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

5 tips for sleeping in your car




Although I’d say I was always a traveler, the meaning of travel didn’t fully kick in for me until my early twenties. I found myself touring with my old band during this time of my life. And while it’s difficult to accommodate a single poor person every night of a 30-80 stint on the road, it’s even more difficult to accommodate four poor people every night for that long. Because of this, my band mates and I took the easiest way out and routinely slept in the car.

Our respective cars were (in order): a Honda Odyssey, a Suburban, a Ford 12 passenger van, and a Ford E150 van. We filled these cars tightly in a Tetris-like fashion with drums, guitars, amps, merchandise, and the personal belongings needed for several weeks on the road. I could see the mound of gear every time I checked my rear-view mirror. The sleeping area was abbreviated at best and the coping skills I developed along the way became monumental lessons learned in how to sleep in cars.

Last fall I moved from New York City to Austin and I drove south for four days with my boyfriend and a backseat/trunk area clogged with instruments and clothing. The car (which is still running) is a 1996 Honda Accord with 272,000 miles on it. Sleeping in this car wasn’t easy when we pulled over at a rest station in Charleston, West Virginia, but it’s wasn’t impossible, either.

Skip to a recent embarkment on a 10 day road trip across Northern California. We upgraded our economy car rental for $5 more a day at the last minute and we did so for a good reason: the seats in the slightly more expensive car fold down into a debatable version of a bed.

It’s not that we can’t afford hotels or Air B&B rooms. It’s just that we can spend our money on other things if we sometimes bypass the budgeting for accommodations. We can have a few extra nice meals out and a few extra drinks at those meals. We can attend a few more shows and afford a few more guitar pedals for our studio in Austin. We can do these things with just one less hotel room per trip in some cases. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested, here are some tips from my own experience for skipping lodging expenses, staying the night in a car, and actually getting some sleep.

1. Visualize your bed
Since every car is built differently, your sleeping options will vary from car to car. The worst case scenario here is often times the Honda Accord scenario I outlined above: a small car with a trunk and a backseat filled to the brim. The best case scenario is a van or a truck with a covered bed. But no matter what kind of car you’re traveling in, take a close look at where you’ll be sleeping. Know whether you’ll need to sleep in a seat upright, on seats that fold down into a somewhat flat surface, or on a bench seat, for instance. Tip: If you’re renting a car, consider your potential sleeping space when choosing your vehicle.

2. Acquire bedding
Whether you’re packing from home and planning well in advance to sleep in the car during an upcoming trip or deciding on a whim to give it a go, you will, I promise you, sleep better with some bedding. Pillows and blankets will make you a happier car-camper than you would be without them, but sleeping bags will make the world of difference you need on a chilly night. Something thick enough to cover any jolting uneven surfaces will save your tired soul–and your neck. Foam bedding is good for this because it can later be rolled up and stowed. Tip: If you’re in a jam, piles of clothing as bedding is better than nothing at all.

3. Prioritize privacy
Ok, I’ll admit, you sacrifice a certain level of privacy when you sleep in public, even if it’s in your own car. But some measures you can take will at least make sure your sleeping quarters are a little more private. If you have a choice in cars, go for one with tinted windows or no windows at all in the back. Some people suggest covering your entire sleeping area with a tarp. I haven’t tried this yet myself, but I’m sure it works. At the end of the day (when you’re likely to be car-crashing), you’ll sleep better the more you feel like you’re in a bed and not a car. Block the outside world as best as you can and you’ll start thinking of your car as your bedroom before you know it. Tip: While touring, we often rigged up a sheet or blanket against the back windows–this works fine.

4. Park wisely
You can’t sleep in your car just anywhere. Well, ok, scratch that. You can, but you run the risk of being rudely awakened by someone asking you to move. It’s no fun waking up to the bouncing beams of an intrusive flashlight at 4am, so try to avoid this. Don’t park in lots for businesses that aren’t open 24 hours. Avoid standing out as the only car in an area. Instead, shoot for rest stops, 24 hour parking lots, and, my favorite, residential streets. As long as you’re respectful and private in your car-sleeping affairs, it probably won’t even be obvious to nearby strangers that you’re sleeping in your car. The better job you do at forging some semblance or an ordinary unoccupied parked car, the better you’ll sleep. Tip: Stay away from street lights.

5. Bring your morning routine with you
Your best car sleeping experiences will be had when paired with proper morning planning. A quick trip into a public bathroom with these items in hand will get you ready for the day ahead: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, hair bush, and razor. Also be sure to have any medication you need on hand, something for an easy breakfast (granola bars do the trick), and clean underwear. Tip: If your hair gets greasy easily, have some baby powder with you. A sprinkle of it brushed into your hair will absorb the grease.

I have a soft spot for sleeping in the car, uncomfortable as it sometimes is. If you find yourself wanting to save money and avoid planning while traveling, take my advice and try it out. In the meantime, let us know in the comments of your personal car-sleeping tricks, tips, and tales.