Transportation Options from a Veteran Traveler
I graduated from PT school still driving the same car I had from high school – a green 1999 Acura with almost 300,000 miles. That car was my rusty, trusty side kick driving me all around in high school and back and forth from my college 5 hours away from home for years and years, despite not having a working CD or cassette player.
Then I decided to jump into travel and my dad convinced me to upgrade my car. I bought a slightly used but really beautiful Jeep Grand Cherokee. I made sure everything I wanted fit into the back of it – including my favorite comfy chair - and then hit the road to my first job outside Chicago, IL. Yes, I quickly learned I over packed, but that Jeep held all I needed for assignments for 6 years with road trips from Chicago to Texas to California and South Carolina.
My first big problem happened a few years in while I was driving across the country -Houston to San Francisco. My first night in San Francisco my whole car was packed up car-partment style and my car got broken into. Partially this was on me for parking somewhere with signs everywhere saying to not leave personal items in view, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons.
- Find the security desk and ask if you can park it closer. They probably can’t guarantee anything, but if it’s parked right next to a security desk or station there’s less of a chance of anything happening.
- Back into parking spaces against a wall. It will be harder to break in a window and pull big suitcases out. They went right through my back window and grabbed everything they could find.
- ALWAYS keep important things with you. Thankfully, there were excellent security guards working that showed up right away and all anyone got away with was a backpack full of bachelorette party favors and an old checkbook. Joke’s on them; I had my electronics with me and I quickly switched my banking information over before I noticed any changes.
Flash forward a few years and I was driving home from Louisiana to Ohio for Christmas and I had an accident. Thankfully, I was fine and so was the other party involved, but my Jeep not so much. It was a horrible feeling, but I was very blessed with a super understanding Uber driver, a very kind hotel lobby receptionist, and a dad who drive 16 hours in one day to save me. I was lucky to be able to borrow an extra family car for a few months while I figured some things out.
So this left me with both a huge problem and a huge opportunity. I could finally take my dream job in Alaska and fly there since I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for a car I wasn’t using. I could try out the RV life I’ve been following on Instagram for years. I was dumping so much money into my Grand Cherokee because of the wear and tear I put on it, so this might be my time to upgrade. Here are the options I’ve compiled:
Buy a car
There’s a lot to think about with this, but ultimately it’s your choice what to buy and if you go new or used. Remember being a traveler you are going to put a lot of miles on a car and you will likely end up needing servicing while you are away from home. If you plan to take assignments far from home you’re going to put a lot of miles and wear and tear on a car. Also, remember your car has to fit everything into it. I personally choose to drive SUVs or crossovers for the space, but I had a friend travel with a Toyota Camry. She fit everything into it and called it her “car-partment” because she furnished our shared kitchen, packed an inflatable air mattress, provided a fold up table for our kitchen as well as folding chairs, TV, TV stand, lamps, mirrors, an end table for her bedroom, and all her clothes/toiletries. Seriously, you need WAY less than you think.
Van Life or RV Life
I think this lifestyle is awesome, and there are tons of blogs, Instagrams, YouTube channels, and even TikToks dedicated to this lifestyle. I would love not having to pack/unpack everywhere I went, and it would be easier to have pets. I choose not to do this because I don’t feel confident I’d know what to do if anything broke down. And I like real bathrooms. I’ve also heard, though I’ve never done the research myself, that you have to commit to living in one for awhile (like 5 years) for this to actually save you money in the long term.
Rent a car
I’ve done this twice now and have no regrets. I’ve even ended up saving money since I didn’t have to pay for maintenance and I got better gas mileage! Ask around to everyone you know to find discounts. I’ve found friends-and-family deals to the larger car rental agencies, privately rented vehicles through landlords, and have negotiated with smaller local agencies.
Buy and sell a car at your destination
This is another popular option for places like Alaska and Hawaii. So you fly to your destination, buy a cheap car to get around in, and then sell it back before you leave. This seems stressful to me, but I’ve heard of people making money by doing this so let me know if you have tried it!
Bike, walk, and public transit
This takes some planning and you’ll have to see if the town you are working in has enough options, but it will save money. I borrowed a bike from a co-worker for a few days a week and then would only rent a car on a few weekends to take trips and do my big grocery hauls. Some rural areas this will not work at all, but in big towns, bike friendly towns, or even places like Hawaii, New York City and places used to this lifestyle this is a great option. Plus you get to burn extra calories!
Ship your car
I’ve looked into this and had a friend do it, but it just doesn’t seem worth it to me. It is expensive and you can’t load up your car full of stuff like normal. Also, my friend had her car arrive late. So, for cost-benefit I choose to either drive my car or fly and rent. There are plenty of companies out there, so do plenty research if you’re thinking about this.
For anyone wondering what to do if you fly to an assignment, I try to really pack minimally and check as few bags as possible. It’s tough to get to your destination and manage 3-4 suitcases while trying to walk to a rental desk. If you noticed above by me trying to bring a whole chair with me - packing light isn’t my best strength. I shipped some luggage through the website Lugless (lugless.com) and had a really good experience!
Personally, I recently purchased a brand new Subaru Forrester for some assignments I did within driving distance of my permanent address. I’m now working in Alaska and renting a Jeep Grand Cherokee that I got cheap. My car is stored in my Grandpa’s garage while I’m here. I wanted to drive, but felt safer flying because of COVID. So I’m making payments on my car back home and renting here, but I found a discount code that helped significantly. (Seriously, I’m renting a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee for less than what I paid monthly when I actually owned one!) I like the freedom of being able to go straight into another contract, a vacation, or whatever and not worrying about transportation or where I can safely leave my car.
There are a lot of pros and cons of each option above. There can be problems finding places to park and store an RV or even a fully packed car when between assignments, but you get to bring everything you’ll need and more. Flying all over the place and renting cars won’t always be cheaper, but it’s worked for me so far. Plus, I’m the type of traveler to take long breaks between assignments and travel so I like the extra flexibility there too. Hope this helps you decide what will work for you. Let me know if I missed anything!