Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Learn From Us: InhuMaine, or When Snap Decisions Go Wrong

In the Learn from Us post series, we tell you our rookie mistakes so you don't have to make them. Laugh at us and learn.

When you're sitting comfortably on your couch at home, a statement like "Let's go to Maine!" sounds completely outlandish and irrational. But when you're sitting in an old colonial house in Boston after a night of bar trivia and Carcassone, it's not that big of a leap. New York was supposed to be our next stop, but we thought that a 3-day detour to dip our toes in the sea on the opposite side of the country from which we had come was well worth the time.

Or so we thought.

We set off in high spirits only to be smacked against a wall of single-file, 15-mph speed limit, traffic-clogged roads that went on endlessly in every direction. It took us an entire day to just get across the narrow bit of Connecticut and cross the border to Maine. We were thwarted in our attempts to stop anywhere in southern Maine, even at a movie theater, because all the beaches are private and did I mention the traffic is like something out of Dante's Inferno? It was soul-searingly painful to drive through.

After 2 days of psychological torture and breakdowns, we finally made it to north Maine and a calm beach. We spent a day soaking up the sun, drinking cider, eating cookies and bread with cheese. However, once we left our northeastern paradise bubble, it was another 3 days of hellish traffic and mental meltdowns before we finally dragged our bedraggled remnants of bodies and sanity into Kearny, NY. To make matters worse, for some inexplicable reason Neurobomber had refused to wear sunscreen during the day on the beach. I had even tried to sneak some on him under the guise of giving a back rub, but he found me out and angrily insisted that I cease my UV-protection crusade. His stubborness resulted in one of the worst full-body sunburns I have ever witnessed--like a human lobster. The burn was so bad that it made him sick and he was sore for days, making sleeping in the car almost unbearable.

We spent the better part of the week recovering in Kearny. Kearny is a quiet area full of orthodox Jewish persons in full regalia. Walking into the Wal-Mart and seeing the clash between the traditional clothing and the blatant consumer-based marketing of the superstore was mind-boggling. It reminded me of when we walked into a nerdy coffeeshop in Pennsylvania and sat near a group of Amish girls in long dresses and bonnets enjoying their mochas.

Point is, an excursion meant to take 3 days out of our schedule had turned into almost 2 weeks and we were much worse for the wear. The lesson? If you're going to be spontaneous on a long trip, either know very well what you're getting into or keep your adventure within a 5-mile radius of your current location. There's a difference between deciding to go into a club you see while walking down the the street and driving off to Maine on a whim. Finding the balance is important if you want to stay on top of your trip's fate.

The second lesson is never go to Maine. At least, southern Maine. If you have to, loop through Canada. And for Pete's sake, bring some sunscreen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Get a Class B!

I've always wanted to spend the rest of my days on the open road. The only problem with that fantasy (or is it?) is that it gets rather tiring to sleep in a car and stay at random people's couches. I have yet to find a limit for how long I can handle that kind of lifestyle but I definitely know that I do have a limit for it.

One option that's always been on the table is to get an RV. Of course, they're huge monstrosities that guzzle gas by the minute. At least that's what I thought they were until I encountered the wonderful world of Class B motorhomes!

Class B's are basically vans that have been remodeled in to a motor home. Most come complete with a toilet, kitchen, bed, and storage. They're also far more gas efficient and I hear talk of some of the newer models being made in to hybrids or biodiesel! They're also a lot cheaper than most motorhomes and I'm hoping that after a few years of saving I can afford one without having to take out a loan.

Granted, they're very small and to the average American the size is downright unlivable. It's only really built for one or two people and you have to be an extreme minimalist in order to handle the severe lack of storage.

Of course yours truly has no problem with that! I pretty much live out of a backpack and I rather enjoy small, cramped spaces. You're less likely to lose stuff and it's a lot more intimate :-P

So if you're like me and you want to travel more than just a month or two, you may want to consider looking in to buying one of these babies! If you own one or have an idea of what you want to buy then shoot me a comment and tell me about it. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Long Term Short Term Housing

SUPER sorry for missing Wednesday's post. I've been travelling between California and Oregon all week and I've been without internet for most of those days. Hopefully this kind of fiasco won't happen again. :-P

I've already discussed before about the merits of sleeping in your car at Walmart and using couchsurfing, but those options only really work when you're traveling for just a day or two. If you want to spend more than a week in a specific destination then that tends to get a lot more difficult.

Probably my favorite way of handling that problem is to check out the sublet section on craigslist. People often think that this is for places that require at least a month of stay or require that you take over their lease, but this is rarely the case. When looking for my own spot in Portland, I found that a lot of places were hoping to find people willing to stay for just a couple weeks and often the price was dropped so much that it cost significantly less than just a week at a hotel!

Craigslist also has ads from hotels that offer significantly discounted prices if you're willing to stay on a weekly basis. Most of the time I've found them to be fairly sketchy but sometimes the quality of the hotel will surprise you.

If you have a place that you already rent or own, you might want to check out homeexchange. I've never used it before but they have a wonderful system where you basically switch homes with someone else. While you might stay in a tiny apartment in Paris, France for a summer, that french family will get to stay in your enormous mcmansion and enjoy what they like to call “Stereotypical American Consumer Whore Lifestyle”*.

So far I've only had to stay in a place for longer than a week just once. I tried to do it in Chicago before that but it was too difficult to find a place for such an odd amount of time. If you know of any other websites that might provide an affordable (or more importantly free) method of staying somewhere for more than just a few days then please leave a comment!

*Obviously this is translated from french.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Efficient Gas Expenditure

When you get rid of the cost of motels and you tone down the expenses on food, the biggest cost of a road trip is suddenly pulled in to gas costs. While there's not a lot you can do to significantly lower your gas usage without investing in a hybrid vehicle, there's a few minor things you can do that can save you a ton of money while on the road.

Don't Go Too Fast!
If you go over 65 mph, your car starts to lose its gas efficiency by a pretty high amount. Be a grandma and drive slow. You'll get more bang for your traveling buck and you may just survive the ride.

Drive Behind Trucks
SOOOO not safe but if you want to save some gas then you may want to try coasting behind a large truck on the highway. It'll keep you from violating the tip above and it will significantly cut down on your air resistance which is often a big gasoline sucker. I've done this more times than I'd like to admit but it definitely has saved some significant gas when I did.

Neutral Is Your Friend
When you're careening downhill at breakneck speeds, don't forget to put the car in neutral to take full advantage of all that potential energy you've accumulated driving up it. Just keep an eye out for police cars that are waiting for your speedy butt to turn the corner!

Maintenance Is Key
Before you go on your trip, check everything. Make sure you have air in your tires and that all liquids in your car are at their full amount and your oil filter doesn't need to be changed. Don't completely rely on oil change companies, either. Feel free to take your car there if you don't know the first thing about cars but they don't always do the job they claim they will. Jiffylube promised to fill up my coolant after they replaced my oil filter and I found out later that they just drained it out and left it at that.

Leave Some Room
When you're filling up, don't fill it to the top because gas will evaporate on hotter days when it's filled to the brim. Although it may not be much, it can add up over time.

Open Those Windows
If you're driving at slow speeds (less than 45 mph), then keep your windows open in order to keep the car cool on a hot day to save on gas. If you drive faster than that then air resistance will increase and your efficiency will decline so close those windows when you reach the highway.

Use a cheap gas locator like gasbuddy.com in order to find the cheapest gas on your route. It can save you a good deal of money in the long run.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Roadside America

I'm actually amazed with myself that I haven't mentioned this website earlier. It's probably my favorite website when I'm out travelling the world.

For those of you who don't know what this site is (and judging by the conversations I've had with others, it's a whole lot of you), Roadside America is a website that catalogs all of the strange roadside stops that this continent has to offer. World's Largest Cow? You got it! Swimming pools shaped like states? It's there! Boulders painted like giant apples? Yep, you betcha!

Birdy and I use it all the time when we're going on a road trip. It's a great way to give yourself an excuse to take a break or go a little off the beaten path. Sometimes it's the highlight of our trip! We've managed to get some amazing pics of the world's largest thermometer, sun dial, Kachinka doll, chest of drawers, and several others. We always get comments from every one of them.

So go ahead, browse the site and see what's in your area or on your next route. I guarantee a photo album you'll never forget!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to Rock the Boat...Without a Boat

Hey, wanderers. It's been a while since I posted...but par for the course I guess. This post is actually one that I've been wanting to share with people for a while, but I could never find an appropriate setting.

This post is not really for you if:
  • you have those irritating things called morals/are easily offended
  • you have never/will never travel with someone you're banging
Everyone else: let's get down to business.

Neurobomber and I have different histories with this topic. He always had a bedroom and a door to lock when he wanted action. I envy that. But he also got a later start in the game than I did. In high school I had a steady boyfriend and a mix of hormones going that could have reanimated the dead. But I (and the boyfriend) also had very strict, conservative parents, who wouldn't leave us alone for more than 5 minutes at a time. But like all good American teenagers, we found ways around it. Really risky, dirty ways; but we never got caught. The denial of a safe room sparked ingenuity.

Here's a fun game: what are the top 5 weirdest places you've ever gotten laid?
  1. a tennis club, subsequently having to break a cheap security camera
  2. outside a movie theater parking garage, behind some bushes
  3. a bench behind a football field
  4. a concrete slab in the middle of the woods
  5. outside an abandoned barn
If you can't imagine yourself gettin' it on in any of those situations, go join Neurobomber in the prude corner. Unfortunately for you, I'm going to educate the prude corner on how to get it on on the road when you might not have the luxury of a room or a bed.


If you have a car, you're already a bit safer and you generally only need to know where to park. If it's daylight, I don't recommend it. But at night, you have lots of options. You usually want to wait until it's fairly late--after midnight is best. Then a lot of places are closed and you can use their parking lots. Suburban areas are usually better for this kind of situation; you can use church or school lots or, if it's REALLY late, just park on a quiet neighborhood street. If you're out of the way of other cars, no one's going to give a crap about what you're doing. Check your window see-through factor by getting out of the car and looking at the front and back windshields to estimate how much a passing car or person can see. Sometimes parking under a streetlight can actually decrease visibility, but it depends on the car. Though it sounds unromantic, each person involved is responsible for scanning out the windows every so often to check on the surroundings. Do NOT use a rest stop or highway turnout for this method; the cops will catch you with your pants down. Although if you stumble upon a low-traffic road in a rural area with a ghost-town sort of vibe, go for it. Risk-taker? Try a parking garage. Be careful with that one; it's possible, but tough to find a good spot.


Truck stop showers are a godsend. They cost $8-10, but getting clean after a few days of driving is priceless. Also, the attendants don't care if you share a shower with someone and they won't harass you if you're in there for a while (try to keep it under 2 hours though, for courtesy's sake). This method is good for daylight because you get your own private room. Sometimes there's even those awesome shower stools in there.

At the Drive-In

The song is true. Drive-ins are a great place for dirty deeds. Especially for movies starting around 9, there usually aren't any families around and most folks are just there to smoke some weed and, well, do the same thing you're there for. The big bright screens make car windows extra-dark, so as long as you respect other people's privacy, they'll respect yours.


You don't have a car, shower access, or money, just a fierce desire for lust and a willing companion. Well friend, I've been there, and you have to get creative and dangerous. But that just makes it more fun. These are all risky but I've also done them without being discovered, so it's not impossible.

Desperate in Daylight:
  • Go on a little hike. Then go off the trail. Make sure you don't get lost. Bring a towel if you can, tissues if you can't; a tree makes a good place to put your back.
  • Is it after 3? School's out. I know how horrible this sounds but I've had lots of good times on a playground. Sometimes you get lucky and find a shed or hiding place that no one will walk by. Any sort of grade school is a a potential area, elementary through high school. Check the dugout or behind a field, anywhere there's trees, and the kindergarten area. Watch out for soccer practice. Risk-taker? Hide under the slide.
Desperate at Night:
  • Again, schools are full of hiding places, especially when everyone's gone home.
  • Risk-taker? Crash a party, find an empty room.
  • If business places are closed and no one's sticking around, go round the back. There might be a fenced area you can infiltrate or a loading dock to shield you.
  • Parking garages late at night, if you're on foot, are not comfortable; but they're dark and have lots of secluded spots.

There are some places even I would never consider dropping my pants.
  • Graveyards: quiet, yes. Secluded, yes. Full of dangerous junkies, very yes.
  • On the street: gross and makes you vulnerable.
  • WHILE COUCHSURFING: NO!! This is the rudest thing you could do. Even if they leave you alone, even in the shower, never do this. That's their house, they don't know you, please spare them any trace of your bodily fluids and humping noises.
  • Public restrooms: if you didn't have any diseases before, you will now.
  • Changing rooms in stores: don't even think about it. You will get caught right away.

  1. If you're going to be outside, or even in the car, make sure you stick some tissues or paper towels in your pocket. Clean-up will be a lot messier if you don't.
  2. Only engage if BOTH people feel safe in the area you choose. It sucks enough that you don't have a room; it sucks more if one of you isn't enjoying it.
  3. Watch out for each other. Scan the horizon and have an escape plan ready.
  4. This goes without saying, but be quiet and keep a low profile. Don't trespass in someone's backyard and expect to not get caught.
  5. Be adventurous; any place that isn't being frequented by other people might be a good spot, so keep an open mind and take good opportunities when they come up (they might not come up again for a while!)
  6. RELAX! Nobody gives a crap about what you're doing. It's embarassing getting caught but the world won't end, and people will generally leave you alone. Your life is not a TV show; the world is not watching you, and even if they catch a glimpse, they probably don't care.
Go out. Have adventures. Bond with someone. Get good stories to tell! And be safe.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meet People

The biggest complaint I hear from fellow travelers is that it often feels lonely traveling on the road. Since you're there for just a few days it's very hard to meet new people using the methods you often use at home. Try some of these methods and I'm sure you'll make some great friends, lickety-split!

Meetup is the first place I go to meet people. Basically it's a site where people post events specifically tailored for meeting people. The membership is HUGE and they post meetings for all kinds of different events for all kinds of different people. This is by far the least intimidating way to meet new people because everyone there is there to do just that. Every time I'm in a new town it's the first thing I check and I always end up finding something awesome to do!

Why meet people when you can just sleep on their couch? I've said it before and I'll say it again: couchsurfing is AMAZING! No matter how shy you are, if you try this site you'll definitely make friends with your host or the people you host. Also be sure to check out the group page for the city that you're in. People are always posting random meetings and events specifically designed for meeting new people and don't forget to announce your arrival on there too! Somebody will surely contact you to meet somewhere.

A little sketchy and I must say I haven't tried it myself but feel free to post an ad on craigslist announcing your arrival. Somebody interesting may just write you back with an opportunity to make some friends. If that's too creepy for you then at least check the community section for any event announcements that look interesting to you.

Volunteer For a Day
Many organizations love getting volunteers, even if it's just for a day or a few hours. If you participate in some kind of volunteer program at home then you should try looking for the same program in the area you're traveling in. You'll be the center of attention as you tell people you spent one of your vacation days helping out and people will love hearing how differently things work in a completely different location.

Say Hi!
Just randomly go up to someone and talk to them. Rinse and repeat. It's super scary and it takes a lot of confidence but sometimes the best way to meet someone new is simply to go up to them and introduce yourself. I've done this a ton of times and it always ends up well. I've only gotten turned down a few times and it's never as bad as your imagination lets on. Just tell yourself that the best case scenario is that you make some new friends and have an amazing day with them and the worst case scenario is that you just have to try again.

Take Buses and Trains not Cars and Planes
Even though it's significantly longer and a lot less comfortable (and in the US it's not even cheaper!), taking a bus or a train to your destination is a much better way to meet people who are also heading to the same destination. You'll have the time to get to know each other and you'll both be significantly bored enough to want to talk to a stranger.

Whether you're moving to a new town or just visiting, meeting new people can be incredibly scary but also wonderfully rewarding. Even with an increasing world population, it seems like it's even harder to connect with people. If you try hard enough and look for the resources, though, I guarantee that you'll be rewarded with some amazing friendships.
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