I had so many terrific experiences along the way that I couldn’t possibly tell them all. So here are just a few of my favorites.
The Boys In The Band
When I went to visit my college roommate, Shelli Soble and her awesome husband, Kal Klass in Marblemount, WA, it was so remote that even GPS said, “Screw it. You are on your own, road trip boy.” I finally found their place and I had just started catching up when I noticed a nice looking young man standing in their front yard. Somewhat perplexed, Shelli went out to see it was. It turns out that the man was Shelli’s neighbor, John Boyd who was doing his version of “neighborhood watch” to make sure everyone’s place was okay.
John came in for a chat and started telling us that he was playing in a band called Jumbled Pie. He explained that two Doctors who played in the band had volunteered their barn for practice sessions. I’m like, “hmmmm…an Americana, R & B, Cajun and Zydeco band practicing in a remote barn? Now you have my full attention.” John then asked Shelli if she remembered the band’s lead singer, Linda? Well, as it turns out, he explained, Linda has undergone gender transition and he is now Linden Jordan. And all that wasn’t a really big deal for anyone in the band except for the fact that they had to rearrange the music to account for Linden’s deeper voice.
Now I’m like, “Wait. What? Where are you guys playing? I gotta see this!” And to my pleasant surprise, they were playing close by that weekend at the Marblemount Community Hall. So Shelli, Kal and I went to hear them and they were very entertaining. Afterwards, I shot photos of the band (pictured above) so they could use them for their promotion – and so I could tell this story to you.
When Sara and Jake Simon invited me to visit them in their place in San Louis Obisbo, California we planned a jam packed day. We started with lunch at the Urbane Café, followed by a photo shoot for them (see their beautiful faces here) and dinner at the Firestone Grill. But the part I left out in telling the story was that these two young lovebirds were practically newlyweds – which was awesome – but their home was the size of a shoe box – which was concerning. Well, bedtime came and they set up the pull out bed. It was about four feet away from the honeymooner’s bed and all that separated us was a thin tapestry. So after “good nights” were said and I began to drift off, all I could remember was praying, “Lord, please don’t let me hear any bodily functions tonight. Amen.” I am happy to say that my prayer was answered and we all awoke fresh and ready for the morning. However, as you will see in the next story, I wasn’t always that lucky.
What A Bunch Of Animals
I travel so much that I don’t keep any pets. However, I really like dogs and absolutely love cats. So when I travel I’m always pleasantly surprised when I find out my hosts have pets. I have dedicated a few posts to them, so I’ll just mention a couple of cute stories here.
When I came to visit my lifelong friend Tim Warner in Gladwin, MI, he gave me a choice of sleeping on the main floor or in the basement. As any guy who’s ever grown up where the basement is the epicenter of your social universe – think That 70’s Show, Wayne’s World (Party on!), etc., I naturally picked the newly refinished basement. Tim said, Okay, but you will probably end up with two dogs and a cat sleeping with you down here. I thought, what the heck, the more the merrier. That was until those two snoring, snuffling, licking, and other assorted noise making dogs - and one purrr-ty terrific feline - began rotating in. Need-Les to say, their nocturnal cacophony was literally and figuratively a real wake up call for me. And had Zoey, Boudica and Sammy Warner (below) not been so cuddle worthy, I would have caved in and moved upstairs. But I didn’t.
I got to see my favorite cat in the world again on this trip when I was visiting my lifelong friend Debbie Sammons in Ortonville, MI. Reilly is about 10 years old and simply exudes charm. He’s the kind of cool, calm, handsome and friendly cat that can win over even the most feline avoiding people. And the fact that he greets me like I’m a returning conquering hero every time I see him continues to keep him in my number one spot (but please don’t tell the others because they can be…well….a little catty).
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Here are the answers to the questions I have been most frequently asked about this trip.
What about Alaska and Hawaii? When I tell people I traveled to every state in the contiguous US, many of them ask why I left these two great states out. Well the simple answer is that I’ve already been to Hawaii several times for work and pleasure. And Alaska is so big and so far away that it deserves its own trip. Besides trying to drive my car to Hawaii is somewhat problematic.
How did you handle all those long drives by yourself? I personally love what road trippers call “windshield time”. It’s that time I use to sort through things in my head, pray a lot, and plan for the next stop or the next adventure. But since that only lasts for so long, I have come to love Pandora, Spotify, music CD’s that others have burned for me, and the awesome audio books that I can download from my library via Overdrive from practically anywhere I travel. (Side note: I once drove across not one, but TWO deserts - the Mohave and the Sonoran - on a single drive from Clovis, CA to Anthem, AZ. Had I not have had the incredible audio book The Art Of Racing in the Rain, which is written and narrated by a dog, I would have lost my dog gone mind!) And lastly, when I need more human interactions, I use another well known road warrior technique – I start calling everyone I ever met from my grade school friends on up to check in on their lives.
What was the thing that surprised you most on this trip? Well, I’m tempted to say hiking to the chilly Big Four Ice Caves in North Cascades, WA in 90 degree heat, or finding glorious hidden waterfalls in Marble, CO or touring a bourbon distillery near Lexington, KY. But to be honest, it was the kindness of real Americans that surprised me the most. Like the time three “black angels” rescued me from a flat out scary situation. Like the times people I hardly know offered me their homes to stay when they weren’t there. Like the times people – especially those in the South – greeted me like I was a long lost friend instead of a wandering stranger. And so on and so on across this great country of ours.
What was your favorite part of the trip? Having a glass of wine in the evening and a cup of coffee in the morning with people I care about. It really doesn’t get any better than that. Except maybe if I had one of their pets in my lap, then yes, that would be better.
What would I do differently or better? For one reason or another, there were parts of the country I didn’t get to spend enough time in like South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Maine, etc. So on future trips I plan to allot more time to experience those great places.
What is something you learned about yourself? I’ve always thought I’d like to live somewhere awesome for a month before moving on to the next remarkable place. And while there’s probably people that actually do that, I haven’t quite figured it out yet. So to cope with the idea of not being able to stay in an incredible place I just discovered, I use what I call my “scouting technique”. Simply put, I just tell myself that I’ve just “scouted” a great place to come spend more time in on the next big trip, and somehow that seems to placate my angst about missing out.
How did I make money on this trip?
As I stated in my pre-trip chapters, my goal was to actually “be paid” to take this trip – AKA make more money than it cost me to travel. I accomplished that in two ways – Saving Money and Making Money.
Saving Money. Since it’s still true that a penny saved is a penny earned, I set out to save as much as I could. I began by pairing my expenses way down so my retirement income actually produced a surplus while I was on the road. I saved money by going to the grocery store versus eating out, using coupons whenever possible, paying for hotel rooms with credit card points, and by splitting meals and going to happy hours rather than ordering peak priced dinners. And lastly, I looked for opportunities to trade for services – like photography to earn money or earn my keep - rather than pay cash.
Making Money. When I put the word out that I would be earning money for this trip through photography, I had a lot of people see the big picture :-) and step up. Companies hired me to shoot their events. People hired me to do “Fantasy Shoots” and marketing, branding and promotional photography, and talent portfolios. It wasn’t a ton of money because the logistics of the trip itself made it hard to plan shoots all over the country. But thankfully, it was enough to keep my gas tank and belly full, and provide a comfortable little surplus.
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I’ve spent a lot of time telling you about my experiences on the road. Hopefully something I said has entertained, interested, amused or enlightened you. But far more important to me is if it has inspired you to do something you have always dreamed of doing. And if that dream has been about traveling the USA, the world, or just getting to know your state a little better, I hope this last chapter will motivate you to get your motor running and head out on the highway (link to iconic road trip anthem here).
I have come across a lot of fellow travelers who told me wonderful stories about their journeys. For example: When DP Gates was just 22, he drove a 35 foot Hummer to 48 states in 48 days. It was right after September 11th and he describes his trek as an amazing experience...Jennifer Calaway Ricci and her extraordinary son, Tristan made a decision to travel to all of the national parks in the US. They started when he was about 10 years old and Tristan is now in high school and there are only a few more they need to check off their list...Jerry and Yolanda Davis took both work and home on the road in the form of an RV. They traveled the US extensively and loved the experience so much that they would often stay in their RV when they returned to their home...And lastly on the “don’t try this at home” list is my friend, Kal Klass. He said he had a buddy in college that got a national list of train routes. So the two of them used to hop trains and go across country. I don’t know about you, but that just makes me smile.
The beauty of travel is that you can do whatever it is that YOU like to do. With that said, some very clever people have put together some trips that they are excited about – and judging by the reaction, the internet seems to share their enthusiasm.
Contrary to the TV show title, It’s (Not) Always Sunny In Philadelphia. However, if you follow this road trip map by Brian B, it should always be 70-80 Degrees where ever you go anytime of the year. If you want to see the majesty and diversity of thee US national parks, here’s a map put together by engineer Randy Olson that will quickly guide you to Every National Park in the contiguous US. And if you are a senior citizen – or know one you can talk one into going with you – you can do some if not all of the parks on your America The Beautiful Pass.
If you don’t have a lot of time, but want to do something epic, here’s another time-saving map from Randy Olson to Every State Capital. I know what you thinking right now. What a capital idea! Randy has also routed super efficient routed to see National Landmarks AND Best Cities in the USA. However, if you are feeling up to a bigger challenge, here’s a 217,605 plus mile trip that will take you to nearly 50,000 of the sites listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. And finally, if are one who wants to quench their thirst after a long day’s drive, here is the Top Brewery Road Trip, Routed Algorithmically. So you get an awesome road trip AND the best beer in the United States? Hey, I'll drink to that.
If you’ve always dreamed of traveling, but held off because you didn’t think you could afford it, here's some ways you can spread your wings and fly. In The Lazy Person's Guide to Travel Hacking, blogger Kristin Wong shows you the easiest ways to get free or super affordable flights. In The Ultimate Travel Hacking Guide, writer Nomadic Matt explains how to get free or inexpensive hotels, attractions, flights and more. And in Hate lines at the airport? 3 ways to beat them you can find ways to get where you want to go much faster.
Lastly, just as I was able to make and save money on this trip, there are countless others who are doing it far better than I am. In Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days, best selling author, Chris Guillebeau offers lots of ways people are turning their passions into paychecks. In The Sharing Economy: 200+ Ways to Make Extra Money in Your Spare Time, author Nick Loper shows you how to earn extra or full time income practically anywhere in the world. In The gig economy is a boon for boomer retirees, writer Steve Vernon touches on some of the many ways seniors are cashing in on side gigs. In 5 Work from Home Jobs & Where to Find Them you'll find some tried and true resources. And finally, to see how travel and making money can work together in real life, check out “After quitting her job as a teacher, this woman traveled to 95 countries and turned traveling into a career.” by Lisa Niver of We Said Go Travel.
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