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Road Life 101

Do you follow the Van Life blog? What about Foster Huntington’s photo book, Home Is Where You Park It? You might have even supported his Kickstarter. Did you bookmark that episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous featuring climber Alex Honnold’s Ford Econoline E150? Or do you find yourself sometimes (just occasionally) cyber-stalking your friend’s cousin’s buddy’s Instagram feed? You know, the one that lives out of the back of his pickup so he can park and huck waterfalls full-time?

It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a restless spirit, a modern day gypsy-at-heart, a wandering soul stuck between four walls with a fire in your belly and an itch you can’t scratch. There’s something about a life on the road that doesn’t just speak to you—it kicks and screams, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to shut out. It’s telling you to just say, “screw it,” pack the car, and hit the road.

My job here is to tell you one thing: do it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing easy about a wayfaring lifestyle. Logistics you ordinarily would never think twice of, like where you’re going to sleep, when/if you’re going to shower, become the uncertainties of your day. Finding a good cup of coffee or doing a load of laundry can morph from a simple chore into an all-day mission.

For an unprepared road warrior, it won’t take long before you find yourself stranded with a flat tire in a cell phone dead zone with no food and no plan B. It’s moments like these that can make or break a rookie roadie. That’s why it’s important to consider the following ten things before you give up your place for good and embrace the open road.

1. Find a set of wheels. Bigger is not necessarily better. The key here is finding a vehicle that’s reliable. It’s not enough anymore that the third-owner beater you bought for $700 off Craigslist can get you from point A to point B—this thing has to be your home. Staple mobile pads of the dirtbag world include Toyota Tacomas, Chevy Astro vans, and even Subaru Outbacks, but I’ve had friends who have lived out of something as small as a two-door sedan. There’s no one best vehicle for this kind of thing, but just be mindful that, yes, the larger the automobile, the more space you’ll have. But on the flip side, you’ll also be spending more time at the pump wondering where those hard-earned dollars went.

2. Have a buffer fund. You don’t touch it, you don’t even look at it unless you really need to, but it’s nice to have a separate fund for when SHTF (sh*t hits the fan). Maybe it’s a flat tire, a dead alternator, new brakes, or a hotel room for the night. Whatever the emergency, it’s a good idea to have some money already set aside to take care of it.

3. Purge your belongings. Twice. The reality of living on the road is that you’re never more than a day’s drive from anything you might need. Consequently, you don’t really need much. A few pairs of clothes, snacks for the road, the gear you need to go outside and play. The less you have, the less you’re at risk of losing or having stolen. That being said, sometimes it’s nice to have stuff like coffee cups and Christmas lights to make your vehicle feel less like transportation and more like home.

4. Use your network. It’s a fact—former roadies help current ones. It’s like an unspoken code. Chances are, you know more people than you think you do, too. One connection, no matter how far removed, can be a saving grace when you find yourself in a pickle.

5. Don’t contribute to the dirtbag stereotype. Showers are not that hard to come by. If you’re really out there, a lake or river will suffice. Just make an attempt, and brush your hair. It’s one thing to look like you’re living out of your car. It’s another to look relatively “normal” and surprise people when you respond with where you’re from. Don’t just bum things off your friends either. Make an effort to hang out, buy a round of drinks, or offer to cook meals if you’re couch surfing for a night or six.

6. Learn to cook. Eventually you will get tired of eating out every single day. If you don’t, your wallet surely will.

7. Go the extra mile to stay organized. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to lose things even in such a confined space—headlamps, wallets, rogue pairs of socks. Those things fit perfectly in between the seats. The less junk you have floating around, the more likely you’ll be able to find it when you need it. Have a bag always packed with the essentials for a night of couch surfing—some clean clothes, a toothbrush, maybe even a little deodorant. Everything else should be packed away into storage bins—one for camping gear, one for shoes, one for climbing ropes. You get the picture. Find your system and stick with it.

8. Take the scenic route. The hare never won the race. Quick and easy might be quick and easy, but realistically, how authentic of a Sunday driving experience are you going to get blasting down I-40? Take backcountry roads and you could be rewarded with off-the-beaten-path overlooks, hole-in-the-wall diners, and some downright bizarre sights.

9. Bring an atlas. Always. Your smartphone doesn’t work everywhere. Don’t rely on that beeping blue beacon to get you anywhere.

10. Carry cash. You might find it surprising how many places don’t accept anything rectangular and plastic. The last thing you want is to end up at a campground in the middle of nowhere and have the host tell you the nearest ATM is 30 miles back in the direction you just came from.

–Follow more of Jess’s travels at

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