Lessons From a Road Trip, by Richard T.

In April of this year we made a road trip from our home near the upper Mississippi River to the southern tip of Florida. In a previous article I covered navigation, communications (between driver and passenger), and maneuvering in traffic on that trip. This article is about other aspects of the same trip and what worked, and what didn’t.

This trip had a two-fold purpose, to make a visit and to deliver cargo. Late the night before we were going to leave we decided to take the truck instead of the car as we needed the room for the cargo, to recline the seats to sleep in the cab and to take some gear to camp out. This would give us more flexibility to pull over anywhere and save money on motel rent. We would then have room to also take our bicycles. I also took a tote full of tarps that I wanted to donate in the vicinity of tornadoes that had been occurring along the route we were going to take. As we already had the car packed, this delayed our trip by one day.

We made a checklist to assure that we weren’t taking too much, but to also have enough to avoid making a lot of stops. In the spring of 2023 there were concerns over a possible banking collapse, devastating weather, civil unrest, the likelihood of fuel shortages, economic collapse and of course war. We did not prepare for any of that, in fact, quite the opposite. We took whatever we needed for our basic needs and would trust that whatever we needed from the infrastructure would be there when we needed it.

In the morning when we were to leave I turned the key to start the truck to defrost the windshield as temperatures dipped below freezing overnight, but the one-year old battery was dead. So dead that the solenoid wouldn’t click. After the lithium battery pack couldn’t get it going I jumped it with the car for several minutes. Lesson learned is to always have at least two different ways of charging a dead battery, and secondly hunt down the cause of the vampire voltage leak. Finally, after at least an hour, we were on the road.

We packed clothes for a variety of weather changes, but not a lot. If we needed something we didn’t have we could visit a second-hand store. That did happen when a pair of shorts had belt loops too small for the one belt I took with. We took only enough good clothes for one night out on the town and some throwaway clothes that we could discard, which saved us time and money at the laundromat and room in our luggage. We used duffel-style bags that had a larger central cargo compartment and smaller side and front pouches that sat behind the front seats on the floor. Instead of folding the clothes, we rolled them, which not only saves space, but makes everything easier to locate, and they don’t get wrinkled. We shared a fishnet-style laundry bag that stayed in the bed of the truck. Raincoats had to be in a location easily accessible so we draped them across the headrest of the back seat, but we never needed them. At a motel we do not carry all our luggage in, just a small bag containing toiletries and what we need overnight.

Organization and tidiness is of utmost importance. Our truck has a locking center console in which we kept our valuables. In the passenger’s side of the cab we keep the current paper map in the pocket of the door or in the cubby hole in the center console where it can easily be accessed immediately. We also keep a magnifying glass close at hand along with all the other maps and atlas’ in a bag in the backseat right behind the center console. We keep a logbook of daily mileage, fuel stops, and travel notes and a small pouch for receipts in the driver’s side door. Flashlights, sunglasses, keys all have their place. A basic toolbox and support equipment is always in the truck.

We of course had out-of-state license plates, but we do not decorate our vehicle with any bumper stickers of any sort which only serve the purpose of identifying us with a cause. Even though the rear windows are darkened, we keep any clues of being a visitor as well hidden as possible; nothing in the dashboard, piles of luggage, etc. We did not travel with a lot of cash or with firearms, although we had considered taking enough cash to cover all our traveling expenses in the event of a banking collapse. But then theft would be a concern, so we did take some cash, but not much. At the end of this 13-day cross-country journey we had spent a total of $1.82 in cash. All other expenditures were on credit cards and the balance is always paid off in full every month.

We did not eat out at all on the road. For breakfast, we knew where to get good coffee and we brought granola, fruit juices, fresh and dried fruits and nuts. For lunch the first day on the road we had sandwiches and leftovers from home for dinner. When we stayed at motels a couple of nights we brought microwave whole grain dinners and in the morning took our fill of any provided breakfast offerings. In the cab of the truck we always had water bottles in the center console.

We kept all of the food that we took with us in either paper bags or cardboard boxes that could easily be discarded in recycling dumpsters We had three soft-sided coolers. A large one was fitted inside of another slightly larger cooler which was for things like hard-boiled eggs, cheese, sandwich meats, vegetables and salad mixes we made. The small one was just big enough to hold about 8 frozen water bottles which we transferred to the larger cooler as room allowed and refroze them at our destination and drank them when they thawed out on the way home. We do not take anything that requires 40 degrees F or cooler.

Dried goods consisted of self-opening cans like kippers and sardines, or jars of pickled vegetables, peanut butter, and crackers, bread and anything else that could be eaten without any preparation. Utensils and napkins were all disposable. The only stove we took was a backpacking butane stove which we used only once to make coffee. We could’ve done without it. A good idea was using an empty white vinegar plastic jug for drinking water which could also be recycled. This was beside the bottled water we had with us in the cab.

On the road there and back we spent only one night in the truck and the rest were in motels as it was chilly and not that easy to find a place to pull over. The one night sleeping in the reclined seats of the truck cab was behind a truck stop along with about 30 semi trucks. It would’ve been very uncomfortable if not for the rain visors on all four windows that allowed ventilation and would keep rain out had it rained.

At our destination in Miami we stayed at our host’s apartment for several days except for one day and night visiting Key West. For that we took an “instant” tent with attached poles (that we once set up in a few minutes in the dark) an air mattress and pump, sleeping bags, and urinals. Campgrounds everywhere were filled to capacity as it was during Easter spring break. That graveled campsite was a 20’ x 25’ for over $100 and was the only one available. It was too small for our truck, the picnic table and the tent so we inflated the air mattress and slept in the bed of the truck. Because this was a crew cab truck the bed of the truck was not long enough for the mattress unless the tailgate was down, so we slept in the open air. The mattress was one that we hadn’t used or tested in years and was 90% deflated sometime in the middle of the night.

I was only going to take the bikes if I could get them inside of the bed of the truck which kept them safe from theft. I was able to do this by removing the front tires so they could fit height and length-wise parallel to the axles in the back (which is towards the front of the truck) of the bed of the truck. The only way to get them in or out would be to remove everything else, which we had done after delivering the cargo and unpacking there for our stay. It was a good decision to take them and made the visit in Miami so much more enjoyable; big cities are so congested that transportation is best with either two wheels or two legs and you can go places that you can’t get to in a vehicle. We spent a day biking in the city, along the beach and another in one of the Keys. We wore hydration backpacks for water and snacks.

I did consider taking fuel containers but decided against it. Yes there could’ve been fuel shortages, and there were afterward where we had traveled due to severe storm flooding, but for us keeping fueled up was more practical. We learned to not shop for the best price as a lot of stations would display a price per gallon a dime cheaper than the one across the intersection. But that’s the cash price and you have to go inside to pay and sometimes they don’t want to give you change. Just charge it, it’s worth the extra dime.

About that tote of tarps, I was going to drop those off at a donation center for tornado relief in Georgia but due to traffic we took a different route and they came with us to Miami. On our way home we stopped at a Goodwill store in Homestead Florida and donated them there. Shortly after we got home we heard on the news of violent storms devastating homes and roofs there. Hopefully, they were found and made good use of there.