As you have probably have guessed, to do this trip, I have been sleeping in my vehicle, to save costs.
Where to stay. Let me tell you. It is better than setting up tents, but worse than any other option you can think of. America doesn’t have public shared space for people who don’t spend money, as a general rule. You are likely trespassing or at best, invading the space of someone.
The best strategy with this RVing-like option are 1. campsites or RV sites ($), 2. places where they will tolerate you for one night (police), and 3. where they won’t notice you (hiding in plainsight), in that order. It is very difficult to find a place where they won’t notice you. Walmart is a option when not around a metropolitan area such as Denver, that has passed ordinances preventing overnight parking. And many Walmarts around metro areas have a similar policy.
Where they don’t care, isn’t an option (crooks). Bc where they don’t care, is where everyone else goes. And human territoriality doesn’t stop bc they go where most other people don’t care (See entries about Montana). It is just where different and less civilized people who care about your presence. In one place in Denver, on a weekend, it was unoccupied, but later at night it became either a place where drug deals occur when no one is around, where people go to make out, or where prostitutes take their johns. But eventually I had an unmarked car pretend it was a security guard and ask me to leave. I left, no questions. I was ready to go anyway, if these people kept showing up.
After that, food is the next major hurdle, with this kind of travel. If you want to save a little bit of extra money, cooking will save you tons, if you withhold from eating meat.
Why meat? Refrigeration is a huge huge problem for cooking in a vehicle. I haven’t tried out one of the ARB 12v refrigeration coolers (not peltier cooling) yet, bc the cost benefit vs buying 10lbs ice every 3 days is break even at 1 year. And that’s wo being sure on real life battery consumption and cooling ability of the fridge. And meat costs more (Walmart ribeye costs about $12 for 2 steaks, or 2 meals). You might as eat fast food for similar cost.
And most methods of cooking meat involves grease splatter, something you don’t want in your vehicle. Picnic areas with fire grills are best for that. And only when weather permits (not too cold, windy, etc.).
Then there’s water needed on hand for cooking and cleaning, which you can restock at public water fountains. Keeping water in your car adds weight and risks of leaks, but it has great specific heat qualities for in winter. It’ll stay warm after sun has come down, for a little bit at least helping the car stay warm longer in early evening. That’s terrible in the summer but a plus in winter.
Otherwise fast food is pretty economical (trip is temporary after all). Breakfast at McDonald’s can be less than $5. Olive Garden has unlimited soup and a bowl of pasta for around $8. Same for Pizza Hut restaurants that have buffets. And some of the regional fast food definitely needs to be tried. Raising Cane’s chicken fingers for states that have them, have a great dipping sauce, as well as crispy fries, and usually juicy fingers (thank you, Ole Miss for having one on campus, so I would try it later). Thickburgers at Hardees and Carl’s are 1/3lb shot of ground beef. Pollo Loco has become a new favorite chicken place, next to Boston Market (which now that I think about it, I haven’t seen a branch, since leaving the east coast).
Bathrooms are a necessity of life no one thinks about until you don’t have one. You need a bathroom. Forget traveling this way if you don’t have a bathroom in the vehicle. Using a public bathroom is always preferable if one is available, assuming you have a greywater setup. No cleanup, better privacy, a working sink, and no where near where you sleep.
Forget about privacy while you’re traveling this way. You’re using public resources all the time since your electing to forego having private real estate for cost savings.
Stay clean. That means laundromat, gym. I cannot stress how important this is. Not staying clean means attracting unwanted attention. Remember those old movies when a spy is in foreign country and some authority asks to see their papers. Clean and presentable are your initial papers in America.
Planet fitness probably doesn’t want the business segment of budget travelers, but if you can avoid going when the soccer moms go, it’s basically $25/mo to goto any club. They have showers but rarely have towels so bring your own. In north Boston and Maine, the facilities suck bc they have communal showers. I suspect they bought out existing gyms and haven’t renovated. But otherwise almost every other location is very clean, modern and nice to look at. Remember, companies experiencing success will eventually price out market segments less profitable (more cost, less margin, less volume, etc). And since their facilities are so nice and up to date, I don’t see how it doesn’t. If soccer moms start noticing a pile of rags coming in, they might elect to go to a more expensive gym. You’ll be considered like a higher cost. And the company prices up. Don’t be a pile of rags. The benefit might last longer.
El Paso’s Planet Fitness is gorgeous and new. A great view of the city too. It’s actually worth mentioning.
The Planet Fitness’s are located on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. Sometimes in the center of a city like Salt Lake City or NYC on 23rd St. But where are you going to park your car then? Or are you going to take a bus to the gym, from where you parked your vehicle? The outskirts have parking lots.
Power. I do have extra batteries in my vehicle, and pure sine wave inverter for auxiliary power for what RVer’s call boondocking. This is custom work for my vehicle. I have an extra line bleeding extra power from my alternator to recharge the battery, and a cutoff switch so when I use the battery bank, it’s not draining the starter battery.
It allows some work on the laptop, some hours of TV.
There are 12v accessories for most things that going to a truck stop, they have. Most of these accessories in my opinion suck. But feel free to try yourself.
- Fan, awesome.
- Heater, useless. Less than useless. Drains the battery at ridiculous rate and provides minuscule amount of warm air.
- Electric blanket. Haven’t used it. Regular blankets are fine in layers, so never needed it. But I discovered later that the air gets cold. Hence the heater above.
- Electric skillet. Didn’t get it myself but read truckers like it.
- 5v USB adapters. A necessity for charging your gadgets.
- 12v Lights, expensive for something that your probably going to be too concerned about bringing attention to yourself to use.
I have a 100w solar panel. But I find driving for 2 hours recharges the battery bank more than a day of sunlight. I actually planned to get another panel if I ever stayed in a local area for more than a few weeks, bc there isn’t enough time driving and my daily depletion rate is faster than the panel’s charge rate.
Tools. Ever seen the movie Dune and the quote “Water is life”. Mobility is life, traveling like this. You need extra Fix-a-flat, or Slime tire sealant. Spare tire. 12v Air pump. Tire pressure gauge.
Battery jumpers. Jumper cables. Voltmeter to test battery. In case you left door open too long, like when you’re camping (done it).
Duct tape for when the lens of your taillight falls off. Clear extra strong gorilla tape is awesome. Forget that clear lens tape, they try to sell you in auto store, though the repair plastic lens patch is useful for a really large area.
Screwdriver, ratchet wrench and pliers for repairs you can do yourself like changing ignition wires, changing a battery (though if you buy a new one, most places will install it for you).
Touch up paint if you have fenderbender that exposes metal and you don’t want rust.
AA batteries for flashlights.
Antifreeze. Windshield wiper fluid. Ice scraper. Work Gloves.
Emergency roadside assistance thru your car insurance or triple AAA. I had 2 (2 separate) 2 tire losses due to road debris and potholes. Thank you Oakland and New Orleans. No spare or fix-a-flat is going to help you with a double tire failure.
Insulation is ridiculously important. It keeps heat from escaping at night on cool nights. Keeps the sun from cooking it at the break of dawn during summer. If you have a fridge or a cooler, it gives it a fighting chance at keeping your food cool.
Heat. Camping propane heater like Mr. Buddy Heater. It is ridiculously effective in such a small space and yet I feel the oxygen depleting, by my eventual and slowing ability to do math when it is in operation. Don’t use it without ventilation or asleep. But good for a quick shots of heated air in my opinion. There is a low oxygen sensor that cuts off propane to the pilot light, and it works. But then if there’s low oxygen, how much is left for you?
The ridiculously unexpected events. I’ve had to replace struts (after a Oakland pothole, the old ones bottomed out w every little bump) in Anacortes, WA and needed to get a new wheel bearing in Dallas (anything over 50mph resulted in a bad vibration). This means you may have to budget for the occasional unexpected event. Or you go home.