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.

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.

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!

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. 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?
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