Interview

Interview with Homeless and Confused road-tripper Julia

Many of CarHireMarket’s customers come here to research car rental for their USA road trips, but some of you are still on the curb, wondering how practical (and comfortable) this iconic classic really is. So we thought it might be useful to interview a real life traveller who’s already Stateside, and on the road.

Meet Julia, long-term backpacker and author of travel blog Homeless & Confused. She recently completed road trips through Chicago, St Louis and Kansas City, and is now planning a big drive to explore Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas. Her top tips: stay flexible, trust your sense of humour... take plenty of water, make sure your rental car has a satellite radio... and bring along some audio-books for good measure.

Julia with one of Kansas City Art Museum’s more bemusing exhibits

CHM: You seem to be quite a fan of road trips - you’ve already taken a couple of short ones and now you’re planning a week-long trip through three states. What appeals to you so much about this type of travel? Convenience, liberty, bragging rights? Sheer cinematic glory?

Julia: The freedom to be able to stop wherever you want, rather than being restricted by a timetable. Aside from train travel, I also think it's one of the best ways to see the scenery of a place. But yes, the cinematic glory of it is also pretty darn cool.

Your previous trips were manageably short - were they “test drives”, of a sort, to see if you liked it? Are you at all nervous about going on a long one? Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to?

I'm not nervous at all; if anything it has only fuelled my desire to travel more by road in the country. I'm really looking forward to trying different foods in the different states, plus my boyfriend's dog will be travelling with us, which wouldn't have been possible with any other mode of transport!

Remembering those trips now, are there any standout images or feelings? What made you think, “I really want to do a long one next time”?

I don't think you can beat driving down the highway with the radio on, taking in all of the roadside attractions and billboards. It really does make you feel as though you are in a different country to the one you're used to. The standout feeling from my last trip was just excitement at what lay ahead in our destination.

You’re planning your next road trip as we speak: what sights do you hope to take in? Are there any cultural events or phenomena you hope to experience, or are you just going to see what’s out there?

I'm hoping to visit New Orleans, Austin, San Antonio and Santa Fe at the very least. I've always wanted to see the French Quarter in New Orleans and the food in the Texas/New Mexico areas is also a big draw for me. If you can't already tell, my travels are fairly dictated by my love of good food!

Could you tell me something about your planning style? Do you map out everything to the last detail, or just bundle some clothes in the boot and drive off in a general direction?

I'm actually terrible at planning! I used to love having every detail booked and sorted before I travelled, but as soon as I left on my round-the-world trip, all that went out of the window. You have to get used to being flexible, because you never know when you may fall in love with a place. Aside from maybe some basic accommodation plans, I'll be using this same approach for the road trip.

Are there any creature comforts that you struggle to do without? How do you keep yourself comfortable on the road?

I have to admit that I can't usually survive without air conditioning, but as it'll be springtime that shouldn't be too much of an issue. I have learned to live without certain creature comforts this past year, so I am fairly used to sacrifice, but I would have to say that comfortable travelling clothes, plenty of water and snacks are always a good idea on the road.

What sort of accommodation do you typically use? Motels, hotels, campsites, couchsurfing? Would you consider sleeping in your car?

We actually have discussed sleeping in the car if needs be! But ideally we would stay in hotels or motels, particularly as we'll have a pampered pooch with us.

Have you ever been caught out without pre-booked accommodation? Ever had to sleep somewhere unusual ? Encountered unexpected hospitality as a result?

I'm the queen of booking accommodation last minute, but I never really like to not know where I'm going to lay my head at night, so even if it is only a few hours before, I usually like to have something sorted before I roll into town. The only time I've ever been caught short was on an island in Malaysia when I discovered my pre-booked "cabin" was a hut with no working fan (I refer you back to my earlier AC comment!) so unfortunately my credit card had to come out to pay for somewhere much more expensive further down the beach! As accommodation options are much more widely available (and comfortable) in the US, I doubt I'll have a problem, but watch this space...

Your blog conveys a dry wit that seems to get you through all kinds of bizarre - and sometimes inevitably boring - travel-related scenarios. Is humour your default approach? Is it essential to travelling, in your opinion, or can one get by without it? And has it ever failed you?

I definitely think a sense of humour helps when travelling, because so many things are out of your control. Buses can break down, accommodation can be less-than-desirable and planes can be delayed, but as long as you can see the funny story in the situation, you're usually ok. It also helps greatly when trying to make friends in foreign destinations.

Most long-term travellers are working to a budget - how do you make sure you’re sticking to yours? Do you keep an emergency fund, or just wing it? Do you bother to calculate how much petrol you’ll use and how much food will cost, or do you give yourself an allowance and just try to stick within it?

I tend to try and calculate a realistic allowance and then try to stick to it, although this can be very difficult when you're calculating how much petrol and supplies you'll need. I do also always have an emergency fund, just in case, but am very good at never touching that unless necessary. As mentioned before, good food is my main vice and the one thing that I never want to compromise on, meaning that I've never been a packet-noodle-eating backpacker!

What would you say to would-be travellers who’re on the fence about taking a road trip? What about people who are planning one right now? Can you think of anything they might’ve forgotten?

Try to rent a car with satellite radio, because you'll be listening to a lot of music and will want plenty of choice. Or alternatively take some audio-books to listen to. Research restaurants and highway attractions ahead of time; that way you won't miss anything unique and local, as opposed to just frequenting the large chain rest stops all trip.

For those who are on the fence about it, I would honestly say that there is no other country in the world so well-designed for driving in, so if you're ever going to take a road trip, this is the best place to do it.

And what on earth are you standing next to?!

This picture was taken outside the art museum in Kansas City where there are many large and unusual sculptures. The sculpture is a large badminton shuttlecock (because who doesn't want to have their picture taken with one of those?!). After I left Kansas City I drove on to St. Louis - gateway to the American west!

And finally, if you had to choose between being the driver or riding shotgun for the entire trip, which would you go for?

Definitely riding shotgun. You get to enjoy the scenery and the tunes without any of the tiredness or stress.

Our thanks to Julia - we hope to catch up with her after the Louisiana trip and let you know how she got on.

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