I’m preparing to turn my Road Trip Survival Guide into a video series on YouTube. And in organizing my notes, it occurs to me that I’ve never really clearly defined my travel style. Obviously, you can cobble it together from all of my stories and the survival guide itself. But I think it’s important for me to pause a moment and clearly explain how I travel and why I do it.
There are so many different ways to travel. The Road Trip Survival Guide assumes that you’re traveling in a manner similar to how I travel. If not, then you and I have very different survival needs. Someone flying to Tahiti and staying at an all-inclusive resort doesn’t have to worry about drinking water the same way someone like me does.
I’ve identified four key elements to my travel style: minimalism, road trips, camping, and non-perishable foods. I don’t always travel this way, but these four elements are my preferred way to travel most of the time. So let’s go over why I prefer these methods.
Minimalism is the defining characteristic of my travel style. It applies, obviously, to how I pack for any trip. But beyond packing, it also refers to planning and expense.
I don’t bother with detailed itineraries or excessive planning. I like to pick a destination (or destinations), a route, or even just a general direction and go. Itineraries tend to cramp spontaneity, and planning tends to delay departure.
Keeping things simple and cheap makes it easier to travel more. The only two expenses I usually have while on the road are fuel and food. And I’m going to be spending money on food whether I’m on the road or at home. So the only added expense I have when I travel is fuel. Because of this, I can afford to travel much more frequently than I could when I followed the traditional flight-and-hotel model of travel.
When it comes to packing, I prefer to carry with me only what I absolutely need. The less I pack, the faster I can get out the door. The less I pack, the less I have to worry about losing or breaking stuff. And I’m perfectly content to “rough it” for the few days or weeks that I’m gone and on the road.
90% of what I bring with me on a road trip, I am able to pre-pack into a “go bag”, which significantly reduces the amount of time between the decision to travel and actually walking out the door.
The Road Trip
There are many ways to travel. You can hike, hitchhike, ride the rails, sail on a boat, drive in a car, or fly on an airplane. Each method has its pros and cons. I’m only going to knock air travel, and I’ll use air travel as a contrast to explain why I personally prefer to drive a car.
The biggest downside to air travel, compared to every other form of travel, is that you travel over and above the route, rather than through the route. You start at Point A and are plopped down at Point B. And while you may be lucky enough to be seated next to a window on your flight, at 30,000 feet, you don’t really get to see the land as you move past it.
Air travel has also become a colossal pain in the ass. Between code-sharing business models, centralization toward hubs, increased reliance on smaller regional jets, growing luggage restrictions, and cramming more seats in the flying sardine can, air travel has become insufferable. When I was a kid, air travel was a lot more fun than it is today. Air travel was already on a bit of a decline before 9/11, but after 9/11, the security restrictions turned an unpleasant experience into an intolerable one.
In my opinion, air travel is good for two things only: crossing an ocean and/or getting somewhere fast.
Air travel is almost always more expensive than driving a car. I say almost because low budget carriers do offer some amazingly cheap airfares. If you’re traveling to only a single destination, then you might be able to fly cheaper than you can drive. But if you’re planning to visit multiple destinations, even the cheapest airfares will quickly add up and become more expensive than fueling up a car.
I cannot – in good conscience – boast as much superiority of a road trip over other more ambulatory forms of travel. You can appreciate your surroundings even more if you travel even slower by bike or on foot. In a car, cruising on interstates at highway speeds, you can blow past quite a bit (unless you opt for back roads). Since neither bicycles nor hiking require fuel, they are even cheaper modes of travel. The only advantages of driving a car are speed and the ability to carry more cargo.
For all the pros and cons of each travel style, I prefer the iconic, American road trip.
The only things I spend money on when I travel are fuel and food. This would not be a true statement if I stayed at hotels, motels, or hostels.
These days, I’m hard-pressed to find hotels for less than $80/night, motels for less than $40/night, and hostels for less than $20/night. On the highway, I typically get 6 hours of travel time on a single tank of gas. Therefore, on a moderately-paced day of road tripping, I typically spend about $100-$120 on gas. A hotel stay can easily double my daily expense. And while motels and hostels would certainly save me money, they’re still considerable expenses that I don’t absolutely need.
There are free ways to sleep and spend the night. Why spend $80, $40, or even $20 when I don’t have to? I can camp out in a national forest, at a highway rest stop, or a Wal-Mart parking lot for free. I don’t even need a tent – my vehicle offers adequate (and in many ways, superior) shelter than a tent would.
And in my opinion, camping (be it in a tent or in your car) offers a much more authentic travel experience. I would rather “rough it” camping than staying in a hotel room. I don’t always have interesting stories to tell from the nights I camp out. But I almost never have interesting stories to tell when I stay in a hotel.
The only things I spend money on when I travel are fuel and food. I’d spend money on food whether I’m on the road or at home. But if I ate at restaurants, I would spend much more money on food than I would at home.
Shopping for groceries is always cheaper than eating out at restaurants. So to keep costs down, it’s important to make your own meals on the road, too. Unless your vehicle comes equipped with a kitchen, you’ll want to learn to make do with food that is easily stored and doesn’t have to be cooked.
I haven’t really cracked the secret to good dinners on the road. Canned ravioli is probably the tastiest meal I’ve had, but one grows tired of it night after night. My breakfasts on the other hand (granola, nuts, and dried fruit), are tastier and healthier than the breakfasts I typically eat when I’m at home.