My trip was short compared to many that I’ve read about, however, after 112 days on the road, and 34,000 kms on the speedometer, I felt it was time to come home. The fears that I set out with at the start of the trip, never came to fruition. Minor car troubles were all manageable. The few times I had to pull to the side of the road I had several people stop to offer help – in the middle of the Mojave desert of all places. There are still decent and helpful humans out there, and we are more resilient and resourceful than we give ourselves credit for. If you’re dreaming of doing a similar trip, don’t let fear be the excuse that stops you.
To keep costs down, I drove my existing car, a Chevy Aveo hatchback, for its great mileage, slept in the car half the time, and bought many meals from grocery stores.
I learned a few things the hard way. Here they are in hopes that I can save you the trouble.
- Learn to use your car’s gears, even with an automatic transmission. By keeping your foot on the brake down steep winding mountain roads, you will overheat your brakes. Use second gear for steep, and first gear for really steep. I could smell my overheated brakes from inside of the car and there was steam coming off of them. If this happens, pull over for twenty minutes to allow them to cool.
- Don’t overstock perishables. No ice and cooler in a car can withstand the heat of Texas or the deserts of California. I threw away a lot of food in these regions.
- Tint your windows as dark as possible. Less temptation for thieves and you’ll be less visible when sleeping in the car. Come sundown, you can’t see a thing inside my car.
- Car camp in hotel parking lots. I did a lot of research before the trip on where to park and sleep. I tried a few of the suggestions; Walmart parking lots, truck stops. They were often hard to find, out of the way, and didn’t feel safe. Instead I used my GPS to find clusters of hotels outside of big cities and right off the highway.
- The quarter tank rule. Always fill up your gas once you’ve hit a quarter tank. It’ll save you the anxiety of wondering if you’re going to run out in a remote area where stations are few and far between i.e. Newfoundland!
- Bike pump. If you wake up to a flat tire on your car due to a slow leak, you can pump it up enough to get you to somewhere to fix it.
- Audiobooks. I love music but I’m bored with it after a few hours of driving. I listened through nine books on this trip.
- Forget most of the “just in case” stuff. I brought extra blankets and toiletries and paper towels etc. in the first couple of weeks I packed half of it and dumped it at a thrift store. It took up too much space in the car and got in the way of me finding other things I actually needed.
- It’s not all a party. The road can get lonely, but there are more ups, than downs. Don’t let it discourage you from continuing on. My sister and dearest friend Ivanka, dialed me in for a weekly FaceTime call so I could see some of my family along the way.
- Mesh screens and magnets. Will keep the bugs out if you want to keep your car window down while sleeping. Just roll out the screen over your window, on the outside of your car, and extend to the metal frame so you can keep it down with strips of magnets.
- Showering. Probably the most challenging of my daily routine, sometimes I went a few days without. Check with RV Parks and campgrounds. Many will let you use their showers for $5. I also used the showers at GoodLife gyms while in Canada, which I have a membership for. I’ve read about others using public swimming pool showers and some truck stops have showers.
- Tom Tom GPS App. Couldn’t have done the trip without it. I prefer the app over an external GPS device because it will mute my music when giving directions. It’s a one time payment for North American Maps with free lifetime updates. All data is stored locally on your phone, therefore available offline.
- Drink lots of water, whether you’re thirsty or not. If you’re like me and struggle with breathing while hiking at higher elevations, hydration helps. A short mile uphill can become incredibly strenuous at high altitudes.
- Learn to squat pee, ladies. There are some disgusting toilet seats, especially in National Parks, that you do not want to sit on.
- Ear plugs for sleeping in the car, hostels, cheap motels with thin walls.
- Steal ice. I had a tall tupperware container for my small cooler that I filled with ice most days. McDonalds and most gas stations in the USA have self serve pop machines that you can take ice from. The busier the place is, the less the staff will notice you. Trick is to walk in like you own the place, B line for the pop machine, and don’t make eye contact!
- Wifi. Never fear, McDonald’s is near. I find if you park near the door, you can usually get a pretty strong signal from your car. I even managed to watch a bit of Netflix in the evenings before bed. Also used Starbucks and Tim Horton’s.