SRT RSS Feed

10 Tips for a Fearless Solo Road Trip

If you begin “My son and I began our first solo road trip…”,  you’ve yet to take one.  Solo=alone.  No one. Not even a dog.  People stretch the meaning because they really can’t go it alone so anything less than another adult in the vehicle, qualifies.  Never sign a contract with someone given to such leaps.

There is much to fear alone on the open road – mostly the person you see in the mirror, but that’s a topic to broach with your psychoanalyst.  If you’re like me you’ll skip the outrageous bill, take the SRT plunge, and wonder why everyone doesn’t fire his or her shrink.

In Rear View

For fears of which you can’t be blamed, there are things you can do to control them.  Understand they can’t be eliminated. Cars break down and tires go flat.  If you’re okay with that, the adventure of a lifetime awaits you.  If not, take someone with you. Just don’t call it a solo road trip.

The first eight of these are about limiting risk.  There’s more you can do than this list, like a AAA membership. But that’s only good as long as you have cell service.  The more you rely on outside factors, the less control you maintain, which diminishes your ability to reduce fear factors.  Less, diminish, reduce – all used within one sentence to send a message – learn how to change your own tire. I’m an experienced SRT’er so I occasionally put the truck places I shouldn’t, hike into places I shouldn’t.  I’d prefer not to die a painful death, but I want to enjoy life a bit as it flashes past.  And so we all make choices.  Make good decisions based on your own knowledge/experience base.

No, I don’t carry a gun.

  1. Know how to drive.  It’s more than keeping the car between the ditches.  Do you know when to shift into a lower gear? If you’ve got 4-wheel drive, can you shift into it at any point or does the vehicle need to be at a certain speed?  How about shifting out of it? In North Dakota last November I drove into a snow bank that was much deeper than I expected (in an attempt to turn around).  The only way out was reverse in 4-wheel low.  Once free of the snowbank, I couldn’t get out of 4-wheel low.  Confusion.  Resorted to manual.  Some of knowing how to drive is experience; some is simply knowing what all the buttons mean on your dash.
  2. How to change a tire.
  3. Maintain a full tank of gas and bottled water in the front of the vehicle.
  4. Don’t drink an alcoholic beverage unless it’s for dinner in the hotel you’re staying or you’re having a night cap in the room.  Obviously drinking and driving is a no-no, but a loose tongue in the wrong place has equal potential for disaster.  See #8.
  5. Find lodging before dark.  Doesn’t mean you have to call it a day. Just secure a place to stay; then you’re free to explore the local area as long as you want.  See #4 and #8.
  6. Wear a seat belt at all times.  It won’t save your ass if you drive off a mountain but it will provide protection in most other cases.
  7. Keep your cell phone charged. Check in with someone daily (preferably the same person).
  8. Don’t talk to strangers.  A tricky one. The people I meet are a big part of open road adventures.  Use good judgment.  My daily routine while traveling is to awaken early and go to bed with the chickens.  This translates to striking up conversation with people over breakfast or lunch and becoming more insular as the day progresses.  To no one do I give much information about where I’m headed.  When around others, pump gas and order dinner with confidence; at all times send the signal you’re in control.  I will not go to a bar. I avoid other strays even early in the day.
  9. Get off road. Yes you can do that without 4-wheel drive.  See #1.
  10. Before you leave home practice saying “holy shit”, varying the emphasis and inflection. You’ll use it in a lot of varied applications.

** This article is mine.  Feel free to link to it, but any republishing without my consent will find me on your doorstep.  Fear that. **

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

Other how-to SRT related posts:

Road Trip Coffee Can Survival Kit

3 Best Kept Travel Secrets

Take a Solo Road Trip!

Solo Road Trip Safety

Just for fun:

Road Trip Badges of Honor

6 Foreign Travel Tips

To learn is one of the pleasures of travel abroad.  In one case however, I learned a lot about foreign travel and never made it out the home airport. Certain lessons from a cancelled trip stuck unpleasantly, not being shoved aside in lieu of the stories about language barriers and the memorable food that never materialized.  So as you sit daydreaming about your next trip to foreign soil, mind these to ensure an experience that’ll have a fighting chance of competing with those daydreams.

Lodging?

#1: Life Throws Curveballs

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is no way, no how, come hell or high water that the trip you’re planning could be cancelled.  This trip was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. One we’d given a lot of thought to, planned in our minds for a couple of years, and even committed the resources for. Travel insurance may cover some things, but it doesn’t cover prudence. By the time the trip came within a month of departure, our job situation had become unexpectedly dicey.  The decision to cancel was one of prudence. We knew we’d lose some money, but we couldn’t lose money we hadn’t yet spent. It’s not always illness or injury or some family crisis that creates a need to cancel.

If you go into the planning of a trip with this in mind, you won’t be unpleasantly surprised if the plug has to be pulled.

#2: Currency Change-ups

All of the lodging accommodations took the initial charges/downpayments in Euros. The exchange is easy enough to calculate.  BUT on the refund end several credited our credit card in British Pound Sterling.  In most cases, what I received back when I finally got the transactions converted back to Euros then U.S. dollars was not what it would have been had they refunded the money in the original currency taken – Euros (exchange rates fluctuate daily).  Not only that, as if that’s not enough, but it’s extremely confusing when you begin converting the multiple currencies. Make sure you ASK if a cancellation becomes necessary, in what currency they’ll make the refund. You can’t change the policy, but you’ll at least be informed.

I suggest you use a full size notebook page for every leg of the trip. Organize it any way you want, but make room for this: as you book, find out exactly by what time frame you have to cancel, and should that be necessary, exactly how much you’ll receive back assuming you cancel within that time frame.  Not a percentage, not a night’s worth, but the number of dollars/euros/pounds etc. If it’s not to be money, rather vouchers, get all the details of their restrictions for use. Note all this prominently on your planning page, the date, and the person’s name that gave you that information.

#3: Cash vs. Vouchers

I booked several legs of the trip through Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Happy with their customer service and responsiveness, the cancellation process irrevocably damaged my opinion of them. I hesitate to say I won’t use them again. I will say instead that I’ll attempt to avoid them in the future. Or for that matter, any other booking agent that attempts the same. Here’s why. I was generally aware of the cancellation policy. In other words, I understood that should I have to cancel my refund would be in vouchers that could only be used towards another Smith property and had to be used within a year.  Okay.  But here’s what I didn’t know. In order to use the vouchers I received upon the cancellation, a FULL prepayment (as in 100%) of the price would have to be made for the NEW trip. So for instance, come June we decide to use the vouchers for a stay at a Smith property in the U.S. I’m within the year restriction, but guess what? Instead of the requisite down payment to hold my reservation, in order to use my voucher, I have to give them the entirety of the cost of the stay. No dice. Not only will I NOT use the vouchers, but I have to cry foul on this. ALL the lessons I learned were due to my own lack of savvy. This however, is a bad business practice, aka “RIP-OFF”.

#4: Don’t Call Them!

Don’t ever call them.  If they’re not offering to call you to iron out any snafus, they don’t deserve your business. My credit card wouldn’t clear with our lodging company in Morocco. I felt guilty about that, as if it was my fault or the thought crossed my mind that maybe they thought I was attempting something I couldn’t afford. Add to that the need to get the particulars nailed down, and you’ve got me picking up the phone and making an international call when they asked me to.  It’s embarrassing to admit that. I was very upset at my stupidity when I received the phone bill. And incensed that they asked me to call in the first place.  There was nothing wrong with my credit card, they just had problems processing a U.S. card and they admitted mine wasn’t the first.

#5: International Wire Transfers

No credit card surcharges, no currency exchange issues, a way to put down a reservation hold and know exactly what the financial impact will be. Think again!

A small B&B in Andalusia required a deposit in the amount of $100 Euros and could only accept a wire transfer (with the balance in cash upon our arrival). I had our banker figure the exchange and wire the amount. She even agreed to waive their normal international wire transfer fee of $30 (nice!). We received a confirmation that USD of $149.24 had been debited from our account and $100 Euro sent to the B&B’s bank.

Things came unwound from there. An email comes from the proprietor of the B&B that a deposit of $85 Euro had been received.  I emailed her back reminding her she’d requested $100 Euro and that I had in hand confirmation $100 Euro had been wired directly to her bank account. I even got our banker into the fray, but nothing could be done. The proprietor’s bank had charged her an incoming wire fee and she had to pass that on to us, because, well, that’s the way business was done in Spain and she felt terrible that she hadn’t told me that upfront, she assumed I knew, and on and on. She blamed the misunderstanding on her bank in the end. Numerous emails were exchanged. But in the end, we only received credit for the $85 Euro.  I was helpless to combat this situation.

When I calculated what the fees were for the wire transfer of $149 USD, the total was $51 ($30 potential fee from our bank and $21 fee from the receiving bank – $15 Euro converted).  That’s just a small fee of 34% of the amount wired!!  Avoid international wire transfers unless you get all the particulars and fees assessed in writing ahead of time.

#6: Foreign Car Rental

Plan to spend triple the amount you would allocate for a similar amount of time stateside. The collision damage waivers are extremely pricey. But we felt we needed the best level of coverage offered. Even if that could have been reduced with a lower level of coverage, it was difficult deciphering what was covered and what wasn’t.

Since we were to be in the South of Spain for several days, we wanted to rent a car. With plans to take the AVE from Madrid to Cordoba, the plan was to pick up the car at the Cordoba train station. Even with the help of a travel agent, the first attempt at this would have required loading our luggage into a taxi for a short ride to the rental car pick-up. Not so bad on the trip in, but on the trip leaving, that element of unknown time threw up road blocks where scheduling was concerned. Even though the car rental agency showed up as being at the Cordoba train station, when we looked closely at the address, it was off-site. At the time we canceled the trip, a rental car had still not been locked down.

Forget the fine print. Ask more questions. As in a LOT of questions. Stupid questions. Get names and emails confirming what you were told if you can. If someone wants your business, they shouldn’t mind. And prepare for this: no matter how many questions you ask, how many t’s you cross and i’s dotted, there will still be a few unpleasant surprises upon a cancellation.

On a bright note, I loved TripIt (www.tripit.com) for organizing trip logistics. In one glance it allows you to see the itinerary for every day, addresses, phone numbers, flight or rail numbers, costs, confirmation numbers, level of accommodation booked, etc. I can’t think of a detail it won’t handle.

pink plate

Prefer to stay grounded?  No problem!  Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Page on Facebook.

Road Trip Badges of Honor

Inspection for new scratches after November SRT

I wanted to call this SOLO Road Trip Badges of Honor, but I’m attempting to gain a broader readership.  If nothing, I’m truthful.

Badges are marked by circumstances and occurrences that have you crying in the moment, but laughing later; sometimes much later.  That have your friends shaking their heads or raising their eyebrows at your bravery. Or stupidity. That create some degree of pride, however misplaced. That remind you you’re alive even at those times you sort of wish you weren’t. That make you laugh out-loud at how juvenile you are and how good it feels. That result in a longing to do it all again.

Many of these of course do apply to any road trip. Like how about returning with a cracked windshield?  A favorite of mine.  Not so much of my husband’s since I drive his truck.  But getting locked out of your motel room during a sprint in the middle of the night to the truck for an extra blanket in nothing but your cotton pj’s, is strictly a badge to be worn proudly by a solo road tripper.

So here we go.  I own each of these. Some I hope to not own two of. Read them. Share your own.

  • A speeding ticket, or even better, one in every state you’ve driven.  I’m ashamed now to admit I used to think this was cool.  Until once, I couldn’t pay my car insurance because the premium jumped 300%.  Not cool.
  • Mud caked on the running boards and drizzled from the top like runny icing on a cake.
  • Being out of cell phone service most of the trip.
  • Not being able to locate yourself on a map for the better part of a day [it’s called lost], and not caring.
  • Being face-to-face with a full grown mountain lion in the backcountry of Wyoming with only a fiberglass flyrod for a weapon.  Which is why I now carry a knife.
  • A wound sure to be a new scar.

  • Getting caught in a Mazda MX-6 in Yellowstone in a blizzard so severe it took blind dependence on a GPS to find shelter.  And the rancher with the GPS.
  • Hiking to the top of what once was a tourist attraction on a hill in South Dakota only to realize [upon descent] it had been abandoned due to rattlesnake infestation.
  • Pushing the Mazda to the top of a hill that was buried under rain slicked, greasy, glistening mud only to lose control turning around, slide all the way off the side to the bottom, and land safely wedged between the hill and a tree.  I checked to make sure the camera was okay before clamoring out.
  • Making it all the way down a 4-wheel drive marked road in less than a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
  • Making it all the way down a 4-wheel drive marked road in less than a 4-wheel drive vehicle and realizing you need the 4-wheel drive to turn around.
  • Waded 2/3 of the way across the Yellowstone River near Le Hardy Falls, water at upper flyvest pockets, holding flyrod up to God – it was the only offering i had, water running too fast to turn around. Had it caught the broadside of me… Only one way to go. Forward. Closest I’ve ever been that I know of to death. A slip of the foot or deeper water ahead and those waders would have inflated… Yeesh. Most frightened I’ve ever been.  Caught some kick ass Yellowstone cuts on the other side though. Then had to wade back.

  • New dings on your camera gear.
  • Being caught in a predicament that causes you to think about what your Will says and make a mental note to update it if you make it home.
  • Knowing you must go forward, because turning back or around is impossible.
  • Hearing the satisfying crunch of gravel mutate to the hiss of a blown tire.
  • One finger waves and head jerks continue when you get home.
  • Hiking out the wrong trail-head and swearing on your Grandmother’s grave you’ll kill the SOB that stole your car.
  • Breaking the law. Okay, it was only a wee instance of trespassing into a cemetery.  But a famous one.

Wild Bill would have been proud.

  • Locking your keys in the car.
  • Sleeping in your car.
  • A cracked windshield.
  • Hearing the door to the motel room lock behind you in the middle of the night as you streak in your pj’s to the car for an extra blanket while the attendant’s rehearsed check-in spiel “there’s no one on site after midnight” plays in your head.
  • Sore muscles and shriveled feet.
  • Mostly unworn clothes in the suitcase – a favorite of mine.
  • Pulling into a deserted town with smoking chimneys, no people, and getting a gut check about the 2nd coming.
  • Thoughts of Deliverance or Race With the Devil burr into your brain while hiking alone [where you shouldn’t].
  • Transferring the entirety of something really bad for you from the plate to your belly and being profoundly happy you didn’t have to offer a single bite to anyone else.

I want this tablecloth.

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

Road Trip Coffee Can Survival Kit

DSC00908

Coffee Can Survival Kit

I flew last week. Only half way across the country. Big deal. Oh, only if that were the case.  Have you flown recently?  If so you’re in the throng that’s hanging onto your decorum and sense of civility by the skin of your teeth.  You say things like “please hog tie me and beat me with a big stick” under your breath.  Or when a guy that’s yammered on and on in the waiting area for hours states “I don’t normally talk this  much I’m just punchy”, you whisper loudly, “doubtful.”

You think of things to say in your blog like “the airlines are making their last kicks at the wasp nest.” Which now I don’t know what that means…

I cringe at how poorly I handled the news that I could have driven the distance in the same amount of time.

Flying has degenerated into something brutally equivalent to crossing the Great Plains in a Conestoga wagon.  I can actually list advantages to the wagon ride, and can’t think of a single one to place in the airplane column. And please, do not let me hear you say it’s “quicker.”  If you live close I’ll have to drop over and hog tie you.

Maybe I’m asking too much for the “getting there” part to be a somewhat enjoyable component of the overall trip.  It’s not a secret that I love to road trip. We usually fly to West Virginia for Christmas. It’s quicker. I can say that only because that’s the lie my husband and I kept telling ourselves.  Then we drove last year (and went on to D.C. and North Carolina’s Outer Banks just because we could).  It was positively memorable, relaxed, fun even and the element of freedom and spontaneity was ever-present.  Other family members flew.  They arrived sometime during the 3rd day after our arrival.  Lies are such thieves.

So if you’ve not opened your pocketbook yet and said to an airline “please take all  my money and while you’re at it give me a good, hard kick in the ribs”, then I have a suggestion – DRIVE.

If you actually take my advice, have your vehicle serviced for the winter driving season, and throw together this diminutive survival kit.

DSC00895

• A 3 pound metal coffee can. You’ll be storing the other items inside the can. You don’t need a lid because the top is covered with a warm, fuzzy stocking cap!  And yes, coffee cans are a thing of the past.  Anything will work. This one was provided by my husband’s favorite diner.

• 12 feet of nylon cord

• Candles or a can of sterno (for melting snow).  I must caution against handling open fire in enclosed spaces. So take care with this.

• Knife

• Surveyors tape bright orange (tie to antenna or door handle).

• Packets of dry soup, hot chocolate, tea, bouillon cubes, etc. (mixed into melted snow)

• Camping spoon & small metal cup

• Peanuts/energy bar/jerky

• Gloves. These would be for back-up or doubling up.

• Camping matches in waterproof holder & a fire-starter or two

DSC00901

DSC00897

Firestarters. Look Ma! No diesel/gasoline/kerosene required!

• Flashlight.  Since the cold is hard on batteries, carry extras.

• Hand and foot warmer packets.  A must.

• Whistle

DSC00899

Better than a flashlight. But I carry both.

DSC00898

American Express has nothing on these. I never leave home without them.

Place stocking cap over it all and keep in front of the vehicle in case you go into a ditch and can’t get to or open the trunk.

DSC00905

It's good to have options. I keep a lanyard with chapstick and a whistle attached. And the Buck knife? Well it just looks cool. You never know when you'll run across a mountain lion.

DSC00903

This is not a Frisbee.

DSC00904

It is however an expanding dog bowl. Fits as a lid on the can.

DSC00906

DSC00908

A few things I throw in for a winter trip that won’t fit in the can:

  • Small first aid kit, a mylar blanket, a heavy quilt, and bottled water.

**  Where to Buy:  www.campmor.com

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

Camping Etiquette

If you’re 15 miles deep in the backcountry sharing space with coyotes and bears, you can get away with brandishing your flashlight at every snap of twigs, zipping and unzipping your tent enough times to replace the exercise of counting sheep, using that chainsaw you hauled in with abandon (never seen one in the backcountry but if you’re man enough to carry it in…). But if you’re camping in a campground, you’ll need some manners.

DSC00195

We began this series with these posts: So You Want To Be a Glamour Camper? & Glamour Camping: What To Pack.  But a series on camping wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about etiquette.

We camp to get away from it all. The problem with that yearning is that during high season most campgrounds are crowded. So you either need to toughen up and camp during the off-season (meaning you’ll need to deal with colder weather), or utilize a few things you’re Dad tried to teach you about life in the great outdoors.

Even for those who consider themselves a seasoned camper or outdoors person, the leap to knowing how to play well with others when your playground is a campground isn’t always a given.

I assure you however that it is possible to happily co-exist in nature when the most you’ve got separating you from your neighbor is a few feet and a tent wall.

DSC05736

First things first: Get along with your camp mates

Getting along with your neighbors must be preceded by getting along with your camp mate(s). Camping is not an activity that can be performed solely from the lawn chair. There’s a time for that, but most people do not need that time pointed out. It’s the “participating” part for which they need a gentle nudge.

• Discuss ahead of time duties and who’s going to do what. Do a blind draw and plan to switch jobs mid-trip so that what appears to be the draw for an easy job doesn’t create hard feelings for the entire stay. Besides it makes everyone appreciate what the other jobs entail.

• Everyone should be prepared to volunteer to take on unforeseen chores (guaranteed to be some).

• If you’re the cook, cook like you’ll be doing the clean-up instead of utilizing every pot, pan, and utensil to make your job easier/quicker. If you’re doing clean-up, clean-up like you’ll be cooking the next meal.

• Clean and pick up after yourself. Too basic? Camp with others a few times then share some sob stories about how many people lack the grasp of this basic concept. Get out a hanky – there’ll be plenty of stories.

• If you’re an inexperienced camper, don’t wait to be asked to do something. When meals/clean-up are in process, campfires are being prepared, camp being erected or broken down, hover and be enthusiastic to help and learn.

• Only go camping with people you know and like – another obvious and oft-overlooked basic that deserves to be mentioned.

Getting along with your campground neighbors

About those neighbors…

The tent wall I spoke of previously? They’re thin. As in NON-EXISTENT. Don’t be lulled into thinking that tent protects you from anything other than a bit of weather. In the dark, quiet of a campground even a whisper carries. And if you’re camping anywhere near water, be prepared for the world to hear your every utterance.  People get behind tent walls and become the child in a box in the living room floor thinking they’re hiding, all the while giggling and begging you to find them.

• After dark make an effort to keep your flashlight pointed at the ground. That beam of light is even more unwelcome than loud, late conversation. Especially if you’re circumventing walking to the public latrine.

• Pets. Not everyone loves them. Respect that.

• Know the rules of the campground. Follow them.

• Leave the area spotless by picking everything up, including the small stuff. It’s the small stuff that’s harder for others to remove and causes the most unsightliness over time.

• Think about others. Treat them the way you want to be treated.

• Check out the Leave No Trace website. The principles associated with this environmental edict sum it up: Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

Don’t be deterred by the fact camping requires a bit of thoughtfulness and civility! My husband and I camp frequently in the late summer and fall in a fairly crowded campground. Most campers are there for the very same reason, are respectful, know the rules and follow them. Regretful instances of pitching our tent are rare. The guy with the chain saw for firewood or the family that zips and unzips their tent enough times to replace the exercise of counting sheep are few and far between.

Most campgrounds have a ranger or campsite volunteers that can be found after-hours if you need them (be familiar with your campground). I’d recommend doing that over directly approaching an offensive camper. Short of finding a ranger, chances are if you’re offended, others nearby are as well. A group effort to quiet a rowdy camp is the diplomatic choice should you be faced with such.

Other camping related posts in this series:

Glamour Camping Tips & Tricks

What to Pack for Glamour Camp

Join the Road Trip Revolution at the Solo Road Trip Facebook Fan Page, here.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

 

The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

  • Categories

     

  •  

    Connect with SRT

    RSS Connect on Twitter

    Subscribe by Email
    Email me
    Become a SRT Facebook Fan
    Follow me on Twitter
    See my photos on Flickr

    I want to hear from you!
    ~ Tammie

     

    World Reviewer adventure travel blogs

     

    Solo Road Trip on Facebook