My name is Sarah and I am 23 years old from Colorado. I am planning a road trip for myself this summer (if everything is safe and healthy due to COVID-19) and am looking for help planning from anyone that may be experienced. I’m planning to road trip solo across the entire US with the purpose of deciding where I would like to live and move to, because I do not wish to stay in Colorado any more. I will mostly be visiting cities in the USA and not as much nature areas. I could use help with anything anyone is able to advice me on, which may include (but is not limited to):
-How to live in your car while road tripping
-What gear to pack to stay light and compact in your car
-how to potentially refrigerate and cook food in your car (I plan to eat healthy, and cannot afford eating takeout every meal. But I also don’t want to eat “backpacker” food the whole trip)
-hygiene (including washing clothes)
-how to meet new people in a new city
-how to stay safe as a solo female traveler road tripping in your car (including preventing break ins while sleeping in my car, and where to park)
-how to stay in shape while road tripping (I was thinking getting a membership at like a Lifetime Fitness or something)
Hi Sarah, I hope you are able to do your road trip - they are so much fun!
I'm going to short-hand answer your questions with the knowledge that I have from my own road trip experiences, but if you have further questions about my responses let me know and I'll elaborate.
1. How to live in your car while road tripping?
The answer to this question varies a lot, especially with the size/type of your vehicle. With smaller vehicles it can be difficult/uncomfortable to try to sleep in your car for extended periods of time. One thing I have done, even if I have been visiting cities, is to find BLM land, which you can camp on for free (just make sure to adhere to the leave no trace principles!). If you want something slightly more luxurious, you can find free or low-cost established campsites. I have found that driving 30 min. or so outside of the city I am visiting to sleep isn't a bad option - just make sure to be organized. Camping also provides you with an easier way to change clothes. Of course, if you have a larger vehicle, it's easier to actually sleep inside it.
Pack plenty of changes of socks, underwear, and bras. Try to limit the number of clothes you bring, but be sure to look at the weather/climate of the places you will be traveling and bring appropriate layers! I like to have clothes designated for activities where I am likely to get sweaty/dirty, clothes designated for sleeping/relaxing, and clothes that are to remain clean/nice. The amount of each type of clothing you pack will depend a lot on the activities you think you will be doing on your road trip. And get used to re-using clothes if they aren't disgustingly dirty :).
Other essential gear:
- flashlights/headlamp & extra batteries!
-car charger for your electronics
-first aid kit!
-jumper cables, car jack & wrench (in case you blow a flat), a spare tire (if you will be anywhere remote w/out cell phone reception); I also suggest making sure you can change a flat tire, and maybe even look into getting AAA insurance - I have it and it has gotten be out of several binds
-books and other activities to keep yourself occupied (esp. if you need a driving break)
-spare car key (that you keep on your person at all times) & car window shades (keeps car temperature lower)
-TP, tissues, dish soap (the foam version lasts longer)/sponge/towels, dish washing tub/bucket, deodorant, cleaning wipes, body/hand bar soap, baby wipes or a wash cloth w/ soap (to keep yourself cleaner if you can't shower)
-jug(s) of water (a backup for drinking, and you can have one that's designated for cleaning)
-physical road map (for the times where cell phones & reception fail us)
-mini sewing kit
-cash & quarters (for laundry, tolls, etc.)... also make sure to advise your credit card companies of any travel you do, so they don't suspect suspicious behavior!
3. Storing Food
When I road trip, I tend to use a Coleman stove and gas (w/ matches or a lighter) for my cooking. I like to use backpacking-size pots if I am doing a solo road trip, since I am cooking meals for one person (these also tend to fit better in storage & in the dish tub). I tend to lean mostly towards dried/canned goods for long-term travel, and try to only cook enough for a single meal whenever you cook - things spoil quickly in warm cars! (and remember that your car, if in the sun, will be warmer during the day than the air outside). Since you will be visiting mostly cities, you can also make a point of visiting a grocery store every couple of days to get fresh fruits & veggies. I have found that going vegetarian for meals (or eating dried meats) is ideal for road trips, since you don't have a refrigerator. But, you can use a cooler (Yeti has coolers that work AMAZINGLY) to help keep food cool (you can buy ice from grocery stores).
I briefly mentioned this in #2, but what I call "bird baths" (using a baby wipe or a wash cloth with a bit of soap and water to wipe down the smelliest body parts) are the way I tend to go, unless you know people along the way that let you use showers. If you like to climb, climbing gyms also often have showers for traveling climbers that are free to use if you ask. Since you are going to visit cities, I suggest using laundromats to wash clothes (you can identify these in advance online). I wouldn't recommend re-using underwear and socks, but bras and other clothes can be re-used if they aren't super smelly or dirty.
5. Meeting new people
I would start with reaching out to your current contacts and friend groups and seeing if they know anyone trustworthy in the places you are planning to visit. If you have any particular favorite outdoor activity (hiking, climbing, etc.), there are often Facebook groups you can join and meet new people that way. I would just be cautious if you meet someone new - make sure to meet them in a public space, during the day, and somewhere where there are lots of people around - a coffee shop downtown, for example!
6. Staying safe
I suggest you identify where you will park your car to sleep each night in advance, that wa you aren't scrambling at the last minute to find a place. If you are going to sleep somewhere in the city, make sure it is in a good part of town that is well-lit and has a low crime rate. Many grocery stores allow people to sleep in their parking lots overnight. You can also do what I suggested in #1 about camping, or simply sleeping in your car in a campsite or on BLM land - I have found this to be less stressful and theft to be less likely, since I'm in the middle of nowhere vs. the city. Just make sure you keep your food in the car or in bear bags overnight if you are in an area with wild animals! And if you sleep in your car, lock your doors and put window shades on your windows if you have them.
7. Staying in shape
Ahhhh my favorite question! If you have the money and are going to be mostly in the city, getting a membership to a gym franchise that has locations in most of the cities you will visit is a good idea. Alternatively, you can look for green spaces in the city (parks, etc.) where you can get outside to go for a run. Alternatively, if you wish to spend a moment or two away from the city, you can find local hiking spots if that is something you enjoy. And, again, if you like to climb, there are climbing gyms in many cities around the U.S. - this is also a great way to meet people! (if you haven't climbed before, I suggest you try it, it's awesome, has a great community, and is a great workout!). Also, if you have room for a yoga mat, you can use this to stretch and do simple workouts which will help your body, especially after long hours in the car.
Overall, also make sure that someone you know and trust has a full plan of your trip (your path of travel, when you will be where, who you will be with, etc.), and immediately inform them of any changes in your plans. Also, make sure that any valuable items in your car are well hidden - the chance of theft will decrease if you make it appear that there is nothing worth stealing in the car!
Hope this helped, have fun, and let me know if you want more info about something!