A reader writes: How much does it cost to travel the way you do?

That depends.

That depends on what you’re willing to eat. I have a gluten allergy and being obsessed with nutrition is sort of my second secret calling in life, so I work really hard to eat super hippy food even when I’m sleeping in a vacant lot or getting rained on on a freight train. That means I’ll usually bring along some pricey ($6 a loaf) gluten-free (GF) bread and when I run out of that I’ll eat my almond butter and the insides of dollar menu double cheeseburgers on stale corn tortillas, thank you very much. Oh, and I eat dollar menu double cheeseburgers, but only when I’m traveling, and the protein high really helps me power through. Other protein snacks include beans, beans, and more beans, cold from the can. Look for cold bean cans wherever food is sold. They range from around fifty cents a can on the low end (additives, much?) to your top-of-the-line two dollar organic bean cans, sold in the sorts of stores you best stay out of when you’re broke, unless you’re eating from the bulk bins or buying a fistful of carrots. (carrots are always cheap, even organic. always, always.)

Speaking of vegetables, lately I’ve taken to traveling with a purple cabbage and eating my beans off its glorious waxen leaves. Sounds kind of sick, until you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and the only vegetable you’ve seen in a week is the iceberg lettuce at the truckstop buffet. And anyway, I’m sort of a general fan of brassicas, and I try to eat them every day, be it brussel sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens, cabbage or my steadfast friend Kale. And the only time I really got sick this year was after I was stuck on the train in the rain in North Dakota for a day in a half in late September (the rain on the plain falls mainly on the train), and I think I’m pretty lucky I didn’t get pneumonia, so it must be paying off. And it’s important to not only eat green leafy (or purple cabbagey, or shrunken brussel-sprouty) vegetables but to eat RAW vegetables most every day, because they have enzymes in them that you need to digest your food, although I’m not sure exactly how that works- I just know that raw foodists have this angelic, glowing skin and they never have to sleep. I also eat dried fruit. I love prunes especially. Prunes = delicious. Except sometimes I kind of space out and eat 27 of them and then it’s really windy and the train is going really fast and I don’t have any cardboard left…

But I’m supposed to be talking about how much stuff costs, not about that time I took a shit on the train and then pushed it on its little piece of paper down the crack between the freight container and the car but there was an updraft because I was (still) in North Dakota in like a hurricane or something and my shit went straight up into the air and then, thankful, out the side of the car, the paper stopping for a moment to catch on a metal ledge and flutter maddeningly at me, as if to say- See how close you came to having shit all over all your stuff and not a goddam thing you can do about it? Maybe you shouldn’t have packed prunes to eat when you’re already almost shitting yourself because you have a stomach bug you picked up when you were backpacking and decided to drink unfiltered stream water which was REALLY STUPID.

Prunes are cheap. Except for when they’re expensive. Dried fruit is mysterious, much like freight trains.

If you don’t care about eating hippy food you can maybe live off of dumpstered bagels, at least until you get tired of them or your youth fails you, whichever comes first. You’ll be really really skinny and get sick a lot, but dumpstered bagels are free. There are bagel dumpsters all over these great 48 states, you can proly look them up on google maps in advance.

I also travel with expensive supplements- filtered fish oil capsules (aka my anxiety meds), magnesium citrate, a probiotic I can’t afford.

How much it costs to be a scumbag also varies depending on what season you’re in. Cold weather travel can be more expensive, because you might want to get a really warm sleeping bag, unless you’re some sort of masochist. I have a medium-warm sleeping bag, it was really warm when it was knew, like six thousand geese warm, but now it’s sort of flat from sleeping in and less warm. Oh well. Warmth comes from this magic thing called “loft”, which you can make from all sorts of stuff. Wadded newspaper, dried leaves, cardboard… once you know about “loft”, you have the power of physics on your side. To keep your sleeping bag from getting flat before its time, take it out of its compression sack as soon as you’re home. Store it loose under your bed. Compression, quite literally, breaks down the loft. If you leave it in the compression sack for a year at the bottom of your closet, you’ve basically ruined a perfectly good bag.

My sleeping bag is a zero (yeah right, more like 30) degree down bag, and costs 200 dollars new. You can get them for less, I think. Just don’t EVER buy a used one, down or synthetic. It will be flat as a pancake, and NOT warm.

As far as sleeping mats, I use a ridgerest. They cost twenty dollars and you can’t break them. They’re big but they way absolutely nothing. Strap it to the side of your pack and let the whole world know that you’re a homeless scumbag, not just a yuppie backpacker or someone taking their dirty wash to the Laundromat.

When I travel I end up spending money. I’ll buy dumb foodstuffs to bring up moral, like ice cream or a gross granola bar, or a can of beef stew that tastes like cat food. Some people are better at saving money than me, like my friend Lark who rides the train with just a little baggie of peanuts and one of raisins, and practically counts then as she eats them. She just kind of shuts down her metabolism and eats body fat. She doesn’t even drink her water. Sometimes she gives it to me, after I drink all mine.

If you’re arranging craigslist rides you might want some cash so you can offer to split gas with people, or you can just tell them you’re broke and they’ll think you want to have sex with them, which would be a good way to draw out sexual predators if you were some kind of superhero that castrated creepy men to teach them a lesson. You could leave them tied up in a truck-stop bathroom and take off with their pickup-truck, too, if you wanted.

If you really want a solid sum for travel expenses I would say you could live off about ten dollars a day, for food and minutes on your overpriced prepaid cellphone, which you need to fish for sympathy texts from far-away friends. This is only my experience, however, and I welcome any comments from readers who have gone the scumbag travel route and have tips to share.

And if by asking me to explain my travel expenses, dear reader, your hope is that what I’ll really reveal is Whether or Not I Have a Job, then the answer is Yes. Yes I’ll answer that question. And the answer is No. Not right now. What I do is I work for part of the year, some sort of shit job, and then the rest of the time I don’t, sort of on and off. I like to have not-working times where I just live off my savings and write, which doesn’t make me any money, but makes me feel like I actually exist, which is a valid thing to want to feel. And it’s easier for me to live off of little than for some, because I don’t drive a car (Portland is the most bicycle commuter friendly city in the US), I don’t have any kids, and my teeth haven’t QUITE all fallen out of my mouth, not yet. I also share a rented house with friends, or I live for free somewhere, like last winter when I lived in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula of Washington, all by myself, caretaking a piece of land for some folks.

Does that answer your question?

And on another note, here are a few more pictures from cousin Gabo’s shack in Asheville that I just had to put up, because they’re so nice. Don’t you wish you had a little cabin like this? Yeah, me too. Gabo, by the way, lives off of odd housepainting jobs and doesn’t have any running water, but likes it that way so she can spend most of her time playing old music, which is her passion. And if you’re smart you’ll check out her band’s myspace page and buy a CD, because they’re incredible. Oh, and they’re all acrobats, too.

8 thoughts on “A reader writes: How much does it cost to travel the way you do?

  1. yes it does and it makes sense to me —

    (((and no that wasn’t one of my hopes for although i was born of him, nevertheless i am not the Man, nor one of his minions, nor have i ever been, or will i be, and for that claim i can supply a lifetime of well motivated references who will indubitably attest to same, and for the sake of this question, i can think of no one i have ever known who would not stand and answer for me, and so i fear no contradiction – indeed i would look forward to any material witness in this circumstance, for — thanks to your serendipitous wonder — the old question of my character finally and for the first time arises for what personally i will deem to be a good cause, and i pray at long last it may be heard in a friendly and forgiving court.)))

    (shhh, enough of that horseshit they’ll reckon you a drinker)

    –i do have another question if i may – on such trips how does one keep from stinking especially in such places like the old south where ever it seems like they’re always sniffing? maybe that’s another reason why friendly dogs are such relief and so beloved especially nowadays because they boldly sniff not sneaky and it aint a test and they dont think any less of us no matter how we smell they just naturally love to know.

  2. thank you for sharing the particulars of your expenses and the whys. one of my favorite parts of walden’s pond for some reason was thoreau’s list (and the fact he was kind enough to make it) of the few things he had to buy and why and how much money he spent on them, like used boards and flour and trousers and such.

  3. If you want to get a glimpse of perfect holiday and tourism in Asia, you must visit India which is considered as the most popular tourist destination of Asia. India is a true destination for those people who have desire to enjoy a lot of tourism options in a single country. In other word, it is a country that hosts something for everyone. In whatever part of the country you travel, North India, East India, West India, Central India or South India, you will find unity, love, rich cultural heritage, rich flora and fauna, generous people to help you, and wonderful holiday spots which surely will be a unique and pleasant experience. Truly, your India holiday tours will be a pleasant experience.

  4. And don’t forget the added expense of People magazine, grabbed on the fly at a crew change in Montana!

  5. Aw, lookit my cute spam tourism comment! I must travel to India immediately!

    Lark- true that. You can’t buy celeb tabloids with food stamps!

  6. Especially awesome tips. This post was hilarious. It got a couple loud “PFFFFF!!”s, and other patrons of this coffee shop knew that I had found something to be enjoyed.

    Are you aware of the sugar beet harvest? $2k in a few weeks? Lots of “scumbags” with Ridgerests? It might not be worth it, gauging by your distaste for North Dakota… but you could participate in Minnesota, and pretend it makes a difference.

    All the absolute best, dude.

  7. Good tip on the cabbage! Love it, my sister said she wrote my address in pencil cause I moved so much. Bought a farm now and love it, but at the same time I want to move! I just like change I guess. So I’m a floater at work and do a different job almost every day. When I retire I will wander again. In a gypsy wagon I hope!

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