At the close of 2012 I decided to take a solo road trip to tour the Southwest United States. Starting in San Francisco and ending in Houston, my month-long journey began on Christmas Eve.
I got around using a combination of Greyhound, Megabus, and flights. I never once rented a hotel. Finally home after a month, I found myself back in Brooklyn with tired bones and lessons learned.
1. Accept help.
Be grateful for your friends and family who care about you and are letting their crazy loved one take off all alone. They just want to make sure you’re safe and comfortable. Accept help when you arrive to your destinations. Let your friends cook you a homemade dinner. Buy the wine.
2. Be prepared to lose your shit.
You will lose some of your physical belongings and also your mind at times. Stay calm, and don’t let any negative instances affect the rest of your trip. The important thing to remember is there are still miles yet to go, and only you can make or break your trip.
3. Don’t be a whiny little bitch.
You are at the mercy of kind friends, so if something’s not going your way, it’s not the end of the world. Be grateful that your hosts like you enough to let you crash and show you around. They will feed you and drive you around, and that costs money. Be pleasant!
4. You are responsible for yourself.
At the end of the day, you are solely in charge of your actions and the situations you put yourself in. Be smart and be safe.
5. Ride Greyhound with caution.
Keep an eye on your belongings, and make sure you tuck away all your valuables if you decide to nap. Ask the bus driver or other employees for directions or help if you need it. Make sure you have your information sorted out just in case; they tend to only know the route and don’t give a shit about your problems.
6. Be conservative with your money.
In case of an emergency, you’ll feel better about being able to cover yourself rather than having to call your family.
7. Give a trusted friend or relative your travel details.
Leave all your detailed travel information, including addresses, departure and arrival times, and phone numbers with a roommate, significant other, and your parents. It will put them at ease to know where you are, even if you can’t get in touch.
8. Stick to dive bars.
They are the best way to drink in a new city. There will usually be happy hours, and I once paid $30 for ten drinks (not all for myself) in Texas! A jukebox and pool table are always a plus, and you will probably be surrounded by more locals than tourists.
9. Keep paper copies of important documents.
Make extra copies of your boarding passes and travel information, including copies of your passport/ID just in case you run out of a charge on your mobile/laptop. Keep all of the information in a Ziploc or waterproof bag!
10. Don’t take your bankcard out when exploring different cities.
This one’s optional, but I put money on a prepaid Visa card to avoid having to carry my bankcard everywhere. Prepaid cards can be claimed as lost, and you can get your money back, but someone won’t be able to get their hands on all of your bank information if you lose your bankcard.
11. Drink water.
No, seriously—you’ll die without it. Between flying and traveling on a bus, your body will get dehydrated. You’ll probably bring the hangover you woke up with in San Diego to Phoenix, and so on and so forth. Nothing is worse than traveling while down in the ditches. Plenty of H20 should keep you feeling great.
12. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
I know I sound like an MTA operator, but I lost my DSLR camera out in Los Angeles while I was getting on a bus. Thankfully I was proactive and made flyers, and a stranger returned it the same day. In most cases, you might not be so lucky.
13. Don’t be overwhelmed by the fear of missing out.
You’ll burn yourself out quickly if you try to experience it all, especially if you have a short time in a city. I spent exactly 10 hours in San Diego, 20 in Denver, and 23 in Dallas. If you’re wiped out, take those days to recharge and refresh, and have a nice and relaxing dinner. Your body and mind will thank you.
14. Know that you WILL over-pack, so leave some room.
Only travel with a carry-on bag. I brought too much stuff with me and ended up shipping back boxes of clothing and souvenirs because I bought so much on the road. You can always borrow your friend’s clothing or stop by a local Buffalo Exchange to trade your stuff in for some new digs. It’s also a huge plus to be able to leave the airport or bus depot without having to wait for a checked bag or fearing the possibility of loss or theft.
15. Bring a film camera or several disposables.
Sure, you’ll be taking lots of phone pictures and maybe even lugging a digital camera, but the surprise of what you’ve captured on film will bring back many memories from your trip. You can throw your prints into a shoebox and keep them forever! Who really prints digital photos anyway?
16. Eat well.
It may not be possible in all situations, but try and seek out balanced meals. Only you know what’s best for your body, so pay attention and keep yourself healthy and strong.
17. Avoid getting ill while traveling.
Don’t push yourself beyond what your body can handle. One night of fun isn’t worth being sick for a week. In Los Angeles, I was under the weather for a few days because of reckless behavior on a warm winter night. The following days required tea, sleep, and lying in bed while the Arts District (and Skid Row) lie bustling outside. Boring.
18. Never trust strangers.
EVER. Well, OK, sometimes.
19. Leave “thank you” notes.
Even if you’re late to catch a flight and all you have is a dirty liquor-store receipt in your pocket, just say “thanks” and write with your blood. It means much more than you think. I also left Polaroids for all the awesome people that let me stay with them.
20. Buy cigarettes in the cheap states in bulk.
Because you won’t miss the $14 price tag on NYC smokes. I sure didn’t.
21. Once back to home base, let everyone know you’ve arrived safely.
Then you can rest your limbs and sleep for five days straight.