Flipping through channels while hanging out with my inspiration, friend and grandmother while home between semesters at Emerson, I stumbled upon a show about “Tiny Houses” which sparked a conversation about exactly how much space a human being needs to survive. My grandmother, born in 1934, a woman who raised seven children to adulthood despite at times crippling poverty, had some stories to share about less-than-ideal housing, as you can probably imagine. But it reminded me of the 200 nights I spent living on the road for Fish America for Outdoor Life in 2010, many of which were spent living in my 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. So for any of you looking to take the road on an absolutely limited budget, here are some secrets I discovered:
10: Find friendly parking lots: There are some stores, and Wal-Mart is the most obvious, that have 24-hour traffic. In places like this you’re less likely to be noticed at odd hours of the night if your vehicle isn’t… say… in the driveway of a home you don’t own. Wal-Marts are handy too, because if you discover you’ve run out of, say… deodorant or toothpaste, you’re only a walk away from more.
9. Be an Early Riser: You’re not likely to get busted for loitering on public property at 6 a.m., when most of the world is asleep. Noon, however… is a different story. If the sun’s up, you should be too.
8. Get Tired: If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep in a heated bedroom, a parking lot isn’t going to be more comforting. But if you push yourself each day to your physical limits, sleep will come to you before the engine even cools.
7. Stay Warm: Those super-warm sleeping bags at EMS might seem expensive before your trip, but if you’ve ever tried to fall asleep in an Idaho parking lot in December, you’ll know there’s nothing you wouldn’t pay in that moment for a few degrees of added warmth.
6. Pack the Vehicle Wisely: Clothes, blankets and jackets aren’t THAT uncomfortable to sleep on… tackle boxes ARE. When you’re packing the back of your Jeep or S.U.V., keep a “soft side,” and maintain it.
5. Plan ahead: Know where you’re going, and where you’ll be sleeping. When you’re tired at the end of a long day’s drive, you pick risky places to sleep.
4. Be Honest, and Polite: If you’re talking to a marina owner after a day’s fishing, ask nicely whether or not sleeping on site is a possibility. I’ve had many people offer me the space, if not a spare bedroom in their house, if I was just honest and kind. Marinas are great, too, because many have showering facilities on site.
3. Know your Public Land: In many places, especially out West, there are parks where you can camp for a small fee, and some are even free. If you investigate this situation prior to setting out, you can have a planned place to stay at the day’s end.
2. Eat Local: If you’re looking for grub at a restaurant, pick the local favorite instead of the Applebees. I’ve struck up a conversation with more restaurant owners or managers than I can count, and many offered space in the parking lot for my business. Don’t ask for the “soup with a side of a night’s rest,” though. Make it clear you’re there first and foremost for their business, and treat anything extra they offer as just that.
1. Check the surroundings before snoozing: See discarded needles on the ground or hear people screaming obscenities? Keep moving. This might seem like an obvious one, but before calling it a night… take a walk around the grounds, look for anything suspicious or scary, and be prepared to move. This is the time to be nervous, not when you’re half-awake wondering if that noise is a bird you’ve never heard before or someone pleading for help.