Tips for year of US travel before moving to Europe
September 25, 2017 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Howdy. This was me. I have decided that I am going to move to Europe but I've never traveled much in the US. So I am considering taking 6 to 12 months to travel around the US while continuing my modest amount of freelancing. Have you done this? Got any advice?

I have friends spread out all over and MetaFilter strangers whom I would love to meet as I have come to adore them based on their posts and commentaries. As I can't afford to live in the SF Bay Area, I have to move in any case. So I'm thinking about hopscotching around the country, by train and plane, to visit family, friends, and perhaps a few strangers until I get to the East Coast and head over to Europe.

This cross-country thing is new to me, and I've never lived out of a suitcase for more than four weeks. Still, I do have some regular, if modest, freelance writing and editing work that I can do from anywhere that has Internet access.

Snowflakes: I'm a gregarious introvert who needs alone time. I love meeting strangers. I attend Al-Anon meetings wherever I go. I want to be a good guest and usually the folks I stay with consider me a good guest.

Is traveling like this a crazy idea? I'm 61, have never traveled cross-country, and don't expect to live again in the US after I relocate (although I do plan to visit annually as my health and finances allow). I both want to do it and am afraid of doing it. I'm worried about being lonely, but I'm plenty lonely already. So if I do this, what should I avoid? What should I seek out? How can I feel like I'm at home when I don't actually have a home? Is there a relatively easy way for an ADHD-addled gal to create structure for herself while on the road?

Please give me anything and everything you've got, including how to travel and thrive on the cheap. Thanks, hive mind!
posted by Bella Donna to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I, for one, think you are awesome for taking the leap! (and you're so right about the Bay Area.... love it, but... Ugh.)

If you're outdoorsy at all, hit up the national parks, especially the ones out West if you haven't been to them.

I would LOVE to do one of those open ended tickets on a train where you just get on/off as you please. It would be awesome to do so with a sleeper car but that is pretty expensive so I'd do it in the open seating area... the seats are comfy and recline.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Before you set out plans for storage/accommodation for anything you want to leave behind before finally moving, I can't recommend doing the Konmari method with your house enough. In a nutshell, you reduce your possessions to those which are helping you live the life you want now. I live in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong and it's been the one thing more than anything else that has helped me adapt to living in a necessarily smaller space. The book is...not really in the same genre as other organizing books you may have read before; more respect for the reader and for the reasons they need to tidy, no shaming about what a bad person you are. Give it a go! The original book is all you need.
posted by mdonley at 7:34 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about sleeping in a tent? Do you have a car? Your question gets a lot harder if you won't have a car. It gets much easier if you are considering some sort of RV / camper.

Back in 1996 I did a 2-3 month road trip around the US when I was 23, about to start graduate school. I did it alone in my own car. It was fantastic, one of the best times in my life. I fell into a rhythm of 3-4 days camping out / being in the wilderness, then 3-4 days in a city or town, generally where I knew someone at least well enough to meet up. I liked the mix of being alone and having some company. I liked the mix of roughing it and then going somewhere nice for a few days of civilization.

Camping is very cheap. A National Parks pass for a year is $80 ($20 if you are 62 and over). National forest and BLM land is generally free to camp in, with specific local restrictions, although you'll generally want to pitch tent in a designated camping area. Food is less cheap, although you can always buy food at a grocery store and make do with cooking.

Emotionally, I've found I feel "at home" almost anywhere when I can have a couple of quiet hours with my laptop and an Internet connection. (It was not like that in 1996!) On a longer trip it also helps a lot to have comfortable homey places where you feel you can just settle in for a few days or week and do not much of anything. A friend's place, or a good hotel.
posted by Nelson at 1:33 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Go for it! There are online communities for modern-day and digital nomads that you can get hooked up with. 6-12 months = seasonal clothing changes, which means either having a car to carry extra stuff, or swinging back around wherever you have stored items.

A car also enables access to cheaper/free camping (my parents have a comfy set up with a combo of cots and self-indulgent camping pads; I have a power inverter that plugs into my car's no-longer-a-cigarette-lighter that powers the pump for my air mattress; if car camping, a larger tent where you have space to easily change clothing or not get stir crazy if it's raining can be nice). On the other hand, traveling in your own car is more isolating: you meet more people and get a better sense of actual cultural variation using mass transit methods. (Steinbeck's reflection on this in his memoir "Travels With Charlie" is quite accurate, in my experience.)

(I definitely recommend a National Parks Pass. NPS campgrounds (for tenting - many are not set up for RVing) are cheaper in general, but often don't have showers. State parks tend to cost a little more, but many states have absolutely lovely state parks with decent showers. There are truck stop showers too... I've never used one so can't comment on their general cleanliness or anything.)

For non-camping options, there are some decent hostels around various cities, too. (Especially the one I stayed at in Memphis - that was one of the best hostels!) Also, some universities open up campus housing to non-university-affiliated short-term guests in the summers, which can be a less expensive option than hotels. Plus staying with friends. If you travel by train or bus, your choice of lodging may depend on how well you, personally, can sleep in a standard train or bus seat. I think that is still a thing, too?

In general, figure out what you can afford to spend per day or per week, how much time you need to spend working and what you need for work space and internet, and figure out a budget. Also figure out what comforts you need, and try to figure out what makes you feel grounded/at home/secure, so that you can reproduce that when you need to recharge. (Eg., for me, that's having my own vehicle as both space and transportation that I am in control of on extended trips, or alternating a couple days with my own private room somewhere for every couple days travel or staying on couches.) Then make a rough plan that has room for side trips, weather, etc. For budgeting, tickets or gas for your own vehicle cost money. Shorter stays tend to cost more than longer stays. Having multiple non-traveling days in a row may be more conducive to getting work done. Some friends are great hosts for a low key week (or more) long visit where everyone goes off and gets work done during the days; other friends are more high energy hosts who will want to hang out or entertain you as much as possible (which can be fun, but not much work will get done). (Of course, I always try to contribute to groceries and housework when I visit people, as I imagine you would too!) Cooking your own food is cheaper than eating out, though trickier when traveling by train or bus. For car travel, you can get fancy powered coolers, or buy a small bag of ice every third day (in cooler weather) or more frequently (eg. traveling through the southern half of the US during the summer).
posted by eviemath at 5:11 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 for camping. You won't be lonely in a campground. There are plenty of people in your age group doing exactly the same thing, traveling around the country from campground to campground. Mostly in RVs but it won't matter. They will be happy to talk to you.

I just went on a lengthy solo road trip (3700 miles: Wisconsin to Wyoming, south to Colorado, back to Wisconsin) and camped (in a tent) almost all the way. There is a structure and ritual to camping as you set up and take down. I didn't really have time to get lonely because I was almost always doing something when I was awake. I gained a lot of self-confidence in my resilience and self-sufficiency.Hiking, if you're physically able, is probably great for someone with ADHD because there's always stimulation. For example, in much of the West you have to stay alert for bears!

I would break down what exactly you're afraid of and make a plan to address each thing. If it's finances, figure out a budget. If it's safety, develop a plan. There are things you can do to prepare yourself for many situations but your primary resource is flexibility. There will be thunderstorms that delay you, you'll lose things, your GPS will lead you down a one-lane dirt road in remote Colorado (thanks, Google). But in all likelihood you will be fine.

If you have any solo camping questions feel free to email me!
posted by AFABulous at 7:09 PM on September 26, 2017

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