Hiking in the shadow of the Teton mountain range, visiting hidden independent mountain book shops and long driving days through open ranges singing at the top of your lungs to Fleetwood Mac with the windows rolled down, all with your best friend, sounds like a dream. I lived it all, and a dream it was but I promise it was real.
My best friend Trenity and I lived out of her Chevy Equinox for three weeks and went on a 5,000-mile-long road trip across the U.S. Although there were many “pinch me” moments, there were also a lot of “that’s enough, it’s time to go home” moments. Still, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We lived the uncomfortable nights for you, so here are some examples of rookie mistakes of what not to do while living your dream life on a budget, all based on 100% true events.
Recipe to the worst chicken salad sandwich ever:
- One can of Costco brand canned chicken
- Three packets of Chick-Fil-A mayonnaise (easily collectable, no refrigeration required and they are free! Just ask for 10+ packets every time you order in the months leading up to your trip… you’re sure to get some disapproving looks, but you gotta do what you gotta do when you’re on a college student budget)
- A healthy squirt of Siracha (the more the better; let the spice cover the pungent taste of the canned chicken)
- Stale whole grain bread
Allow the sun to heat the sandwich in your backpack as you hike. For maximum effect, wedge the sandwich down into your backpack where it gets squished between your first aid kit and extra water bottles. That way, when you are starving halfway on your 14-mile hike, you can have a nice, warm, squishy sandwich with Siracha-mayo chicken oozing onto your hands. You’ll leave your snack feeling not at all refueled for the next seven miles, so bring lots of your favorite beef jerky to compensate. Repeat every day for three weeks.
Recipe to get the best sleep while living out of your car or camping in bear country:
- Make cardboard window covers to give yourself some privacy. If you realize on night one that you forgot to make a cover for the back window, don’t fret: duct taping a beach towel to the back of the window each night works just as well.
- Drown yourself in bug spray before going to bed to deter mosquitos who sneak in through the cracked windows from biting you while you lay unconsciously defenseless.
- Drink electrolytes before going to sleep – but don’t make the mistake of using mixes that contain caffeine or you will be sweaty and wide awake. Summer night temperatures can be up to 80 degrees … prep in advance so you don’t get dehydrated in the hot car.
- As you are driving to and from National Parks, don’t listen to podcasts about the gory ways in which previous visitors to the parks have died from bear attacks and serial killers. Rest assured; you will hear the hosts’ voices in your head narrating your own death as you overanalyze every sound you hear outside of your car or tent.
- Don’t google recent bear attacks in the area you are staying. Just don’t.
- Car living conditions are not ideal for people who are prone to night terrors. It’s hot, it’s unfamiliar, you fall asleep feeling unsafe; it is the perfect opportunity for your sleep-paralysis demon to haunt you. Remember to take your anxiety meds before you hit the hay.
- Bring a friend who doesn’t sleep talk, lest you be woken up at 2 a.m. to have the following interaction:
“The woodland creatures are coming to take our keys!”
“Why would the woodland creatures come take our keys?”
“Ya know … we’re out in the boonies.”
“Trenity, you’re asleep.”
” … I’m Trenity?”
Recipe to make the most of your experience despite the chicken salad and sleepless nights:
- On the especially good parts, like sitting at the bottom of the mystical Osprey Falls (the best waterfall in Yellowstone, according to rangers) after hiking down steep switchbacks for four hours, take a moment to be grateful. It’s an experience many people do not get to have, so acknowledge your luck and say thank you.
- Take your time. The good thing about living in the car is there are no hotel reservations ushering you from one place to the next, so don’t rush the places you love the most. And if some places don’t quite meet your expectations (looking at you, South Dakota. But not you Badlands; you weren’t all that bad.) it’s OK to move on and spend your time in the places that are worth it to you, even if it means diverting from the original schedule.
- Laugh at yourself. Not everything will go according to plan, and sometimes it will be your own fault, like getting to Glacier National Park before the ranger stations open and hiking 11 miles without a map and ending up way far away from your car. It happens. All you can do is move on and hitchhike out with strangers, and hopefully you hop in a car with people who might give you some job recommendations.
Despite the abominable chicken salad and the restless nights, the trip was the best three weeks of my life. We hiked unforgettable trails, met unforgettable people and made unforgettable memories (did I mention our first skydiving jump over Bozeman out of an airplane being held together by macaroni and cheese printed duct tape?), all of which I will be telling stories of until the day I die.
If you want something, go get it. Get creative to make your dreams attainable, even if it means eating yucky canned chicken salad sandwiches for three weeks straight and sleeping in a stuffy Chevy Equinox. In the end, it will all be worth it,and hey, even the worst parts make the stories all the more real and all the more memorable. But, you’ll still never see me near a can of chicken ever again.