Quit my job, and go west? How to do a serious long road trip
Okay, so I'm contemplating something that a lot of people I know would consider 'really stupid.' I have a good paying, steady job, but I want to quit and travel the country for the summer, and get a job again in the fall.
Some background on me. I did a road trip two years ago, alone, and crossed the country back and forth in 3 weeks, and spent nearly $3,000 dollars because I was young, just out of college and didn't care. Motel 6's every night! 12 hours of driving a day if I had to!
Now, I want to make to make my money last longer, be more frugal, and travel the country for an entire summer taking a slow pace and avoid the interstates at all cost. I have a reliable '04 gulf, so my car will be good for the trip. But my biggest concern isn't the trip, and financing the trip itself right now. Before I can even get to that, I need some advice on how to handle being "unemployed" for an entire summer.
Have any road-trippers here done this- how easy was it getting a job again? How much savings did you spend after the trip trying to make ends meet until you had income. Was storing your few remaining possessions a problem? Do employers ever ask about your "lost summer?"
Well aside from that business, I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice for a 24 year old who can't wait any longer to heed the call of the open road again, and wants to go all out.
Finance advice, sleeping advice, think It's a bad idea? let me have it!
Thanks in advance. I used this forum a lot before my last trip, I know there's a lot of good people on here.
I absolutely understand your thoughts on this and, believe me, there are many times that I came within an inch of doing exactly this. But, in the end, for one reason or another, common sense prevailed. At least it seemed like common sense at the time! That's definately not to say there's anything wrong with the idea... just the timing. I need to sort all the things that you mentioned and will then do it when I can give it the time and money it deserves.
Having said all that... you're definately at the right time of your life to be doing it. Mortgages, kids, marriage... all that kinda slows you down somewhat and before you know it you're 40 and living the normal comfortable and boring suburban life.
There are obstacles, of course, but if you can overcome them then I would definately say to go for it.
The main one is, of course, the job. Talk to your current employer and see if there's any way they can hold your position for you. You'll be surprised how many will. Mine wouldn't unfortunately but it doesn't harm to ask. If they will then get it in writing and off you go! If not then see if there's any other possibilities with a delayed start elsewhere. Worst case scenario, as you suggest, is that you have to find a job when you get back. Be in no doubt that you will be quizzed on the 'missing months' when you go to interview but, in the eyes of many potential employers, that whole 'real world' experience things is actually a huge positive.
Other than the freedom of travelling on your own, ever thought about doing a season with Trek America or similar?
Make the trip work for you
Like Craig, I've come close to doing this as well, or, getting a job with a trucking company and doing long haul, that way I would still be making money. In the end, it wasn't common sense or anything, just certain shackles that would not be broken.
Depending on what you do currently for a living, you may be able to make this trip work for you in the long run. I would definitely say though document your plans regarding making the trip, that way you can show a potential employer that you didn't just get a bee in your bonnet, quit your job, and take off. As someone who has done interviews, hearing that you quit your job and started traveling would send up red-flags of reliability (is this person going to get cheesed one day, quit on us as they're crossing the state line?). If you show very methodical planning with documentation that you took months to plan this right, including documented conversations with your manager about it, it should calm them down.
Second, explain to your current employer exactly why you want to do this. That should help too.
Third, make the trip work for you. Like I said, it depends on what field you're in now, but if you can take a metric ton of pictures, write about what you see, and who you met, it could actually be a boon for you. I'd make a journal and a portfolio, and when you go into interviews, have that ready. When they ask, show them pictures of places you went and all the different people across the US that you had a chance to visit with, and provide excerpts from your journal. With that, during the trip, go out of your way to meet different people from around the US (this board would be a great way to arrange such things, besides sitting in a coffee shop and striking up conversation with people). It would definitely show a prospective employer, in my opinion anyway, that you have good communication skills, you're accessible to many different people, and you have a sense of leadership to seek out these interviews on your own.
I think if you do it right, it can be a good thing for you.
Gosh, I really don't have much to add
But I would like to say that I wish with all my heart that I had heeded the call of the open road before the marriage, mortgage, and kids made it virtually impossible....(I say "virtually" because some people still find a way to make it work.)
Anyway, go for it! You might not find as good of a job when you get back, or one you like as much. Oh, well....you can keep looking and, hopefully, get back on your career track later.
Why limit it to just the summer? If you could make your money last six month, why not travel for six month? Camping...especially doing free disbursed camping, when available...and eating out of your cooler are fairly inexpensive and will really stretch your dollar. Especially if you're taking time to explore an area and not doing a lot of driving for brief periods. I mean, let's say you're really enjoying Colorado and find a national forest with disbursed camping near a few places that intrigue you. With free camping, cheap eats at your campsite, and the fairly low amount gas in your Golf would cost you for short drives, I could easily see that you could get by on $100 or so for the entire week. Traveling this way, gas would be your biggest expense. Well, something to think about anyway.
The only real issue I see is the lack of medical insurance if something should happen to you. There are very inexpensive medical policies that would cover you for catastrophic situations. If you got something with a $5000 deductible, it should be really inexpensive. This is something you might want to think about and make plans for.
Gosh, I'm jealous. You're gonna have a fantastic summer!
I'm in the exact same situation...
I, too, am 24 and have been dreaming about doing a roadtrip for the past few years. I'm from the midwest, and i've done the east coast and west coast in two different trips, but I'd like to quit my job to do an extended road trip this summer before, like everyone says, I have real responsibilities like kids and a mortgage and a husband. Thing is I have a job I really enjoy, am making decent money, and feel like I'm being dumb to give it up. I want to leave June 1 when my current lease is up (and therefore avoid paying rent while I'm on the road), but at that point I will only have been at my current job for 9 months and I'm worried my employeer won't hold it for me. Ideally, I'd love to document the trip and do a book/articles of some sort (I'm a journalist), but at the same time, I don't want to commit to a project while I'm out on the road, doing my thing, if that makes sense. Just as the first poster asked, does any one have any ideas on how to finance a trip like this, as well as suggestions of places I won't find in guidebooks?
save save save
Welcome to the RTA Forum, gracey!
I know the thing that has always kept me from embarking on a trip like this is a lack of funds. When I've had the money to do a extended trip, its because I've had a good job, and thus didn't have the time. On the flip side, there have been some times where I could have gotten away, but then I typically didn't have the funds available to spend them on the road.
The only good way to finance a trip like this is to save, save, save. There are some opportunities to make money while on the road, but if you really want to have the freedom to just go, then having your cash already in hand would be a lot nicer.
The best way to find places that aren't in guidebooks is to just get out there. Talking to locals always helps, but the best "unfound" places are usually the place you simply stubble upon.
Great, thanks for the tips, and I'm sorry to hear some of you haven't done it.
I'm really intrigued by the idea of making it "work," by perhaps coming up with some sort of project or goal that will make it seem like it was more than a lost summer. I don't have any concrete ideas yet, but I'm working on it.
I'm also a little nervous about the camping part. I'm not that experienced at Camping, so I think we need to find a good waterproof tent- hopefully not costing too much, but of course, something that's quality. But thanks for the tips, I'm going to be spending more time working on the securing of a job thing and see what I can do to have some sort of security when I get back.
I can't say I've done exactly what you have in mind because my wife and I are closer to the other end of our careers. We have jobs that allow us to travel and work on the road (photography, graphic design and writing). Our kids are grown so we don't have those responsibilities.
Closer to your plan is Mark Nemeth who quit his job, bought an RV and traveled, working as necessary, for many years. I'm not sure what his current situation is, but he seems to have made it work well.
I'd say you need to have 6 months living expenses in the bank for when you return to find another job, if you stick to your original plan. All the advice you've gotten so far is great, but if you have that nest egg put away, maybe in CD earning interest, you'll find out how long you can travel as you spend money on the trip. Unless you just have to have the same house/apartment, you could save a bundle by putting your stuff in storage while you are gone.
Financing the trip as you go is tricky. Everyone says, "write a book or some articles." Well, having written a book, it takes a long time after the book is done to see any returns. If you can get a contract from a local paper or TV station to do a series of articles or video diary entrys from the road, then great. As you've seen, everyone wants to do this but few have. If you can package the experience and sell it, getting some cash in advance, you can do this fairly easily, but unless you have some writing or video experience, it could be difficult to sell. A winning personality is also helpful.
If the video approach is of interest, get a MacBook laptop with the latest version of iMovie and a digital video camera and do a sample segment of a few minutes using some attractions in your area. That is really about all you need to get started. It will take time to get up to speed, and to make the necessary contacts.
This calling of the open road may be a clue that you need to change careers. If you live in California, you've undoubtedly seen Huell Howser on a local PBS station. He was a reporter in the Midwest but moved to California about 15 years ago and created a series of half hour shows called "California's Gold" where he visits interesting places and people. He got corporate sponsorship and sells DVDs of his shows. I doubt if he is rich, but he is doing what he loves.
If you'd rather write installments, read Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. He didn't do it first, but his tale of a similar trip is among the best.
Whatever your motivations are, take the chance while you are young. Even if you have to scrimp when you get home until you land another job, the experience will be worth it. You may even find that you want to live somewhere else altogether.
Then, after you've worked for a few years and built up a nice nest egg, do the same thing in Europe!
Finally, the most "stupid" decisions we make in life are the things we didn't do, and regret forever.
Good luck, and keep in touch.
co-author of the travel guide: America's Living History-The Early Years
Camping is easy
Some random camping thoughts/suggestions:
Since you're unfamiliar with camping, I suggest you take a few short camping trips near you on weekends first to get used to it. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
There is just as much variety of camping experiences and places to do it as there are hotels, i.e. budget to 5-star resorts and anything in-between. Wilderness or disbursed camping can be free. Primitive camping might only be about $8-12. Campsites with a few more amenities usually are about $20 but can go higher as the amenities get fancier. As with hotels, location might also effect price.
To start out with, you might want to stay in a place with a few more amenities. Most any commercial campground will have the basics: bathrooms and showers. Other potential amenities are: pool, hot-tub, sauna, mini-golf, lake/river/beach water activities, boat rentals, horse-back riding, laundry facilities, recreation room-possibly with pool and/or ping-pong tables, TV, video games, and more. Quite often, friendly staff will act as concierges and help hook you up with things like river-rafting trips, etc.
The more basic campgrounds might only have a piece of grass for you to put up your tent. Most will have picnic tables as well. If a fire is allowed, they will usually have a fire-ring and will sell firewood/kindling (or you can bring your own). Some will have a water faucet at each tent site and some will just have a water faucet for several campsites to share. Some will have dish-washing facilities near the tent-sites but, most often, you will need to have your own container to wash your dishes in.
Another thing that really varies is the size and privacy of tent-sites. Sometimes you're in an open field with no privacy. At other times there will be bushes, trees, and other brush that will give you almost total privacy. And everything in-between.
There are varieties of camping amenities at national/state/county park campgrounds as well. They typically range from nothing but a spot on the ground. These are usually referred to as primitive campgrounds. But, more often than not, they will have restrooms and showers. These types of campgrounds are usually located in areas with plenty of outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, and more. They can be very nice, clean, and have everything you need to enjoy yourself. However, they will never have the extra amenities like commercial campgrounds will have.
Hope that gives you an idea of what to expect. Now for equipment. You do not need to spend a lot of money on a tent. The $200 tent I bought at REI in about 1988 only lasted about 5 years or so. The $35 tent I bought at Sears is just as nice, has been used far more often, and is still in great shape after 7 years...oh, make that 8 now. The only time someone really needs an expensive tent is if they're going on an expedition where 3- or 4-season tents are needed, and where you might be in extremely high winds requiring some additional strength in the construction that more inexpensive tents don't necessarily provide.
My tent is also a smaller, lightweight one that is suitable for backpacking. However, if you're sure you'll never do this, you can get a bigger, heavier one for car camping. Your choice. However, the type for backpacking are usually far easier to put up-and-down. If you plan on changing your site location daily, or almost daily, you might appreciate this. Mine goes up and down in about 5 minutes for each step.
Sleeping bag: If you're car-camping only, a regular old sleeping bag will do just fine. That's what I prefer on roadtrips myself. You only need the more expensive, down mummy bags and the like if you're going backpacking a lot. So just get an inexpensive sleeping bag to start out. Maybe $20-30 tops. I would suggest getting one that goes down to at least 20 degrees. And don't believe it. Always take a warm blanket or two.
The only other mandatory thing that you need is a pillow. If you need to save space, you can invest in a camping pillow but, for car camping, I usually take a regular pillow.
That's it to start out with. If you can borrow sleeping bag and tent for a few test runs, you can try camping without any real outlay of cash. You might do that first to see if you like it.
Advantages of camping while on roadtrips: In my opinion, I much prefer camping for a couple of reasons. First, after sitting in the car a lot during the day, just the act of setting up camp is a nice activity. Putting up the tent, laying out the sleeping bag, etc. all help work the kinks out. Add to that, campgrounds make great places to take a walk and strike up conversations with fellow campers. Walking around a hotel parking lot isn't quite the same. I've met some wonderful people and sometimes find someone who has already visited where I'm going and pick up helpful tips.
Now, if after your test-run, you decide to pursue camping while roadtripping, you will want to invest in a sleeping pad. I am perfectly comfortable with a hiking style sleeping pad. These are rather thin self-inflating pads that roll up smaller than a sleeping bag. When inflated, most are about 1" thick, although you can get some that go up to 2" thick. Those are a bit bulky. Coleman and some other brands also make inflatable camping mattresses that are more similar to a home mattress (think Aerobed). I think these are a pain in the patootie. But I have camping friends who think they are worth the hassle. You decide. My sleeping pad only cost about $30 but that was about 10-12 years ago so the prices have probably gone up a tad.
Other things I bring for roadtrip camping:
* small battery-operated lantern (I don't want to deal with a propane one for these types of quick stops; I save those for longer camping trips.) And you can bring a battery-operated one into the tent. Don't do that with a propane one.
* telescoping camping chair
Besides my cooler with healthy, food from grocery stores, that's often all I need.
Now, on a longer trip where I might to want to cook instead of eating cold food the whole trip, you can put together a small cooking kit very easily.
* Stove: If I'm traveling solo, I just take my single-burner propane stove. But, for two or more people, it's nice to have the two-burner model.
* Pots/Pans: I have an inexpensive cooking set that I picked up for about $20 that has a frying pan, small pot, two plates with raised lips that can double as shallow bowls, and a teeny little kettle to make coffee or tea. These all fit into a big pot to transport easily without taking a lot of space. The big pot doubles as a container to wash the other stuff in.
* Cooking utensils: You can buy fancier, more expensive things to pack utensils, etc., into but I just bought a very inexpensive case that you might store personal hygiene items in. In it fits a small, plastic cutting board, a sharp knife, can opener, rubber scraper, whisk, serving fork and spoon, wooden spoon, small pancake turner, tongs, small ladle, spices in small containers that you can purchase at any big box store that sells camping gear, a pot scrubbing pad, and a bottle of biodegradable soap for washing dishes (and can double as shampoo and personal bathing soap).
I probably have about $20 invested in all of this as most items were just purchased as The Dollar Store, including the case.
If you want an idea of things you can carry in your cooler to prepare, you might check out this post. If you're going to cook, just add to your grocery list the things you will be cooking. While on the road, I don't buy anymore meat at one time than I will be cooking that day or the next. So just make quick stops for those types of items regularly and you'll be fine.
Anyway, that's about all there is to it. Fairly simple stuff. I hope this gives you enough information to give it a try. You may not want to do it every night but it's a nice option to have. Quite often, campgrounds are located in the most beautiful of settings so it's nice to be able to go and stay there. (Not always...some are just along the road like many hotels...so don't expect beauty at every campground.)
Let me know if you have anymore questions.
Judy, thanks for your tips!
And to the original post... I wish you luck in whatever you decide- it sounds like a tough choice. But just remember- you have to do what is right for YOU, not for anyone else :)
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