Permanent Road Trip
October 17, 2008 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Advice on taking a permanent road trip.

Or, I should say, a semi-permanent road trip, with occasional stops back home to regroup. Looking for suggestions on the following:

Car: Want a car that gets good mileage and is rugged enough to handle driving long distances in a variety of weather conditions and goeographical environments.

Communication: I'd like to be connected to the Web as much as possible while on the road (in the U.S., anyway); how do I do this? What other sorts of communication devices should I have on hand.

Packing: What must I have in the car, not just in terms of clothes and toiletries, but for self-protection and emergencies.

Feel free to toss in any other suggestions you might have.
posted by Astro Zombie to Travel & Transportation (52 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Bring your towel.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:42 PM on October 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. Hitchikers Guide reference right off the bat.

Towel: Check.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2008

In seriousness, a Subaru Outback or other wagon isn't a bad choice. Great in weather, not terrible mileage, big enough to sleep in if you have to, and they have a pretty great reputation for reliability.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2008

This isn't my realm of expertise, but the first thing that popped into my head (besides things I don't know anything about, like survival/first aid kits, etc.) was a Maglite, maybe even two - a nice, big one you can also use as a weapon, and a mini one when you just need a light to stick in small places or carry around. Then keep the website bookmarked so you can find service centers.

This might sound a little strange, but if you have room, take a nice blazer and a pair of shoes that wouldn't look completely out of place as dress shoes - you never know, right?

Mylar blanket for emergencies. Actually, there's lots of cool stuff in American Science and Surplus' Outdoors section (along with random bizarreness, just to warn you), so do some browsing.

Since your access to heaters, laundry rooms and so on might be limited, make sure your rain and snow gear is complete - in particular, shoes are a pain to dry, so make sure you have good rain- and snowboots.
posted by bettafish at 1:57 PM on October 17, 2008

Subaru outback (4 cylinder), Toyota Tacoma 4 cylinder (possibly 6) - 4wd if you can live with the mileage. If you want better mileage, it's hard to go wrong with a honda civic.

Connectivity - Power inverter for your cigarette lighter (or a more permanent wired connection, easy to install).

Laptop connect card for a...err laptop - shop around and see who has the best deals on data volume, maybe get one from Sprint or Verizon and a second from AT&T/T-mobile to take advantage of different networks.

Garmin Nuvi GPS
High calorie survival rations - foil packed
Water - foil packed
First Aid kit
Either a water purification system (filter based) or a steri pen.
LED Headlamp
Sleeping Bag or at the very least a sleeping sack (silk preferred).
AAA Plus membership.
Full size spare tire?
Couple hundred bucks in cash hidden in the vehicle somewhere
Thomas Guide
posted by iamabot at 1:58 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh man:
SLR camera + tripod and flexible lenses if you have the room.
Point and Shoot camera as a back up.
posted by iamabot at 2:00 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

A knife or small hand gun for protection perhaps?

See what laws apply to bringing weapons across state lines.

Wait, does this apply to zombies?
posted by chillmost at 2:01 PM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: I will have a non-zombie passenger, so all laws that apply to the living likewise apply to me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:02 PM on October 17, 2008

Response by poster: Any suggestions on the SLR camera? It likewise has to be rather rugged.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2008

Make sure you can do all your banking, pay bills, etc without access to a local branch.

The ultimate tiny and versatile survival kit: cellphone & credit card. There are not many problems that can't be solved by getting in touch with the appropriate people and having a shitload of money backing you up.

If you have the extra time and money and are feeling adventurous, it might be more interesting to NOT pack anything, and then only buy/accumulate on the road those things that you discover firsthand that you really can't do without. This saves you packing everything you think you need, when (unbeknownst to you) you're really ever only going to get around to using 10% of it, and thus you end up hauling all that extra crap all around the country, cluttering up your car and constantly getting in the way and making it harder to find/extract the things that you do need and generally just cramping your style - and your lifestyle. Obviously, a few things should be exempt from this (a good first-aid kit, etc etc)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:15 PM on October 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Re: the SLR, I have yet (pound on wood) to go wrong with my Canon Rebel XTI. Get a good padded case with a shoulder-sling & you should be good to go. So far it has worked in urban & nature settings, rain, and survived a few bumps. Moderately priced, and I haven't yet expanded beyond the kit lens & am very happy with the shots I've gotten.
posted by ekstasis23 at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2008

Get a subscription or go buy back issues of the Dwelling Portably zine. If you're going to both live in and be driving your car you need a car that you can convert between a driving machine and a sleeping/camping machine. Think about how to do this. My suggestions

- get a lighter/outlet converter so you can plug in a thing or two [laptop, whatever] and charge them esp when the car is running
- MODULAR - everything goes into a little box with like items. So, you have a room called "kitchen" at home, on the road you have a box called kitchen with food making and prepping and cleaning stuff. You have a plastic tub called "closet" you have another one called "important shit that can't get lost" Each of these can be its own unit. I like milk crates and flip top plastic things that you can see into. Move them from the back to the front seats when you are sleeping
- things that people never remember - clothesline for drying stuff, bug screen for when you're sleeping and it's hot and buggy, trash bags for stuff, containers for food when it goes in the cooler, headlamp, GPS [don't need a fancy one]
- get AAA+, have a cell phone, keep a spare $100 in the car someplace, have basic car tools and equipment (spare fluids, jumper cables, fix a flat) but mostly this is not going to be the major issue. AAA had campbooks which are good for checking ot campgrounds if that's the way you're going.
- have some collapsible stuff like folding chairs, folding laundry basket. You are going to be DYING for a place to sit that is not the car or the tailgate, similarly, don't bring laundry to the laundromat in a trash bag.
- no matter how much you want to rough it, if you are not broke, treat yourself to a hotel room every little while so you can take a serious shower, watch some cable TV and not get up with the sun.
- getting your mail is going to be a big hassle. Think about how you want to do that. The best way is to have someone checking it for you at home. The worst way is to think 'what do I need mail for?" and rthen be a month away from home when you find out.
- similarly make sure your banking and other money matters are set so that they are worked out in advance.

Do you need someone to housesit while you are away? If so, call me. have fun.
posted by jessamyn at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

"The ultimate tiny and versatile survival kit: cellphone & credit card."

Er, sat-phone and credit card, I should say. And a used sat-cell phones costs less than an iphone.

posted by -harlequin- at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2008

Well, I may be biased because it's my new toy, but for always-on connectivity, I'd go for an iPhone/Blackberry/cell-phone-with-real-browser and a data plan. I love my iPhone, simply because it's always just there. Need a map around the neighbourhood? Check. Nearest gas station? Check. Craving chinese food, want a recommendation? Check. Wanna take a quick pic? Check. Plus the obvious usages -- text, email, and of course phone. Jailbreak it, and you can also use it for your laptop connectivity (if you're planning on having a laptop as well, but that might be overkill?).
posted by cgg at 2:26 PM on October 17, 2008

Duct tape
Road flares
A gas can
A tire gauge
Tie-downs, zip-ties, bungee cords, or cable ties
The owner's manual of whatever car you decide on
A Leatherman or similar multi-tool
A lighter
In cold climates, perhaps a bag of sand or kitty litter to get some traction on ice
A can of Fix-A-Flat
A compass
A needle and thread
Insect repellant
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2008

A Swiss Army knife, I favour this one on a size/usefulness balance.
Small shovel.
posted by mandal at 2:33 PM on October 17, 2008

Tire chains. Even if you have 4 wheel drive.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:34 PM on October 17, 2008

Are you planning on staying in hostels and hotels most nights, or camping, or sleeping in your vehicle? If you want to be as self sufficient as possible I would argue that an RV of some sort allows you to do this pretty well, but obviously gas mileage sucks. Question is whether that ends up costing more or less than sleeping in a hostel or hotel every night. Or perhaps you plan to travel from couch to couch, I don't know :)

If you don't want to sleep in your vehicle most nights then I second the suggestion of a Subaru wagon, that's what I would buy for the same thing. The list of stuff already suggested is going to take up lots of trunk space, plus clothes, food etc, which is why I mention the RV. Perhaps you could tell us a little more about your plan?
posted by Joh at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2008

In seriousness, a Subaru Outback or other wagon isn't a bad choice.

I'd agree. I had a mutant hatchback wagon Nissan Sentra for a long time, and it got good mileage, held lots of stuff, and could work as sleeping shelter in a pinch. I missed that when I was a nomad in a Geo Prizm last year.

I'd also eye the Subaru Forrester or something with more vertical space inside, but there's a mileage sacrifice here.

Laptop connect card

I'd suggest a tethering phone instead, unless you know you're going to want to be using the internet and the phone at the same time quite a bit, and even then, some phones can do both.

- getting your mail is going to be a big hassle. Think about how you want to do that. The best way is to have someone checking it for you at home. The worst way is to think 'what do I need mail for?" and rthen be a month away from home when you find out.

Oh heavens yes. In fact, one of the most annoying things about being a nomad is quite possibly that buying things over the Internet and having people ship to you becomes a big deal rather than a convenience, and it's easy to forget how much better the Internet marketplace is than than the local marketplace for many things until you do this.

(and in fact, all of jess's advice is all kinds of awesome.)
posted by weston at 2:46 PM on October 17, 2008

I like Nikon D40/80, but the Canon Digital Rebel XTi series is just fine as well. For the point and shoot I love the Canon SD870 IS.

I didn't think it through, but a GPS that has a drive and walk mode might be better than the Nuvi.

Seconding the solid pocket knife suggestion, I would suggest road tripping with specific scenarios in mind to limit the amount of gear you'll have to carry. The camping every night load out will look different than the state park cabins and cheap motels in the middle of no where load out.

A really great set of books to read in the middle of no where.
A couple rolls of quarters for laundry, road side pop machines.
A set of cards made up with your email address/website printed on them with a phone number on the back for folks you meet on the way.
posted by iamabot at 2:53 PM on October 17, 2008

A good, thick book., preferably one with a variety of material My personal favorite is a literature textbook from college, which has a selection of stories, short stories, essays, poetry and plays. It's a single book, hardcover, so it doesn't take up much space and can be thrown anywhere.

An iPod with enough space for your music and a couple of movies or tv show episodes and a backup iPod battery.

Regular AAA and AA batteries AND rechargeable versions of same, with a charger that has an adapter you can plug into the car and the wall.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:13 PM on October 17, 2008

Maps. Good PAPER maps. They give you the big picture as well as the intimate one. No charging required.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

A tent is always nice - don't miss out on the sweet sweet camping under the stars in this beautiful country.

Regarding laundry - it is amazing how little you can get by with: three tshirts, two pairs of jeans, one pair slacks, one blazer, one dress shirt, underwear, socks, one pair sneakers, one pair dressy shoes - and you can always roll in to the local goodwill and trade and pick up more.
posted by HolyWood at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2008

A small cooler to keep food / perishables / drinks in by your side so you don't drive over a cliff while reaching for it. Motel 6s often have outside ice machines where you can park and fill up your cooler. Keep ice in ZIPLOCK bags, never loose. Have something sour or sugary to pop in your mouth to keep you awake during long stretches.

A water bottle that fits in your car's cup holder to keep you hydrated. Empty, it serves as an emergency pee container.

A small first-aid kit with bandages, aspirin, anti-bacterial ointment. No one likes bleeding on car upholstery.

A journal and a pen to scratch down highlights, lowlifes, directions, suggestions from locals of what to see, eat, stay, and contact info for great people you met along the way. Also write down in the front pages any emergency contact information plus those of family and friends, including addressess and phone numbers. Oh yeah, and your blood type. Just in case.

An extra set of car keys duct taped super securely underneath your car. You can also buy key "safes" that are magnetized and stick to a metal part of your undercarriage.

Buy postcard stamps ahead of time and mail them to yourself wherever your final destination may be. And who doesn't love a postcard from a friend?

Good luck!
posted by HeyAllie at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I borrowed a head torch, based on advice in this question, for my wilderness road trip adventure. Would totally recommend. So, so, so, so SO useful. It leaves you with both hands free in the dark to find stuff in the car, cook things, trek back to camp carrying water, bandage your bearbite, wee in the bushes and so on.

Plus! They come with a sort of on-off-flash setting. I suspect that's meant to be for if you fall over weeing in the bushes while you're getting water and get ravaged by a bear or something. Your co-roadtripper can follow the flashing light to find you, no?

We used them for a campfire disco.
posted by t0astie at 3:46 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Spousal Unit and I have discussed hitting the road for a indefinitely to write and explore, so best of luck to you.

Good stuff so far. I'd include these:

*Fire-starting gear [flint/steel/magnesium, fire piston, etc.]
*Bear bangers (no, no, no, get your mind out of the gutter. I mean these). Get a pack that includes signal flairs. What a drag to have a search team miss you by a few hundred yards because you couldn't get their attention.
*There is also a gps device that will track your whereabouts to a website, so loved-ones or other people concerned about your safety can see where you are. I'm sorry I don't recall the name of the gadget. I'm sure somebody will come along to give it a name.
*Handguns have lots of legal issues in some states but shotguns are almost always OK. Get the shortest legal barrell and stock, not to mention that ammunition stuff.
*Power inverters to run AC stuff, like battery chargers.
*I'd be very interested in getting a mobile broadband subscription, like Verizon's EVDO, for a laptop.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:17 PM on October 17, 2008

It's also worth leaving some stuff with a family member; almost anything can get couriered to you in a real hurry if you need it (including keys). Leaving copies of paperwork (insurance details, DL information, product serial numbers, guarantees, card numbers, etc.) means information is only a phone call away if you lose everything. Same goes for files you might need.

Get some remote storage to back up to while on the road and back up often.

Separate card with a limit that can't hurt you too much to use anywhere you consider dodgy.
posted by mandal at 4:23 PM on October 17, 2008

HeyAllie sez "An extra set of car keys duct taped super securely underneath your car. You can also buy key "safes" that are magnetized and stick to a metal part of your undercarriage."

I would advise against the magnetic key safes, as every single one I've used has eventually fallen off of my car(s). Duct tape is a better way to ensure you'll have it when you need it.
posted by sacrifix at 4:50 PM on October 17, 2008

Depending on how old the vehicle is, you can keep a spare set in the car somewhere and carry around one of those credit card keys.
posted by iamabot at 4:52 PM on October 17, 2008

You don't say whether you're going to stick to (relatively) civilized areas or explore the Yukon Territory. I think that makes a big difference in what you would take with you. If it's mostly civilized, I like harlequin's idea of not taking much of anything and buying what you need on the road.
posted by desjardins at 5:29 PM on October 17, 2008

Lots of good advice already, but: When I attach a key to the underside of my car, I use wire.

Have you noticed that hardcore RVers sometimes tow a little itty-bitty car for local transportation? If I were you, I'd try very hard to make room for a bicycle (folding, or with coupleres, if space is a major issue) or a skateboard or something, both for short-distance transportation and for exercise. If you play a musical instrument that isn't a drumset or a piano or something, I'd try to make room for that, too.
posted by box at 6:13 PM on October 17, 2008

For the car: if you're going to be doing actual off-road driving, a 4wd Toyota or Nissan pickup, probably with a cap. If not, but you'll still want 4wd for icy roads and whatnot, the Subaru and Volvo 4wd wagons are a good call (though it'll be a little harder to find parts and service in small towns and rural areas). If you can do without 4wd entirely, maybe a Camry or Accord wagon, something along those lines.

And I don't think anybody mentioned a fire extinguisher yet. When your car contains a big chunk of your worldly possessions, this is especially important.
posted by box at 6:17 PM on October 17, 2008

Uh, that's couplers, not coupleres, in the bike parenthesis.
posted by box at 6:20 PM on October 17, 2008

As far as build quality of a SLR camera is concerned I'll just say that the further away you are from the "entry level" model of whatever manufacturer you choose, the more durable the camera will be. This should hold true for DSLRs as well. A good camera is actually pretty tough and will handle most things you'll throw at it.

Some kind of online photo storage should be a given for your situation.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:20 PM on October 17, 2008

I wire the keys to the frame under my car. They stay on through anything, although they can be a pain to get off again.

Anyways, I've done some really extended road trips and my advice is not to bring too much stuff. It's a pita to be moving things around all the time and you can always buy things if you find you need them. Bring a good hat, a couple back up sets of polarized sunglasses, small cooler and plastic crates to store stuff.

Subarus are nice but get pretty terrible mileage and you generally have to replace all four tires at once so unless you're going skiing a lot I'd get a front wheel drive.
posted by fshgrl at 6:20 PM on October 17, 2008

trinity8-director: There is also a gps device that will track your whereabouts to a website, so loved-ones or other people concerned about your safety can see where you are.

I think I read about this lately on here. If it's what I'm thinking about, it's called a Spot and looks very cool!
posted by nelvana at 6:22 PM on October 17, 2008

A full container of water, either for drinking in emergencies, or topping up a leaking radiator.

A container of petrol in the boot for those times when it seems there must be a gas station soon, but there isn't.

A couple of rolls of toilet paper.

Plastic grocery bags are ideal for packing things in vehicles: they squish, they occupy very little volume, they're water proof, and you'll be recycling them. I would build up a stock of them for packing and for collecting/disposing of the rubbish you will build up.

Back up your home directory to a usb key on your keyring so that when your car and laptop get stolen, you still have copies of important things that weren't uploaded to the cloud yet.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:36 PM on October 17, 2008

Leaving copies of paperwork (insurance details, DL information, product serial numbers, guarantees, card numbers, etc.) means information is only a phone call away if you lose everything. Same goes for files you might need.
posted by mandal at 6:23 PM

You can email yourself copies of all these documents to an easily accessable online email (hotmail gmal yahoo et all).

First thing that came to my mind is a Volvo wagon. Not as good mileage as the Subaru but a bit more room and every bit as durable, perhaps moreso.

A minivan? Yeah, no one wants to look like Mr. Suburban, but you can 'move about the cabin' in a minivan, a feeling of more space, large windows, more sleeping area.

Obviously the Volvo or minivan is out if you're doing any heavy off-road stuff.

I hadn't thought of the idea of a shotgun rather than a handgun, to eliminate hassles on the road from law enforcement, but I'm glad trinity-8-director did.

How tall are you, how tall is your travel companion? To take into consideration for sleeping in whatever vehicle.

Have fun.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:59 PM on October 17, 2008

I don't know if I could live without my Kindle when I'm traveling these days. Connects -- for free -- to a wireless cell phone network for downloading, has a relatively serviceable onboard web browser, too (in case you're somewhere with expensive pay-for-service internet), and holds a ton of books. Yes, it's pricy but there's an awful lot of stuff on Project Gutenberg... I've been working my way through Dracula and lots of other stuff I never read all the way through and am now!
posted by at 7:36 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gas can
duct tape
9mm gun (or any hand gun)
One of those air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror
Lots of quarters
can opener
Spaghetti O's
Bottle opener
bottled water
hat and gloves
first aid kit
time piece
ziploc baggies
pens and pencils
Bottle of hot sauce
tow chains
emergency phone contacts through your travel area
EZ Pass (or equivalent depending on your area)
Knife , fork, spoon, bowl, plate.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:13 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Corkscrew. Flatwaiter corkscrew tucked somewhere in the vehicle.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:55 PM on October 17, 2008

- I'll ditto the Subaru wagon. A truck with a camper top is also a good option.
- I'll second the Maglite; keep it next to your seat. It's great for when you're looking for a flat camping spot after dark and need to scan the landscape.
- A quick-dry camping towel. You do not want a full-size musty towel spread out over the back seat.
- A super-slim cutting board. (And a knife and can opener, obviously. I keep a backup p-38 can opener in my first aid kit.)
- powdered drink mix (eg, Gatorade). a spice kit.
- baby wipes and/or baby powder. Also, your less-stinky shoes.
- jessamyn's advice about modular is good. I'll add: you will want to keep things clean and know where everything is, so I'd recommend you set up a system that makes sense to you right off the bat, and bring less than you think you need. You will have to touch everything you bring (or every container) about eight times a day, and you will get annoyed with anything you don't really need. Don't bring a bunch of books or art supplies or anything like that unless you're okay with giving them away or having to mail them to yourself at some point. Taking books as an example, I'd bring the one you're reading now. Then, trade it for the next one at some hostel. Etc.
- If you're going for a long time, you'll want one pair of dress-up clothes. This is the trickiest thing to pack, because you have to find something that a) works with your hiking shoes, b) doesn't get wrinkled, c) works for every conceivable dress-up situation from a court date to a job interview to meeting your great aunt at a fancy dinner, d) works at the laundromat [yes, most days you can just wash most of your stuff in the sink, but there will almost definitely still be some laundromat trips]
- Getting mail: Your Name / General Delivery / City, ST ZZIIP. (It's amazing, but it works. It's a hold-over from the days when America was awesome and people built libraries.)
posted by salvia at 10:04 PM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you want a GPS that's good for hiking and driving, you might also consider the Garmin Colorado 400t. It's great for driving, hiking, and geocaching.
posted by kendrak at 10:25 PM on October 17, 2008

Whatever car you get, you should get the service manual on CD. You can fix a ton of car problems with some combination of access to, an Autozone, and basic tools, but having your service manual handy makes this all MUCH easier. The car manufacturers will tell you that this vital info on fixing your car costs $500, but there's usually some guy on Ebay who's willing to accept a much more reasonable fee of about $30.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:58 AM on October 18, 2008

For staying wired, for basic stuff an iPhone or Blackberry, or if you have a laptop, one of these these devices - available through Rogers if you're in Canada, not sure about the US.
posted by perpetualstroll at 7:51 AM on October 18, 2008

Cheetos, pretzels, cookies, pepperoni sticks, potato chips (ruffles w/ ridges)soda pop, microwave popcorn, (don't forget small microwave w/ lighter adapter.)

I'll think of more and post later.

My daughter adds old grocery bags with handles for all the crumbs, wrappers and other trash.
posted by mumstheword at 2:13 PM on October 18, 2008

Google "camping list" for lots of suggestions. A car that gets okay mileage, can be slept in, in a pinch, and carries some cargo means the aforementioned Outback, Toyota RAV4 or Honda CRV.

Pick up a spare cell phone on ebay in case yours breaks.

I think your trip would benefit greatly from an agenda; like visiting a Mefite in every state.
posted by theora55 at 2:46 PM on October 18, 2008

A few essentials for traveling light (in my case, without a car to haul around the small microwave w/ lighter adapter):

- Fewer items of clothing than you think you need--choose the most versatile, sturdy, comfortable things you have. Things you love and won't mind wearing every few days for the next year, if need be. Choose things which can be layered, which you can dress up or down depending on the context. So: a few t-shirts, a few undershirts, hoodies, flannel/long sleeved shirts for layering under t-shirts or on top. Several pairs of pants which you can get dirty. Underwear should be light enough material to wash & dry quickly, in case you don't have laundry access as often as you'd like. Organize socks & unders in mesh laundry bags to keep them separate from the rest of your clothes.
- Towel (quick-dry?), watch, bandana, hat/cap, sunglasses, swimsuit
- Rain jacket, good compressible jacket which won't wrinkle terribly when it's in storage, long underwear, sandals (Chacos, Tevas, others comfortable for walking), waterproof hiking/walking shoes.
- Toothbrush; toothpaste; lotion; Dr. Bronners soap; comb; nail clippers; bandaids; q-tips; chapstick; Diva cup or tampons if sanitation might be an issue; handiwipes are great if you have to go too long between showers; hand sanitizer; earplugs; aspirin; toilet paper!!!; iodine; a few pantiliners for heavy period days, tweezers
- Multi-tool, headlamp, compass, spigot key (which fits faucets on the front wall of convenience stores which have the handle removed), P-38 (or small can opener), all-purpose drain plug for doing laundry in hotel/gas station sinks, tarp (serves as footprint for tent), rope/line, duct tape, sewing kit, trash bags, ziplocks, sharpies, lighter & matches, bug repellent, mace/pepper spray, emergency blanket
- Tupperwear, knife/fork combo, nutritious & high-protein snacks (tamari almonds, dried cranberries, tofurkey/beef jerky, Luna bars, extra water)
- Pen & pencils, journal, books to read, business cards (or another easy way to exchange contact info), camera, cellphone, iPod, whatever's essential & lightweight for you.
- Compact & warm sleeping bag, satchel/daypack, roll-up thermarest mattress has made my life much nicer, but may not be relevant for you at all. Tent & aforementioned tarp as a footprint.
- Maps, atlases, travel guides, etc

If you're careful, all this should weigh in under 25lbs, even without spending much money. Even though you're traveling by car and weight won't be so much of an issue, this is something to keep in the forefront of your mind: you can always accumulate new things; why burden yourself with extra clutter right from the beginning.

I haven't traveled with a tri-band cellphone before (great for crossing borders with), or an immersion heater (& non-conductive mug/thermos), or a collapsible fishing rod, or a sleep sack--or field recording gear, which is my new great lust. But I'm excited to see what happens when I try them out.

Also, be sure you don't have anything that'll get you in trouble if you're stopped. Of course this means drugs, but it also means knives longer than 4" (even kitchen knives count if a cop's feeling unfriendly), pepper spray in Canada...
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:48 PM on October 18, 2008

Pepper spray is illegal in Canada only if it's labelled for use on humans. Bear or Dog spray is perfectly legal, right up until you use it on a human. As a bonus bear spray comes in a much larger dispenser that might actually be useful deterring a determined attacker. Be aware you run the risk of an accidental discharge inside your car though which can be pretty nasty.
posted by Mitheral at 10:21 AM on October 19, 2008

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions, everyone; really appreciated.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:44 PM on October 23, 2008

I'm about to embark on a mobile lifestyle and I'm considering using this mail forwarding service.
posted by SampleSize at 9:14 PM on October 30, 2008

Regarding mail, Earth Class Mail scans your mail online and lets you choose whether to open or shred. I have yet to try their service, since when I left the US I severed all ties with those business who would try to send snail mail to have me do their biddings.

Virtually everything can be done online these days - even from an iPhone or similar device. Libraries almost always have internet access for free - even if you're a guest in the area something can usually be arranged. Just don't look like the homeless guy that creeps everyone around him out (I worked at a library and had the job of kicking a few of those kinds out).

Congratulations on choosing to get away. Keep a good journal - or even a blog, if you have enough internet connectivity :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 4:28 AM on November 10, 2008

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