‘Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.’ -George Eliot
14 days. 13 cities. 8 states. 2400 miles. One giant travel-induced adrenaline high.
I saw two friends get married, spent several days with friends here and there and everywhere, slept in the back of my truck when I couldn’t crash on someone’s couch, and met new friends every day. I saw parts of the country I have never seen before: the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas, the reservoir outside Jackson, Mississippi, the riverfront murals in Vicksburg.
I called this crazy, incredible, whirlwind trip my ‘gypsy experiment’ because one of my dreams is to find a way to make travel sustainable. I know it’s possible (as shown by pioneers such as The Professional Hobo, and also by my own dear Bridget Ervin), but I also know that everyone has to find their own way in the world of full-time travel.
The purpose of this trip, besides spending time with many wonderful people, was to test myself to see if I actually could travel cheaply, but still get the full experience of travelling that I have enjoyed in the past. Oftentimes, I feel I got more.
Now all I have to do (ha) is find a source of income (more on that in future posts) to balance my (hopefully minimal) cash flow out, and boom. Full-time travel.
Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.
But this summer is the period of experimentation. Travel opportunities/necessities are keeping me from holding a ‘normal’ full-time job, so I’m making do here and there, mostly working online and the occasional yard work and weeding, a delightful rest between trips.
A quick overview: Seward NE –> St. Peters MO –> St. Louis MO –> Uniontown MO –> Cape Girardeau MO –> Memphis TN –> Oxford MS –> Jackson MS –> Clinton MS –> Vicksburg MS –> Little Rock AR –> Tulsa OK –> Norman OK –> Seward NE.
If you’re counting states and not coming up with eight: I spent quite some time driving in Louisiana and Kansas, though I never stayed the night in either (but have in the past). Sometimes I covered more than one city in a day, so I wasn’t in a different location every night (though I was close).
The trip as a whole was unforgettable: call me crazy, but I love driving for hours on the open road, calling friends if I want to, or just boppin along to some good tunes. For the purpose of this post, however, there were some moments were notable in themselves: sitting for an hour in a tree after the Kettler wedding in Clinton, feeling the breeze and watching the clouds roll by and not having a care in the world.
The moments when I’m not doing anything are the moments that tie everything else together.
In Memphis I stayed in a campground directly across from Graceland, and fell asleep in the back of my pickup listening to ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ and singing along softly until I fell asleep.
In Jackson I found a small pond on the deserted campus of Belhaven University where I lay down for a while in the sun after church on Sunday. I also had a tailgate picnic Saturday morning overlooking the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir before the wedding and soaked up some rays.
In Vicksburg I awoke early on Memorial Day and ran around the battlefield, even scaling the Confederates’ Fort Hill, the second-highest point between Memphis and New Orleans. It offered a breathtaking view of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.
To save money, I slept in campgrounds whenever I didn’t have a friend in the area, and bought all the food I thought I would need for two weeks in advance, and kept it all in a box on the passenger seat and in a cooler below.
No trip is complete without a few hangups. One of those could have been the rain, but I spent about $25 at Walmart on my way out of Missouri (I planned on camping the next five nights) to pick up a tarp and a set of bungee cords for the bed of my truck. I stayed dry every night = success! I also bought a toothbrush and toothpaste outside St. Louis because I realized after the first night that I had forgotten mine. Oops.
In Jackson I pulled into the campground at 7pm, only to discover that they closed the gates at 8pm until 8am, and they did not have showers as promised online: and I had a wedding to attend the next day! I panicked for only an hour or two, and while talking to my parents that night, they suggested I find a gym with showers the next morning. Workout + showers = two birds with one stone!
I wish I could say I spent the whole trip purchasing only the necessities and controlling my excess spending. But I had a few splurges: I got a hotel room the night I stayed out late in Jackson, since the campground closed at 8 and all others were booked. I’m also a sucker for coffee shops: even though I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee, I love the atmosphere of the coffee shop. I noticed they were not as plentiful in the South as the Midwest and Northwest, but I was still able to root out a few to sip chai and use internet.
Anyway, the following night I wanted to see the Jackson nightlife after the wedding, but I was alone. I asked advice from a kind hotel bartender, and she pointed me to some safe spots. My heart was pounding as I said a prayer and entered Underground 119 alone, walked to the far end of the bar, and took the only open seat–which happened to be right next to a journalist from USAToday. He also was experiencing downtown on his last evening in Jackson, so we spent the evening talking travel and journalism, and I picked his brain for advice.
It was one of those moments when you know God is present. So many ‘coincidences’ had occurred all day, so many times I almost made a different decision that would have changed everything that day.
Another of those moments occurred when I was setting up camp in the rain in the growing dusk. I had found a headlamp in my truck box on my first night of camping (thanks Dad!), but it wasn’t working, and three out of four nights I camped I was able to set up in the daylight with no rain so I didn’t need it. On the fourth night, however, I did not roll into the campground in Little Rock until after dark, and the rain was less than a half hour away.
I speedily began to set up my bungee-cord-and-tarp contraption in the bed of my truck in the dark, trying to hold my phone in one hand for light. As I opened my truck box, there was the headlamp lying in a corner, already turned on. I lifted a prayer and then strapped it on, beating the storm with literally seconds to spare. It was a small thing, but it certainly meant a lot to me that night!
I learned a lot during my gypsy experiment: that cold ravioli is as good or better than the hot stuff; that I can set up camp in less than fifteen minutes when a storm is on the horizon; how to live hour-by-hour and accept and flourish in constantly changing plans (or no plans at all); that it’s less expensive to stay at a campground where the owner can’t speak English rather than at a KOA, even if there’s ‘not a square to spare’ of toilet paper; that travel can be cheap and still a lot of fun. I’m not sustainable yet but that’s the goal, and this is a start!