Roadtrip Like an Adult

So, you’re out on your own, and there’s an event a few hours away that you want to go to. And hey, you’re an adult, so you totally can! No need for parent’s permission or an escort. You can hop in your car and go wherever you like. Or hop the bus. Or tube. Or various transportation of your choice.

The point is, as an adult, you suddenly have the freedom to go where you want, when you want. With no curfew and no rules, this can be a little daunting. So how do you manage this new-found freedom? No worries, my dears, that’s what I’m here for. A few years ago I drove from South Carolina to Washington state, so I’m going to share my roadtrip tips.

Lesson #1: Caring for your vehicle

If you own a car, there are a number of things you’re going to need to do on a semi-regular basis to make sure that 1) it doesn’t crap out on you, and 2) you don’t get arrested.

First things first: cover the basics. Have an idea of how many miles you can go on a tank of gas. It’s not enough to watch the gauge—reset the mileage to zero every time you fill up the tank, so that you have a better idea of how much further you can push yourself. A good rule of thumb is to never let your tank get below a quarter of a tank full, but life happens. If you watch your mileage, there’s less of a chance that you’re going to end up stranded.

You can actually go longer than 3000 miles between oil changes (that number was set by, guess who, the people who change your oil). Most oil bottles will tell on the back how long it’s supposed to last. However, if you’re going to be going on a trip, always check the oil level before you go. You want to do this first thing, while the car is cool, to prevent any false readings. This is a really great article with pictures to give you the basics. It also covers checking other types of fluids.

You also need to check the tire pressure before any trip. Here is an article for that. One of the items in your essential car package is a tire gauge. I recommend a digital one. Most air pumps at gas stations will have a manual one attached as well, but a digital one will be more accurate. Check the max PSI on the side of your tire, and aim for a couple of digits under the max.

Finally, I highly recommend that everyone gets an AAA membership. They have various packages, and since it’s a yearly fee, it’s not too bad on the wallet. Plus, if you ever need a tow, have a dead battery, or run out of gas, you have someone to call. You can also get discounts at different shops and hotels. If you’re planning a road trip, they’ll map it for free, and if you like to keep an old fashion map in your car (not a bad idea) you can get those cheap or free at AAA offices. They also offer deals on oil changes and general car stuff. It’s well worth the price.

You also want to make sure that your insurance and tags are kept up to date. Insurance is mandatory in most (if not all) states now, and the cost of being caught without it is steep. Plus, most of us just starting out don’t have the money to replace our vehicle at the drop of a hat.

Lesson #2: Smart traveling

If you’re taking a roadtrip, there are some preparations you can make to help with the trip. If possible, travel with a buddy. You can switch off on driving, and it makes the trip more fun.

A cooler is strongly recommended. You can save a lot of money by making some sandwiches and picking up some drinks from the grocery store than going through drive-thrus and gas stations for everything. Try to alternate your sodas with water, to stay adequately hydrated. Snacks like granola bars, nuts, trial mix, or chips are good ideas—basically, you want to look first for things that aren’t going to melt.

Wear sunscreen. You wouldn’t think this would be important on a roadtrip, but it is. The sun will get your arms, legs (if you’re wearing shorts), face, and chest in no time if you’re not careful. On a similar note, sunglasses are recommended. If you’re like me and wear glasses, look into either clip-ons or prescription sunglasses, if possible.

For entertainment purposes, I recommend a large music playlist, audio books, and podcasts. Upbeat music is best, especially if you’re driving alone. I like to pick songs I can sing to. Sometimes I put an entire Broadway musical soundtrack together, and just listen to it straight through—the story helps carry the music and distract the mind. If you’re traveling with a friend, and you have different tastes in music, trying to come up with songs that are tolerable to both of you.

Audio books are great for long trips, provided that they don’t put you to sleep or make you zone out. Check out your local library for CDs and audio books—though keep an eye on the due dates. Most libraries will let you mail back items if necessary. There’s also various digital platforms like OverDrive and Hoopla that will let you download audio books onto a tablet or cell phone.

Lesson #3: Know when to pull over

I have a serious problem with falling asleep in cars. Usually it’s just as a passenger, but occasionally, it gets really hard for me to stay awake at the wheel. I’ve slapped, scratched, and pinched myself to keep myself awake. But sometimes that’s not enough, and the fact is, if you’ve reached that point, you probably shouldn’t be driving.

If you’re traveling alone, find a rest stop or parking lot where you can pull over for a bit. If you need to close your eyes for a bit, set the alarm on your phone for 15 minutes, and do just that. Often, just resting is as good as sleep if you just need a break from the road. You can also get out of the car, do some jumping jacks, stretch, run around the car. A little physical activity will help perk you up too.

Still struggling? Call someone. It can be anyone—your mom, sister, cousin, grandpa, friend…the possibilities are only limited by your contact list. Carrying on a conversation can help the time on the road go by faster, as well as help keep you awake.

Lesson #4: Choosing accommodations

If you’re traveling overnight, it’s good to have an idea of your accommodation choices beforehand. If you can afford it, I highly recommend a hotel over a motel. What’s the difference? Well, a few things, but mainly that in a hotel, your doors are going to be inside of a larger building, whereas a motel, your door will be on the outside of a building. In general, a hotel is going to be a little more secure.

But if it’s a one-night crash, and you’re on any kind of a budget, motels are good too. Your best choices are going to be a brand-name chain—I would avoid privately owned joints unless they’ve been personally recommended by someone you trust. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include B&Bs—but most B&B’s aren’t going to be right off the highway for a reason. You usually have to go out of your way to get there.

I’ll do a more in-depth post about accommodations later, but here are some over-all things to look for. One, check your room over as soon as you get there. The key thing to look for is general cleanliness. Are you going to need more towels? Go ahead and ask for them, instead of waiting for when you need them. Motel towels tend to be thin and not very large, so take that into consideration. If you have room in your luggage, you might want to pack a towel of your own (as in one from home, not stealing one from the motel). Make a note of check-out times, and check that the alarm hasn’t been left on. There are few things worse than being woken up at 5:30 AM by an alarm that was set by the previous guest.

To prevent showing up and finding out that the hotel/motel is booked, plan ahead. This doesn’t have to be all at once—on a roadtrip, you never really know how far you’re going to get until you get there. When I was driving cross-country, we would generally plan to be in a motel by nightfall. This was mostly for security reasons—we were two young women, and it just seemed safer. So an hour or so before we planned to stop, I would check to see what motels were within an hour of us. I would then call to check their prices and their vacancy. This is another area where having a AAA membership can be of some use. Keep in mind though—most hotels/motels that accept AAA discounts will generally be more expensive, and the discount isn’t very much (usually 5-10%). Sometimes you’re better off going somewhere that doesn’t do a AAA discount, just because of cost.

Depending on your schedule, you may be planning your mileage and destinations ahead. If so, feel free to plan and book ahead. You may end up scoring a better deal, especially if you can take advantage of Groupons or other discounts.

Lesson #5: The Car Essentials Kit

There are a handful of things that should always be in your car. Some of these are optional, depending on area and time of year, but if you’re going to be traveling, it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Most websites are going to recommend things that, in reality, none of us keep in our cars. And it would take about half of your trunk to carry it all. Here are the absolute basics that you should have with you.

Fix-a-flat
Jumper cables (at least 10-15 feet)
Quart (or two) of oil
Rags (useful if you’re checking your oil constantly)
Phone charger for cell phone
Tire gauge
First Aid Kit
Emergency Safety Tool
A window breaker and seat belt cutter (like these)
Battery Jump Starter

If you know that your car burns oil, or has a slow leak in one of your fluids, be sure to keep some of that with you as well. For example—on my roadtrip, I was driving a car that tended to burn oil. So I made sure to check the oil every morning before we started out, and kept some in my trunk.

Now, if you’re traveling in the winter, you will want to take extra precautions. Snow chains are necessary if there’s a chance you’re going to run into snow, and anti-freeze is a good thing to keep on hand. You’ll also want to make sure you have some blankets. Here is a great list for things to keep in mind for a winter kit.

Some optional supplies are road flares, duct tape, and basic tools (like a screwdriver). Here is a kit as suggested by the DMV. It is a bit more inclusive than what is probably necessary, but if you like to be thorough, it’s a good place to start.

Lesson #6: Allow time for fun

Odds are, if you’re roadtripping, you have some sort of destination in mind and will be on some sort of schedule–even if it’s only that you have to be home by a certain time. A timeline is probably going to be necessary. My advice here is don’t make it too tight. You never know when there might be car trouble, fatigue, bad weather–any number of things that might push you back.

But more than that, you don’t want to miss what you’re driving past. Allow time to do some sightseeing, take pictures, and generally just enjoy the experience. You never know when you might be driving past the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and want a photo op. One of my regrets from my roadtrip is that we didn’t stop more along the way.

So have fun, be safe, and marvel at the greatness that is your country of travel. You’ll almost certainly see something new, and it’ll be a great experience.

Post-Graduation Tips

A lot of you have graduated or will be graduating high school in the next few months. Congratulations! This is a major accomplishment, whether you realize it or not. In the US, about 1.2 million students drop out every year. That means roughly 25% of freshman won’t graduate on time.

So take your bow, because you deserve it.

But finishing high school intact is just the first part of the battle. For most of you (hopefully) you’re now looking at college in the fall. And that is its own battle.

But fear not. The key to a successful college career is far simpler than you realize.

For this entry, we’ll be focusing on the sort of things you can be doing this summer to prepare for that big move in the fall. Presumably, at this point, you’ve been accepted to your school of choice, and you’re just spinning your wheels until fall (don’t worry, there’s going to be an entry at a later point about choosing and applying to colleges).

So what should you be doing at this point to get ready for your first grown-up adventure?

Lesson 1: If you don’t have a part-time job already, look for one.

This is important for a few reasons. First, obviously, is money. Even if you have family who are going to be helping you, it is important to know the value of your own work. If you haven’t had a job before now, it will be a great chance to earn your own money, which can be used for dorm furnishings, or textbooks, or just for fun.

Another reason is that this experience can be great motive when you’re trudging through schoolwork. Why should you work on that essay? Because you want to qualify for jobs other than flipping burgers or working retail. Does a college education guarantee you won’t have to do that anyway? Well, no, but it certainly helps.

Lesson 2: Thinking about a major

This is something we’ll discuss in more detail later, but here’s what you should be thinking about for now. What’s something you can enjoy, and make a living at?

Don’t limit your thinking to what you can achieve with a bachelor’s degree. For example, my B.A. is in English. But I wanted my career to be in libraries or records management. So I’m getting my Masters in Library and Information Science. Because if you want anything other than an entry level position in a library, you have to have your Masters.

The important thing is to find a compromise between what you love and what you can live at. Now, if you can make a living doing what you love, fantastic! Follow your dream. But part of being an adult is being realistic. I love to craft and knit, but I do not have the skill level to do it professionally. I hope to one day own my own bookstore—but to do that, I need start-up capitol. To put myself in the best possible position for my dream to come true, I need to work and earn money. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do something I enjoy in the meantime.

If you’re an artist, go to an arts school and learn a specialty that you can turn into a career. Love to write? Find a good program and be prepared to be ripped apart while you learn how to do it proper.

Maybe you love languages and want to be an interpreter. Studying language is great, but consider pairing it with a double in Business or Communications.

Keep in mind that for your first year or so, you’ll mostly be in general ed classes. You can change your major a couple of times without it damaging your time. Likely you’ve chosen your college in part based on the program of your interest, but keep in mind that you can usually change without much trouble.

Lesson #3: Preparing for the big move

If your school is somewhere you can visit ahead of time, see if you can get a look at the sort of dorm you’re going to be in. This is a great chance to take measurements and get a good physical idea of the space. If you can’t visit, inquire with your school contact about room measurements and any details.

You’re always going to overpack your first couple of semesters. But you can try to minimize this with some foresight. Spend the next couple of months trying to determine what you can and can’t live without. If you want to take your DVDs, a sleeve style book will save a lot of space. Unless you know that you’ll be living alone, take into consideration the fact that you’ll be sharing a room.

Lesson #4: Have fun!

Enjoy this time with your friends and family. You’re about to enter into a transition period where you’re not going to be seeing your family as often. For some of you, that will be a good thing. For others, it will be harder.

Got any specific questions about preparing for college? Send me a message!

Step One: Get Real

I’m not going to delude anyone into thinking that growing up isn’t really hard, especially when the economy sucks and everyone is losing their minds over stupid shit. I would hate to be 18 today. I’m also not going to pretend that I have all the answers. I can accept that there are things about life that I have yet to learn. That said, I’ve learned an awful lot in the last twelve years, and most of it, no one taught me. I learned the good ol’ fashioned way: by falling on my butt and screwing up.

So, I’m doing this to try and help you out, whether you’re about to graduate college, are living at home, or just don’t know where to go next. I want to show you how to navigate the scary grown-up world. Because it’s going to be hard enough, without you having to learn everything through screwing up.

And the first step is this: GET REAL! We live in a society where adolescence has been safely extended into the early 20s, at least until a college education is completed. For years we wrapped our young people up in cocoons of safety, telling them that they are precious and talented and with that college degree, they’ll be able to do whatever they want!

Only it turned out not to be true. The economy tanked, unemployment went through the roof, and people lost their homes. Suddenly everything got turned on its head, and that four year degree turned out to not be worth very much after all. And while things are slowly recovering, people are starting to wake up and realize that the system is broken. We’re mad as heck and we’re not gonna take it anymore! So we protest in our tents and wave our signs and tell Wall Street that they suck. And you know what? That’s fine. People should be mad. Things definitely need to change.

But what does all of this mean for you? For the guy or girl just starting out, what does it matter if people are protesting and the system is in shambles? You still have to pay the rent. The fact is, daily life doesn’t change based on the state of the world around you. You still have to make a living. You still have to pay your bills, and your taxes, and try to prepare for your future. If you’re involved in trying to change the world, great! That’s the only way things are going to change. But let’s get real. At the end of the day, you still need to be able to provide for yourself, and eventually, your family.

So it’s time to pull your head out of your ass. College may have filled your head about how awesome you’re going to be, and how much potential you have, and you know what? To an extent, that’s true. You do have a lot of potential, and one of the things we’ll look at eventually is how you can start changing the world–even if it’s just your little corner of it. But let’s keep in mind the realities of the situation. You still have to eat. You still need a place to live. And while living with your family may not be terrible, the truth is that your parents want you out. They may not kick you out on the street, but their goal was to raise a fully-functioning adult. Not an eternal teenager. Sure, they’re willing to help you out, because they love you. But they want to see you make it on your own, as much as you want to make it on your own.

 

For a really great article on the problems of our generation, check out John Cheese’s 5 Ways We Ruined the Occupy Wall Street Generation over at Cracked.com.