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.

Internet
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.

Cars

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.

Showers

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.

Desperate

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.
Never

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.
Basics

  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
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!

Couchsurfing
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.

Craigslist
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.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Live In the City

Hey Guys! Sorry, no April Fool's joke here. If you want your fix try here, here and here.

Right now I'm living in a city for the first time in my life. Before that it's been entirely suburbs and college towns with a horrible half decade spent in a rural community. Now that I'm in Portland, though, it's come to my attention that I should have done this a whole heckuva a lot longer ago. From a traveling perspective it's a great decision!

More Opportunities
Since I've been here I've explored way more than any other location I've ever lived and my options are still unlimited. Not only are there more places to explore but I have more chances to hitch a ride with someone and see a new location. Already I've found friends that have given me rides to the Oregon mountains, the coast, the zoo, and several surrounding parks. I've only been here for a few weeks !

Renting Out is Easy
Okay, so you stupidly bought a home. Well if you bought it in a popular city area then congratulations! You'll be able to rent that sucker out with ease at anytime and explore the world while your mortgage gets paid by someone else. In contrast, my parents still live in a rural area and they're struggling to sell their house so they can enjoy their retirement. Sure, it's a smaller location but you've been practicing minimalism so it's not a big deal, right?

Going Carless is Easy
I haven't had a car the entire time I've been in Portland. Public transit costs me less than 90 bucks a month and riding a bike is free. Compare that to the $300+ bucks I used to dish out commuting to work each day when I was in the Bay Area. All that money is now either being saved or spent on doing the awesome and amazing stuff that cities have to offer.

Cities are amazing. I know that you may think they feel overcrowded or whatever but get over it. People are everywhere and when you learn to accept that, then the world becomes a better place. Right now I'm in a nice quiet neighborhood where it feels more like a suburban area but I can walk just a couple blocks and end up in a well populated city area with concerts, movie theaters, arcades, and just about anything else I want to enjoy.

If you're still not convinced, leave a comment saying why you don't like the city. It may just surprise you how different it actually is.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Sleep Anywhere

It's one thing to say you should sleep in your car, but it's an entirely different thing to actually do it. Through the course of the night you'll be woken up by all sorts of noises, be it street cleaners, traffic, or a crazy homeless guy. Sleep deprivation is a common problem for the newbie wandering cheapskate but follow some of these tips and I'm sure you'll get the zeez you need to travel the next day.

Condition Yourself
Before you set out on your adventure, try taking a nap with music on or attempt to sleep in a public area. A lot of times people can't sleep in odd places because they're used to the luxury of sleeping in a nice comfy bed with no light or sound to bother them. If you can train yourself to sleep in odd places then you'll be better prepped to sleep on the road.

Meditate
This is my most common method for getting to sleep when I can't. Simply close your eyes, focus on a point, regulate your breathing, and relax. It's a method that most people take for granted and it often takes a lot of practice to get right but a lot of studies have shown that it has some significant positive benefits. Not only that, but it helps you tune out the rest of the world and finally get some sleep.

Medicate
Not exactly my best recommendation but if you really can't sleep then there are tons of pills out there that will knock you out cold. Birdy tends to take mild aspirin or allergy pills that have drowsiness side effects since the long term effects are less harmful and you're more likely to wake up in the morning not feeling like you got to sleep with a two by four to the head.

Eye Mask/Ear Plugs
Best. Investment. Ever. They make you look like an absolute dork, but by golly are they great to have! They really do help shut out the rest of the world and it's definitely a good idea to get a high quality set since they work better. Of course if you're going full on cheapskate, a piece of clothe for a blindfold and a good heap of cotton or tissue paper for ear plugs will do just fine.

Insomnia is a common problem when you're on the road. The noises of the night are often difficult to get used to but if you train yourself to handle it, you'll find it to be even better than your nice comfy bed at home.

How to Eat on the Road

I'm surprised I didn't make this post earlier. Eating on the road is by far the hardest and most common problem for a traveling cheapskate. Every day food will go bad, you'll lack certain nutrients, and you'll crave the luxury of a nice warm meal at home. Follow these tips and hopefully you won't have as much difficulty with these problems.

Bring a camper stove with fuel
This has been ESSENTIAL on any road trip Birdy and I have been on. Instead of eating expensive restaurant food, we find a nearby Walmart, set up the stove, and heat up some grub. It's always satisfying to have a hot meal at the end of the day and it preps you for what's to come in the morning. We usually have canned soups in the trunk and mix various veggies in with it for a tasty meal.

Canned Veggies/Beans
Not only do you need fruit, but you need your vegetables, too. Carry some canned veggies instead of the fresh stuff since it tends to go pretty bad right quick. Canned beans are also good in order to get the protein that you need, which is often lacking in a road tripper who tends to avoid the regular restaurant hamburger.

Fruit, fruit, more fruit
It's a good idea to carry a few pieces of fruit at all times. Not only is it a great snack in between meals but it will give you the kind of nutrients that are often hard to come by when traveling. If you're packing light, just have a few pieces and buy more at the grocery store when you have the chance.

Spices Help
It may sound silly, but carry a portable spice container with various spices. You can often find them in the outdoor section and it makes sure that you don't get sick of eating the same kind of meal every single day. When Birdy and I were on our two month road trip, we were both going a little mad eating the same kinds of soups every single day. If we had just varied it with different spices we could have handled it a lot better.

Snack Bars = Quick Energy
Birdy and I have a rule: if one person says your cranky, you have to get a snack. Often our fights on the road have primarily been caused by hunger and you'd be surprised how often you don't notice it when you're traveling. That's why we carry a plentiful amount of snack bars. Usually we go for the high calorie types since they ensure you last for most of the day before you stop for lunch or dinner.

Eating on the road is tough. You don't have the luxury of a fridge or kitchen every single day and that means you have to work harder to ensure you get all of your nutrients. It's often tempting to just stop at restaurants all the time but if you're traveling cheap, those expenses can often surprise you by the end. By carrying your own food and acting smart, I guarantee you can cut your food costs by at least 80%.

Monday, March 28, 2011

ERE and Traveling

There is a a wonderful post up on Early Retirement Extreme that I think really summarizes what the site covers but also really reflects on what my site is about. ERE is the process through which you cut out all the spending that most people do and what you're normally used to and instead focus on the basics, ignore the amount of money that you make, and attempt to really focus on what matters in life and what you can get out of it without focusing on objects and money.

I want this site to focus on that same concept but through a traveler's eyes. How can one spend 20 to 30% of their paycheck while traveling? Most people I know spend 200% of their paycheck when traveling, so I believe that this can be a greater challenge.

Simply by avoiding high cost options such as hotels and restaurant food, relying on and trusting strangers while still keeping a level head, and living a lifestyle that allows you to pack up and move with little to no effort can help you live an ERE lifestyle of very minimal spending while still traveling the world. You don't have to wait 10 years while saving your hard earned cash in order to do it but you can still break even or even make some cash while doing it!

So go ahead and check the site out. It's a wonderful read and I use a lot of their posts to live the kind of lifestyle that both allows me to travel the world on a dime and save up enough in my sedentary life to travel again in the future. Who knows? I may even have an extremely early retirement :-P

Friday, March 25, 2011

Get Clean

I actually posted this on my squidoo pages but since I haven't touched the site in over four months I figured I'd post this article here instead.

Avoiding the stink of the road is an almost impossible feat and getting rid of that stink is almost as difficult when you're not paying for a motel room. I've found a few options that will get you to your destination without having people keep at least 50 feet away from you through the whole trip.

Truck Stop Showers
Taking a shower at a truck stop may sound like the most disgusting thing a human being could ever put themselves through but take a shower at a truck stop just once and you'll never want to shower at home again. The quality for these showers are well above hotel room status. Not only do you get your own personal shower and bathroom to use but maintenance staff ensure that they stay clean and well stocked with towels and soap every time. At $10 per use the price may be pretty steep but if you share the spot with some very close travel mates and you can drop the price of a shower down significantly.

Community Centers
Although nowhere near the quality of truck stop showers, community centers are far cheaper and provide exactly what you need to keep from looking like a hobo. Most places I've been to range from as little as a quarter to as much as a dollar. In exchange you get the kind of shower you often got after high school gym class.

Couch Surfing
One of the perks of staying at someone else's place also includes the use of their showers. Although your hosts probably won't mind you using their stuff, as a common courtesy be sure to bring your own soap.

Whore Showers
Can't find any of the above? Then try a whore's shower! Find a bathroom with a lock and bring a rag and some soap. Soak up the rag with soap and get washing! It may not be pleasant but it does the trick and it gives you a couple more days to find a better spot to wash up. Carrying around some deodorant and perfume/cologne will also help.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Survive a Strip Mall

Have you ever found yourself stuck in one of the worst spots in the United States? Those god-forsaken areas filled with stores that we can all recognize no matter where we are but secretly loathe with a passion? Unfortunately, in the United States (and increasingly the rest of the world), we sometimes can be stuck in these locations for miles. I've been stranded in these areas numerous times, whether it's due to my car breaking down and getting stuck at the shop or simply because I couldn't drive another day without a break and needed to take some time off. So instead of wasting another day by wandering around like a zombie and buying useless crap, try some of these methods and get a much more fulfilling day from American Consumerism.

Live at the movie theater
On one trip, Birdy and I spent nine hours at a movie theater! We packed enough food in her purse to last the full day and watched four movies in their entirety. Our butts were sore as hell at the end of it but we got away with an awesome day on the price of just one movie ticket! It was the perfect rest day to our two days of very stressful driving.

The bookstore is your library
I always find it strange that most bookstores have very comfortable chairs and so many books and nobody just sits down and reads them! Birdy can read through an entire book in a couple hours and I simply enjoy browsing through the latest indie comic. If you're stuck in a strip mall then go ahead and grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit down, and enjoy the read.

Let's get some shoes!
Go through a cliche shopping montage and try on as many clothes as you can. Don't go for what's stylish, instead try on the silliest stuff you can find and snap some photos for an awesome facebook pic!

Game on at the Gamestop
I hate Gamestops. They're all alike wherever you go and the game selections they have are overpriced and dull. Plus it sucks that they keep buying out all the local game stores. On the plus side, they have some great demo centers for trying out the latest games! It's basically a modern arcade without the loss of quarters.

Screw with Walmart
I used to work at Walmart. It was an awful and horrifying experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. What I did learn from it though was great ways to screw with the company without really pestering the poor serfs staff. Stuff like switching the price tags on cheap and expensive items, taking off the security tags and placing them in women's purses, or taking as much stuff from one department and moving it to another. See what else you can come up with to screw with the store without getting kicked out by security!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Couchsurfing Etiquette: Hosting

I feel nervous about writing this post because quite honestly I've never hosted before. That isn't to say I've tried, but each time I try to host I either get canceled on last minute or life makes me pack my bags and move to another place before I have the chance to even get a couch in the living room. So that this post for what it is: a request from a surfer to hosts. In my experience I've had hosts that have gone from decent to amazingfantasticawesomesauce and a lot of this advice is from the hosts that I've stayed with before. If you yourself have hosted before then please give your two cents in the comments. I want to hear your advice!

Reply
You don't have to reply right away (especially if the surfer sent a request ahead of time), but you should definitely reply. Even if you're not sure yet, send a reply saying so. Let them know your current situation and tell them when you'd know for sure if they could stay.

It's incredibly frustrating to send out requests to people and never get a reply from them. It's even more frustrating when I get a reply from them weeks after I sent the request! A denied request is far better than no reply.

Be Flexible
I get it: you have a job and friends and roommates and family and all this stuff going on that is extremely important and you can host on this day but not that one and they can sleep on the couch after 4pm but they gotta get out around 11pm the same day.

If this is you then don't host. Surfers have a life too and their flights will get canceled and they have to work weekends and need to stay an extra night. It's difficult and frustrating to stay with a host that has a very specific schedule and it's far better for them if you just denied their request. The best hosts I've had are those that have tons of crap going on in their life and STILL were able to host me.

Be Trusting
If you're worried that a couchsurfer is going to steal your TV then don't couchsurf. Couchsurfers trust strangers with their stuff and even go as far as giving them a spare key to their place. If a surfer does try anything then the site can track the credit card they provided and also check their references. Couchsurfing is a website on trust and it works both ways. Just like you're taking a chance that the surfer isn't a klepto, they're taking a chance that you're not an axe murderer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Start Your Day At Starbucks

Starbucks are everywhere in the US. It is important when you wake up with the intention of driving for 7 hours to get some caffeine into your system as soon as possible, or at least change out of your dirty socks. No matter how far you have to drive that day, it's well worth a bit of your time in the morning.

Wash up in the bathroom
Starbucks has the cleanest and most private bathrooms of any chain stores we've seen on our travels. Ignore the impatient stock broker pounding on the door and take the time to wash up. Bring in a travel bag to brush and floss your teeth, wash your hair and face in the sink (or strip down completely and go at it with moist paper towels--whore's showers aren't the most comfortable of cleaning patterns, but they do make a difference), use the toilet, and change your clothes. GIRLS: STARBUCKS IS THE ONLY BATHROOM GUARANTEED TO HAVE A WORKING ELECTRICAL OUTLET FOR HAIR STRAIGHTENERS AND BLOWDRYERS. The time you take here could improve your entire day.

Use the internet
Plan out your trip, check your email, message your friends. Starbucks has free wifi for everyone in case you've been living under a rock. Arrange pit stops and sights to see before you head out on the road--or at the very least check the weather.

Buy on the cheap
Coffee and pastries there adds up. Spend as little as you can or even nothing if you have the willpower for it. I almost always lose in the end and I end up buying at least a small cup of coffee. If you do have to buy something, use gift cards so you can reap the rewards program. Splitting the contents and cost of a large mocha in the morning while using the internet to plan out the drive makes the day go a whole lot easier. If you don't like coffee, you can always get a banana for under a dollar for some quick but nourishing energy. Also, they give you free water. Who could ask for more?

You do NOT need to buy anything from them
Yes, after hanging around for a while the smell of coffee is a strong temptation and there's even a hint of guilt that you're just freeloading off of their hospitality. Don't worry though, they're a hugely successful global corporation. They'll survive.

Chat with the locals
If you'll be in the area for a while then take the time to chat with people near you. They know about the best locales better than any travel guidebook. You may even make a couple friends!

Mini-Road Trips: FourSquare

For those of you unfamiliar with FourSquare, it's another social site (life FaceBook or MeetUp or some other two word website) with a unique feature. It uses the gps in your smartphone (if you don't have one, stop reading til you get one :-P) to find all the nearby areas in your vicinity. After that you “check in” to the place your in and then you can read tips on the location, see people that were recently there, and sometimes even get a discount of some kind by showing an employee that you logged in there.

What makes it the potential for an adventure is the game that they've implemented in to it. For every place you log in you acquire points that you can use to compete with other FourSquare players. More importantly you can acquire badges for logging in to specific places a certain amount of times. I just got the photogenic badge, which you get when you log in to three places with a photobooth. You can even attempt to gain mayorships by logging in to that spot more often than others.

It may not sound like a lot of fun but it's a great way to get you off your butt and explore the area you live in. Get out there and log in to your favorite spots, upload a picture of the location, leave a tip and a comment, then move on. Wander around aimlessly until you find a location that a lot of people have logged in to and then go check it out there and repeat the process. You'll feel a strange sense of accomplishment as the site rewards you for providing more information on the site.

This is a great site to both get off your butt and do something but it's also a great way learn more about the place you live and the interesting spots that others have been. Who knows, you may even run in to a fellow FourSquarer and strike up a conversation!

Oh, and be sure to check out my profile and add me when you start.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cuz it's the...bare necessities...

After about a week of living in my own place I've come to discover that when you live a minimalist lifestyle, objects that you don't have often just happen to come your way.

I just moved into my own place with no bed, sheets, lighting, or anything. Instead of panicking and heading straight for the nearest Target to buy brand new stuff, I decided I'd see if I could get the objects I needed elsewhere. Except for the air mattress I bought in a moment of weakness.

Lo and behold I came across some lamps that were in a free bin on a street corner I found through Craigslist. Then I learned that the previous tenant, instead of taking the mattress with her when she left, had instead left it in a storage closet in the basement! After that I also happened upon some blankets and even some posters and furniture to put in my room. Even breakfast was offered to me by my wonderful housemates!

All this made me think about the mindset that we have when we decide to pack for our travels. Often we tell ourselves that we might need this and we might need that and at the end of the trip we realize we could have cut out at least half of the “fat” we carried around.

Instead of packing what you think you might need, just pack what you know you will need. Clothes, food/water, first aid kits, etc. are necessities, but carrying around that tape player just because you may come across some tapes somewhere isn't. I know you may think you're the only person out there who doesn't do this, but trust me: you do. We all do.

If you actually end up needing something on a trip, you'll find a way to compensate. Keep your eyes and ears open and something is bound to come up. You could either borrow or buy it from someone, or you'll gain the incredibly useful skill of improvising with what you already have! More importantly, though, it's a far more rewarding experience to bring just the bare necessities and adapt to the world around you.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Couchsurfing Etiquette: Surfing

In my last post on this subject, I went through the proper ways to send out a couch request. Well congratulations! You followed my advice, got approved by an awesome host in a very nice place and now all you have to do is show up, veg on their couch for a week, and then leave, right? Wrong! You still have some stuff to know about the whole couchsurfing process, so keep reading!

Be Nonexistent
Try your hardest to make it seem like you were never there. Clean up after yourself and keep your laundry in one spot. On my recent travels I had a backpack and every morning I got up, folded the sheets and put all my dirty clothes in my backpack. If I charged my phone and laptop last night then I made sure they were put away and the wires weren't where anybody could trip on them.

If you use the bathroom, don't make a lot of noise and make sure that nobody else in the house has to use it before they go to work or school. You're on vacation and you're the one with the flexible schedule. Get off of the couch every day and explore the area. I once heard about a guy who just slept on a host's couch for three straight days. DO NOT BE THAT GUY!

Be Available
Couchsurfers should always be down to do something fun with their host. Even if it sounds boring, I guarantee that with the right attitude it won't be. I always have fun letting my host take me to their usual hangout spots and have them show me off to their friends. It always ends up being a night worth talking about.

More importantly, if you have something going on and you can invite your host, then by gum invite them! I and a lot of couchsurfers consider it rude to crash on someone's couch in order to go to a specific event and not invite the host to come along. Half the reason they're letting you stay is probably because you're going to that event.

Pay It Back
You're saving 30+ bucks a night by not having to book a motel room. Let your hosts know your gratitude by getting something for them such as a bottle of wine or a bag of candy. If you're going to a concert then offer to pay for their ticket.

Under NO circumstances do you offer them cash! Couchsurfing is NOT a place where people exchange money to stay on a couch. There are other places for that.

Pay it Forward
The second you have a place with an area for someone to sleep and you have roommates that are chill with it, then immediately offer up your couch for others. That's the whole idea about couchsurfing – if you stay at other people's house then you yourself are obligated to offer the same in return sometime in the future.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gaming on the Road

One of the biggest downsides to road trips is that they almost always consist of long stretches of road with little to do. While counting each cactus you see can help pass the time a little, there are tons of other ways to pass the time and have some fun on the road!

Deck of Cards
A deck of cards is by far the best thing to bring with you on your travels. They allow for multitudes of different gaming possibilities. While it can be difficult to play on the road, you'll still find many moments throughout your trip when a game of Crazy Eights or Go Fish can help pass a boring time. If you're bored with the usual fare, I'd look in to getting a computer game version of various card games and play with some computer opponents. I have the Hoyle Card Games program and it's been great in teaching me how to play some more complex games that my friends and I don't know how to play.

Portable Chess Set
I have a magnetic chess set that's about the size of a young adult novel. Not only is it wonderfully portable but it gives me tons of chances to challenge people to a game of chess. If the driver has a good memory and you both know chess terms, you could try playing while on the road. Just don't look at the board too long when you're driving! :-P Bored with chess or just don't get the game? Then try out some chess variants sometime.

Travel Games
When I was a kid my parents had a travel bingo set. It was SO much fun! I'd have my face pressed to the window searching for any object on the road I could add. There are also TONS of other travel games out there to play in the car. And I know what you're thinking. Just for kids, right? Wrong! There are tons of games out there that us big kids can have a good time with, too.

Mad Libs
Playing Mad Libs is a(n) (adjective) way to pass the (noun)! It's (adjective) to play and it always makes everyone in the car (verb). You can make it sound (adjective) or even (adjective) if there's just adults in the car. All in all I (verb) playing Mad Libs!

Trivial Pursuit
I sometimes have a small pack of Trivial Pursuit cards. If I'm with people that know their stuff I'll read off a few questions, but most of the time I couldn't answer any of those questions even if I had the internet at my fingertips. Instead we play an Apples to Apples variant where we deal out the cards and each person calls out an answer with the answer cards they have on hand. A lot of fun!

1000 Blank White Cards
I LOVE this game! Basically make a set of blank cards and then make cards and play them. That's it. It's basically Fluxx but with an even more liberal mechanic.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mini-Road Trips: BookCrossing Book Dropping

In this series, I hope to provide new ideas for miniature road trips. That is, road trips that will only take either a day or two to complete when you can't take any days off for vacation. You can find the other posts here, here, and here.

Bookcrossing.com is a website where you can create a specific ID number for any book you own and then put a label inside of the book cover with that ID number. The goal is to leave that book somewhere for another person to find who will (hopefully) go to the website and log where they found the book, what they thought of it, and where they left it themselves. After that the same process continues and you can read about where your book is traveling through the world.

I've been a member for about a year now but I haven't really started participating until recently when I started selling a lot of my books. Although I haven't had much luck in getting people to log any of my books so far, I'm hoping that will change soon.

One fun way to make this a mini road trip is to go through all of the books you don't want anymore, log them on bookcrossing and then distribute them wherever you like. You could simply leave them in a library or used book store or you could pick some interesting destinations where others could find the book and later leave them someplace where people from other areas in the world might find them like an airport or popular museum.

Give the website a shot. Even if you don't get anybody replying, you still get the satisfaction of giving away an interesting book to someone that might enjoy it just as much as you did, and if you do get replies then you can live vicariously through your book as it sees areas of the world that you haven't had chance to. Who knows, you may even make it a goal to find the wandering book that was once yours!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Couchsurfing Etiquette: Couch Requests

After about 2 weeks in Portland I've been having an absolutely wonderful time! It's been non-stop fun and adventure and it's all because I decided to couchsurf in to Portland. Every couchsurfer has been wonderful to me and I've decided to write a short series on various methods of etiquette for couchsurfing. Although most people on the site do very well, I've heard horror stories before about unreliable hosts and self-centered surfers. I hope I've never come off as that to anybody but I know that my ignorance at the start of it (and continuing!) definitely led to some awkward moments in couchsurfing.

In this post I hope to cover the first step in couchsurfing, which is finding and writing to the potential host of your choice. I think I've written to at least 40 couchsurfers and although I've made some mistakes I think I can offer some advice on how you can avoid them and boost your chances of getting on to that couch.

Make a Good Profile
Fill out as much of your profile as you can. Include as much detail about yourself that you're comfortable revealing to the internet then get a bit more personal than that. These people are allowing you, a total stranger, on to their couch and the more info you have the less scary it is for them to accept you.

Read their profile
Before I even consider sending a couchsurfer a message I take the time to read their entire profile word for word. That means every little boring detail is read before I send out a request. I don't care how dull or pointless some of the things they write are, you're going to be staying on this person's couch and you need to learn about them as much as you can.

Write ahead of time
Most couchsurfers ask that you reply at least a week ahead of time. I personally try to reply at least a month ahead of time if I can but this sometimes causes problems because the chances of date changes or cancellations increases. Use your best judgment on when to reply but unless it's an emergency do NOT request for a couch 24 hours before you need it.

Write a long message
My requests are at least a page long, if not more. This may sound like a lot of time spent writing custom posts for each and every couchsurfer but I often keep a template that includes information about myself and some details on my trip (such as my eta and length of stay) in order to make the whole process faster.

Write Personal
I write at least a full paragraph that is completely unique to the couchsurfer I'm writing to. This lets them know that you read their profile and that you genuinely want to get to know them and that you're not just looking for a cheap motel room.

Reply fast
The second your couchsurfing host replies, reply as fast as you're able. At the very least let them know you got the message and you appreciate their reply. If they turn you down then thank them for their time and suggest that you should get drinks together sometime when you're in the area, they may decide later that you don't sound so bad and will re-offer their couch. If they approve then let them know that you're still interested in crashing on their couch and give them any details on your trip that you think they should know about. Giving them some alternate methods of communication such as your phone number or Facebook page should also be included.

Be Honest
Couchsurfing is all about being open and honest with other people. Don't lie or hide something that would be important for your couchsurfer to know. If you have other couchsurfers and you're hoping someone else replies because they're in a better location then let them know. If you have to cancel because you got hired as a back massager for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders then be sure to brag about it. If you constantly smell like cheetos let them know that doctors are still working on a cure. Just be honest with your entire situation and you'll be surprised how well your host will take it.

Making couchsurfing requests is a pretty difficult and daunting process, especially if it's in vacation season and many people want to surf and few people want to host. The rewards for all that work are worth it though and I guarantee that any surfer who sends personal and honest requests will definitely get a positive reply from an awesome host.

Come back in about a week for some tips on what to do when you're actually surfing!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learn from Us: The Night of the Ice in the Car

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.

"We can't stop here...this is BAT country!"

I snorted with laughter. Johnny Depp, panicked and twitchy, stared out at the vast desert onscreen. I had never seen Fear and Loathing before, a problem that Neurobomber had promptly decided to fix. We were pulling an all-nighter studying for midterms, but no all-nighter is complete without a movie break (and doughnuts). As we watched Hunter S. Thompson spin with an orangutan on a merry-go-round bar, we began formulating the plan for our second big road trip: bat country.

The idea was to make a loop from CA to Las Vegas, then to Phoenix AZ, Joshua Tree, LA, and back home. All we knew was that it was winter and we didn't want to go north, so we opted for south. We didn't plan it as well as our other trips because we were so preoccupied with school, a price we paid on the very first night.

HEAR YE, HEAR YE: I am sure this is common knowledge at this point, but no matter how hot a desert is during the day, it reaches bona fide FREEZING temperatures at night. No matter the season. I knew this from hiking and camping experience, but it was hard to convince Neurobomber of the significance of this fact. Since we planned on sleeping in the car on the CA-NV border (a rest stop near the town of Primm, NV), we would in essence be subjecting ourselves to the night temperature of the wide wild desert, not to mention the scorching highs during the day we would spend driving through it. I insisted on bringing large quantities of water, 2 temperature-rated sleeping bags, and fleece blankets. This revealed to me a previously unknown fact about Neurobomber: he had no idea what the basics of camping were.

"Why do we have to bring so much water?" he asked me. He was annoyed that it was taking up space in the car, even though we were travelling relatively light.

"We're going through elevation changes and we need to keep drinking water for the heat," I said. I was confused. This was camping 101. You always bring water if you're going to put yourself somewhere remote. "Plus it's for emergencies. You can't improvise water."

"Fine but I still don't want to bring 2 sleeping bags and blankets. They'll take up so much room and I don't think we need them!" Neurobomber is a minimalist when it comes to travelling, which sometimes doesn't mix well with my survivalist view (bring the basics, but be prepared). But now he just wasn't making any sense. Good sleeping bags can be fit into small, convenient stuff sacks that also keep them clean. And fleece, when used as a shell inside another blanket or covering, is the best way to trap body heat while still being light and transportable. I relayed this information to Neurobomber, who looked at me with an exasperated expression.

"What the hell is a stuff sack?!"

After some gentle questioning, I discovered that the only sleeping bags Neurobomber had ever known were the kind that are barely good for indoor slumber parties. Bulky, made of cotton, and completely ineffective at keeping you warm. He had also only been camping once when he was a kid, and hated it. The only way I was going to make him realize that we needed the supplies was to wait until the first night of the trip. I convinced him, albeit reluctantly, to let me bring everything, and off we went.

After traversing some 250 miles through red roads, hidden plaster sculpture stores, Mad Max vehicle junkyards and, yes, bat country, we rolled into the rest stop. The water bottles were already proving their worth after driving through the mountains and desert. I set up my sleeping bag and tucked a fleece blanket inside it. Even with this, it was still wrenchingly cold. A few hours before, when we had stopped at "the world's largest working thermometer" on the side of the road, the temperature had read 53 degrees and was dropping fast. Neurobomber, stubborn as ever, simply wrapped himself in a blanket. I knew eventually he would get too cold and use the fleece and sleeping bag I had brought for him, and that we would ultimately make it through the chilly night with all our appendages unfrozen.

The mistake we made was not checking the weather.

If you are going to sleep in your car, a tent, or anything that doesn't have central heating or cooling, check the temperatures. You can type in "weather in X, CA or Y, NY" and a weather station site will show you the hour-by-hour temperature predictions as well as the overall average for the night. If it is below 50 for the night, you will need a real sleeping bag that can keep out the cold. If it is above 85, you might not want to sleep in the car at all! Knowing this can affect your trip a lot more than you think. Spend a night in the car or a tent at the wrong temperature and you might not be able to function the next day.

We didn't know that night that it was going to be in the low 30's. We shivered throughout the night, even with the sleeping bags and blankets. When we woke up early the next morning, we were shocked to find ice on the INSIDE of the car. Our breath had condensed and frozen to the interior of the windshield and dashboard. If we hadn't had the sleeping bags we probably would have become hypothermic miles away from any sort of help. It was a grim lesson that we discussed inside the nearest Starbucks while pouring searing hot coffee into our thawing bodies.

Even though we've since had the opposite problem (having to seek a cooler place to spend the night because of high temperatures in the car that nearly suffocated us), at least Neurobomber is a bit of a survivalist convert; proper sleeping bags and water are worth the space they take up. But the real habit we formed was checking temperatures and weather reports every day of our trip and knowing what we can and can't be caught in. Learn from us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mini-Road Trips: Become a Traveling Critic

In this series, I hope to provide new ideas for miniature road trips. That is, road trips that will only take either a day or two to complete when you can't take any days off for vacation. Be sure to the check the first and second posts of the series!

Try being a critic for a day or two. Pick a specific kind of establishment like Italian restaurants, vintage movie theatres, tattoo parlors, etc. and map out several along a route. Then go to each one you see and try them out. When you get home, go on yelp or some other review website and write a critique for each one.

Several years back in my high school days I was really in to playing Dungeons and Dragons so I mapped out every store within 50 miles of my town and created the fastest route possible to get to each one within the day.

I had a blast! It was a ton of fun trying to find each store and then exploring the different aspects of each one. I didn't buy anything that day but my friends always knew to ask me what the best place was to go to get any kind of D&D product.

I did the same thing for coffee shops when I visited Seattle a few years later. If you want to know, the best coffee I had was at Caffe Ladro in the Fremont area. Although Pergolesi's in Santa Cruz is still my all-time favorite.

So go ahead and try it yourself. You may just become a critic in a brand new field!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Staying Warm While Staying Light

Just last week Portland's temperature hit a record low: a whopping 22 degrees Fahrenheit. While I was waiting at a bus stop freezing my butt off, I began thinking about how difficult it is to go through chilly weather while still not having to pack an extra backpack just to hold your jacket and winter clothes. Here's how I try to pull it off.

Dress in Layers
This is number one on anybody's “keep warm” advice column. I wear three tops at all times when it even gets slightly cold: a tank top, a t-shirt, and a long sleeve shirt. It keeps you mighty warm, light, and stylish to boot!

Warm up your core
Although it can be mighty uncomfortable to have freezing legs, you should mostly be concerned with your core (that's where your organs are, dummy!). Keeping your head warm is also very important since your brain can be affected by the cold as well and breathing in too much cold air could be hazardous so invest in a warm hat, jacket with a hood, or a scarf.

Quality Counts
Since you're not carrying a lot of stuff, then be sure to get the best quality item you can buy. I spent over a hundred bucks on a thin jacket but it kept me warm far better than any thick jacket could ever do. Make sure to look for something that not only protects you from the cold but also preserves heat that your body already generates. If it is temperature rated, look for something that is at least 20 degrees below zero. Also, if you're going somewhere where snow isn't just what your grandpa mentions when he talks about the old country, pick up a pair of thermal leggings and/or a top--they're light as can be and immediately increase your core warmth. Lastly, don't forget some thick socks! Wool is out, but special blends of fabric designed to keep warm and dry are definitely in.

Seek Shelter!
If you're walking around, stop in a coffee shop and grab a hot cup of joe or step in to a store and act like you care about what they're selling. Take the bus or rail as much as you can. By doing this, you can step in to a nice warm area and prep yourself for the rest of the way.

Block the Wind
Portland is a very windy city, which makes it seem even colder than it actually is (thus the term “wind chill”). Fortunately a lot of the buildings near bus stops have little wedges or coverings to shield yourself from the biting wind. Taking advantage of these can make a significant difference in changing your body temp.

Be Popular
People produce body heat and you can use that to get warm. Whether it's a long hug from a friend or throwing a massive party at your house, people warm you up very quickly.

More importantly having someone around can ensure that you don't get too cold and don't notice it. One time I was shivering uncontrollably and a friend of mind pointed out that I should get inside before I freeze to death. I was so cold I didn't even notice!

Skip the Vodka
Although you may think you're getting warmer, alcohol actually lowers your body temperature and can make it more dangerous when traveling in cold weather. If you have a long walk home from a party, plan on crashing there or catch a cab if it's going to be dangerously cold that night.

--

With record temperatures all around this season (it snowed in San Francisco!), be sure to keep yourself bundled up and warm. If you're a minimalist like me, this can often be quite difficult. If you're smart about it, though, you can easily find new ways to keep yourself nice and toasty. If you bring a couple day's worth of clothes, a very high quality jacket, a scarf that matches all your clothes and possibly a wool hat you can easily keep yourself very warm and still have enough room in your bag to pack the rest of your necessities.

What are some clever ways you've kept yourself warm in the winter?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Advice From A Traveling Coffee Addict

Coffee, for the majority of Americans out there, is the greatest invention ever made. Without it, nations would crumble and human societies would grind to a halt. My motto is that every one deserves at least one vice and by god mine is most definitely that brown liquid-like substance! When I'm traveling, though, this wonderful concoction is often hard to come by. Throughout my journey I've come up with several ways to keep my veins at the dangerously high level of caffeine that they're used to and I hope my advice will be just as beneficial to my fellow addicts out there.

Cowboy Coffee
All you need is some coffee, water, and a way to set something on fire. Just like the good ol' days of the cowboy, you can simply heat up some water and pour in your coffee and scoop out what you need. Sure, it's pretty gritty, but by gum does it give the kick you need to get on with your day! If you're too fancy to do it the old fashioned way, you can invest in a french press. Just pour in the hot water and it'll filter out the grounds. They also come in sizes that are small enough to fit in a backpack.

Coffee Shops
It's by and large the most expensive option and I guarantee it'll suck up your money right from under your nose but you can find a Starbucks on just about every block and it's tasty enough to almost justify the price. If you take this option, please take the time to find a local coffee shop, though.

Mini-Marts
7/11 also has some great coffee considering the low price but I'd be wary with other mini-marts. I nearly died a couple times drinking that stuff...

Instant
Yes, coffee is instant now. Just heat some water and pour! Honestly I hate the stuff because they taste like chemicals instead of coffee but it has the caffeine you need at the ease you want. Now that there are “cold” versions, you won't even need to heat the water!

Gum
That's right, caffeinated gum does exist! After several hours of driving and no coffee shops in sight I thought I came across an oasis in a desert when I saw this at a gas station. It's about 60 mg a piece – a typical cup of joe – and I can gladly say that it both tastes good and keeps you awake the rest of the day. A must buy for any traveler.

Tea
I call it the wussy's alternative but if you're willing to take a significant drop in caffeine levels this is definitely a healthier option to try.

Exercise
If through all your efforts you come up with nothing, then try getting some natural adrenaline by going for a short jog or doing some jumping jacks. Exercise is the best method for keeping you awake throughout the day although I for one hope I'll never have to reach this option! :-P

Caffeine is a blessing but it's also a curse. It makes waking up super early in the morning from sleeping in the car that much easier when you have it but it also makes it fifty times harder when you don't. Follow some of these tips and hopefully you'll never have to do without!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Compass Points

Everyone needs a little direction in their life now and then, but I need it all the time. I have no sense of where I am at any given moment and get lost so easily that I once got separated from a giant mob and couldn't find my way back. If I were an albatross, I'd lead sailors in circles. If I were a salmon, I'd end up in someone's swimming pool. You get the picture.

It's funny, because I grew up sailing with my dad so I can read nautical charts with relative ease, but show me a road map and my mind locks up. This is most frustrating when I'm trying to get back on the freeway and have no idea which way is north, south, up, down, wallamahoo, Timbuktu. I'm lost!

Neurobomber and I have a deal--I drive highways, he drives cities. I do great when I'm only dealing with one direction and a few merges. Neurobomber, with his homing-pigeon like direction skills, cruises around towns he's never been to before like a local. He is the Magellan to my Columbus. "You just have to keep track of where everything is," he says. "Don't you remember how we got here?" He loves making fun of me for getting turned around and I don't blame him; other times, when I tell him about my latest misadventure, he stares at me wide-eyed and says "How did you even get over there?!"

I've gotten marginally better by playing navigator with his GPS. A GPS, while not excruciatingly necessary for the average road tripper, is an excellent piece of equipment to possess. You can use it to search for an incredible array of locations--specific types of stores, addresses, geocaches, restaurants, cafes, parks, whatever your heart desires. You can also set it to avoid toll roads and the like. Garmin is probably the best known brand, though their equipment tends to devolve into the electronic equivalent of a small child within a year or less.

Pros of GPS ownership or borrowership:
  • always know where you are and where you've been
  • step by step directions plus a map
  • more fun than a regular road map; lets you know where scenic views are
  • very useful in an emergency!
  • lets you know how long you will be driving
Cons:
  • eats up batteries like french fries
  • sometimes loses signal, claims to not know where you are
  • sends you on extremely long and complicated route to avoid one toll road
  • can sometimes crap out on you only a few months after purchasing. Be picky when you choose your brand and model!
When Neurobomber skipped off to Portland he left me his trusty Vista eTrex; he worries I'll get lost and die in a ditch because I like to run off into the forest. Again, I don't blame him, but this never seems to happen. I hiked a lot when I was a kid, and got to know a substantial area of the state park behind my house just by repetitively getting lost and then finding my way back. No matter how lost I am, there are always a few simple ideas I keep in my head to get me back to civilization. Even if you have a GPS, there's no telling when it might blank out on you in the middle of the woods, so try to keep these rules in mind.

1. Go down. If you're lucky you'll hit a road; if not, you might find a river you can walk along. Towns are also more common in valleys.

2. Make lots of noise; sing or talk to yourself. Someone might hear you and then you can ask them which way to go.

3. Avoid going off a trail, even if it's just a little deer trail.

4. Once you take a direction, stick with it. Unless you see something definitive to turn your path towards like a building or road, you're more likely to come across something if you're not reversing direction every few steps.

5. Spiral: this is counter-intuitive to 4 and only for the truly and hopelessly lost. Predators and search teams use a spiral pattern to find prey/victims because it maximizes the radius of all the directions they could have taken from a given point. This method is dangerous though, because it's easy to lose track of how big your spirals are and start going in circles. Not recommended for mountainous or heavily wooded areas.

6. Treeline. If you can, walk along the edge of a treeline; it's easier to see where you've come from.

A GPS is definitely an investment, but if you split the cost with a friend or travel partner, it can be an invaluable addition to your road trip team. And you might never have to be as lost as me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mini-Road Trips: left/right game


In this series, I hope to provide new ideas for miniature road trips. That is, road trips that will only take either a day or two to complete when you can't take any days off for vacation. You can find the first of the series here.

This is a great game to play when you have at least two people in the car with you and you want to go somewhere you would never think to go to before.

While one person drives, another person gets blindfolded or simply closes their eyes. Then, when the driver is coming up to a possible fork in the road they simply state: “left or right?”. Then the blindfolded person shouts a direction.

This is a great game to play for any kind of distance. I play this all the time with Birdy when we're bored in the town we're in and we want to find someplace interesting that we've never seen before. The last time we did this we stumbled upon a park we had never known about before in the town we had been living in for almost 4 years! We ended up having a blast in the playground late at night.

If you decide to do this long distance, I wouldn't recommend keeping the blindfold on the whole time. It would probably be better to have one person write a series of directions and then when the driver calls a fork, the passenger just crosses off the next one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Take the Train!


Today is my first day in Portland and I'm spending the morning to plan my trip and write to you. The train ride lasted a good 18 hours and it was a TON of fun! I would recommend the trip to anyone and here's why.

Breathtaking Views
The train I took went through the northern California and Oregon mountains. It traversed through cliffs miles high and made it through a snowstorm that would eventually lead to 10+ feet of snow the next day. I was blown away by the views that driving or taking a plane would never allow.

Wonderful People 
On my trip, I met two awesome people living in the Portland area that I ended up getting to know really well and got the contact info for one to meet again (the other one was too stoned from the brownie he took to remember his number!). I also met an Iraq war vet who told me about getting stabbed and shot in the back three times and still walking despite his doctors saying he never would and a woman who was riding the train for the first time after her 70th birthday. That's just the tip of the iceberg of the people I met. All you need is a warm personality and a listening ear and someone friendly will talk to you.

Relaxing
Hop on the train, sit back, and relax. No heavy lines, no groping security agents, you get to keep all your fluids, and your shoes stay on your feet.

Cheaper 
In the states it's not by a lot (the difference for me was about 20 bucks) but if you're traveling elsewhere it's the cheapest way to travel.

If you're the type of person who hates talking to people, is always in a rush, and can't stand sleeping in a moving vehicle then I definitely wouldn't recommend riding in a train. For everyone else, I highly recommend it. I know the difference in time between a plane and a train is huge but it's worth the wait. If you've never been on a train for more than a couple hours then you definitely need to go. It's the experience of a lifetime!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Portland, Here I Come!

Tonight I catch a train to Portland, Oregon. After losing my job it was the first place I wanted to see. I've already got three places set to couchsurf for about a week and a half and then I plan on booking for a week at a hostel right after that.

My overall plan is to just explore Portland and if I like it maybe I'll stay for a bit but if I don't I'll try elsewhere. Every time I tell people that I get this look like I just said I wash my hair with peanut butter and then they smile, pat me on the head, and tell me that I might want to consider staying the Bay Area because the job market is alright there.

That kind of response worries me. I mean, I've gone on a two month road trip before with about a fifth of the money that I have saved up right now but for some reason I'm still worried. Plus, rent is significantly cheaper in Portland than any place I've lived in around California. I've even been up there three times and it seems like a pretty nice place to visit and maybe live. In fact it's one of my favoritest cities to visit!

But the fact of the matter is that it IS pretty crazy. I'm going to a city all alone with no car and no job and staying with total strangers while I attempt to find a place to live on money that I've only been able to save up for a few months. Yeah, I definitely bathe in peanut butter.

Suffice to say I'm in this weird zone where I'm nervous and scared and uncertain about everything in my life and the decisions I'm making while at the same time I'm more excited and happy about what I'm doing than anything I've ever done before.

The number one thing I keep telling myself, though, is that whatever happens I at least tried. Whether it ends up a supreme failure or a wonderful success, it will be a result that leaves me wiser, smarter, happier, and more adventurous. More importantly I hope to chronicle what happens so that my wonderful readers – that's you – can enjoy learning from my crazy attempts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Open Road, Open Mind

One thing I've learned from hanging out with Neurobomber is that you never know what something is really like until you get off your ass and try it yourself. Many of you may have seen the comedic film Yes Man with Mr. Carrey, in which a man decides to never say no to life and expands his waking universe tenfold. Well, the movie takes it a bit far but the message "say yes to life" is an excellent one that more of us should practice!

If you decide to go on a trip, you're basically making a statement to yourself that you are trying to get out there and see new things. That being said, how contradictory is it to turn down events, places, and people just because it doesn't sound like something you would normally like? This world can surprise you...but only if you let it!

Let's take Portland for example; the very first out-of-state adventure featuring team NeuroBird.

We were sitting in Cafe Pergolesi, our favorite haunt and excellent source of all things caffeinated. Neurobomber was sipping a mocha pensively and he had that faraway look on his face that usually resulted in me doing something like dancing awkwardly with strangers in an attempt to learn how to waltz, or fording 5 freezing rivers to find a single geocache. "You know what we should do this summer? Go on a roadtrip."

Now at the best of times during my first year of college I wasn't exactly what you'd call "open" to experiences that I wasn't sure I would enjoy. It was beginning to be a bad habit.

"That sounds cool," I said cautiously. "Where?"

"Mmm. Well...Ashland is having their Shakespeare festival this month, and I've always wanted to see Portland."

"Portland...wait, Oregon? As in the Oregon trail videogame Oregon?" Visions of covered wagons and half-rations danced in my head.

"Yeah...I think it'd be super cool. Oregon's awesome."

My brain tried to connect the words "Oregon" and "awesome." It failed.

"I dunno, it sounds kind of...boring."

"Just trust me. It'll be fun!"

From that moment on I fought tooth and nail against everything. Did I want to see Much Ado About Nothing on the renowned Globe-like stage in Ashland? Not really. Did I want to spend 3 days in Portland, a city I knew nothing about? No. Was I OK with sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots? Definitely not.

Looking back, I can't believe how negative I was. The Ashland stage was beautiful, and Portland is one of my favorite cities now. It was amazing. We met friendly people wherever we went, we never had a shortage of fun things to do. Even going in a tiny little bookstore had infinite rewards--a book called Fugitives and Refugees written by Chuck freaking Palahniuk about Portland's local secrets! A hardware store, a stone house, a nerdy cafe, and a science museum all made our list and each place was insanely fun.

I've since had doubts revoked about such other things as Couchsurfing, board game nights, talking to strangers, dance festivals, using the trains, sleeping in parking lots, and countless other situations.

I'm lucky to have a travel partner like Neurobomber help me cultivate an open mind. As for the rest of you, get the most out of your trip! Try new things even if they sound lame. Talk to people even if you think you'll look weird. If you hear music you like, dance. You'll be surprised at the support the universe shows you.
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