How to Maintain Your Productivity Mojo While Traveling

“Hey, do you want to watch our dog?” For the last few years my Chicagoan friends Greg and Dave had talked about me staying with them in Chicago or possibly to do a house swap.  And when they needed someone to watch their dog while they were away in June, it seemed like an opportune time. But I had my reservations about going.

The thing was that I would be busy traveling in May. I’d be in San Jose for a conference, then to Hawaii for a family vacation.
I’d then spend over a month in the Midwest, in Chicago and then in the Midwest. I only had four days in between each trip to get my ish together, pack, do laundry, see friends, and what have you. It was fun, it was exciting—and it was also exhausting.
While it may seem like a dream to some, I dreaded it. I am a creature of habit, and actually *gasp* like my life in Los Angeles. You can say I was a reluctant digital nomad.

Ideally I would’ve had more space in between my travels. I was hoping to have more space in between my travels, but when I realized I may not the opportunity to get a taste of this digital nomadism most freelancers have been talking about.

Here’s what I learned about staying productive while hopping cities:

Have your productivity pack in tow

You know what you need. I personally try to pack as little as possible. On the trip I brought the following:

– My Samsung Chromebook
Chromebook case
Cell phone charger
– Backup! I was terrified of losing my files. A lot of my stuff is stored on the Cloud, but I do have some documents on my hard drive. I use Carbonite, which is about $60 a year.
– Headphones 

Come up with a new work schedule: and stick to it
I really wanted not to work while traveling in Hawaii, as it was a family vacation. But I had work deadlines, so after talking to my friend and mentor Alan, I figured out a schedule for me. I did the 2/6 schedule, where I work for 2-3 hours a day while on vacation. There was a Starbucks around the corner, so I made a pact with myself to work from 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. while on vacation. That way I’d be back at the hotel to grab breakfast with my family.

I felt bad because I was supposed to be on vacation, and not working. My family has been extremely supportive of me when I have a deadline. Creating more structure is something I’ve been struggling with.

When I was in Chicago I spent a week at Grind, a lovely coworking space downtown. I worked a lot at a local coffee shop, which worked out just fine. Since I was in Chicago for a solid month, I had time to squeeze in sightseeing and then figure out a routine that worked for me.

Allow for flexibility
There were plenty of times when things didn’t go as planned. I got lost, or the train was behind schedule, or my friends invited me on a bike ride or something fun that I simply could not pass up. So yea, you can’t remain rigid all the time. I did my best and got my stuff done.

Plan for periods where you can’t work
I was in three different places, hoping via train and plane And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. The Southwest Chief, which is the route I took on Amtrak from L.A. to Chicago, had no WiFi. I resorted to writing a blog post on my freakin’ smartphone, which I don’t recommend doing to anyone.

So check ahead of time if the plane or train you’ll be on offers WiFi. Amtrak offers WiFi on select routes, and you can check out availability there. You’ll also want to check if airport terminals offer WiFi, either for free or for a small cost. Airfare Watchdog has a pretty decent Airport WiFi access chart. And of course, check if the airline you’ll be traveling on offers WiFi, what it costs, and how reliable it is.

If you can’t work, use it as a time to relax, do nothing, read a book, or what have you. You’ll just need to plan around it, of course.

It was definitely challenging to stay productive while in transit, and as I prep for FinCon this week, I’ll be working 1-2 hours a day to stay on task. Wish me luck!

What kind of tricks have you learned to stay productive while traveling?

Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links.


How to Go on Vacation Without Taking a Massive Hit

So for the last few months I’ve been a bit of a digital nomad, if you will. I am a little reluctant to say that because my perception of being a globetrotting digital nomad is someone who of the upper crust in freelancer society, and has money and high-paying clients out the wazoo. I, on the other hand, have been doing it on the cheap. So far I’ve been to San Jose for a conference, sleeping on a friend’s couch, on vacation with the family in Hawaii, which wasn’t quite as cheap, and I’ll be in Chicago for about a month, staying with some friends and dog sitting. It took me a little bit of time to get situated and gather myself mentally, but to my surprise I’ve been loving it!

After freelancing full-time for about eight months, I felt like taking a real vacation and trying to get work done while on the go seemed a little preemptive, but I did it anyway. I’ve talked a little bit about going on vacation as a freelancer, and here are some ideas on how to get away without it taking a massive hit on your finances:

Rent Out Your Place
If it’s feasible and you’re up for it, try putting someone up while you’re away. My friend Megan goes out of town for a few months every year, and she says that subletting is easy peasy. One thing you’ll want to do is create an agreement for the subletter to sign. It should include details such as dates of the sublet, which utilities (if any) the subletter will be responsible for paying. Megan also pointed out including nitty-gritty things such as including a cleaning fee to hire something to scrub the tub and toilet after the sublet is over. Brilliant! I’m not expert on such matters, but it can’t hurt to have something in writing.

Employ the 11-Month Income 
99u has a great article on how creatives can make the most of unpaid time off, and one of my favorite things listed is to create a budget based on an 11-month income. That will account for a month of pay to go on vacation and for “sick days.” To determine how much you need to make to take vacation, work backward. For instance, if you want to make $50k a year, you’ll need about $4,500 a month, $1,100 a week, or about $220 a day. Want to make $60k? That’s $5,400 a month, $1,300 a week, or $340 a day. If you’re shooting for $70k, that’s $6,363 a month, $1,590 a week, or $400 a day. It’s obviously not hard to figure out, you just need to do some basic math and keep these numbers in mind. And it’s not a perfect science, of course, as some months you’re killing it while others, not so much.

There are a bunch of formulas out there to figure out your hourly rate, but I find that as a writer, an hourly rate can be hard to figure out. While ideally your rates should be standard, sometimes it’s hard to gauge this because writers are normally paid per article or by word count. I find it easier to figure out how much I need to make per month, and when I reach that number, I feel a little more at ease.

Set Up a Vacation Fun
Duh. But how? You can sock away money to get away when you’re just trying to eke by and foot the bill for all the taxes and business expenses that are part of freelancing. I’ve been putting away a percentage of my income after “paying myself” a monthly income toward a “fun fund.” This was something I set up when I was working a day job. Any side hustles I did such as test proctoring and petsitting. You can also use any money socked away from your Digit account (which I absolutely love, by the way), or a savings goal in your bank account.


Ramp Up the Workflow Before You Leave
Contently’s The Freelancer talks about how you can stockpile a bunch of work before you leave. I did this before going to Chicago because I wanted to take a train from L.A. to the Midwest, and knew there would be spotty wifi access. It wasn’t easy. I had just four days in between my travels to pack, see some friends, and get all my work done. I got most of what I needed done and wrote a blog post on the WordPress app on my phone. Not ideal, but that is life.

You can let your clients know well ahead of time you’ll be on vacation from so and so date, and then give them the option of having you submit work early. The clients I reached out to preferred the work early and it would benefit you as well. Less work to do when you get back, plus you might run into the risk of missing a deadline if there’s a hitch in your travel plans.

Do the 2/6 rule 
I think I’m butchering the actual name of this rule, but it has something to do with working for a few hours each day during your vacation. You know, just dealing with emails, financial upkeep and admin tasks, and actual work. I ended up having to work while I was in Hawaii, and after talking to my mentor Alan figured out a schedule that would work while I was there. The plan was to head over to the Starbucks down the road from my hotel,  work from 6-9 every morning, then grab breakfast with my family. I didn’t adhere to it every day, but it helped big-time to have a game plan in place.

Taking a vacation is not always perfect but definitely not impossible.

Illustration by Viet Vu

Trade Show Vacationing in Vegas: Where to Eat on the Cheap

There are an infinite number of options in Vegas, from fast food to $500 a plate restaurants owned by world-renowned celebrity chefs. Business travel means you can deduct virtually all your meals—or at least 50 percent— so enjoy the culinary landscape and keep the receipts. There’s pretty much every mainstream eatery in town, but here’s how to make your dollar stretch in the City of Sin:

Grab a copy of the American Casino Guide. The last quarter of the book are coupons, primarily for Las Vegas. Most of 2-for-1 buffets, snack bar deals, and 10-25 percent off the bill at a variety of eateries. The book costs $10-15, which pays for itself with the first meal.

Another option is to hit up the front desk, concierge and casino cashier to see if they have dining discounts at the casino you’re staying at.

Vegas isn’t really Vegas until you’ve made yourself sick from overeating and then lay out by the pool in 110° heat. Optimize your food to money ratio with a buffet. In Vegas it’s often quantity over quality, which if you plan for one big meal a day, it can go far. Top end buffets go for $50+ (i.e., Cosmopolitan Wicked Spoon, Caesars Bacchanal, Bellagio, Wynn) and can be near fine dining quality.

For half that price there are many very good, not-spectacular buffets on the Strip (i.e., Planet Hollywood Spice Market, Rio Carnival, Flamingo).

For under $15 you can fill up without worrying about food poisoning (i.e., Silverton, Green Valley Ranch, Main Street Station, Palms).

Late-Night Food
Many casino cafes have midnight – 6am food deals. Typically breakfast fare, steak, burgers, wings, and maybe if you’re lucky a salad. The prices are slashed from normal day cost—$.99-$4.99. At  Mr. Lucky’s 24/7 at The Hard Rock you can get a $7.77 steak and shrimp dinner. You just have to ask for the “Gamblers Special”.

As you can see there are plenty of food options in Vegas. Enjoy!

Nick Zynda is a freelance designer with an emphasis on product packaging. His clients have included Tapout, Costco, Tommy’s Chili, Artisan Brand Snacks, The Soy of Life and many small and growing businesses from around the world. He lives in San Diego with his wife, newborn baby, and rat terrier.


Trade Show Vacationing in Vegas: How to Score the Best Deals on Hotel Rooms

So you’re heading to vegas for a trade show or conference. Maybe the National Association of Broadcasters or the Nightclub and Bar Show? Huzzah! This is another post by guest contributor Nick in a three-part series on how to roll in pleasure with work. We’ve covered  how to get into the trade shows and where to eat on the cheap. Now we’ll go over how to get your stay on for cheap:

1. Never pay retail for a Vegas hotel.
Don’t hop on a resort’s website and start plugging in your dates without a full arsenal of promo codes. Las Vegas takes advantage of the casual tourist in every way imaginable, so start out on the inside track with websites like

2. Take full advantage of promo codes. 
To get the really good promo codes, you’ll need to register. These hotels and casinos don’t care why you have the discount code, so use them, combine them if possible, and compare them. Oftentimes when you register for a trade show they’ll share “convention pricing” for a handful of hotels and casinos. Throw these in the mix and compare again.

One other resource that may be comparable to booking directly with a hotel is using a booking site like, TripAdvisor,, Expedia, or Priceline. This is the best option for non-casino hotel stays. No matter the method, 15 minutes of comparison shopping could save you 80%+ over retail price (so use that extra money for fun things!).

3. Always look at rate calendars.
Sunday—Thursday stays are typically a fraction of the cost of a weekend stay. If the show you’ll be attending spans multiple days, you’ve got flexibility at your disposal to maximize your dollar. Bigger trade shows can disrupt this rule, especially when the hotel is in close proximity to the convention hall, so see the transportation tips and think outside the vicinity.

Using a promo code, most casinos offer a calendar of rates to see a week or a month of prices at a glance. Often the night before the first day of a show, or the last night, is cheaper than days in the middle of the show’s span. Opening day may also maximize your swag.

4. Stay at a casino—whether you want to gamble or not.
As casinos generate their money from gambling, and high-end food/drink and upscale events, typically room stays are a loss for the casino, especially when you use a promo code. As a business person visiting for a convention, you can advantage of this situation, regardless of whether you choose to gamble.

Other than price, you’ll have free parking, easy access to public transportation, quality pool, dining and spa options, and 24-hour entertainment right downstairs. The downside is a smoky, noisy, and sometimes labyrinthian route from parking to check-in desk to room…and the occasional all-nighter in the room across the hall.

5. Know what quality you’re comfortable with.
The casinos run the gamut from world-class 5-star accommodations (i.e.,Wynn, Mandarin Oriental, Palazzo, Vdara) to “clean but that’s about it” (i.e., The Quad, Circus Circus, most of Fremont Street). It’s easy to spend $200-$2,000 a night on a stay, but just as easy to spend $20 a night. Just know what you need.

Do you need to bring a pet along?
Most Caesars/Harrah’s network casinos have dog-friendly rooms for a fee. The best deals for a pet stay is typically the Motel 6 on Tropicana—modern, clean rooms a block from the strip with pricing from $30-80 a night. You can also try La Quinta Inns. There are multiple locations, which offer clean rooms with kitchen amenities. Both allow two dogs for free.

5. Watch the “resort fee”.
All major Vegas casinos now tack on $15-$30 to the total, supposedly to cover the pool, internet, and if you’re lucky a bottle of water. It’s a rip-off, but still makes the total cheaper than most hotel chains. Just keep an eye for it during reservation and checkout.

6. Consider how much time you’ll actually spend in the room.
If you’ll be hitting up the trade show during the day, dinner/drinks, nightlife, late night specials and activities, and maybe the pool the next morning you’ll find that you spend very little time in your room (at least with your eyes open). Due to this fact, bring friends and share the cost, unless you travel the city together it’s likely you may not even cross paths in the room.

Las Vegas is a true 24-hour city. Depending on your fortitude you may be able to go a day or two without even needing a hotel room—just play it safe.

Nick Zynda is a freelance designer with an emphasis on product packaging. His clients have included Tapout, Costco, Tommy’s Chili, Artisan Brand Snacks, The Soy of Life and many small and growing businesses from around the world. He lives in San Diego with his wife, newborn baby, and rat terrier.



How to Plan a Vacation When You’re Freelancing 

Now that I’m a full-fledged freelancer, I can hypothetically go on vacation whenever I so desire.  And I say hypothetically because I still have my workload and responsibilities to my clients. While there are ways of getting your vacationing on while attending trade shows and conferences, what about a 100 percent non work-related vacation? It can be tough if your work schedule is unpredictable. Here are some ways you can plan for a vacation when you’re freelancing:

Create a List of Dream Vacation Spots
My friends who work in film production tell me to take a trip whenever you can, because you never know when your next chance to take a break will be. As I am a writer and have gradually been building a base of steady, ongoing clients, I potentially can plan out my vacations. However, if there’s a lull I would probably want to get up and take a vacay somewhere. Perhaps a getaway to Macau? Or maybe an extensive trip to the national parks of Canada? One thing you can do is keep on hand a list of dream places you’d like to visit and roughly how much each trip would cost. 

If you can afford to, start a vacation fund and sock away a little each month. That way, when the opportunity presents itself, you’ll have the means to hop on a train (or plane) and go on a spontaneous adventure.

Travel During the Off-Season
Recently I wrote an article for the Society of Grownups on taking a winter trip in the Christmas villages of Europe. While it’s still up in the air whether I’ll be taking an trip overseas this winter, it helped me realize there are a lot of great vacation spots you can travel to during the winter months. Depending on the type of freelancing you do, it may be a slower time for you workwise. Plus, if you travel during the off-season, which is from November through March minus the holidays for most destinations, you’ll be able to snap better deals on trips.  You can check sites like TripAdvisor to score a great deal on a hotel room or flight.

If you’re a snow bunny, you can schedule a fun snowboarding trip. Or you can get creative and do some research on the Interwebs to see what kind of crazy cool events are happening in other parts of the world during the chillier months. You’ll be surprised at what you might discover.

Besides, I love Los Angeles in the summer. There are free movies, concerts, and fun happenings galore. While we do get a lot of tourists, that’s also when local denizens like to leave the city. As someone who does her grocery shopping on a Tuesday afternoon and avoids the crowds as much as possible, I would much rather stay local and have some summer fun.

Give Your Clients a Heads-Up in Advance 
Be sure to inform all your clients, even if you don’t have any work scheduled during the time you plan on being away. You never know when a client will give you a last-minute assignment. Giving your clients a heads-up a few months in advance will ensure they have their needs taken care of while you’re away. If necessary, have a solid list of freelance friends who could fill in for you. Don’t forget to put up an auto-responder email message and send out your invoices before you take off!

While it can be tricky to make time for a vacation while you freelance, it’s definitely not impossible. It just takes a little more planning. As I worked a lot in 2015, I plan on getting away this year. Happy travels! 🙂

Trade Show Vacationing in Vegas: How to Get In

By Nick Zynda

Eight years ago I left my 9-5 job to freelance design full-time. That first tax season was a rude awakening: I quickly learned that self-employment would require creative use of expenses to maximize deductions. After optimizing most of my day-to-day life to align with business expenditures, I was left with one big “sore thumb” of a non-deductible expense—vacationing.

Enter a city where days are blocked out in handshakes, paradigm shifts, and synergistic supply-chain enterprising…while the nights are a bacchanalian feast for the senses where the “resortist” is king. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas Nevada: the home of trade show vacationing. Here are are tips on getting a bang for your buck while combining work with play in Vegas:

Where the trade shows at?
Practically any day of the week there is a trade show at one of Las Vegas’ numerous event halls. In addition to the large Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center, almost all casinos and resorts have their own trade show venues. Check out the
 ongoing calendar of events around the city, or mark out the big shows you might want to attend.

You can also contact casinos and resorts directly to see which organizations will be congregating  during a given window of time. Regardless of your line of business, these trade shows are often just a gathering of business owners, salespeople, and entrepreneurs. If there’s a service you can provide them to grow their business or product, they’re usually happy to give you a few minutes of time in an otherwise boring multi-day event. Grab a stack of business cards and hit the floor.

Plan ahead of time to get in. 
Most trade shows have a website with a attendee registration form for “exhibits only” which means entrance to the floor where all the booths are set up. They’ll try to upsell you to panels, speakers or workshops, but most of those are specific to the industry and not worth wasting valuable Vegas time at.

Plan early: the “exhibits only” pass may include free registration if you sign up early enough in the year. The big shows (CES, ConExpo, NAB, Infocomm) may require a promo, discount or invite code to get in free. A basic Google search will usually bring up a handful of these codes. When registering, get creative with your job title—people will be more likely to talk to you if it seems like you’re a bigwig with your company, even if that company is just you.

Use a secondary email. 
It’s wise to use a secondary email account since you’ll be spammed by the show as well as any number of vendors. You’ll be asked about your industry and areas of focus—think on your toes and make it seem like you’re the perfect candidate to forge business partnerships with the companies exhibiting. Once you’ve got the confirmation email they’ll either send you a badge in the mail, or you can pick it up in person. Remember to bring your ID on the day of, so don’t use a fake name. Once the trade show is locked down, the rest of the trip is in support of this business venture, you’ll have time for some tax deductible fun.

Nick Zynda is a freelance designer with an emphasis on product packaging. His clients have included Tapout, Costco, Tommy’s Chili, Artisan Brand Snacks, The Soy of Life and many small and growing businesses from around the world. He lives in San Diego with his wife, newborn baby, and rat terrier.

How to Bum Around on a Road Trip on a Budget

By Matt Dyer

About five years ago, I decided to take a little road trip, as cheaply as possible, just to get the hell out of L.A. for a few days. It ended up being an awesome, life-changing, two-week trip up and down the West Coast. I slept in my car and visited a lot of random places without any particular plan. 

It was so exhilarating that I decided to do this full time for a year, going coast to coast and back. I recommend going during the fall or spring, as the more extreme summer and winter months can be unpleasant for sleeping in your car. At any rate, from that experience, here’s what I learned about traveling the USA on the cheap:

What You’ll Need:
-A few days worth of clothes
-Plenty of blankets
-Phone charger
-2-3 gallons of water
-3 days worth of food
-Small cooler
-Jumper cables
-First aid kit
-Sleeping bag

What You Don’t Need:
First, let’s talk about the plan: you don’t need a plan. Airplane tickets? Nope, you’re taking your car. Hotel reservations? Your car is the hotel—just put all of your blankets and pillows in the back and make a little nest. Food? Grab whatever is in your pantry and pack it in. There are grocery stores in other towns that will gladly sell food to you. Definitely bring a toothbrush and enough clothes to keep you warm at a wide range of temperatures; after all, you are essentially going to be camping. You could also bring a tent and do some traditional tent camping if you’d like, but a car is more than adequate.

1. Bring a Lot of Blankets (You Are Sleeping In Your Car).
Cars, like tents, are not well-insulated, so it can get pretty cold sleeping in them at night in the winter. Conversely, it can get unbearably hot in the summer. The dead of winter is doable with a really warm sleeping bag and a lot of blankets, whereas summer is just too damn hot and there are too many bugs. Spring and fall are the best. Personally, I think the ideal time for a sleep-in-the-car road trip is in November; just bring a lot of blankets. How many? Too many is almost enough. The great thing about late fall/early winter is that it’s cold enough to sleep comfortably but it’s not freezing, there are not many bugs flying around, the weather is pretty calm, food doesn’t spoil immediately in your car, and the longer nights give you more privacy and more time to sleep in.

2. Find Makeshift Campgrounds
Where can you park your car in order to sleep? The ideal situation is to park in a campground. Obviously, I’m not talking about the kind of campground that charges a fee, as in a National Park (a night in the Grand Canyon costs more than some motels!). I’m talking about the kind of informal, primitive, FREE campground that you can find in many of the obscure National Forests that you’ve never heard of.

Take the road less traveled! Sometimes it’s just a turnaround on a dirt road that’s big enough to park a car. If you have the good fortune to come across BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) in the middle of nowhere (i.e. central Nevada), you can usually just park anywhere and camp for the night. I always tried to park out of sight of the main roads, just to avoid any Deliverance-like situations, and I made sure to not block any roads. Even out-of-the-way dirt roads in the middle of the desert can have a maintenance truck drive down them at 7 a.m., as I experienced multiple times.

3. Make Your Car Look Like a Hobo’s Lair
Things get a little sketchy when you’re passing through more developed areas and need to stop. In general, if I stayed anywhere other than a campsite, I would never stay for more than one night, just in case I was breaking a law or pissing someone off without realizing it. The good ole mainstays for me were 24-hour Walmarts, truck stops, and, when worse came to worst, highway rest areas. You’ll need to use a thick blanket, sleeping pad, or piece of cardboard over your head if you stay in one of these parking lots, both for privacy and for shielding out the bright ass overhead lights. I wouldn’t park in a completely empty lot outside of a closed business because it could attract unwanted attention. While I never had any problems, there is a genuine risk that someone will want to break into your car if they see you in there, or if it looks like you have some nice stuff to steal. To deal with that contingency, I tried to make it look like the back of my car was just full of trash. This became easier over time as I accumulated actual trash to put over my nest.

4. Get Ready for Bed In a Different Location Than Where You Will Be Sleeping
Occasionally, I stopped on a residential street, but I had to be smooth to avoid the attention of any paranoid neighbors. Here’s how to be smooth: get ready for bed somewhere else—if you’re going to brush your teeth, eat dinner, use a bathroom, or rearrange the stuff in your car, do that at a gas station, or at least in a different neighborhood. When you’re all ready, get in your car and drive on until you find a quiet block that has other cars parked on the street. Drive at a reasonable, non-creepy speed. When you see a place to park, pull over quickly, turn off the car, and casually look around to see if anyone is watching you. If the coast is clear, crawl back into your nest and bury yourself in the pile of pseudo-garbage that is your urban camouflage. If you’re young and bright-eyed and innocent, and you don’t have a creepy mustache or the like, I doubt that people would give you much trouble, but I think it’s still a good idea to keep a low profile in these situations. When you wake up in the morning, check to see if anyone is standing around, and if you’re good, then crawl out of your nest, drive away, and eat breakfast somewhere else.

5. Have Only a Few Days Worth of Food at a Time
Speaking of breakfast, eating at Denny’s every day can get expensive. You’ll need to get some groceries if you really want to be cheap. There is a temptation to gather the whole journey’s stockpile of food before you even leave home, but I recommend that you only start the trip with a few day’s worth of food (unless you’re going straight into the wilderness to camp). The reason is that shopping for groceries at
an unfamiliar store in an unfamiliar town is an interesting experience. You get to see with new eyes something that is very mundane, and you may gain a better understanding of yourself and your habits. That is the essence of traveling, and you don’t have to fly around the world to experience it. 

For food recommendations:  Search online for camping food ideas that don’t involve much or any cooking.

Keep in mind that, since you’re not backpacking, you can carry heavier things like canned food, and you can stop at grocery stores frequently to get fresh and healthy food (i.e., you’re not relegated to eating canned chili 3 times a day). If you have a cooler, you can keep filling it with ice to keep perishables fresh. You should definitely have at least 2-3 gallons of water with you at all times, especially if you’re in remote areas. In general, if you’re going to be in remote areas, be prepared to get stuck there for several days, just in case. It wouldn’t hurt to have some jumper cables, fix-a-flat, and a first aid kit—you should have those in your car anyway.

6. Truck Stops are Great for Showering
The great thing about traveling in cold weather is that you don’t need to shower that much or even change clothes often, especially if you’re out in the wilderness. But let’s say you’re driving toward a city and you want to shower before re-entering society. You can use a private shower in a truck stop for about $3 to $15, depending on how nice the shower is. They’ll even give you a clean towel. You should know that truck stops with showers are usually located way outside of cities on major highways. If you’re already in a city, you’ll probably have to rent a motel room, unless you happen to find a public pool with showers. As with grocery shopping, showering in a weird place gives you a new take on an everyday experience.

7. Get Creative with Bathroom Time
With the exception of severely crowded cities like San Francisco, finding bathrooms is no problem. Since you need to stop for food and gas pretty regularly, there are always opportunities to go. It can be strangely liberating to rely exclusively on public restrooms for an extended period of time. 
In addition, when you’re out in the woods, you can enjoy the splendor of copping a squat in the middle of the wilderness. If you’re a dude, you can use an empty gallon jug for those times when it’s too cold or awkward to get out of the car to take a leak. The tricky part is emptying a jug full of
urine without embarrassing yourself—you’ll figure that one out. 

In addition, when you’re out in the woods, you can enjoy the splendor of copping a squat in the middle of the wilderness.

8. Find Interesting Ways to Have Fun
With the basics figured out, the last question is, “What do you do?” That’s up to you and who or what you happen to encounter. Walking around is a good, cheap, go-to activity in any location. So is talking to random people—there are a lot of friendly folks when you get out into the hinterland. Sometimes taking care of basics, like getting an oil change or buying some lettuce, is the activity.

9. Keep an Open Mind
Overall, the key to an interesting, fun, and cheap road trip is simple: Keep an open mind. Most people decide to go to famous, expensive places because they have no imagination. There are a million places out there that you haven’t heard of, and many don’t even have names. These are the places where there are no entrance fees, no fences, and no crowds because no one even thinks of them as “destinations.” Indeed, you’ll probably find that it’s difficult at first to recognize that these places are—well, places-—because your mind habitually seeks out what it already knows and ignores what it doesn’t know. Take the road less traveled. Learn to keep an open mind, and you’ll have a rewarding trip.

It’s free out there—in more ways than just financially. Out in the middle of nowhere, you can experience a level of freedom that the average city dweller might not be able to comprehend. Some of these places are beautiful, some are ugly; they are all yours to discover. The challenge, and indeed the fun, of this kind of minimalist road trip is in learning how to explore the unknown… the mundane… the destination that is not a “destination.” Just keep an open mind.

*Please keep in mind that I was a male in my late 20s. It might be different experience with different challenges if you are a female. This isn’t for everyone as there are inherent dangers to sleeping in your car.

Related posts: Around the World on 80 Dollars

Everybody Walks in LA: How to Create Your Own Walking Tour

By Eric Brightwell

A few years ago my aging but until-then-reliable Subaru blew a head gasket deep in the Mojave Desert, choosing like all of its predecessors to break down in the least convenient of places. Rather than repair it, I sold it for scrap (which didn’t recoup the towing costs) and decided to go car-free, something I’d previously dabbled with for months at a time but never committed fully to.

By the time of my decision I’d been writing about exploring Los Angeles neighborhoods for Amoeba Music’s Amoeblog for a few years. That, in turn, had led to doing similar work for KCET—apparently some people enjoyed reading about walking and exploring almost as much as I enjoy doing it…or maybe they just liked the maps that I drew which accompanied the writing. Maps go hand in hand (or foot in foot) with rambles and my crudely drawn and painted ones have amused some.

In exploring on foot (and bike, train, and bus) I noticed that I’d gotten more fit, was feeling better, and best of all, experiencing the city (Los Angeles, in my case, where we’re told car is king and no one walks) on a much deeper and fulfilling level than I ever had during the years I’d wasted trapped within my metal box, practically entombed between freeway noise barriers to the sad tune of thousands of dollars in annual operating costs.

In popular culture, cars are sexy symbols of freedom. In school the requirement to take Driver’s Ed (and non-existence of Transit Rider’s Ed) prepares us for an unhealthy addiction to automobiles. More and more people, whose childhoods were spent in freeway gridlock, are choosing to walk away from cars. Even if you choose to own a car (or boat, plane, dirigible, hot air balloon or other expensive toy), walking even occasionally can have very real benefits on your well-being and wallet. Although most of us pick up the ability to walk in infancy, there are still skills that I’ve learned as an adult:

1. Choose a location and timeframe. Do you want to explore public stairways, public sculpture, street art, architecture, industrial ruins, rivers, parks, ethnic enclaves, built environments? Do a little research beforehand if you’d like. I make a list of things I’d like to check out if time allows. If you take a bus or train, make sure it’s running late enough to take you home when you’re done.2. Be prepared. Always wear sunscreen. Unless you’re a masochist, comfortable clothes – especially shoes — are a must. Re-hydrate often and keep your eyes open for libraries and other places with decent public restrooms because they more hydrated you are, the more miserable you’ll feel if your bladder feels like exploding and you’ve no idea where to relieve yourself.

3. Ramble.
If you have time, wander aimlessly. Favor side streets – especially ones blessed with ample shade, parks, or visual appeal. Let all of your senses guide you. Unfamiliar neighborhoods can be the most rewarding although walking through ones you’ve only driven through previously can be eye-opening and stereotype-destroying. Relish your freedom as a pedestrian to go places that cars can’t. Take tunnels, public stairways, walkways, and cut through malls, parks, and cemeteries and the like.
Rose Hill4. Bring a smartphone. Just because walking is low-tech doesn’t mean that you have to forsake technology. Sites like Foursquare, Yelp, and Urbanspoon are helpful for cluing you into points of interest that are beyond your field of vision. You’ll also want to take pictures to document your adventures. Bring a charger for you phone, too, and keep your eyes open for outlets—they’re perhaps more common than you think—until your batteries at 3%, when they all mysteriously vanish. In any case, a map can help too — I draw my own — because you may not always get reception.5. Talk to strangers. If you look like an outsider, people will often ask what you’re doing. Sometimes they’ll want to show and tell. I’ve been offered rides (which I haven’t taken), water (always appreciated), into people’s homes, a tour of a mausoleum, and most recently – a packet of seed corn. Other times people have just wanted to show me their puppies and swap stories.6. Don’t be afraid. In all likelihood, nothing bad is going to happen to you anywhere. If it makes you feel better though bring (according to your fears) bug spray, bandages (for blisters), pepper spray, mace, keys, hand sanitizer, a dog, or a friend. I always carry a pocket knife. I’ve only ever used it to take cuttings of succulents and flowers but I’ve never wished that I hadn’t had it on me.

7. Ignore the naysayers. Some people will tell you that no one walks, that it’s impossible to get anywhere on foot, or that it’s dangerous. These people are unfailingly unhealthy and unhappily car-dependent and therefore much more likely to die of heart disease than you are to encounter any sort of unforeseen obstacle. Your walking is something they resent because it, not car-dependency, is real freedom. I can only speak for myself but I’m always surprised at how much closer everything is once I walk than I imagined it to be beforehand.

Eric_BrightwellAbout Eric: Eric Brightwell writes Eric’s Blog for Amoeba Music and Block By Block for KCET, both of which frequently revolve around walking explorations. He draws and paints maps of his explorations as Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography. He can frequently be seen walking and reading, and occasionally tripping, around Silver Lake.
All Maps by Eric Brightwell 

Around the World with 80 Dollars

One Man Globetrots After Getting Laid Off

With the unemployment rate the highest it’s been in nearly two decades, the threat of getting axed by the man looms overhead. Many of us would prepare to make a beeline for the unemployment office, schedule medical appointments before our health insurance coverage ends, and ration the last of the cans of baked beans. Certainly the last thing on our minds would be to take a vacation. However, 32-year-old Joel Shaughnessy, known by acquaintances and friends alike to be frugal to the max, was able tap into his severance package and savings to be a regular globetrotter (he is not on unemployment of any sort). Taking a whirlwind of a trip around the world than spanned several continents in four months, Joel is back in the States for a short while more before concluding the last leg of his travels. In this exclusive Cheapsters interview, Joel explains exactly how he went about seeing the world on a shoestring budget.