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  1. Default New member seeks advice for cross-country trip

    I am planning a solo driving trip from Northern California to the Atlantic coast and back. There are stops along the way at relatives' homes. My anticipated launch is April 1st, and I'd be going east to Utah then south down to New Orleans, north to Virginia, west up to the Great Lakes states, west to Montana, south to Utah, and then west straight back home.

    Some more basics:

    -I am considering getting a van. I have a sedan now which is reliable but I cannot afford a motel every night so would need to sleep in the vehicle most nights.

    -I expect the trip to take between 1 and 3 months; probably about 2 months. This would include some days (perhaps 3 weeks total) staying with family.

    -Keeping to a budget is important as I don't have a lot of financial resources.

    -I will journal and photograph extensively, and want to create a book from my experiences.

    -I intend to take more scenic and "blue highways" rather than major interstates.

    -I expect to drive around 5-6 hours per day.

    -If I start to feel a financial pinch or if unexpected costs arise when I am far from home, I'd like to pick up some kind of temporary work.

    -I am 41 years old. I am not mechanically-inclined and though my appreciation for nature is vast my adeptness at camping is not. That said, I am open to spending nights in a vehicle at truck stops, campsites, etc.

    I realize there are a lot of details that are in play in planning a trip like this but I hope this is enough to generate some responses without sounding overwhelming. Tips, encouragement, warnings, and further questions are all very welcomed!
    Last edited by gorillabay; 09-18-2016 at 04:55 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A little home on wheels.

    Hi, and Welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    That is exactly what I have done.... and I half as old again as you. You might get some idea by checking out this thread in the Foadtrip Field Reports. You'll find a ton more information there, if you spend some time. Lots of folk do what you are planning to do. I am constantly making improvements in my van, and this year added led lights inside and linoleum on the floor. I guess next trip there are likely to be other things I will add.

    Can't really say a great deal more, other than that I am typing this at truck stop on my current 5 month trip.


    Edit: Here is a trip I did in a mini van.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Tent camping ?

    If your main 'accommodation' will be your vehicle then you do need something like the van mentioned but you will have to consider the cost of buying such a vehicle against the value of what you have and then the cost of getting it ready for the road. To get a good clean and reliable vehicle will not be cheap and if it's not something you would keep after the trip then a mix of cheap motels, Hostels and buying some basic camping gear for campgrounds might not be such bad value compared to buying a suitable van. A roadside assistance package with AAA or the like would be a good investment in case of mechanical problems, but you would still need a healthy emergency fund 'just in case'. Getting work while on the road isn't an easy thing to do so you should always have enough funds available to get you home wherever you are. Taking the 'Blue Highways' is my favourite style of travel, you see more and meet more people at a more relaxed pace, and time isn't much of a problem for you.

    At this point it's mainly about research, searching around the RTA site for info and going over the maps and working out budgets etc, when you have specific questions during your planning, just ask.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Tent camping might work in places in April, but not everywhere....


  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    While your plan might work, I do see some pretty major red flags with the plan you've laid out.

    Buying a van isn't a bad idea in itself, but a lot of the other things you've stated raise some pretty big concerns that it doesn't appear you've considered.

    First, buying a vehicle for a 2 month trip itself typically isn't a great financial decision. Usually you have to be on the road for about 3 months before the costs of buying a vehicle start to pay for itself. The fact that you are not mechanically inclined also means you'll need to spend more up front for a van, and have that much more money budgeted for potential repairs on the road (read through some of Lifey's reports for great examples of how much time and money she has spent on repairs, even after doing everything you could do to make sure it was mechanically sound before getting on the road).

    Second, living out of a van likely isn't as cheap as you're making it out to be either. Certainly, you can spend some nights parked at truck stops, but remember, that's what you're doing - you're parked there. You can't be pulling out a grill and cooking, and there is an expectation that you will be making a purchase there. Meanwhile, campgrounds also generally are not free, so that's an expense you'll also have to consider.

    Then the timing of your trip ads another complication. April and May are months where it can still be very cold overnight in many places. A van is going to provide very little in the way of insulation, so you need to treat this like winter camping - an extra challenge when you say you're a novice at camping.

    You haven't said how much money you've got set aside, but as previously mentioned, it does seem like you've underestimated how much a trip like this could cost. That's something that's an even bigger concern when you talk about wanting to make money while on the road. While it's not impossible to pick up "temporary work," finding someone to hire you when you have no ties to a community, will only be there for a few days, and don't even have a local address is extremely difficult. It certainly isn't a plan you should be relying on to get you through if you have underbudgeted your expenses.

  6. Default

    Hi everyone,
    Thank you for your replies. A couple of follow-up questions:

    1) What about couchsurfing? Nomadic Matt has mentioned this as a reliable method for free/cheap lodging.

    2) Part of my reason for wanting to take a van was to have adequate space for belongings and finds...I could mail stuff home but I would think that would add up quickly. Anyone ever take a Honda Civic or similar car on this kind of trip?

    3) I do understand your emphasis on not purchasing a van for a single trip like this, but if I were to find something reliable and affordable, how much might the value of it go down for re-sale when the trip is over? (The baseline road mileage of the grand trip is 8,000; note this is largely interstates so the actual mileage may be quite a bit more).

    4) Any solo travelers out there, I wonder what you budgeted per day (or week, month). Is $6,000 for a 2-month trip seem way off? (For either option - combo of cheap motels, hostels, couchsurfing, etc.; or with van. Note that perhaps about a 1/3 of the nights I would be at a family or friend's home.

    5) For food, I'd do my best to keep the large majority of meals $10 or under. There would be some entertainment and souvenirs but nothing extravagant.

    6) I have 2 basic routes in mind. One is the original mention, California to New Orleans (via NV, UT, NM, TX), to Virginia (via AL, MS, etc.), then to Great Lakes states IL/IN/WI, then to the Dakotas, then Montana, then Utah, then home. The other is the same except from New Orleans it goes up the aforementioned Great Lakes states (via TN, KY).

    7) My purpose for going in Apr/May is it's outside the winter (riskier driving) and summer (touristy and hot) periods, and I would like to see minor league baseball games.

    Thanks for your help. I want to make this dream a reality.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 09-23-2016 at 08:17 AM. Reason: New members may not post off site links

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Tent camping might work in places in April, but not everywhere...
    That really depends on the tent. Some of them are good enough for Arctic climate.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum, Merkeller!

    It is true that you can tent camp in just about any conditions, if you have the right great. However, the actual tent is one of the least important features (the biggest help with most winter tents is their ability to hold up in heavy snow), things like having good insulation from the ground and a heavy duty sleeping bag are far more important.

    In any case, such gear is not cheap, and the experience isn't for everyone. While I actually enjoy cool weather camping, it's not something I'd necessarily recommend for someone who is not an experienced camper.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by gorillabay View Post
    1) What about couchsurfing?
    Couchsurfing can be a way to find low cost places to sleep, however, you shouldn't view it just as free lodging. Couchsurfing is a community, and typically its recommended to bring your host a gift, take them out to dinner, or something along those lines. If you treat it just as a place to crash, you'll likely find yourself with negative ratings and people unwilling to host you. You should also be getting involved now, as a host, to become established within the community.

    2) Part of my reason for wanting to take a van was to have adequate space for belongings and finds...I could mail stuff home but I would think that would add up quickly. Anyone ever take a Honda Civic or similar car on this kind of trip?
    I have to ask, how much stuff are you planning to buy on the road? As a solo traveler, you'd have to take a ton of stuff with you and or buy a ton of stuff before you'd fill up a car the size of a civic. I've traveled with a family, with camping gear, in a vehicle that size. Sleeping in such a vehicle wouldn't work well, but beyond that, I can't even guess why you'd need more space.

    3) I do understand your emphasis on not purchasing a van for a single trip like this, but if I were to find something reliable and affordable, how much might the value of it go down for re-sale when the trip is over?
    If you only look at the change of value of the vehicle, then 10,000 miles would have little impact. The problem is that there is much more to the cost of buying and selling a car than just the change in value. Typically it costs more to buy a car (retail) than you'll get when you sell it (wholesale). You can reduce that difference somewhat if you only buy and sell on the private party market (i.e. autotrader, craigslist, etc), however even there, there are still other costs of purchasing a car. Any car you're thinking of buying should be taken to a mechanic, especially in a case like this. You could have to pay for a few inspections before you find a suitable vehicle. Then once you do, you'll have title, registration, taxes, and license fees which will add up to at least several hundred dollars.

  10. Default

    Okay, thanks for the tip about couchsurfing. Do you know, though, how prevalent it really is and what is a good guide for advance notice? Obviously, the more advance the better, but on a trip like this I don't think I could know more than a few days ahead at any time where I would be.

    Stuff...well I have never been a light packer. I have heard packing light is essential and I believe I can do it. On the road, most souvenirs will be your small garden variety. However, I am also a license plate collector and want to stop at a lot of junkyards. Not all states allow it, but I assume it will happen some of the time.

    I have never bought a car from a private party so this is new territory for me. I think the hard part for me is figuring how reliable a van in my price range ($2-5K) might be. The Honda I have is very reliable, again the main thing holding me back is not being able to sleep in it.

    I appreciate all your input.

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