How to keep sane on a 6 month roadtrip?
May 18, 2012 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Gearing up for a 6 month road-trip in the US. What do I take? Looking for sleeping bag, technology, and other gear recommendations.

I just got my dream job! I'll be spending the next 6 months travelling the US in a van, spending most of my nights camping in all variety of conditions and locations. Work provides the van, the tent, and the camp kitchen. I provide the rest. I've done plenty of road-trips, and done plenty of extended camping, but nothing so broad and extremely extended.

-I have no idea what sleeping bag I might need for this. Is there such a thing as a sleeping bag that will adapt to a variety of temperatures and is bombproof enough to handle nightly use for the next 6 months?

-I have no idea what kind of tech rig to take. I carried a Samsung ruggedized netbook, a Sansa Clip, and an original Nook through South America. I didn't have the van or the amount of tech access I will have here though. My needs will be a bit greater too. I'll need to research upcoming destinations, maintain some financial spreadsheets, manage a duty rota, keep entertained both in the van and out, and Skype. GPS would be nice too. I'm toying with switching to either
~a Toshiba Thrive, a USB Keyboard, and a large USB hard drive.
~the netbook, and a Kindle Fire.
I'm totally open to other rigs to make this whole thing smooth and productive.
What else will make this comfortable/easy/safe? A better sleeping pad? I'm at a loss for what else I need to gear up for this.
posted by piedmont to Travel & Transportation around United States (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If weights not an issue I'd bring a quilt (just a regular cheap feather duvet with covers you can wash) and one of those cushy new Big Agnes inflatable sleeping pads with the square looking baffles. Those things are nice! I did spend two years living in a sleeping bag once and it got pretty gross by the end.99% of the time I kept it open like a quilt anyway because its more comfy for reading and lounging. Sleeping bag liners are only really practical if you sleep motionless or don't mind something winding around your throat during the night.

For cooking get a 2 burner Coleman. Awesome. The only other must have as far as I'm concerned is a tiny.electric hand whisk. From omelettes to lattes you'll use it all the time.

I'd buy nothing up front. Or as little as possible and then add stuff along the way. You'll see people with nifty stuff and want it.
posted by fshgrl at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2012

Metafilter's own Lore is doing something in this vein, and some of his early blog posts talk about how he kitted up the technology in his van.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

A Wiggy's FTRSS bag system adapts to temperature. The Ultralight FTRSS is good pretty much for all of the lower 48. They're very good bags. They're not cheap, though.
posted by DaveP at 2:59 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep everything as light and small as possible. If you treat the van like you have tons of room, you won't have any room soon enough. Having said that, I would get a Doxie scanner to cut down your paper hoarding.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

And bring a real pillow. Totally worth it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:11 PM on May 18, 2012

Seconding the real pillow. I consider it a good use of space, even when spending 5000 miles in my Del Sol.
posted by notsnot at 3:24 PM on May 18, 2012

Check out this blog about a student who made it through grad school while living in a van. He's got tons of tips and tricks.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:58 PM on May 18, 2012

I think comfortable, durable clothes are going to be very important as well. Invest in high quality stuff. Get good undergarments and you can take a lighter sleeping bag. I like Patagonia Capilene, I've had the stuff for 15 years and it looks new. I am so in love with Smartwool socks I want to marry them. I don't have specific recommendations for boots, but buy the best you can afford, with GoreTex and Vibram soles. You can abuse the hell out of this stuff. You want durable gear so you don't have to take as much of it - if you're travelling all the time, no one is going to notice or care if you wear the same outfit several days in a row (change your underwear pls kthnx).

The aforementioned Capilene dries really quickly so you won't have a bunch of wet clothes hanging around growing mildew. On that note, bring some microfiber towels. After showering, hang the towel over your van's side mirror and it's dry before you finish breakfast.
posted by desjardins at 5:06 PM on May 18, 2012

Check out Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog-lots of tool recommendations and mostly higher end stuff.
posted by bartonlong at 6:32 PM on May 18, 2012

Is a cooler included? I would take the time to find a good cooler, where "good" means that it holds enough and does a good job of keeping in the cold. I got a couple of days out of a bag of ice in an ordinary cooler in the desert southwest during the summer. You can probably do better.

Thirding the real pillow.

Hmm, what else is boring but useful. Get an ordinary tarp from a hardware store and a good first-aid kit. If you're in the desert (and maybe even if you're not), always have water. You can get these 2.5 gallon jugs at a Safeway if you don't care about reusable containers. Heavy containers like those are nice because you can throw a couple of them around your tent (along with the cooler, etc.) if you're camping somewhere you can't put in a stake, like a beach.

You'll find out pretty quickly what you'll need on the road, and you'll buy it the next time you're in town.
posted by tss at 8:55 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Besides items for an auto emergency, join AAA (or something similar?) and consider a rescue streamer.

AAA has roadside assistance and more.

If you end up stranded somewhere, the rescue streamer could help you out. The basic model is 25 feet long and costs $30.
posted by maurreen at 12:53 AM on May 19, 2012

In terms of securing the van, I might consider the following: Pay
a mechanic to hide a cut-off switch in the dash somewhere to
make the van harder to steal.

I would also consider getting a truck box and storing your junk in that;
This way you can do a sanity day in the big city or day hike in the woods and know that no one's swiped all your stuff. Sell it (back?) to craigslist when you're done.

Consider paying a cabinetmaker to do a basic big crate / shelf /
counter in the back. This could be your vanagon-style
countertop. As an alternative, a raised bedding area 2-3 feet
high filling the back, with storage underneath. This way you can cook, eat, and sleep in
the van easily and comfortably.

This also alows you to make use of RV type facilities, sleep at walmart/truck stop , etc. You have more flexibility than if you have to end up at a campground / trailhead each night.

* 5 gallon bucket with adapted toilet seat lid.

* In terms of personal security, possibly a rape whistle /
airhorn / electronic barking dog gizmo?

* folding bicycle with mountain bike tires.
A tiny pressure cooker?
* dutch oven for cooking biscuits / cobbler / curry etc when and where campfires are permitted.
* solar shower
* gym membership for access to a real shower?
Or possibly youth hostels.
* one set of nice clothes, to wear on 'days off' when you go
into a city and see a museum, do cultural touristy stuff, so
you can shuck the scruffy backpacker persona and feel clean and groomed.

* USB key with
** scans of your medical records / prescriptions / etc.
** disk image of netbook / docs

large USB hard drive.

You may want off-site backups: the cloud (dropbox), a server at a
webhost / your parents, etc. Otherwise, one thief / van fire and
you're toast.

A Lonely Planet Guide to Eastern/Western/etc. US, as paper or ebook. Plan in a few culture days in the big city.

The aforementioned Capilene dries really quickly so you won't have a bunch of wet clothes hanging around growing mildew.
Wool doesn't get as stinky as quickly as most synthetics.

A camp chair with a back?

I would get a mesh bag or two for dirty clothes and a plastic washing up bucket.

Dr. Bronner's soap for dishes, body, clothes.

Googling 'basic car kit' gives:
• Jumper Cables
• First Aid Kit
• Water
• Tools
• Duct Tape
• Oil
• Coolant
• Spare Fuses
• Fix-a-Flat
• Flashlight
• Road Flares
• Fire Extinguisher
• Gloves
• Ice Scraper
• Money
• Chain or tow strap

to which I would add
•'the haynes repair guide for your van' and
•'basic auto repair: how to fix a tire, etc'

It might be sensible to google "Van Model x: problems / owners forum" to know what you have to keep an eye on.

I would suggest a decent hobby: welsh lovespoon / netsuke
carving kit, penny whistle / harmonica / travel guitar from REI, watercolor
sketching setup
(or sketchbook), intro geology textbook and road side geology book,
camera, birders' guide and binoculars, a book on how to knit. Or a fly fishing kit.
You may want to something to do on camp days when it's pissing down out, and you don't want to consume media / read hard books / read fluff.

If you end up stranded somewhere, the rescue streamer could help you out.
or a cb radio?
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:21 AM on May 19, 2012

Websites like have great gear rating systems, almost everything has been 'peer reviewed.' That might help you narrow down your choices, then look at for last year's gear at waaay better prices. is a community of people who travel or host travelers for free. Once you have an itinerary of sorts you can plan ahead, put out some feelers on the website and arrange to stay with someone here and there giving you a full kitchen to use, a hot shower, a home to sleep in, etc. It's also a great way to learn from a local the surrounding area.

Out in the western US the daytime high is often very different from the nighttime high, meaning big swings to a colder temperature at night. So perhaps a bag that is warm enough for the cold nights and comfy enough to sleep on top of for the warmer nights. Sometimes a tent is just too hot- A bivvy sack can be just a simple net you put up to keep the bugs out, for those warmer nights, or a nice framed unit that serves as a mini tent. If they are buying you the tent, you could consider a bivvy tent- warm when you want it, completely stripped down to the net when you need air. If you like a tent with room to sprawl, then disregard.

Sleeping mat- they are not all equal. I recommend the NeoAir by Therm-a-Rest. Hands down the finest quality and most comfortable mat I've purchased. I can stand on it and not touch the ground beneath which means when I sleep on my side, neither my hip nor shoulder touch the ground either. It's flattens and rolls into a stuff sack.

BTW, what kind of job is this? If you make it through Northern Arizona and need a kitchen/shower/beer/couch just PM me.

Good Luck : )
posted by MansRiot at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2012

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