If you take a deep ocean fish from the high pressure depths to the sunlit shallow waters, it will explode. Similarly, if you take a couple of reclusive introverts and drop them in the middle of nowhere with no wifi or WoW, you’d have a similar mess on your hands. So with my travelling companion stressing out about being eaten by bears, it’s essential that we come up with a strategy to maintain a semblance of hassle-free normality in our lives. One that not only provides us with our mental comfort blankets, but one that also doesn’t cost a fortune.
I’ve put a lot of thought into how we do this. On top of the obviously primary concern of data, there are other considerations when taking a long trip: how do you get cash cheaply? How do you power your thousand gizmos? How do you fill the downtime? How do you entertain yourself on the road?
All of these questions have been floating around in my head for the last few months, so I thought I’d share our plan in the hopes it helps someone else out.
Data is the tricky one. Data is the one that costs the money, if you don’t get it right. While continental Europe seems to be becoming more data-friendly in recent years, a trip to the states is still astronomical in cost if you want to keep in touch. My provider offers a bundle of £10 for 100Mb, which you can quite easily burn through in a day.
The best course of action here is to either rely on free wifi and trust you don’t need data on the road, or to sort out a PAYG US sim card. If you go the PAYG sim route, there are a number of options out there, but the best one we found was simcardguru, which offers a T-Mobile sim for £35. This comes with 1Gb of data on it, plus enough credit to almost top up with another 1Gb. Top ups are about £6 per 1Gb. So with the initial cost of the sim, and assuming you get through 3Gb, the cost per 10Mb is about 15p. Which works out about 7 times cheaper than roaming. Plus you get a free call and text allowance within the states.
Somehow in the last decade or so, traveler’s cheques have gone out of fashion. No more bumbags stuffed with inconvenient pieces of paper and awkward conversations with hotel receptionists! Hurrah. The alternative is to either buy your cash upfront and stuff it in a sock or something, or use a credit card. Credit card seems to be the preferred choice, but as usual, the banks will have your eyes out when withdrawing cash (literally – the ATMs in the US have retractable eye-scoops!).
One option here is to use a pre-paid card. They’re like credit cards, but you load them up with cash and spend that. A number of companies do specific cards for specific destinations which remove the cash withdrawal and loading fees present in normal cards. The one we settled on was the US travel card by Ukash, which has one of the best exchange rates and very few extra fees for maintaining the card.
One thing to bear in mind is that if you’re renting a car, you’ll still need to provide a “real” credit card. This is because the rental company will place a large authorisation on your card, which can prevent you from withdrawing cash on your prepaid card.
The next most important thing to sort out in any good road trip plan is how you’ll listen to music. It’s no good packing your cassette of Lindey Buckingham’s Holiday Road and hoping it will last you the month. In the age of streaming music and MP3, there’s no reason not to have appropriate music for every mile of your trip. But how do you listen to it in the car?
We can’t rely on rental cars having Bluetooth or USB to connect to our phones, so we’ll be taking our Motorola Roadster 2. This funky little device clips to the sun visor of your vehicle and acts as a Bluetooth speaker with built in FM transmitter. So your phone plays music to the device and the device broadcasts the music to the car stereo. Like all FM transmitter solutions, it’s a little tricky to find an empty FM station, but once you get it working, it works great. It’s also a hands-free set for taking calls.
For tunes, we’ll be loading up a Nexus 7 tablet with as much as we can download from Google’s streaming music service.
A month in restricted company might prove exhausting to some. What do you do when the conversation dries up after the first hour or so? I think our mutual fascination with rude sounding place names may get us a little further than that, but we’re clearly going to need something to do when there’s not a single Mount Wank in sight.
So we’ll be taking his and her’s Nintendo 3DSs plus Mario Kart. This should keep us going, but we’ll also have our tablets for playing Hearthstone and that weird train yard game Michelle likes, and a Chromebook for idle internet browsing. It’ll be like we never even left home! (phew)
It’s a good plan so far, but it’s easy to overlook the obvious things, such as: “how do you provide power to all your stuff?” With two phones, two tablets, two 3DSs, a camera, a car Bluetooth gizmo and various other bits and pieces, we could very easily get bogged down with chargers and adaptors.
First thing is power while in the hotel. For this, we’ve got an Anker 5 port USB charger. It takes its own power from a normal figure of eight power chord and can charge 5 devices at once.
In the car, we’ve got an Avantek 3 socket cigarette lighter adaptor. This has two USB ports, capable of 3.1A, so should power phones when doing navigation and music.
Finally, when you’re being chased by bears around the Sierra Nevadas, you don’t want to miss that classic social media photo moment because of a flat phone battery. So for emergency power, we’ve got an EasyAcc 10000mAh 2 port USB brick.
And that’s the plan! I appreciate we’re long past the point where this trip could ever be described as a “spontaneous adventure, an unplanned disconnect from the modern world”, but who cares? I’m more John Noakes than John Kerouac anyway!