6 Things We Learned During Our First Six Months on the Road

Setting out for a cross country road trip!
Six months on the road, and we still clean up pretty well!

Planning an extended road trip? Thinking about traveling long-term? Yeah, we’ve got some thoughts about that… We’ve been living on the road for the past six months, have traveled over 15,000 miles, and visited 11 states and two Canadian provinces.  While it feels like we’ve been doing this for a long time, we’re still learning something new about travel every day.

The first couple of weeks on the road were rough for us. Our cubicle daydreams just didn’t match the reality of living on the road. Needless to say, there were some definite growing pains as we adapted to our new way of life. But, we’re finally getting into the groove of things. So for anyone thinking about hitting out the road, here are few of the things we’ve learned over the past six months.  

Road Trip Tip: Travel slowly. It’s only when your mind is free from distractions that you can really appreciate a place for what it is.
1.) Go slow

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

At the beginning of our trip, we felt unstoppable. We had just quit our jobs, moved out of our apartment, and sold most of our possessions. We felt incredibly light, totally energized, and ready for anything.

But after a few weeks, our boundless enthusiasm met the hard limitations of reality. We wanted to see everything and do everything, but there were still only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week. Quitting our jobs didn’t create any more time, it just allowed us to spend our time differently. And looking back, we were spending it like crazy people.

In almost every regard, we were trying to do too much, too fast. And despite our abundance of “free time,” we always felt rushed. Our biggest mistake was never spending more than one night in a single location. There were exceptions of course, but that was the general rule. There was always another MUST SEE place we had to get to the next day. As soon as we had a chance to settle in and unpack, it was already time to leave. This forced-march tempo might be fine for short sprints, but for a long-term traveler, it’s totally exhausting.

Road Trip Tip: Travel slowly. It’s only when your mind is free from distractions that you can really appreciate a place for what it is.
Taking a moment to soak it all in at an Oregon hot spring.

Because we were in a constant state of motion, everything had to be researched on the fly: where to camp, what to cook, where to buy groceries. All day long, we lurched from one logistical challenge to the next. What’s the fastest route? Are there any parks in the area? Where should we stop for lunch? Meanwhile, on the business side of things, we had overloaded ourselves. We took on so many freelance projects and guest posts, that we barely had time to keep up with our own social media and emails – never mind updating our own blog!

After a month we started to feel burnt out. We tried on multiple occasions to restart the pace of the trip, but it was hard to kick our habit of over scheduling. Who knew it required so much discipline to maintain a relaxed lifestyle! Thankfully, our mini-break during the holidays allowed us to take a step back and reassess how we wanted to approach the second part of the trip. Obviously, most people don’t get a second chance at taking a trip of a lifetime, which is why we are so happy we took this intermission.

OUR ADVICE: For any road trip longer than two weeks, we would suggest taking it slow. Like way, way slow. Over-budget your time, give yourself a chance to really experience a place. In fact, give yourself a chance to feel bored. It’s only when your mind is free from distractions that you can really appreciate a place for what it is. Otherwise, you’ll be rushing for one photo op to the next without actually experiencing anything.

Road Trip Tip- You can see a lot, but you can't see everything. Spend less time driving to a place, and more time being in a place.
2.) You can see a lot, but you can’t see everything.

One of the major takeaways from the first part of our trip was that we can see a lot, but we can’t see everything. The country is just way too big. Looking at a road map and a blank calendar might give you the false impression you can fit it all in, but start filling in the dates and you’ll find it’s impossible. There are so many fantastic places out there it would be impossible to visit them all in a lifetime, never mind a year.  

Looking back, we spent way too much time “driving to a place” and not nearly enough time “being in a place.” That ratio is something we’re being a lot more mindful of on the second half of the trip. The car is the vehicle, not the destination.

One of the new strategies we’ve adopted is to not drive more than two hours a day. There might be something really cool on the other side of the state, but we’re not going to spend six hours driving over there to check it out. If we can incorporate it into our route, great. But if not, we need to be okay with saving it for “next time.”

OUR ADVICE: Quality over quantity. While it might sound super impressive to tell somebody you visited all fifty states during your month-long road trip, we can assure you the quality of your visits will be extremely limited. Forget ultimate road trip itineraries and definitive lists: All the state capitols, every national park, etc. Long term travel can be so much more than just checking off boxes on a list. Besides, if you take it slow, the boxes will start to check themselves off.

Road Trip Tip:- Pack Less
All the things we carried on our April shakedown trip: gone now.

3.) Pack less

In the months leading up to our trip, we felt like we were walking through a dream. This big trip we had talked about for three years and actively planned for six months was really going to happen. All of our hopes, all of our fantasies were coming true. But while anything is possible in a dream, you simply can’t pack for that.

Of course we wanted to do it all. We wanted to bring our bicycles, a four person tent, a giant shade shelter, big comfy camping chairs, all the board games, and a dozen other wish-list niceties. At some point, we were discussing buying Oru kayaks and strapping them to the roof.  

And that was just the gear. When it came to packing clothes we were even worse! What if we need business attire for a meeting? What about something nice for a night out? Should we bring our cycling spandex and clipless shoes? What about our rock climbing shoes? Our ski apparel? The list of What Ifs went on forever.

We were on the road for just a few weeks before we started mailing things back, donating them to friends, or just throwing them away. We brought so much stuff that not only were things not getting used, but they were actively getting in our way. Each time we wanted to access the hatch, we needed to remove the bikes and bike rack. If things weren’t put away exactly right, the top box wouldn’t close. If our clothes weren’t folded perfectly, they wouldn’t fit in the duffel bag.

Road Trip Tip:- Pack Less-
The way we began to look at it was: “If we need to move it more than we use it then we should lose it.” There’s no point in dragging something all around the country if you’re only going to use it a handful of times. Even if we had the space, it’s not worth wasting the mental energy required to keep track of something you so rarely use.

OUR ADVICE: Go on a shakedown run before your trip. A great way to approach this is to pack the absolute bare essentials and wait for the “need” to arise. It’s remarkably easy to pack for every imaginable circumstance, so wait until the circumstance comes to you before you address it. You’ll discover that you can get by with a lot less than you think.

Road Trip Tip:- Don't skip breakfast. When you take a little extra time in the morning to eat right, it results in a smoother ride through the rest of the day.
4.) Don’t skip breakfast!

A lot of people have asked us, “Living together in such close quarters, do you guys ever get into fights?” The answer is, of course, yes. But 99% of the time we can trace the reason back to an ill-fated decision to skip breakfast. (We’ve also found that skipping lunch yields a similar result.)

Despite being painfully aware of the risks, we kept making this mistake over and over again during the first part of our trip. A lot of it can be tied to the “get up and go” mentality, but sometimes it was because we didn’t have supplies with us or the weather wasn’t cooperating.

But we’ve learned a lot since then. We’ve found that when you take a little extra time in the morning to eat right, it results in a smoother ride through the rest of the day. We’re less irritable, we make better decisions, and we just feel better when we start the day off with something to eat. So listen to us, the people who run a food blog: “Eat your breakfast!”

Road Trip Tip:- Don't skip breakfast. When you take a little extra time in the morning to eat right, it results in a smoother ride through the rest of the day.
OUR ADVICE: The first step in making breakfast a priority is to always have the right supplies with you. You don’t need to have bacon & eggs every day, but your pantry should always have oatmeal, cream of wheat, or corn grits in stock. If you’re pressed for time, get some instant oatmeal packets or packaged granola. And if you’re really in a hurry, at least eat a Cliff bar. We guarantee it’ll pay big dividends later in the day.

If you’re in need of some inspiration to up your breakfast game, check out our breakfast recipes here!

Filling up water in Mt. Shasta
5.) Don’t put off until later what you can do now.

Should we get gas here or look for someplace cheaper? Should we buy groceries now or find someplace closer to camp? Should we eat lunch at this park or try to find someplace more scenic?

These are the dilemmas that confront us almost daily. Each one gives us the option to either take care of the problem now, or, put it off until some theoretically optimal period of time in the future. The former is obviously the correct answer, but you would be amazed how many times we chose the latter.

OUR ADVICE: Don’t put off until later, what you can take care of now. We know it sounds incredibly simple, but it’s something we still struggle with. Whenever you’re faced with a question like this, it’s best to think about the worst case of either scenario.

Example: If you stop for gas now, worse case you might overpay by a few cents per gallon. But if you don’t stop for gas, worse case you run out of gas and have to call AAA. Not stopping for gas presents the greater risk to your overall happiness and enjoyment. So stop for gas.

The same thing goes for buying groceries, stopping for lunch, refilling your water, using the restroom, and countless other logistical iterations. Life on the road is a life of full of uncertainty. Don’t place your faith in later. Now is the only time you can bank on.

Camping in Matole Beach
6.) Figure out where you’re sleeping first, then go play.

Our friend Brian, who went on a similar long-haul road trip, coined a term for the feeling when it’s getting late in the afternoon, the sun is starting to set, and you have absolutely no idea where you’re going to sleep. He called it “The Night Fear.” And we can tell you from experience, you want to avoid the night fear.

It might not be so bad for vandwellers, but for anyone without a self-enclosed living space like ourselves, setting up camp in the dark is no fun. The first stage of The Fear is frantically searching for a free or reasonably priced campsite on our cell phones, which invariably has spotty service. The second stage is driving way out of your way to the campsite only to discover the campground is full or the road is closed or it’s totally sketchy. Finally, there is finding a spot and setting up in the dark and feeling completely exposed in an unfamiliar setting. And, of course, all this is done while you’re completely exhausted and hungry.

Road Trip Tip: Figure out where you're going to camp, then go explore
OUR ADVICE: If possible, research where you want to stay the night before. But even if you’ve got a good place figured out, you’re still going to want to arrive by mid-day. Give yourself plenty of time to scope out the scene and possibly divert to an alternate location. On too many occasions, places we’ve found online ended up being closed, inaccessible, or excessively sketchy.

So figure out where you’re sleeping first, then go off and explore. The comfort of knowing you have a place to go back to at night will offset the time spent checking it out in person.

The Never Ending Learning Curve

These are just a few of the lessons – out of probably thousands – that we learned during our first six months on the road. Who knows what we’ll discover after another six months! Or six more after that! Traveling is a constantly evolving process that can never be fully perfected.

If you’ve been out on the road and have any lessons you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear it! Who knows, maybe we’re still doing it all wrong!

Open road in Jasper National Park

  1. Great post! I’m leaving to travel by myself (early twenties woman who is terrified of being kidnapped), and your advice gave me a few things to think about. Do you mind sharing where that campsite is located, in the picture of the cars in what looks like a desert area? I’ve had really bad experiences in the desert and am looking to avoid “free” campsites from now on.

    thanks!

    1. Hi Milica! That campsite is Mattole Beach on the Lost Coast of California, so not the desert unfortunately (but still a very beautiful, remote spot to camp!) I can imagine that traveling solo can be scary at times (I’ve only done so in cities). Erin Outdoors (erinoutdoors.com) is a friend we made on during our travels who travels solo and has some great thoughts on the subject if you’re looking for inspiration! Best of luck! – Megan

  2. These lessons are soo valuable!!! *Quality over Quantity* is KEY!!! I re-learned this when I visited Europe last year, I was so excited that our initially itinerary had a different place every 2 days, so glad I settled on only 3 cities and got to actually absorbed them! And I so agree ALWAYS get the gas now, the fear of finding a station later is not worth the pennies saved!

  3. “Don’t put off until later what you can do now.” THIS, THIS, THIS! There are just SO many times I have waited for a later that never came, and stressed myself out so much when I could have just gotten it done when I had a chance. Love this whole post and totally relate to all of it!

  4. this is a great post and something not discussed too often on many travel blogs. i am definitely guilty myself of spending too much time driving and not enough time enjoying where we are. even on short travel days i find myself wanting to keep driving, i think it might have something to do with your car being your comfort zone, like your home.

    the night fear is definitely real. we’ve been trying to find camping earlier and earlier, because especially if you are looking for dispersed campsites in national forest land, it can take a while to find something suitable.

  5. I loved the bit on Slow Travel where you said “give yourself a chance to feel bored”. On our first long road trip, we were dashing off constantly from one place to the next. Packing and repacking, cramming food in our mouths, driving long stretches at a time, and hustling to lookout points to catch a sunset before setting up camp. The 3-day or longer stints in one place were by FAR the most enjoyable. We could really unwind and get that feeling of being totally rooted and IN IT. It’s so easy to get swept up in that feeling of wanting to see it all and wanting to see it right now.

    The Pack Less section also really hit home! Too true. Playing tetris with the vehicle everytime you get to a new campsite can drive you bananas if you let it. As soon as you get everything to fit again and slam the trunk door closed, you realize you forgot to take out the matches. Face palm // deep breath. By our second trip we trimmed it considerably. There’s that endless learning curve in play that you were talking about, right??

    Great read. All these pictures make me itch to get back out on the road. Until then I will try my best to live vicariously through these gorgeous shots!

  6. Absolutely love this post! So many great tips in here:D I think a lot (okay, like all) are relevant for trips of all lengths, including short ones. There’s definitely a couple things in here that were good reminders for me. Photography = stunning, as usual. Great work guys. Side note, I feel like some of your “excessively sketchy” location stories could be funny!

  7. As a van traveler, I can totally relate to these tips!

    I really like the tip regarding packing only the essentials and waiting for a need to arise before thinking about other things you might need. I always seem to over pack (one time, a traveling partner brought a whole stereo setup to use for two shows he was playing…on a month long trip – the worst!), but I’ll definitely think back to this advice next time.

    I can’t help but laugh at “The Night Fear.” When I travel it’s more of “The Morning Fear” because when I first started living on the road I didn’t know to be prepared with a pee location when I settled down for the night. (Parking on city streets and waking up when nothing is open – major crisis, haha!) Luckily this was something I figured out real quick, but the Morning Fear still seems to be ever present.

    1. Ha, the Morning Fear is real, too!! Actually, mornings are always borderline crisis between waking up hungry + need for coffee + it’s been so dang cold lately that neither of us want to crawl out of our sleeping bags in order to start addressing those things.
      I’m also an over packer (most of the things that we gave a free ride to Canada and back were mine…) But, adopting the mentality of waiting for the need to arise has been a game changer, mostly because the need doesn’t arise, or I get clever in addressing the need with something else we already have with us.
      -Megan

  8. This is a fantastic post, and a great lesson about living minimally. I just think it’s so impressive that you’ve created such a wonderful space here + had such amazing adventures living out of your car, on the road! It’s really inspiring 🙂

    1. Thank you, Sarah 🙂 Living minimally has been an unexpected gift – it’s really allowed us the space to explore and connect in a way that we didn’t when we lived in LA. Thanks again for following along!

  9. I couldn’t agree more. We are spending three quarters of the year on the road in our Eurovan with an 8 month old. We just got back from Baja and leave shortly for the SE. These are great pointers. I’ve enjoyed following you guys on Instagram. Enjoy the 2nd half of your adventure. Cheers!

    1. I always admire travelers who make it work with little ones in tow! It’s so inspiring to hear that adventures don’t have to be put on hold once you take on the responsibility of parenthood. We are (slowly) making our way towards the SE as well – enjoy your time there!

  10. Fantastic post (as always)! I’m a strong believer in slow travel – the point of a holiday is to AVOID the constant rush and fear of an ever-growing to-do list that we experience in our everyday lives!

    The Lao Tzu quote you included particularly resonated with me – I’ve deliberately NOT organised a restricting itinerary for my road trip, just a small list of people I want to visit on the way. I know it’s not a feasible way to travel for everyone, as I don’t really have any responsibilities or commitments waiting for me back home. I’m incredibly grateful that I have the freedom to travel at my own pace, and change direction any time I want.

    I love the idea of going on a shake down run before you start the big trip! The Boy and I have just organised to go on 2 weekend trips before we head off on the big journey, so we can figure out exactly what we do and don’t need. And hopefully it will help put us in the travel mindset, so there’s not such a big shock once we hit the open road.

    Again, wonderful post. Thanks for sharing the lessons you’ve learnt on your travels. Very inspiring and eye-opening (and a nice reminder not to skip breakfast, which I am definitely guilty of).

    Wishing you all the best for the next six months, and beyond!

    1. Phoebe, you are totally on point with your thoughts about slow travel! More than anything, we wanted to experience a different pace of life on this trip than we did in our lives in Los Angeles, but it definitely has taken some mindful deliberateness to achieve it!

      I think the shakedown trips are critical – and doing multiple trips like you’re planning is even better! Looking back on the one 10-day trip we did before hitting the road, I can’t believe how much STUFF we took that we thought we needed but after those 10 days we realized we could live without. (Though there was plenty more we took and realized a few weeks in that we didn’t need, either).

      I think there will always be some amount of “shock” when actually hitting the road for a lengthy period of time, no matter how many shakedown trips you take – but they can definitely help minimize the big issues.

      Best of luck to you and The Boy – we are excited to start following along!

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