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.