South is Where the Birds Go
December 28, 2011 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Car, sleeping bag, gas money, no plan, vague destination. How many ways can I fail?

I'm sick of the cold. I leave Philly tomorrow to go south down the coast with the goal of eventually ending up in Florida. I'm trying to avoid hotels(money), night driving(painful), and a sore bum(self-explanatory).

I assume I will be eating lots of PB&J and ramen(if I can find hot water). I have no idea where I will sleep. I guess find some nice quiet spot and curl up in the back of my car. I got myself some AAA last night.

I guess my question now is, have I missed anything obvious?

Also, is there any decent ways of bumming meals with a little work? Maybe even a couple hours work for a little cash. I'm an excellent dishwasher(and proud of it?), but I doubt that helps much.
posted by Folk to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard many a rumor the WalMart parking lots are friendly to RV overnighters. Not sure how that translates to sleeping in a car, but it might be worth looking into.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:17 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bring some blankets and catch some z's at rest stops. It's probably going to be cold as far south as Atlanta. We do the curl up in the back of the car thing regularly, having found hotels an unnecessary expense.
posted by tully_monster at 8:17 PM on December 28, 2011

Sounds like great fun. Bring warm socks and a hat, they'll keep you warmer at night. Be sure to get out of the car and walk around often. In the NW rest areas are often manned by volunteers, they'll have hot water available. Walmart is a great suggestion for parking lot camping.
posted by jennstra at 8:23 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just make sure you lock your doors and crack the window a tiny bit!
posted by melizabeth at 8:25 PM on December 28, 2011

For the record, since I cant seem to be bothered using the search bar, this question has much relevant advice:
posted by Folk at 8:27 PM on December 28, 2011

Random thoughts:

Bring lots of filled water bottles so you never have to shell out for water.

I like baby carrots dipped in peanut butter. A bag of baby carrots costs about a buck and is a nice side with a PB&J. Plus, they're easy to eat while you're driving.

Philly is a trek from Florida. If you are trying to escape the cold, PLEASE plan for a cold night in your car in a sleeping bag on the way. Can you shell out for and bring some hot hands hand warmers? Can you bum a heated car seat from a friend (one that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter)? I would plan to bring gloves and a warm hat, definitely. I'm in Richmond and it's in the low 30's here tonight, so your first night in the car will still be chilly if you stop on the way overnight. (I understand how suffering through a cold night would make sunny warm Florida all the better when you finally reach there, but still plan for what you would need if you were tent camping.)

This is a crazy thought I just had, but if you are fit and willing to do cleaning or other labor, you might be able to stop by a volunteer fire squad. They typically make big batches of food for the volunteers there, and often have people donate food to them (especially at the holidays). You might be able to stop in and ask if you can help them with something for a couple of hours in exchange for a meal. (Not sure of the liability there, but you could clean a fire engine or even help in the kitchen or something.)
posted by shortyJBot at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2011 seems to have some good locations for sleeping.

As for hot water, a little gas stove is a beautiful thing on a car trip.

PB&J plus ramen plus sitting are a recipe for constipation, ymmv. By a bag of apples and/or oranges to eat while driving.
posted by the fish at 8:30 PM on December 28, 2011

Dude. Dude. Duuuude. Don't bum meals, man.

If anything, plan to take the really horrible jobs in order to have that kind of freedom. Otherwise, a flat tire, a medical many things could make your life seriously miserable in a split second.
Look at factory jobs, fast food, the mucky jobs at farms...anything. Even your dishwasher gig might help you out in a tight spot.

In this economy (whether it's real or perceived in the places you end up in), looking to bum meals off of people who are probably already in a tight spot is rather selfish and therefore shitty for those people.

I'm all for taking extended car trips, but don't just plan to drive off with some gas and "probably ramen" in your sights. Have your dream of riding off into the sunset, but also plan to work like a dog when you have half the chance.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:38 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, seconding shortyJBot. Do NOT become that person who goes "I'll be fine!" and dies in their car due to some freak snowstorm and no heat.
Also, have you told anyone where you're going, just in case? Plan to check in with that person or persons periodically (once or twice a week perhaps) just in case you get stuck somewhere.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:40 PM on December 28, 2011

Before you go, stop at a dollar store to load up on food. For the price of a few gallons of gas, you can get a huge amount of bottled water/juice, granola bars, canned nuts, candy, even bread. It's not super healthy eating in the long term, but it'll get you down the road without constantly worrying where your next meal will come from. Some items you can even trade or share. Good luck...
posted by mochapickle at 8:51 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Go into a bookstore. Find a couple of the survival books. Look over the lists of things you need in a survival kit. This isn't paranoia; some of it is really simple, cheap stuff that will have immediate value even in an urban environment.

Also, DisreputableDog is absolutely right. Be ready to work like a dog.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:53 PM on December 28, 2011

Have you tried We have spent many nights on the couches of strangers rather than sleeping in the car. Sometimes you just need a bed and a shower.

You might consider signing up, you sound like a fun surfer to host for a night.
posted by Saminal at 9:00 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent a night in my car outside a gas station in NM with a full-length heavy coat pulled over my head until the place opened. Nothing happened, but it's not something I want to repeat.
posted by brujita at 9:05 PM on December 28, 2011

Both Fred Meyer and Walmart are often overnight parking friendly and also have the bonus of plug ins and good bathrooms. Further, if it's on the cold side you can walk around inside and keep warm - also these are the cheapest places to get food or extra warm stuff if needed. You will run into soup kitchens along the way if you are really short on change for food but keep in mind that you shouldn't really take advantage of these unless you are truly in need rather than just cheap - not saying your cheap - just sayin. Most people can tolerate just as much as they fancy so I'd say give it hard for the first couple of days and get as far south as you can.

I have done a ton of independent traveling and never had problems meeting people along the way. Many took very good care of me and I tried to repay them by helping out where I could i.e. cleaning, walking the dog etc etc.

You've got the idea with high protein non perishable goods such as Peanut butter. Large towns with sandwich stores often sell their stuff off very cheaply at the end of the day so look for food in business areas at the end of the business day. A single apple, orange or banana is very cheap - cheaper than ramen noodles so let yourself eat healthy and don't get tricked in the pop culture belief of poverty and college related diets when for very little money you can easily sustain yourself with a decent diet that will go a long way to making you feel well and keep you alert whilst driving.

As a single person you can get by with very little for quite a while. Don't forget to brush your teeth - bad teeth lead to problems and may cause you a lot more hassle than you think.

It's a shame you aren't closer as I have a bunch of small soaps and lotions I could donate to your cause.
posted by YukonQuirm at 9:34 PM on December 28, 2011

I agree with the camp stove idea. For me, a hot meal can be the difference between misery and happiness, especially at this time of the year. It's really not that expensive and the fuel lasts for a long time.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:53 PM on December 28, 2011

Hate to say this, but many grocery stores throw lots of perfectly good produce away simply because it's not visually presentable.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:04 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

For food, many things can be rehydrated with the hot water available free at gas stations. Back when I did this kind of thing, they were selling black bean and curry lentil soup mixes for like 60 cents a pound. That can make you a LOT of food.

What you're missing is that Florida and the entire east coast sucks for this sort of thing, and the west and southwest is where it's at. My worst hitching/camping experiences were in Northern Florida. / hater

The key to car camping is avoiding the bright parking lot lights.
posted by salvia at 10:50 PM on December 28, 2011

I've driven on long road trips many times.

Since you're an AAA member, go to a AAA storefront, and pick up some *physical* maps of the states you want to travel through. Plus guidebooks. They should either be free, or a nominal cost. You may never need them, but if you do, they can be a lifesaver. Or at least a frustration saver.

Also, it might be worth it to save up some dough and rent a hotel room once in a while, so that you can sleep in a real bed, and take a long soaking bath in a real bathtub. I've slept in my car many times, and it wasn't that comfortable for me - and I was a 5'0", 100 lb. woman at the time.

Make some mixtapes/mix CDs of music you really REALLY like, it makes the time go that much faster. Bring your own travel mug for coffee/tea, some coffee shops give discounts if you have your own mug, and some places (like WA State) have rest stops where you can get free coffee/tea. Having your own mug makes it much easier to travel with.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:05 PM on December 28, 2011

Take your car to a mechanic for a pre-flight check-up.

AAA can also help you plan a route-- nobody's going to make you follow it, but they'll have some region-specific maps.

Don't forget your chargers for your phone and any other appliances you're taking. Check your plan to make sure you can afford to roam down I-95. Actually, here's a book about strange stuff to see on I-95. for the occasional treat.

Bring books and some kind of reading lamp (headlamp works) and batteries.

BYO TP-- sometimes rest areas are undermanned, understocked, undermaintained. Hand sanitizer too.

Use the internets to presearch for some radio stations, e.g. if you're an NPR fanatic, make a list of stations in towns you may pass.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:32 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many churches close their parking lots and are happy to let you stay if you ask.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:34 AM on December 29, 2011

How about getting a battery operated carbon-monoxide detector for your car? No one plans to sleep with the engine running but on the chance that a short rest stop turns into an unplanned nap it might be a good investment. Have a blast I envy you.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

A single apple, orange or banana is very cheap - cheaper than ramen noodles so let yourself eat healthy and don't get tricked in the pop culture belief of poverty and college related diets when for very little money you can easily sustain yourself with a decent diet that will go a long way to making you feel well and keep you alert whilst driving.

Just emphasizing this. Don't fall into the "cheap road food means garbage food" trap; it's absolutely not true. Buy some cheese, fruit (bananas are perfect), veggies (green peppers have more Vitamin C per ounce than oranges and are neater in the car), whole wheat bread or tortillas, pb and mustard and you're set for days at very little cost. I once traveled for a week on $15 worth of groceries. If you do the ramen thing, always cut up some real food (again, green peppers!) and drop it into the hot water for a minute at the end. Ramen itself is a shitty meal that won't do you much good in the long run.
posted by mediareport at 6:43 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it hasn't been said already its freezing-ass cold in North Florida so head for Orlando or south. Also Key West used to be a great place to bum around.
posted by JXBeach at 7:03 AM on December 29, 2011

If your eyes feel tired, pull over and stop for a quick nap. This may happen regardless of whether or not you're tired, and caffeine will NOT help.

If you run out of cash and all else fails, you can always make a sign with a piece of cardboard and a sharpie. Back in my hippie days we called it the Hobo Credit Card. "Broke and need money so I can leave town. God Bless" always seemed to work. The "God Bless" part is important. Stand next to an on-ramp.

Keep a journal. I wish I'd done this.

Stop in weird places and points of interest. Why not?

Doesn't sound like you're in a hurry, so don't speed. Why risk it?

Do as much basic car maintenance as you can before you leave. Fill up tired. Have a working spare. Check/change fluids : with a good Chilton's manual, you should be able to do this yourself.

Take pictures. Wish I did that.

Dumpster dive outside of bakeries and bagel shops. Or hell, just drop by at the end of the day and ask them for food. They usually have a ton of stuff that would otherwise need to be thrown out. Supermarkets used to be good for dumpster diving, but this may have changed.

Don't mouth off to cops, they have no sense of humor.

Salvation army isn't glamorous, but they're usually good for a free meal. Also, I remember some organizations (possibly salvation army?) would give you gas vouchers if you were stuck somewhere.

Try Seems to be all the rage these days, wasn't an option back when I was on the road.

Don't look like a hippie, and if you have long hair, keep it hidden, even when you're driving. Rednecks suck.

Slow down when you go through small towns. Lots of them are speed traps with easily-missed speed limit signs. Seriously, I've seen speed limits go from 65 to 40 in less than a mile :(

Be nice to your travel companions, if you have them.

Scan the local radio. Sometimes rednecky places have good bluegrass stations.

Eat light meals, snack frequently, don't eat anything that'll give you gas or the shits.

If your car makes a funny noise, pull over.

Sing while you're driving. Nobody can hear you, and it's fun.

Talk to strangers and locals and people who work in diners and gas stations. They're usually nicer than you'd expect, and will sometimes help you in unexpected ways.

And most of all, have fun! The American Road Trip is a lovely and venerable institution, and it will treat you right if you treat it right.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:27 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

(fill up tired == fill up tires)
posted by Afroblanco at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2011

Oh, and here's a gross (but effective) trick for staying warm. Hopefully it won't come to this. But if you need to pee in the middle of the night, you can pee in a bottle and use the bottle to keep your feet warm. Just make sure to seal it tight :)

Sorry, told you it'd be gross.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2011

Stock up on some nonperishable, nutritious bulk food like nuts and dried fruit. To fill you up, grains/carbs in addition to ramen that can cook in just a cup of hot water include couscous, instant oatmeal, and cornmeal. Add a good-sized container of salt and of pepper to your stash. Nthing to fill jugs of water for drinking water.

Note that rest stops south of Maryland are very, very limited compared to those farther north -- they're not necessarily open all night, and often consist of nothing more than bathrooms and a vending machine.

At some point, you'll probably get awoken by a cop who tells you to move along. Don't argue, and have an ordinary-sounding explanation ready for why you're sleeping in your car with ordinary-sounding answers for a couple of nosy questions. You're a student at [what university?] driving down to [what town?] to visit [name of relative/friend?] for a couple of weeks. You got groggy, so you just pulled over to take a hour's nap. Yep, you've got maps and stuff, and yep, you're fine to drive now, thanks.
posted by desuetude at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2011

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