As you probably already know, this May I packed up my little hatchback car, picked up my boyfriend, stowed the dog comfortably in the back seat, and set off across the US, making my way from Flagstaff, Arizona—where I’d spent my winter hiking the Grand Canyon, diving into the literary community, and catching up with my best friend—to Richmond, Virginia, to celebrate my sister’s marriage, and then all the way up to Canada, where we’re still in the process of making our way across the country to Vancouver.
We’re on the road for a total of just over two and a half months, covering something like 8,000 miles by the time we’re done.
Oh yeah, and we’re not on vacation. We’re still working along the way.
Which begs the question: how?
How are we slowly making our way in a loop across America, up to Canada, and back across Canada with a dog, a relationship, and two freelance jobs?
Of course, the biggest challenge is making sure we have time to get our work done.
While we’re on the road, we’ve set aside two full days each week (Mondays and Thursdays) for work. This was Chad’s idea and it was a brilliant one. It means our work time is sacred, protected, accounted for in the schedule, and so is our playtime.
Since it’s just two days a week, we work pretty long hours those days. I’m an early riser, usually up by 5 or 6 a.m. (7 on a late morning), so I jump on the computer right away and probably knock out about 20 hours of work in those two days each week.
We also occasionally duck away to catch up on emails or wrap up a project in the mornings or evenings. I upload and edit photos almost nightly. And it isn’t unusual to find me chipping away at my novel while Chad drives in the afternoons on travel days or see him coding from the passenger seat when I’m driving in the mornings. But the sacred, set-aside, no-distractions, get-er-done workdays are Mondays and Thursdays.
Chad works on coding projects and building his new software project coaching program and I split my days into two very distinct categories. Monday is a left-brain day. If I have any coding or website projects, that’s the day I do them. I also tackle emails, strategic projects and problems, and website updates. If I still have time, I do some editing and fact-checking work.
Thursdays, as you might have guessed, get to be right-brain days. I work on creative projects. I wrestle with my novel. I blog. I write (and write and write). And when I’ve coaxed all the creativity I can out of myself, I work through my email inbox and go on social media posting sprees.
Of course, client projects don’t always allow for those designations, so sometimes you’ll find me writing on a Monday or editing on a Thursday, but separating the two days is my ideal schedule when I can make it work.
The other logistical challenge when you’re living out of a car is food.
We try to eat healthy and we’re currently both on a tight budget, so we haven’t eaten out very much along the way. Instead, we travel with a cooler that plugs into the car and we frequent natural grocery stores. We also carry one good knife, a few spoons and forks, a bunch of containers (which double as cups and bowls, as well as food storage), and a can opener, as well as a few other cooking-type things.
Some of our go-to meals on the road?
Mexican night: tortillas, cilantro, mashed avocado, lime juice, garlic powder, black beans, salsa, chips, cheese, onions, and lunchmeat.
Salads: spinach, dried cranberries or blueberries, nuts (walnuts or pine nuts), carrots, red pepper, chopped lunchmeat, croutons, onions, cheese, and a dressing made from mixing olive oil and soy sauce.
Homemade lunchables: good organic crackers, cheese (thinly sliced and varying in type), lunchmeats, hummus, and usually a side of yogurt, fruits, or veggies.
Breakfast: oats or cereal with dried fruit and perhaps a little brown sugar or honey.
And when we have a kitchen or bring in our portable burner, we have also made:
Couscous with artichokes (jarred and preserved), onions, olive oil, and garlic powder. Usually served with a salad.
Pasta with red sauce (canned diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, garlic, olive oil, onions, and a dash of cayenne pepper). Also usually served with a salad or fruit or a dessert of yogurt.
Obviously, the other big logistical thing to think about on the road is the dog. While we’re traveling, she rides in the back seat with a comforter, pillows, her blanket, my jacket, and all other soft things. She’s hooked onto the seat with her leash and harness and on particularly tricky driving days (like our first day, when it snowed and then rained), she rides in her carrier, which attaches to the seatbelt.
We stop every hour or two for bathroom breaks (for both her and us) and I keep a small container for water in the backseat in case she gets thirsty (she’s like a dog-camel, though, and often refuses to drink).
When we’re not in the car, she stays with us in our hotels and inns along the way. And if we’re going somewhere she can’t come (like a restaurant), she stays in the room or sometimes in her carrier (depending on the hotel’s pet policy and/or how she’s feeling).
Since I’m not traveling alone anymore, there’s also the matter of sharing duties and radio privileges and making sure we’re being kind to each other along the way. We handle this firstly by just being self-aware and making an effort to always be kind, even when we disagree (which hasn’t happened a lot, but does happen). And we also have a few baseline rules.
Like the person driving also has control of the music/podcast/audiobook/silence. They get to choose what kind of background noise, if any, they want. Interestingly, I generally go with podcasts and Chad chooses silence. And if the passenger isn’t a fan of the music/podcast/whatever, they can work or read or put on headphones.
We also generally split up driving into half-days. I’m a major morning person, so I drive first. Once we stop for lunch, which is when my tiredness levels go up, Chad takes over.
We’re also both introverts who need quiet and alone time, so we had a conversation way before the trip about how it was okay to need alone time and to say so if you did.
As for expenses, mostly they’re 50-50. We split gas, hotel bills, tolls (ugh, tolls), and pretty much anything else we share, with one exception. Since I’m not as big of an eater as he is, we’re not splitting food 50-50. Instead, we do three transactions at the grocery store. One for my non-shared stuff (mostly food for Luna and bottles of Gatorade), one for his non-shared stuff (almonds to snack on in the car, extra quinoa, epic bars), and one for food we plan on sharing (black beans, salsa, etc.). I, of course, pay for my food. He pays for his. And the shared food we split 60-40, knowing that he’ll be eating a bit more than I will.
As for how we’re tracking the splitting…we have a shared online spreadsheet where we enter our receipts. We track a bunch of stuff, having columns for things like gas, food, hotels, and other, but the key thing is the columns that show what I owe Chad and what Chad owes me. When the two columns get unbalanced (such as when I paid two hotel bills early on), the person who owes more pays for the shared expenses until the columns even out again.
This is also how we track where we’re staying, how long our driving days are, and what we’ve got planned, in a shared online spreadsheet called Road Trip, Baby.
Ever done your own crazy cross-country road trip? Any logistical choices that made life simpler for you?