Ahhhhh… that’s the sound of me sighing as I’m finally settling into my chair to write this post. The past week has been go go go, and then go some more. When I’m not busy writing blog posts for clients and trying to wrap-up season two of Budgets and Cents, I’m cleaning the house, making appointments and trying to see friends before I leave. And please excuse the horrendous comparison, but I honestly feel as though I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. The worst part, for me personally, has been how forgetful I’ve become. On any other day, I can proudly say that I am incredibly organized (to a fault), punctual and thoughtful. But recently, if it hasn’t been in my calendar, I’ve forgotten about dates and plans altogether.
I hate feeling this busy. As you might remember, I spent the entire first half of this year slowing down and disrupting my old routines, so I could work less and live more – and I have been loving every minute of it. So I hate that I’m back at this place where I have to pencil people in, make our dates shorter or even say things like, “I’ll see you in October!” But I keep reminding myself that this is temporary and it’s all for a good cause. In just a few more days, I’ll be getting into my car and driving all over the U.S. for almost two months. And leaving home for that long takes some serious preparation! Putting my regular work/life tasks aside, my road trip prep list has been extremely long (and somewhat expensive). Here are some of the things I’ve done to prepare to live on the road for two months, along with a short packing list.
1. Purchase travel medical insurance.
Right off the bat, one big difference between my doing a road trip across Canada vs. doing it in the U.S. is that going into the states requires the purchase of travel medical insurance. Ok, if you feel like taking the risk, you could NOT make this purchase… but I would be a terrible personal finance blogger if I said that was ok, so I must live up to my own rules! Before shopping around for insurance, it’s a good idea to see if your credit card offers any coverage. One of mine comes with $1 million coverage for the first 15 days of any trip, so I called in to ask how much it would cost to extend it and the answer was just $3/day. I increased my coverage to last 50 days, which cost me $105. I’ve never needed to use this insurance before, but I will be oh-so-glad I have it, if anything comes up.
2. Renew car insurance (and increase third-party liability).
Before leaving for any road trip, it’s a good idea to make sure your car insurance isn’t going to expire when you’re gone… like mine was going to! I’ve known this expense was coming for a while, so I was prepared to shell out $950+ for another year of insurance. But in addition to renewing my insurance, I decided to increase my third-party liability coverage to the max. $5 million for the duration of my road trip. Again, call me an over-planner (or a pessimist), but what if something awful happened and I seriously hurt or killed someone on the road? That’s exactly why we have insurance: for the what-ifs. I was surprised to discover that increasing my coverage would only cost me ~$12 for the two months, so of course I added it to my new policy. One less thing to worry about.
3. Get car serviced.
Another important step (perhaps the most important step) to take, when preparing for a road trip, is to actually tune up the vehicle you plan on using for said trip! Again, I knew I was due for an oil change, so I had booked that already. But then I asked them to do a pre-trip inspection as well (check all fluids, tire pressure, possibly rotate tires, etc.). I’m taking my car in tomorrow, so I don’t know how much this is going to cost yet… but I imagine it’ll be under $200. Considering my car is going to be my home base for the next two months, I will gladly pay to make sure it’s ready for the job. (And I’ll need to budget for at least one more oil change, when I’m on the road.)
4. Purchase BCAA membership.
While this wasn’t exactly an essential purchase, I bought a one-year BCAA membership. For $115 (incl. tax), I have 24/7 roadside assistance, in case I need a boost, a tow, gas or even a new car key, anywhere in North America. Basically, you could call this “solo driver insurance”! And not only will it give me peace of mind, but a membership also gives you discounts at dozens of motel/hotel chains (which I plan on taking advantage of, from time-to-time), as well as discounts on other travel services, restaurants, entertainment and more. My membership is the last piece* of my car prep puzzle. After tomorrow, she will be ready to go!
*Note: I already have an emergency kit in my car, which consists of granola bars, water, a flashlight, jumper cables, a blanket, etc. If you don’t have something similar, I would add this to your own road trip prep list.
5. Take care of other business.
Since I’m going away for two months (and was long overdue for these, anyway), I made and went to a few other appointments in the weeks leading up to the trip, like the dentist (no cavities!) and a hairdresser (hadn’t cut it since before my surgery!).
6. Purchase a U.S. talk, text & data plan for cell phone.
When I talk about this road trip with friends, some of them say they imagine I’ll be spending a lot of money on gas in the next two months. It makes me laugh sometimes, because I think I’m going to pay a lot for data! I’m actually still trying to decide what I want to do about this. I could either pay $7.99/day for any day I need service, or purchase an $80 plan (which also gives me some free talk and text) and then pay for overages. With either of those options, I imagine I’ll pay $200-250/month for my phone. Or I’m seriously considering trying out Roam Mobility, where I could get a US SIM card and pay just $50/month. Have any of my Canadian friends tried this!? Good/bad experience?
*UPDATE: I called my cell phone provider (Fido) and switched to a new plan where it’ll cost me just $50/month to use all my regular plan/minutes/data features in the states! And the new plan will save me $20/m ($240/year)! Double-win!
7. Figure out a good cashflow/budgeting system.
Onto the fun stuff! Well, fun for us money-loving people. ;)
Do you remember when I opened a checking account in the U.S. (with RBC “South”) earlier this year? Well, it turns out that’s going to help me do more than get paid in USD – it’s now going to serve as my cashflow/budgeting system while I’m in the states! Before I leave, I’m going to deposit a few thousand dollars into my RBC “North” account, then transfer it down South; that means I’ll only have to deal with the exchange rate once, then will have access to my money in USD via my Visa debit card. I’m still going to bring some USD cash and my credit cards (notified them I’m travelling), but will use my RBC South account to pull out more USD cash anytime I need it.
8. Scan important documents and store them in the cloud.
I’ve heard so many horror stories about people losing travel documents, insurance papers, etc. that before big trips, I make sure I have scanned copies of certain things stored in the cloud. Think: my passport, NEXUS card, travel medical insurance and BCAA membership info. If you’re thinking about doing the same, make sure you protect these documents by encrypting the PDFs with passwords!
9. Give family tentative route/dates/friends’ contact info.
I don’t know if there’s a need to do this, if you’re only going to be on the road for a week or so. But because I’m going to be gone for two months, I decided to create a spreadsheet of all the cities where I plan to stay with friends, the tentative arrival dates and my friends’ names, addresses and contact info. (Yes, friends I’m staying with, that means my parents’ know where you live, lol.) I’ve also promised my parents’ I’ll text them every night to just let them know where I am (gotta love being a solo female traveller). But if they know I’m supposed to arrive somewhere by a certain date and haven’t heard from me, they can check-in with friends and try to figure out what’s up.
10. Make a plan for work/internet/email.
Last but certainly not least, I couldn’t do this trip if I didn’t work for myself and have the luxury to set my own schedule – but it will still take work (in the form of planning) to get work done on the road! First and foremost, I’ve decided not to pitch any of my writing clients for the next two months. I have a few clients who send me work regularly, so I’ve told them all I’m still available. But I won’t be pitching to do anything more than that, simply because I don’t think I’ll have capacity. Second, based on my existing workload, I was able to figure out which days I will always need at least a few hours of internet access (Sun, Mon, Thurs). This is important, because I now know to plan other activities (including book-writing days and long driving days) on the other days of the week.
And finally, I’m taking as many steps as I can to eliminate the amount of email I receive in the next two months. The first thing I did was unsubscribe from the newsletters I normally love (and can follow through Feedly instead). I actually wrote to most of the writers and said I was doing so in an attempt to decrease the number of emails I have to read whenever I check it. (Not surprisingly, the ones who travel a lot replied and said they understood!) And I’m also going to setup an auto-responder that tells people I’m on the road with limited internet access and will reply as soon as I can. I know it won’t stop people from emailing me, but hope it at least lets them know it may take a while for me to respond! Setting expectations results in fewer miscommunications. :)
What I’m Bringing on a Two-Month Road Trip
Now, after reading how ridiculously organized I’ve been while preparing for the safety, financial and work aspects of this trip, you might expect that my packing list is equally long and detailed… but you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.
The truth is, I’ve barely started packing (and I’m leaving in just a few days). I could feel panicked about this. I could freak out about not being prepared for all the what ifs I could face in the next two months. But if my two-year shopping ban has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to buy things unless I absolutely need them. I’m still packing things like a small first aid kit (bandaids, polysporin, eyedrops, etc.), my headlamp and flashlight, etc. I’m also bringing basically my entire teeny tiny wardrobe, because I’ll be in multiple climates and have various events to go to. But besides that, and the emergency kit that’s already in my car, I’m just packing the essentials.
Think about it this way – there are only a handful of things we do on a daily basis:
- Bathe and get ready for the day (toiletries, clothes and shoes)
- Eat and drink (small cooler, food, coffee, water and cooking supplies)
- Work (laptop, cell phone, notebooks, pens, etc.)
- Exercise (running shoes, hiking boots and daypack)
- Relax (books and bathing suits)
- Sleep (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and pillow)
So that’s what I’m packing for, along with healthy snacks and water for the road.
During the past two years, I have learned time and time again how little I need to be happy. I’ve also come to know myself so well that I know I wouldn’t actually use any of the things people have been telling me to buy. What I’d rather do is pack up the basics, hit the road, figure out what’s missing and then buy it. It won’t kill me to not have something at the exact moment I need/want it. In fact, it’s better to sleep on any purchasing decision for a night or two, before handing over your hard-earned cash. So, I’m actually not going to share an extensive packing list before the trip. Instead, I thought it might be more interesting/beneficial if I take inventory before I leave, and keep track of what I use/don’t use and what I have to buy along the way, then share THAT list with you when I return.
Oh, and in case you’ve been curious, do you want to know what my first purchase was after the shopping ban was over!? I bought a car charger. I’ve never owned one before, but figured I would definitely want one for this trip. I got a serious thrill from testing it out and discovering how quickly it charged my phone, which shows how weird I am now, lol. I’m sorry if you were expecting the answer to be more interesting or frivolous.