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Musings from the Road

A fairly typical road trip morning.

We are now nearing a month and a half of road trip traveling, and probably around 3,500 miles into our cross-country adventure (give or take, I would check the odometer officially but I'm cozy indoors and it's absolutely freezing outside). In the last 5 1/2 weeks, we've slept in a variety of forests and deserts, city streets and hotel rooms, and now that we are in New Orleans, a youth hostel. Living out of the Honda Element has not only allowed us to go wherever we like whenever we like--for the most part--and change plans at the drop of a hat, but it has been an experience living day to day with only the bare necessities...and being okay.

By making a home in a car that is actually too small for both driving and sleeping systems to be operable at the same time, no bathroom, and an outdoor kitchen only, you find you discover what is actually necessary to be comfortable and what comforts are able to be let go. 

Turns out, though it's fun and socially acceptable (and makes laundry less frequent) to have a variety of outfit choices for any given activity, one only really needs a few basic clothing items. Multiple showers a week are certainly preferred--and I now have a particular appreciation for those long, hot ones where the bathroom gets steamy--but not a requirement for survival. Just some decent deodorant, some face wipes, and for the desperate moments when you don't want to look like you live in the sewers, a travel bottle of dry shampoo will do the trick. Despite usually having an overflowing fridge at home, only having what you need to make meals (so that everything for the week can fit in a small cooler and a reusable grocery bag) is just fine. And you can keep yourself alive eating primarily hot dogs for longer than you think.

Nana and Grandad, spoiling us rotten in Vegas.
We've been spoiled this trip, of course, with luxurious breaks from car camping, courtesy of our loving families across the states. Six nights in a row of cooking in the dark on the tailgate and doing dishes with paper towels is made easier when flanked by stays in relatives' guest rooms, featuring meals out, sinks, showers with enough room to shave your legs, and laundry facilities. I'm also fairly sure we haven't felt the significant pangs of homesickness yet that come with intense trips like this because we've had these bouts of relaxing with our familiar people, even if the places are all new. We are indeed very lucky people to get to be so surrounded by love wherever we go, and that is not something we take for granted. 

It's not all glamour...sometimes your breakfast
cookin' spot is in actual garbage.
Ultimately, our trusty Element has done us well, and we are pleased with the set-up we have. There is something pretty fantastic about the routine of rolling into a free campsite in some national forest, cooking dinner, possibly sitting by the campfire for a few hours, and snuggling up for bed... and then being able to pack it all away into our box on wheels in the morning and continue onward. However, now that it's mid-November, both of us are willing to admit we're getting tired. The colder nights mean we're seeking shelter in bed earlier and earlier, and if I may say, I can't pee outside three times a night with these blustery Southern winds many more times while remaining sane. I think we planned this road trip for just the right amount of time. 

Though I think we'll be ready to be done sleeping out of the car pretty soon, overall, I've surprised myself with how natural the transition was into this simplified form of living. Occasionally I wish I had maybe a couple more sweaters to choose from, but that thought evaporates immediately when I find myself squinting through the dim light of the famous Carlsbad Caverns. We have a bed, and while it's small, we both fit. We have food, and the ability to cook. We have clothes and a means of transportation. Honestly, the only thing the Element is missing is a bathroom, and I suppose a heater.

About to see some CAVERNS!

Tonight, to stay warm and dry, we are staying for a second night in a youth hostel in New Orleans. I'd like to deviate from my narrative to insert a plug for this place; Atlas House on Magazine Street is great. It's a converted classic New Orleans house, with several dorm rooms as well as private room options. It's colorful and cozy and has a delightful energy. We only paid $13 a bed, which includes pancakes for breakfast. 

The mentioned hot springs camping location.
As I sit here on this antique velvet couch, listening to the sounds of twenty-somethings from France, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and Los Angeles playing Cranium in the communal kitchen where Andrew is caramelizing onions, I find myself thinking about all the different people we've had the pleasure to meet on this trip. It's incredible how once you're out there doing the thing, you become aware that there are people EVERYWHERE who are also doing the thing. Everyone we've talked to in this hostel has experience with Couchsurfing and Workaway, which are things we're planning on doing in Europe. Several weeks ago, while we soaked in a hot spring just east of Yosemite, we were joined by an Australian couple who were also living out of a small RV and enjoying a nomadic lifestyle. The next morning, at that same campsite, a family of five from Maine came by who were also roadtripping and living out of their van, eventually headed to Florida to move to a sailboat. 

Last night, we stood in a packed little bar in the French Quarter, listening to a New Orleans cover band and swaying to the music beside the friends we just made from our hostel. We love our Element, and we still have a few weeks (and at least 1,500 miles) to go before we head to Paris, but it feels like we are reaching a transition phase of our trip now, from boondocking to backpacking. These few weeks of sitting alone together by our many fires, surrounded by incredible American wilderness, have been emotionally restful. We got a lot from all the time spent just with our own thoughts and conversations, but we are both social beings, and we are excited to experience more of the world than just the gorgeous natural phenomenons; people are pretty amazing, too.

- J

The face of a man who needs more socializing...?


  1. I love your blog writing style <3
    I'm going to start car camping myself and was wondering how you found your free camp spots? I know about BLM land but any tips would be appreciated! I'm doing my first solo car camping trip for Thanksgiving but hope to do many more all around!

    1. Thank you very much, so glad your coming to us for advice! We use a website, , for much of our initial research. Once we have a place, we will google it to see if other people are mentioning it. Some places have been word of mouth, but for the most part we use that website. We have found our best free spots in National Forest. Best of luck to you! Don't hesitate to ask more questions, we don't know much but we like to help!

  2. Great post. I am glad you have met so many adventurers like yourself. Part of enjoying the big, beautiful world is enjoying the people along the way.

    1. Yes definitely! I think after our initial decompression phase, we are now prepared for some social hosteling and CouchSurfing.

  3. You guys are our heros. Just saw you on I40 in NC. We love our Element too! 12/25/18

    1. Ahh that's awesome! This just makes our hearts warm. Thank you!


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