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Traveling across the country is something that everyone should do at least once while they are young, and if they can’t do it while they are young, then they should do it later, but it should be done by everyone at some point during their lives. Flying, taking a bus or train across the country isn’t ‘traveling’ across the country. This trip should be taken one of two ways: by car or by foot.

It is best if, when planning a trip of this nature, there is no set date on which the traveler should be expected to return, or a promise of return at all, for that matter. The traveler should have their own vehicle. The kind of vehicle is of no matter; preferably a dependable car that is fuel efficient, such as a Volkswagen Rabbit or a Subaru Sedan. The condition the car is in physically is not of consequence; it should be in operating condition and that is all. The traveler should be alone, unless the traveler owns a pet, say, perhaps, a dog or cat. In that case, the pet should be taken along. Pets make great traveling partners. For example, John Steinbeck’s dog “Charlie” made such a great traveling companion he was remembered in the title of the memoir of their trip, “Travels with Charlie.”

The time of year that the trip is taken is irrelevant, as each season has its benefits in any given region. There is no need to worry about directions or planning a definitive route on a trip across the country. You need know only the direction in which you are headed. For instance, if you are driving from New Jersey to Los Angeles, then the only directions you need to know are "head west." There are basically four ways to go from one coast to the other when crossing the country. There is the northern route which visits the New England states, Michigan and the Great Lakes area, Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Seattle and or San Francisco, and more. There is the middle route, basically consisting of Rte 70, which, when headed west, visits the Mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Illinois and the bible belt area, Minnesota, the mountains of Colorado, the deserts, plateaus and casinos of Utah, Arizona and both mountainous and or desert regions of California, and more. There is the southern route which begins anywhere from North Carolina to Florida and visits the southern states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, parts of Utah or Arizona and Baja, San Diego and or Los Angeles, California, and more. Finally, there is the zig-zag route, which takes much longer than any direct route, and can touch on any or all states in a variety of regions, depending on the zig or the zag. When driving directly across the country stopping only to eat, gas up, rest and sleep, it should take the traveler about 4-5 days to get from coast A to coast B.

A trip across the country can be a great success on any budget, however, it is not very safe to travel with no cash or very little cash. It can prove adventurous, considering no unforeseen ‘side adventures’ occur. For example, one’s vehicle breaking down in the plains of Utah. However, if you are dead set on traveling with no or very little cash, this is what you can do to make your trip possible.

First of all, you have to have decided in your head what is worthy of your few dollars and what is not. In case you are not sure, these are those things:
Gas
Lodging
Food
Water

GAS

Gas is going to be the most expensive aspect of your trip. The country is a couple thousand miles wide through the middle, depending on your route. So, do the math. You will need to know:
-How much it costs to fill your tank
-How many miles you get per gallon
-How many gallons your tank holds
-How many miles your route will have (estimated)

The rest is a word problem straight out of a high school math book. If you are cutting it close on your gas budget, make friends with a trucker somewhere along the line and follow closely behind him. This is supposed to cut back on your gas costs, as it blocks the wind’s resistance against your car, making your car not have to work so hard and thus, burning less gasoline. Whether or not this tactic is actually true is unknown for sure.

If you can’t afford the costs of gasoline at all, there are a few things you can do:
-You can save up enough money to be able to afford gasoline by getting a job.
-You can hold a yard sale or craft sale if you are skilled in a particular craft.
-You can find a hippie concert, such as Phish and get (usually) free rides between shows.
-You can also combine B & C for a third option: You can sell your crafts in the concert parking lot where you are sure to make quick cash. There will be a ton of people there doing the same thing.
-You can bring some things with you and pawn them as you need them. TV’s, VCR’s, electronics and jewelry usually do best at pawn shops.
-You can hitch hike. Hitch hiking can be very dangerous and is absolutely not recommended, but it is a lot of fun if it isn’t the dangerous kind. There are both pros and cons to hitchhiking. The cons are: it gets you where you want to go, but at a very reduced pace. Sometimes you can spend whole entire days walking and not get picked up. Many people are too afraid to pick up hikers in this day and age. Also, hitch hiking is illegal in most states and on most highways. So if you see a police officer coming, keep your thumbs down or you may hitch a ride to jail. The pros are: you can really truly SEE everything while you are walking. You can stop to pick flowers to flatten in a book or stop at little hidden roadside shops that you might have blown past had you been in a car. In addition, there’s no charge for hitch hiking. Most people will give you a free ride. Plus, you can meet some very interesting people as well as hear and tell some great stories. Again, be forewarned and hike with extreme caution as a last resort. One bad ride can ruin your whole trip and possibly your whole life. If you hike, always bring a weapon of some sort, for example, a sharp knife or ice pick, but don’t use it or even mention having it unless you absolutely have to. Even if you have a weapon, it may be of no help should you get picked up by the wrong person. That said, let’s move on to other, less scary topics.

LODGING

There are some hotels that will let you stay for very cheap. Some rooms are as cheap as $20-$40 per night, but may charge a little bit more if you have a pet, unless you can smuggle the pet in undetected. If you do this, clean up well after you pet so that it is as if your pet was never there when you leave. That is only fair. If you plan to be gone for about one and a half to two weeks or more, hotel fees can really add up! You have a few options:
-Preplan in advance if you have relatives located about a day apart. A day’s drive translates from about eight to ten hours for the average driver to fourteen hours or more for the gung ho driver, and may include stopping to eat, rest, sight see, explore and or gas up. If you can preplan to stop at Aunt Ann’s in Ohio or see your cousin Jeff and his wife in Illinois, that will really cut down on costs. To be considerate, stay only one night and leave early in the morning. Take whatever they are willing to offer, even if it is a blanket on the floor and a book for a pillow. If they offer breakfast, eat. If they offer to give you a baggie of crackers or chips or a candy bar or soda for the road, take that, too. It will come in handy and cut down on needless stopping time and costs.
-Find out if there are any youth hostels in major cities along your path. Most Hostels operate on a first come, first serve basis and will typically charge $12 to $15 per night. It never hurts to research and preplan so you know their hours, fees, rules and location.
-Bring a tent. This is your best option, as you can pitch it anywhere. It is best to find a campsite as there will likely be hot showers and free water, plus there will be other people around you to talk to and what not. Also, there will usually be a lake or pool to swim in. A campsite is often very cheap, anywhere from $5 - $10 per night. If you can’t afford a campsite or you missed the camping season, usually May to September, you can pitch your tent off any side road. Build a contained fire to make sure no animals come over to your tent and cook a can of beans in a pot. Cheap, free, easy. My cat would run off at night, but in the morning, would come running out of the woods, ready to get on the road again.
-Another option is to make friends. This option is a bit more dangerous, but it can be fun and prove adventurous. If you go to a bar or local hangout, you might find someone your age and with similar interests. When you tell them you are traveling across the country, they will more than likely be interested in your story. Don’t ever invite yourself into their house; wait to be invited, as that is courteous. If you don’t get invited, then just sleep in your car, if you have no other options. Sleeping in your car isn’t so bad. You can control the temperature, you have the radio to listen to, and if you bring blankets and a pillow on your trip, it can be very comfortable. And, the price is right.

FOOD

-Next to gas, this can be one of the most expensive parts of your trip, if you don’t prepare in advance. It is best to bring a cooler filled with non perishables. With $20, you can get a lot of stuff. You can get a three liter of soda, a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, or peanut butter and jelly, or fluff, and crackers, or potato chips, a bag of apples, and more. Try to make about a half a dozen or so sandwiches so they will be ready for you to eat if you get hungry. Or, it might be nice to take a break from driving to prepare them. If you don’t have a cooler, just put all the foodstuffs in a backpack or box. Bring plenty of napkins or a roll of paper towels, a few plastic forks, knives and spoons, cups, plates, etc. Also, bring canned goods and a small soup pot, or a small frying pan. While you are camping out you can make grilled cheese or soup over the fire. Bring a bag of marshmallows, too. It is amusing to roast them, and they taste good. If you can afford it, get a Hershey’s bar and some graham crackers, and make s’mores.
-There are soup kitchens and the like in most major cities and some smaller ones, too, but you shouldn’t eat at the soup kitchens unless you absolutely need to. The soup kitchens are often run by volunteers and on donations, and there are people out there who really NEED that food. Use your good judgment.

WATER

There is free water, everywhere. You can bring a few gallons of it from home and it should last the trip. If you should need more, get it from the fountains at rest stops, restaurants, office buildings, stores, or anywhere else you see a water nozzle. You should not ever pay for water. Water is a natural resource that is a gift for all humans and animals to use and benefit from. No one should have to pay an outrageous price for water, as if it were a novelty item.

LAST NOTES

Use good judgment while on the road. There are other people who are driving around who aren’t as good inside as you are. Use your instincts. You get that ‘gut feeling’ for a very good reason. Trust it. Make sure your car is loaded with weapons. Nearly anything can be used as a weapon. A hammer, a baseball bat, and mace are all very good, legal weapons. Keep them sprinkled throughout your car, the trunk and the hood. Again, don’t EVER use or threaten to use weapons on anyone unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. Be careful when being approached on the roadside by police officers. There are some people who impersonate police officers. If you are in a threatening or compromising situation with someone who identifies themselves as a law enforcement officer, get the hell out of there. Use your good judgment to determine whether or not you should leave the scene. You will get in deep trouble if you leave the scene and get down the road to find out that the officer was a real officer. But it is better to be in deep trouble than to be in the clutches of an insane person. It is wise to have a cell phone or a
citizens band radio in your car. A CB is actually better than a cell phone, as you can talk to other drivers that are within just a few miles of your car should you need assistance. Again, use caution and common sense when having discussions over CB radio. Don’t agree to stop and meet anyone or offer to make room in your vehicle for anyone unless you are absolutely sure that your gut says it is okay. Even then, it probably is not okay. Stop a lot. Stop to look at everything. That is the purpose of your trip. Talk to people in small towns. Buy produce and goods from farmers or arrange a trade if you have something to trade. Get out of your car a few times a day and touch the soil of different states; collect rocks or shells, postcards, stickers, independent zines, leaves, soda bottles, what have you. Explore side roads. Get lost. Attend small town fairs and carnivals. Taste the culture of each region you enter. Experience adventure. You will learn and grow no matter you want to or not. That is a natural side effect of any good road trip.