Advice for a cheap roadtrip
I would like some advice/wisdom about traveling very cheaply. I think I'd like to drive from Chicago to Great Falls, MT, but have limited budget. Can you sleep at rest stops...is it safe? Any other advice would be apprieciated.
First, you can run a search on this web site on sleeping in rest areas -- it is a topic that has been discussed frequently and along with being illegal in most places (I'm told), more importantly, it IS a dangerous thing to do because it leaves you vulnerable to two-legged snakes and other vermin.
Here's how I travel "cheaply."
I eat a couple of meals each day from my ice chest, and purchase most of my food in grocery stores. This is usually much cheaper than most other options, although if you are only buying for yourself, fast food can be VERY inexpensive if you choose the right items. With the ice chest, you don't have to do anything fancy -- just bread and peanut butter and jelly if you wish, fruit, etc. For items like fruit, keep in mind things bounce around a bit in an ice chest, so you need to wrap things (I use paper towel) like apples, peaches etc, to keep them from turning into mush. Think of it like packing your best dishes for a move. I also make extensive use of plastic food storage or freezer bags -- they seal completely and are very secure, so you can float them in the ice and water without ruining the contents. And don't skimp on ice! I typically add a bag or two at least every 2nd day -- more often in hotter locales. If you want hot meals, it is easy to take a few items (cookware and dishes, and means to keep them clean) and a camp stove. Personally, I don't bother with this for a road trip -- I stick to sandwiches and other foods eaten cold and out-of-hand, as it is much more convenient. I don't like to take time out any more than necessary from my purpose -- which is the DRIVING! I usually eat only one meal a day in a restaurant.
I find off-road places to sleep -- sometimes in recreational areas, other times just off in the woods or desert, out of sight of the road. You should devote some thought to your personal safety while picking the spot. I try to pick areas were I can see others coming (and hear them) long before they get to where I'm at (at the top of a hill, for example, where folks have to downshift to drive up it). I drive a pick-up, and I usually take a sleeping bag and sleep on a cot, or in the bed of the truck (also on the cot, usually). I take a small tent ($19.95 at a surplus store) for rainy nights. These days, I am never without some means of defending myself should that be necessary.
About every 2nd or 3rd day, I find an inexpensive motel room so I can shower & rest a little better. The other days, I can get by cleaning up in a rest area bathroom with a sink and mirror, or even a gas station or something like that. The occasional shower will keep you feeling somewhat human, especially if you are near to visiting a friend or relative -- I don't like to show up at a friend's house with 3 days of "road grime" on me! Relatives, though, might just get to see Grunge Bob, because they HAVE to love me anyway (but of course they are always happy to offer the towel and soap)!
Entertainment costs vary from zero to a few dollars or up, depending on what you want to do. If you want to visit the National Monuments and Parks, you can save money with an annual pass -- they're about $50 or maybe a little less ($45?) and allow you one year of access to all federal sites. Along YOUR route you could find the SD Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Little Bighorn, and others, and it is definitely an area rich in the history of the old west.
Your other road expenses are not as much in your control -- gas prices and vehicle service for example. They are what they are. At present, I would figure my gas mileage and costs based on 1.65 or 1.70 per gallon -- don't know what it is elsewhere in the country but right now that is pretty close for my area. You can probably get more accurate figures from AAA or a place like that for ANY area you travel in. If all else fails, call a local Chamber of Commerce -- they can provide a wealth of information like that and are usually happy to help.
I'm sure there are many things I haven't thought of but others on this site can contribute many great tips also. But there's a start.
What would you use to defend yourself? I have 20 days until my three month roadtrip starts and the I have no idea how I would deal with being robbed or attacked whilst on the road especially if they have a gun or something. Im from England and the only defense you need here really is you fists, you mouth and an fast pair of legs to run away.
Ill probably carry an old wallet with some old credit cards and a bit of cash in just in case but would you suggest pepper spray(is it legal) or a small bat?
Best Defense Weapon: Brain
After over 200,000 miles logged on the roads and byways of America, I can state with authority the best weapon is common sense and an judicious use of your brain. We have never carried any physical weapon of any kind and we have sought and traveled in some of the roughest neighborhoods of America, (as well as, some of the nicest and most remote).
USD$200 is always a good sum to have handy in reserve.
Your weapons of choice -- fists, mouth and legs -- will work just fine here too.
Kris, first, understand that in over 30 years of travel and many road trips, (plus I have been both a truck driver and a pilot at different times in my life and lived on the road almost 100% of the time), I have had trouble only once (I was robbed at a truck stop), and that guy was immediately caught while still at the scene. The vast majority of folks traveling in this country never encounter any problems. But just in case, I am prepared. The main thing, always, is to be aware of your surroundings and what is happening around you. Never let yourself be surprised at close quarters, so (as you say) you CAN use your hands, mouth or legs if you need to! For women who travel alone (and some men as well), in addition to the above, I recommend self-defense training and at the very least, some sort of deterrent like a nasty pepper spray. Again, I don't think traveling in this country is particularly dangerous, and I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. On the other hand, I consider it a personal responsibility to keep myself (and others around me) from becoming a bad guy's victim should I ever find myself in such a situation.
Road trip on the cheap
A good way to save money, as suggested earlier, is to camp. Many state parks will let you stay in them for a nominal fee (we stayed in Ponca State Park in Nebraska for $3, I'm sure there are many similar places throughout the US). They usually have facilities (sometimes pit toilets, sometimes better, as well as showers), and it's much better than sleeping in rest areas, although that IS feasable provided you want to sleep during daylight hours (probably not). You'll be able to cook on a grill, even if you didn't bring one, because most of these places have hibachis (although using them without having at least your own grilling surface is sketchy).
Doing some grocery shopping and packing a cooler is a plus as well. On our trips we always pack a cooler with enough food for a couple of days.
It's still going to cost more than you think! Have fun!
What IS your budget?
Some cities have parks... I was recently in eastern Washington state and there were many that did, right along the river too.
I'd be a bit careful about just pulling in anywhere like a rest stop for the night... cars with out-of-state plates are going to be suspicious. You could always try parking in a truck stop, where they will be accomodating (make sure to buy some gas or soda while you are there.) Many also have showers.
One idea I've had is to find a spot behind a (preferably 24 hour) grocery store, where the employees park... your car may not be noticed, at least before you pull out. Never tried it though.
As others have said, bring your own food and drinks, that makes a huge difference.
Safety and common sense go hand in hand. Common sense would dictate the place that you stop to sleep would be relatively safe. I have pulled out of rest stops and camp grounds that just didn't impress me as safe. Remember, if you have a weapon and use it the circumstances of having and using it may also dictate the application of the law against you. Be street smart, use caution and pay that extra buck when you have to.
What about for girls?
Any thoughts on girls trying to travel cheaply, but also stay safe??
This is a frequent topic on this forum. If you use the Search tool at the top of the page you will find ~ 30 threads addressing this question. Plus look at the <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/tips/solo.htm#tips">Solo traveler tips<a/> page.