After-Thoughts From The Road

Three weeks on the road is fun, exciting, exhausting, frustrating and refreshing…all at the same time.

Being that this was my third trip in my truck with the dogs I have learned a couple of things along the way, like what to bring and what to leave behind, what to give time to and what to miss, what mistakes I made and what I did right. And this trip was no different.

A road-trip alone is difficult and scary for many people, especially single women, but it doesn’t have to be. It is all about being prepared and being aware of your surroundings, and the people around you. While I choose remote camping sites which occasionally make me nervous, they are also sites that are unlikely ever to be bothered by those with unwholesome intent.

I travel with dogs for a reason; they are more aware of what is going on around them and they alert when something is out of the ordinary. I also travel with a firearm (while obeying relevant state laws) that I am both knowledgeable about and proficient with. Pepper spray is also another alternative in areas where a firearm is either illegal (Canada) or difficult to carry without dozens of restrictions (California).

So some of the things I have learned over the last three years can be combined into one list. Hopefully it will show other solo female road-trippers that you can be safe and have fun while still being free and somewhat practical.

In Camp:

  1. I sleep in my vehicle with my dogs (they are either in the pick-up bed or in the cab with me. The only window open for ventilation is the sliding back window which is hard to reach without climbing into the back…with dogs! Never keep a window open that someone can reach into. It goes without saying to keep the doors locked too.
  2. My keys are always in the ignition at night and my truck almost always has an escape route in front of it, and preferably behind it. It is easy to pull the sunshade down, turn the ignition key and leave. I have everything in the back of the truck, packed and loaded for driving before I go to bed.
  3. Try to find a place and set-up camp well-before the sun sets. Explore the area and get to know the terrain and the obstacles. Be safe but have fun. Keep a flashlight with you so that if it does get dark, you can find your way back to the campsite.
  4. If you have a firearm or pepper-spray, always keep it within reach or on your person.
  5. Bag trash in small grocery sacks: use 1 per day, keep in the vehicle at night (bears, raccoons etc) and throw away when you get gas. This is an easy and manageable way to deal with garbage while on the road.
  6. Getting up in the middle of the night to use the “facilities” isn’t much fun. To make it easier have some supplies ready to grab so you don’t have to find the roll in the dark.

Other Considerations:

I travel in my F250 pick-up truck. With the dog food and trash, and me inside when I sleep, there is no room for the other things I need. Water-proof totes are essential (unless you spill water inside them, but that’s a different story).

Everything is stored in the back of the truck which leaves some scope for needing an imagination. All clothes are stored in one clear plastic tote, organized so I can grab the top layer of each for the next day (jeans, socks, u/w, tank-top or t-shirt etc). Another smaller tote is used for laundry and is easy to cart in and out of the laundromat when necessary.

Cooking gear is stored in another clear plastic tote, with easy access to pans, silverware and dish-soap closest to the tailgate, and less-used items towards the cab. A cooler and ice (replenished often) keeps drinks and some food cold. The melted ice also provides cold drinking water for the dogs so I don’t have to use my own drinking supply.

I also keep a small tote of canned food and ramen noodles next to my cooking gear. Unless I eat out I don’t mess with fresh or frozen food while camping.

Lastly, I have a 7 gallon aquatainer for water that I use for drinking and cleaning dishes, brushing teeth and washing my face in the morning (usually very briskly). This is easy to fill and can be tipped up to protect the tap. Things do tend to slide around when traversing dirt roads.

If, like me, you sleep in your vehicle (or even if you don’t) a comfortable place to sleep is essential. Camp pads or cots have made sleeping in tents pretty comfortable but very little is made specifically for the back-seat of a truck or SUV.

When I travel to renaissance faires I throw my air-mattress in the back of my SUV, put my camping bedroll on top (for the memory-foam mattress topper in it) and then put sheets and blankets on it to make a proper twin bed. It is comfortable and easy.

However, the backseat of a pick-up isn’t conducive to most people sleeping there; the seats are hard and narrow and the width of the truck means that only short people can get away with this. But there still aren’t any solutions that are pre-made.

The first year I tried road-tripping in my truck left me sleeping on a very hard, slightly-sloping backseat. It was horrifically uncomfortable despite the foot space in front of the seat being filled in and lying on top of a comforter and sleeping bag, and left me with bruises on my hips. By the time I reached Coeur d’Alene (four days and one hotel later) I was ready to do some fixing. My solution was to purchase two foam king-sized mattress toppers, fold them in thirds and wrap them in a fleece sleeping bag. This made the whole thing 8″ thick and the perfect length and width of the back-seat area of my truck. I added the sheets and quilt I had originally brought with me to turn the whole set-up into a proper, albeit narrow, bed. It has since been modified slightly, taking advantage of the widest part of the doors (about mid-height). It has served me well the last two years for both road-trips and the occasional quick camping trip with the horses when someone else’s cot broke and I gave up my air-mattress. There is nothing quite like having a proper bed to sleep in with sheets and a comforter to help you sleep the best you can.

I believe this idea can be modified for any vehicle, including a small passenger car.

Take your time and don’t rush from one place to the next. I made that mistake this year and missed out on stopping to see and do things. In previous years I stopped at museums and restaurants, did short hikes, watched rodeos and went to street dances after, visited with locals and became a spectator at street events. While I saw a lot this year I rushed myself, mostly wanting to make sure I had a good campsite each night and wasn’t hunting for one at dusk.

While good campsites are important they shouldn’t be the focus of a road-trip. And while having my dogs with me makes it harder to stop and do things they don’t make it impossible and I just have to work around it a little. I am lucky that both of my dogs are well-behaved and stay in the back of my truck, but I don’t want to leave them alone in a big city where they might get taken. I just have to plan ahead if there’s something I want to do or see.

Sleeping in a truck also requires some fore-thought. After 3 years of road-tripping I more-or-less have it down to a science. I struggle to sleep when it gets light, so creating a dark space is a must. A sunshade for the windshield is ideal and serves a dual purpose for keeping the interior cooler in the day during stops and blocking daylight at 4am.

Basic bath towels have proven to be more-than-adequate “curtains” for the driver and passenger side windows. Closing the windows with the majority of the towel hanging on this inside of the door keeps morning light and prying eyes out. These would work on any passenger vehicle, although electric windows are a little easier.

I have an extended cab, which means I have those little folding windows in the half doors. Bath towels don’t work for me here and I had to get inventive this year as the early-morning sun was beginning to drive me nuts at 4:30am. I discovered that a high-thread-count pillowcase was the perfect solution if I slid the pillowcase in just right and closed and locked the window. While not ideal, I could also travel with them this way and was never stopped by law enforcement (although I’m still not sure about the legality of them).

Lastly, I screwed in a bunch of mug hooks above the back window and hung a black shower curtain on the inside. This is easy to put up and take down when I go to bed, and while not quite as dark as the sunshade or the towels, it is more than sufficient to keep the sun at bay, especially when I point the nose of the truck towards the rising sun, and under shade if possible.

The joys of a road-trip are that you don’t really need a destination to go on one. And the joys of not having a destination mean that you can stop wherever, whenever and take whichever road or route looks interesting to you at the time. So get out there and do it…even if you’re alone in the adventure! You’ll never regret it.

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