Me and My CRV – Showers, Laundry and Recharging

There are necessities that need to be addressed occasionally such as cleaning yourself and your clothes, but just as importantly making daily decisions and being constantly on the move is exhausting and you’ll need some downtime. Trust me! Furthermore, if you’re traveling solo, you may find the need for human contact.

Networking

A major benefit of social media, is making connections with people all over the country and world, that is if you’re willing to (1) invest in building these relationships, (2) reach out when you’re in the area, and (3) take the risk of meeting strangers.

This has been by far the best part of my new lifestyle. In 2016, I spent about 50 nights with friends, mostly strangers who hosted me or met me for hikes and who are now forever friends. It doesn’t happen magically. You truly have to cultivate these relationships and go in with an open mind and heart. Every experience is different and I’ve never regretted the chances I’ve taken.

Tip: Use removable tape to mark your map with contacts and their numbers so you’ll remember when in the vicinity. 

If you do stay with friends, family, strangers, be a most-excellent guest. In exchange for a bed, laundry, showers, food, be sure to give back generously. Some of the things I’ve done include helping with chores, errands, providing gift cards, money, cooking meals, backpacking gear, etc. Figuring out the right amount of time to stay can be tricky. Keep the channels of communication open and be sure to ask about expectations, and reaffirm if you’ve stayed more than a few days. Watch for signals, some people feel uncomfortable telling you “it’s time to leave.” Get everything ready for the next guest before you leave.

Tip: Travel with thank you cards and stamps. Send them out timely or leave as you depart. 

Low Cost Laundry and Shower Options

Many campgrounds and RV parks will allow you to use their showers and laundry facilities, some small towns have laundry facilities with shower rooms, and hostels are another good option.

Tip: Travel with laundry detergent (I carry the pods) and quarters. I also use OxyClean for my hiking/backpacking gear especially socks. 

Reset, Recharge, Regroup

There will be times you just need a day or two or three off the road and you don’t have a nearby contact or just need some quiet time. Spending a day in your vehicle when it’s raining or snowing is just not fun, unless you have it planned as a travel day. On these days I might visit a local coffee shop or library, somewhere I can have internet access to catch up on my blogging and correspondence. I’ll also use it to accomplish town chores; I keep an ongoing shopping list just for this reason. Budget for occasional lodging. Many times I found myself needing a second night. I tend to stay at motels offering a laundry room, wifi and hot continental breakfast. Many times its worth the free membership to earn rewards for multiple nights or stays. Also consider using discount apps or sites such as HotWire.

Tip: If you’ve been backpacking, this is a good time to sterilize all your water containers. I carry denture tabs for this purpose. 

Package Delivery

If you need to order something or have something sent  from home, have it shipped to places you’ll be staying (if motel call first), or you can pay a small fee to pick it up from a UPS or retail mailing store. Sending Amazon packages via USPS General Delivery tends to be problematic so I’d avoid that option. I noticed during the Christmas season Amazon was offering alternative delivery locations such as grocery stores. That may prove to be a great option in the future.

Tip: If you need to send something home that requires special packaging, travel with the box (i.e. snowshoes).

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Me and My CRV – Eats on the Road

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you need to bust your seams or your budget.

This is what I’ve learned.

  1.  Say NO to fast food and mini-markets (unless you don’t care about your weight, health, or budget).

Exceptions:

a. Restroom use

b. Refilling water (just ask, I’ve been charged once, never been told no)

c. Ice (free at some McDonald’s)

2. Say YES to grocery stores and pre-planning

A benefit of having a car is you’ll be driving through at least small towns where you can resupply frequently, especially fresh food. I tend to stock my car before I leave home with non-perishables (i.e. bars, cereal, coffee, nuts, jerky, home dehydrated meals, canned meat, etc.), some semi-perishables (i.e. fruit, veges and tortillas), and the ice chest with perishables (i.e. hard boiled eggs, cheese, salad makings, etc).

While traveling, I usually buy the plastic containers of lettuce so I can easily add other fixings to make a salad, have a container to eat out of and store leftovers in my ice chest. 

Many places now have healthy, reasonably priced, prepared food options, and also have a microwave available for heating or cooking purchased food.

Many tiny towns have great deli’s with options beyond fried food. Dollar General is becoming a frequent presence along many of the backroads. You’ll find Walmart and Safeway in mid-sized towns, plus WinCo and CostCo in larger communities.

When it’s time to replace bars, buy them in boxes vs individually to save money. I buy my nuts in large containers at CostCo. If the local stores don’t carry what you like or need, order from Amazon and have them shipped to a place you plan to stay (i.e. friend or motel). They also have options to ship to a lockbox facility such as a grocery store. Retail mailing stores and UPS stores will hold packages for a fee. I don’t recommend sending Amazon to the USPS General Delivery as there always seems to be confusion since they prefer shipping FedEx or UPS.

When you stay with friends, prepare hard boiled eggs and other foods for the ice chest to give you some variety.

Budget funds for eating out. You’ll want a change. I got bored with my car options, plus you may want internet access. McDonalds has free internet but it’s painfully slow if you want to upload photos. Starbucks has faster internet. Many times library speeds are even better.
Tip: if you plan to visit places with problem bears such as Yosemite, Tahoe, Yellowstone, you’ll be told you can’t park your car with food in it. Usually there is a bear box nearby where you can stash a cooler or a small bin. After having a mouse get in my car in Washington, I recommend storing all food in plastic bins.

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Me and My CRV – Where to Overnight?

This becomes a very personal decision, one you’ll learn with experience. When the option exists I’ll take dispersed camping over a public or private, developed or undeveloped campground.

Dispersed Camping

This is an area on public lands where you can camp for free in primitive conditions. Sometimes there may be well-used spots that include a fire ring and a picnic table; more frequently it’s a pull-out along a dirt road. It’s best to ask for a map and recommendations from a local visitors center or ranger station to determine rules for a particular area. Be sure to disclose type of vehicle as that will affect accessible roads especially after recent rains (i.e. high clearance 4×4 vs baby 4×4 or low clearance sedan).  In Death Valley, you can camp “along dirt roads at least one mile away from any paved road or ‘day use only’ dirt road, and only in previously disturbed areas.” A federal recreation pass may be required on many roads. States such as Washington have their own pass for state-owned back roads. Some areas require free permits such as Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Campgrounds

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. In many National Parks, dispersed camping is not allowed and there aren’t any nearby options. Be sure to carry either checks or cash in various denominations to pay at unattended campgrounds, which in my experience has been 99% of the time. Few take credit cards. There are tons of online resources and phone apps you can use to find campgrounds that suit your needs. Since I don’t plan very far in advance I can usually obtain the necessary information from a nearby visitor center or ranger station, or sometimes I’ll just check out places while in the vicinity. This can be more problematic during peak season.

Parking Lots

If you are traveling through more urban areas and want to sleep in your vehicle for free, there are online resources and phone apps which provide options such as truck stops, retail stores, casinos, parks, rest stops, etc. I’ve never used this option.

Friends/Family/Acquaintances

Mark your map with names and numbers so these spots can be considered as potential overnight parking locations. I’ve slept in my vehicle in driveways when it’s a better option than sleeping inside.

Tip: I use removable tape on my maps to mark not only contact info but also potential destinations, etc.

Don’t be a schmuck, show your appreciation for their hospitality!

Tip: Carry thank you cards and budget for generous giving.

Motels/Hotels/Lodges/Hostels

Most likely at some point you’ll want this option. I’ve found most frequently this has been my choice when weather is inclement and I want to stay in an area, or when I’m exhausted and I need to regroup. Budget for it. Find a chain you like and that seems to be available along the route you’ll be traveling, join their membership program (free) and reap a few rewards. Obviously there are tons of ways to obtain discounted rooms. I had pretty good luck with Hotwire last year.

Resources:

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Me and My CRV – Safety, Security, Self Reliance

There are inherent risks with both life on the road and car camping. Much like my life at home or in the wilderness, I believe in being prepared for the what ifs that you hope never happen.

Vehicle Maintenance:

  • Before leaving for a trip, take care of any standard maintenance issues such as oil changes and tire rotations.
  • Verify your spare tire is at the recommended air pressure.
  • Budget for maintenance along the way depending on trip mileage.
  • Budget for repairs. In 2016, I had my first flat tire; in 2015 a tiny fender bender.

Vehicle Insurance:

  • Review your policy to ensure it is sufficient to cover the additional miles, states, countries you may be visiting.
  • Maintain a copy of your policy information (it may already be available online).

Vehicle Contents Insurance:

  • Most likely your car insurance does not include content coverage.
  • Review your home owners or renters insurance. These typically cover vehicle contents. Keep the details readily available.
  • Take time to make a list of your vehicle contents. It simplifies reporting theft and recovery.

Vehicle Emergencies:

  • Consider roadside emergency coverage. If you already have a policy, review to verify details. Before you became a vagabond, you might have had a policy that only tows 5 miles. Consider upgrading to 100 miles. Beware that most policies do not cover assistance on forest service roads, etc.
  • Canned air (might give you enough tire pressure to get back to a main road or tire repair facility)
  • Battery charger and jumper cables. Tip: Tiny portable power banks for jump starting your car are now available (see below photo). 

Travel Conditions:

  • Tire chains
  • Shovel

Personal Security:

  • InReach – I already own this device for backpacking and hiking purposes, but I also use it to check in while on the road. When I leave the highway, I’ll send a waypoint to my map. I’ll do the same each evening and each morning. If I don’t check in, I have written a plan of action for my family. You can also use this device to text for help, when you don’t have cell service (i.e. if you break down or are delayed in meeting someone).
  • I lock my car when I’m sleeping, which activates the alarm. If anyone were to break in, the loud shrieking noise may deter further advancements even if I’m in a remote location with no one else around.
  • Wasp Spray is more effective than pepper spray due to the additional distance you can be away from an assailant, plus much less expensive.
  • If you are outside your car, but nearby, and feel threatened, activate the car alarm with your key fob.
  • Trust your gut. Don’t park somewhere you don’t feel safe. Be prepared to move if the situation changes.

Personal Practicalities:

  • Recharging Electronics
    • I carry an external battery and recharge it regularly. Many times because I’m using my phone for maps, music and reading, it doesn’t get fully recharged while driving so I’ll charge it at night from the external battery.
    • I also carry an inverter to recharge my computer while I’m driving.
  • Photos
    • If you’re taking photos on your phone, set your app to back them up online regularly. Unless you have an unlimited data plan, you’ll want to limit upload to when you’re on WiFi.
    • If you’re taking photos on your camera, you’ll want to back them up. SIM cards are known to fail. Many of the newer cameras have a WiFi option where you can store a copy online. Mine doesn’t so I use my computer to copy from the SIM card to a USB drive. I organize the photos into folders on the USB drive based on location, then create subfolders with the best photos. When I have WiFi access I’ll upload the best photos to Google for further backup.
  • Lost or Stolen Phone
    • Do you know how to ping and lock your phone?
    • Keep the instructions handy, including the number of your carrier.
    • Verify your contacts are backed up, so if you need to replace, it won’t be such a painful process.
  • Passwords
    • Most likely you’ll be managing your bills and accounts online while your traveling. Store an accessible but secure list of your passwords and apps/website links (or make available to a trusted friend or family member).
  • Lost or Stolen Wallet
    • Maintain a list of your credit card numbers and contact numbers on your secure online list (or make available to a trusted friend or family members).
  • ICE (In Case of Emergency)
    • Use the ICE option on your phone to flag emergency contacts. That way even if your phone is locked, others can access your family/friends should an incident occur.

Tip: Travel with a tiny backpack or other carrying device you can grab when you leave your car unattended (i.e. shopping, sightseeing, etc). Keep stuff with you that will be a major hassle to replace (or trip ending) such as passport, phone, wallet, camera.

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Me and My CRV – Life on a Shoestring

Winging it is really not a viable strategy.

Most likely if you’re going to live in your car while traveling, it’s at least partially related to limited funds.

My goal is to live within my means so I can continue living this lifestyle. Here are some things to consider as you put together your own budget.

Fixed Expenses:

What expenses do you have to pay that you have no control over, those you can’t cancel nor put on vacation hold.

  • Mortgage, Rent, HOA Fees, Property Taxes
  • Home Owners or Renters Insurance
  • Home Extras (phone, internet, cable/satellite)
  • Vehicle Debt, Registration and Insurance
  • Other Expenses (i.e. life insurance)
  • Medical Insurance Premiums
  • Cell Phone

Flexible Expenses (unrelated to travel):

  • Home Utilities
  • Other Expenses (i.e. credit card, income taxes)
  • Prescriptions and other medications
  • Medical/Dental/Optical copays and deductibles
  • Clothing/Shoes
  • Grooming
  • Toiletries

Flexible Expenses (related to travel):

  • Vehicle maintenance (i.e. oil changes, tire rotations and replacements)
  • Vehicle gas
  • Campground/Lodging/Permit/Park Entrance Fees
  • Food
  • Other (i.e. InReach subscription)

Income:

  • Do you have income to offset any of these costs?

Savings:

  • What’s the realistic amount you have available annually?

Tip: Create a spreadsheet based on your previous year income and expenses. Create a budget for the upcoming year based on your previous year’s experience, edited for changes you plan to make. Reconcile the budget to actual experience at the end of the year. Evaluating the variances each year will help you create a realistic budget for the upcoming year. 

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Me and My CRV – Planning and Organization

What kind of a traveler will you be? Open a map, and the options are endless. Where to go? What to do? How to even get started? 

Thus far my travels have been dictated by seasons and opportunities. Here are a few examples.

  • I was invited to join some friends in Moab. I mapped out a strategy to get to Moab, with potential destinations marked to explore along the way. Once there, a friend was interested in traveling through Southern Utah. We mapped and figured out routes along the way. From there I was invited to visit friends in Colorado, so once again off I went. I prefer this mode of travel. Destinations find me.
  • My priority for early 2016 was the Superbloom in Death Valley. That gave me time enroute to explore more of the eastern sierra before spending time in Death Valley. Next, I had a date in New Mexico and sufficient time to play along the way, including a jaunt through the Grand Canyon. After New Mexico, it was time to to meet another friend to hike sections of the Arizona Trail. And so it goes . . .

I’ve found I don’t enjoy planning, so rather than spending my time on that aspect, I go prepared to plan on the fly.

Preparation- what resources are helpful to gather in advance?

  • Paper Maps (I order state and regional maps from AAA since I’m a member)
  • Electronic Topo Maps (I download to my phone app)
  • US Atlas (after finding myself in unplanned states, I now carry this as a security blanket)
  • Internet Research (I create documents in Google with links to places I might want to visit)
  • Hiking Guidebooks & Maps (I might buy in advance if I’m committed to hiking a particular area)
  • Hiking GPX Tracks (If applicable I might download to a USB drive)

Organization – how to maintain all that collected stuff?

  • Maps, handouts, printed materials can become unmanageable quickly when you’re spending significant time on the road visiting many places.
  • Plastic pocket folders have become my friend. I find them clearance’d with school supplies in late fall. Initially I might have one per state, but as I spend time in a particular area where I’ve gathered a lot of materials, I’ll make it’s own folder such as Glacier National Park or Grand Canyon. They are stored on a bookshelf at home.
  • As I prep for a trip, I’ll grab the applicable folders, and remove items not needed, being mindful of not overpacking. Tip: (1) bring what you need for first leg of trip and send it home when done; (2) have additional folders mailed along the way.

On-The-Fly Research:

  • Visitor Centers, Ranger Stations and Gear Stores are a wealth of information, but you need to help them know how to help you. With experience you’ll learn how to be more specific about what your looking for. Examples:
    • I’m interested in a trail with views. I prefer ridges and less populated trails.
    • Where would be the best place to watch the sunset, sunrise, full moon, eclipse, etc.
    • What are the dispersed camping options?
    • What permits do I need for backpacking x trail?
    • Where can I refill my water bottles?
  • The internet is your friend. I travel with an inexpensive Chromebook. I prefer it to my phone for research. I like having multiple tabs open while creating hyperlinks on my associated spreadsheet. I also save pages to Pocket, which provides off-line access to web pages on my phone. Free WiFi is readily available. The benefit of a Chromebook is that it isn’t susceptible to viruses. Mine has very little memory so I don’t save anything on it in case it gets stolen. I also use my Chromebook to copy photos from my SIM card to Google and to a USB drive I carry on my key ring.

Travel Tips:

  • I highlight my map with a colored marker denoting the route I drove. This is helpful later when trying to recollect details of the trip, especially if you want to take new routes the next trip.
  • I use either colored markers or removable tape to mark other details such as maybe where I camped, towns I visited, trails I hiked, names & phone numbers of friends, etc. These might become useful for future travels.
  • Keep a journal. Days run into days, and it’s surprising how fast memories can become jumbled. I journal on my phone. The basics include Day # of trip, Date, where I camped, hiked, drove, spent time.
  • When you are done with maps or documents from one area, file them before getting out new stuff. If you dump it in a bag, it becomes overwhelming and may never be of future use.

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Me and My CRV – While the cat’s away . . .

If you’re like me, you have a home and responsibilities away from life on the road. This is the not-fun part of living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. 

Preparation – what needs to be done before leaving?

  • Yard – I have a fairly maintenance-free yard only requiring major clean-up a few times annually, which I take care of before leaving. I also check my sprinkler systems (hoses and timers), and outside lighting.
  • House – I unplug everything from receptacles except a few lamp timers, turn hot water heater to vacation mode, turn off inside water (I had a toilet malfunction during my last trip), and adjust thermostats. Consider emptying and unplugging refrigerator/freezer. Place valuables/documents/external hard drive in a safe deposit box or safe. If you live in a flood or fire prone area, create a box your neighbor could quickly grab (i.e. photos).
  • Paperwork/Bills – Electronic access has made possible managing this portion of our lives from anywhere in the world. It’s important to create a system to manage deadlines. All my credit cards and bank accounts are set to alert me with any transaction. As much as possible, bills and fund transfers are set to auto. Consider creating a secure online resource to help with passwords, deadlines, web links, etc. Don’t depend 100% on your phone. To save money, you may be able to place your internet and cable/satellite on vacation hold (they may only offer once per year).
  • Urgent/Emergent Issues – Leave a list of phone numbers of who to contact should there be an emergency, such as a water leak.

Maintenance – what needs to be done while traveling?

  • Yard – It’s helpful if you have friends or neighbors who can check on things while your gone. Be sure to include detailed instructions such as how to adjust sprinklers as the weather changes. Have replacement parts available if applicable.
  • House – Once again, it’s most beneficial if you can have friends or neighbors do a walk-thru at least weekly. I give my keys to two people so they can coordinate visits. If I need something from home while traveling, I’m able to send them on a scavenger hunt. Leave money and boxes for shipping.
  • Paperwork/Bills – There are a few organizations that still don’t allow for electronic communication. The best solution is having a neighbor collect your mail daily and alert you to any second notices or urgent communications (i.e. jury duty summons). If you maintain a deadline list, you can alert your neighbor to watch for the notice (i.e. car registration). Leave money if a bill needs to be paid while your gone.
  • Urgent/Emergent Issues – Check in with your neighbors and friends to ensure all is good at your house. Thank them profusely for helping.

Aftermath- what needs to be done between trips?

  • Yard – This is always a priority when I get home. Thus far, nearly each time I’ve been gone, something goes awry with the sprinklers and I have crispy plants.
  • House – Although the house is closed up, it’s pretty dusty and musty by the time I get home, and usually something needs my attention when I get home.
  • Paperwork/Bills – I always come home to a huge bag of mail. Thankfully most of it is junk. The most time-consuming is dealing with changes that require research such as insurance.
  • Thank Yous – Be sure to reward your friends and neighbors for taking care of things on the home front while you were away.

Tip: Create a checklist. It’ll keep you focused and help to minimize the pain of the process. Improve efficiency by continuously updating the list. Set deadlines, otherwise, you might find yourself procrastinating on chores and errands, thereby loosing precious travel time.

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