time.

[Photo credit: Flickr user nlmAdestiny]New Year'sLaurel Miller

  • Get back in shape after a two-year battle with Oroya Fever (contracted in Ecuador), and climb a volcano in Bolivia.
  • Finally start exploring my adopted state of Washington, especially the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Visit India for the first time; see if it’s possible to subsist on street food without getting dysentery.
  • Learn to wear DEET at all times when traveling in countries that harbor nearly-impossible-to-diagnose diseases like Oroya Fever.

Sean MacLachlan

  • Get back to Ethiopia.
  • Explore Green Spain (the north part of the country).
  • Show my son a non-Western culture.
  • Invent an underwear stereo that plays cheap jazz music when subjected to a TSA patdown.

New Year's
Mike Barish

  • Drive cross country.
  • See the Grand Canyon (finally).
  • Finally learn how not to overpack.
  • And, for the fifth year in a row, I resolve to learn how to play the keytar (2011 has got to be the year!).

Darren Murph

  • Bound and determined to visit my 50th state, Alaska.
  • Dead-set on relocating a childhood friend of mine back to North Carolina, and then taking him on a road trip of some sort.

Meg Nesterov

  • Visit more places where I know people.
  • Be in more travel pictures and get my husband out from behind the
  • camera occasionally.
  • Take at least one guidebook-free and paperless trip. Okay, maybe one map.
  • Take better notes. I might think I’ll always remember the name of that fun-looking restaurant or weird sign I want to translate, but it’s easy to forget when you’re taking in so many new things.
  • See more of Turkey while I still live here. I spend so much time traveling to nearby countries, I have to be sure to see the landscape of Cappadocia and eat the food in Gaziantep before I go back to the U.S..New Year's

Grant Martin, Editor-in-Chief

  • Travel a bit less and work a bit more [Sure, Grant!].

Annie Scott Riley

  • Travel less alone, and more with my husband.

Alex Robertson Textor

  • More open-jaw travel, flying into one destination and traveling by land to another before returning home. It’s my favorite way to see a new or familiar territory–gradually and without any backtracking. I need to do it more often.
  • More thematic consistency in my travels. Instead of scrambling to meet whatever assignment comes my way, I want my travels in the next year to be focused on a region or two, and on a number of overarching questions or issues. I’m still collecting ideas: Remote European mountain villages? Neglected second-tier cities? The Caucasus?
  • Northern Cyprus. Have been wanting to visit since I was a kid. 2011’s the year.

New Year'sDavid Farley

  • To take back the name “Globetrotters” from the Harlem basketball team.
  • To introduce eggnog and lutefisk to southeast Asia.
  • To eat fewer vegetables.

[Photo credits: volcano, Laurel Miller; Grand Canyon, Flickr user Joe Y Jiang; Cappadocia, Flickr user Curious Expeditions; lutefisk, Flickr user Divine Harvester]

Road Trip Forecast: The Cost of Gas

GasPumpThis news from CNN shouldn’t be surprising or
shocking. Vacation drives are looking to be a lot more expensive than last year, with regular gas averaging at 25 cents
higher than 2005. However, AAA predicts folks
won’t be cutting back
on driving and that the summer travel season will be a busy one. Now I’ll leave it right
there for now in terms of what they’ve got to say. We all know what the situation looks like in our own neck of the
woods, so you tell me how the gas is affecting your travel plans. Is it? To some, 25 cents is quite a hike, especially
if you’re trying to push your vehicle coast to coast on I-10. That kind of money adds up. Should we not even bother to
think or worry about the gas cost and take the scenic route on our summer drives? For those of you who find money an
issue and are unwilling to compromise your dreamy drives down the unknown road, here are a few money and gas-saving
tips:

Before the Trip:

  • Air filter -Make sure your air
    filter is clean. Air filters are easy to check and change and can help the performance and economy of your vehicle by
    allowing good air flow to the engine.
  • Tire pressure – Tires that are under-inflated can
    cost you 2 to 3 MPG and then some. Keep a reliable tire gauge handy and be sure to keep tires inflated properly.
  • Rims – I highly doubt many of you will be taking to the highways with 24" chrome and
    spinners on your wheels, but should that be the case you may wish to reconsider. If the rims widen the tire stock you
    could decreasing fuel economy by creating more rolling resistance. (See About.com)
  • Evaluate your load – Clean out your car before adding all your travel necessities. Roof racks and carriers can help provide additional space, yet
    keep in mind they decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent.
  • Vehicle selection – Sure you’re
    only using your summer whip for a couple of weeks, maybe months, but when it’s time to rent or take one of your vehicles
    aim for the one with the best fuel economy. Use www.fueleconomy.gov to find and
    compare vehicles. The extra hundred dollars could become quite useful elsewhere.

During the
Trip:

  • Slow down – You’re on vacation, there is absolutely no reason to
    rush, plus traveling 55mph gives you 21% better mileage.
  • Roll down the windows
    Gasp! No A/C? Mother Nature’s air is often the best kind of air to help give your vehicle a break. Consider keeping the
    A/C off a good portion of your trip when driving at reduced speeds around town or in city traffic.
  • Keep the A/C going – Confused? Well, many studies show that keeping the A/C going isn’t all that bad when driving at increased
    speeds on highways. The air conditioner will still consume fuel, but having the windows up will decrease the drag on
    your vehicle created from wind resistance.
  • Gas purchases – Always try to buy gasoline
    when it’s cooler. HowtoAdvice.com notes that gas tends to be densest
    during the early morning and late evening, where gas pumps measure volumes of gasoline, note densities of fuel
    concentration. You are charged according to "volume of measurement."
  • Brand and
    grade
    – Don’t be fooled into thinking high
    octane gasoline
    is going to give you stellar mileage or performance. While very few cars require the use of premium
    gasoline, most vehicles only need regular to fill up the tank. When in doubt, thumb through your owner’s manual.
  • Carpooling and friends – A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without a few close pals.
    Bring them along and plan to save on fuel together.

After the trip make plans to do it all over again
and if you’ve got a few tips of your own pass them this way.