Cross the Country With These (Mostly) Legal Road Trip Tips From a Veteran Vagabond: My Twin

Photo Credit: Macaulay Lerman

Tori is one minute younger than me and a million minutes wiser—she didn’t just succumb to wanderlust; she actively affords to foster it. She’s vanquished the vagabond’s very real adversary: routine. How? She’s traversed 49 of the 50 states—all but Alaska, where she says she’s had opportunities to visit but is “waiting for a more exciting one.” Because she can; she lives on the road full time. Having driven coast to coast across the United States (and Canada) somewhere around 20 times, she estimates, Tori’s become a deft drifter and perhaps a landloper for the long haul.

“There’s just something about being in a place you’ve never been, around people you’ve never met,” she says of the allure. “I like exploring—I get bored easily and when I’m on the road everything feels right, even if I don’t have a car. With any means of transportation, you’ll never be stuck, so I purposefully try to get lost.”

I caught her on the road somewhere outside of Stowe, Vermont to divulge the details of her life as a rambler. Here’s what my twin sister has to say about calling the whole country home and her best road trip tips for doing the same. 

Go off the beaten path.
“The basic route is Interstate 80—it’s the transcontinental highway in the United States that runs from downtown San Francisco, California to Teaneck, New Jersey, so it’s super easy—just a straight shot from coast to coast. I like taking I-80 for 90 percent of the time, except not always during the Ohio-Illinois-Indiana stretch; where I-80 crosses them is a miserable drive. I like taking the north route, personally; there’s a lot to see and there seems to be less cops that could pull you over. I also love to go through random roads in small towns where you find all the good coffee shops and farmers’ markets and weird places and real culture; it might take longer, but it’s totally worth it.

“Also never forgo Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon or California on your travels. Everywhere I have been in Vermont, even the bigger cities, all have such a homey feeling to them with mom-and-pop shops everywhere and the kind of bars where everybody knows each other by name. Vermont is also beautiful with amazing swimming holes and hiking spots, places to eat cheese and maple syrup. Everyone there seems to have a unique hobby—lots of farmer and artsy types, plus misty progressives, which is awesome because I think Vermont is still a little under the radar so it’s not getting blown up like Colorado. Although Colorado is getting blown up, it’s also still one of the only states you can go where you can get outside and in nature but also go see an amazing show. It definitely has the best of both worlds (city and rural), which is why I think people migrate there so much. Don’t ask me why I love Minnesota—there’s something about the people and the communities there. Most mid-west states are pretty boring (no offense, Ohio, but also all of the offense). Grand Marais, Minnesota is the most beautiful small town. Again, it’s one of those places where everyone is friendly and knows each other, and everyone has a hobby. There’s surprisingly tons of good music coming out of Minnesota, too. Oregon is beautiful, so beautiful—you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for in Portland. California is great because you can find all of the east coast there—southern California like Los Angeles is kind of like New Jersey. And northern California by all the farmers is similar to the Northeast.”

Drink green tea over coffee to stay alert.
“I typically try to drive between eight and 10 hours a day, but that’s only if I’m kind of in a rush. Otherwise, there are a million cool places I could stop so maybe I’ll only drive four hours a day. I’ve done the drive across the country a thousand times by now, and I’ve definitely done it straight through with no sleep, which is ridiculous and insanely hard to do but fun if you’ve got some good music and green tea. I never ever drink coffee when I’m on a road trip because it gets me all strung out and then I get exhausted. I find drinking a steady amount of green tea works so much better. So no coffee—at least until the very last leg of your drive when you can crash afterwards.”

Curate a playlist.
“I mostly listen to my bluegrass and folk music but I also like to listen to ambient artists like Brian Eno when I’m driving to feel like I’m in a sad movie because it’s funny… also anything to which I can belt out the lyrics, sing or dance. To be honest, I keep a harmonica with me at the drivers seat and play that when I’m driving, too. It makes it more entertaining.”

Photo Credit: Macaulay Lerman

Stay overnight with locals.
“You will never see me buy a hotel or spend money on a place to stay. If you’re smart and you plan your trip ahead, CouchSurfing is a super safe and reliable way to get a free place to crash and meet new people who could even show you around. Or go to a dive-y locals’ bar where there’s an open mic or something—it’s normally a place where you can actually talk to people and have conversation. Be yourself and be carefree and be weird and be outgoing and introduce yourself by telling people you have no idea where you are. I meet people very often. The friends I’ve made during my travels are probably the ones I keep in contact with the most. I stay with them a lot and I’ve also met a ton of travelers on the road who I meet up with all over the country.”

Or scope out free public places to sleep in your car.
“I sleep in my car a ton because it’s comfy and I can make a bed out of it without having to move any of my stuff. You can camp for free at most national parks, but if you’re on the road and aren’t near anything like that, I like to find a Walmart. At any Walmart Supercenter, you’re allowed to sleep in their parking lots. I don’t spend my money there, honestly, but I’ll take a free place to park my car and then use their bathrooms in the morning! Also, a Walmart in New York once let a group of friends set up tents in their parking lot, which was pretty funny.

“I like to sleep in places where there are a ton of people around, unless I’m actually in the middle of nowhere. Rest stops are creepy. I’m lucky I’ve never had any sketchy encounters but, in my opinion, even some gas stations that are 24 hours and will let you park and sleep for a little are better than a rest stop.”

Invest in a fuel-efficient road-tripper.
“I drive a Subaru Forester. It’s pretty typical, but it’s honestly practical. They are good on mountain roads, they’re one of the best of their size for gas mileage, they fit a bunch of stuff (my entire life) and you can fold the seats down and have a fairly comfortable bed.”

Pick up odd jobs and save your money.
“I am pretty good with my money and most months I’m pretty much living rent free, so that definitely helps—(live in your car, it saves rent!). But there are so many odd jobs you can find that let you travel. I play music and, while I never encourage anyone to spange (when you ask people for money or fly a sign for gas) because I think it’s a little fucked up if you’re not desperate (although I know tons of people who do it), I have an instrument and I think busking is cool. Plus, it’s a ton of fun and I meet a lot of people. My friends and I also have gigs selling art and the like while we travel.

“Also befriend farmers to get cheaper produce. I normally cook my food instead of spending money to eat out. I’ll only spend money on whiskey at the bar… Oh and, you know, don’t spend all your money on unnecessary stuff like whiskey at the bar… ”

Photo Credit: Macaulay Lerman

Just do it.
“Usually people say they ‘wish they could do that’ and I usually say that they should. A lot of people argue that they don’t have the money, but you honestly don’t need much at all to get on the road. You seriously just go.”

And do it solo.
“Driving with friends is fun; you definitely bond and you can switch on and off driving, which is helpful. But remember that you’re stuck in that small space with the same person for hours on end and they might have a smaller bladder than you.

“First, when you’re driving by yourself, you get to pick when and where to stop and for how long. If you end up stopping somewhere that you love or meet interesting and hospitable people who want to show you around, you can just go without having to make a plan with someone else. You can change directions if you get a sudden desire to head south before you head east. When you’re by yourself and traveling, you’re exploring—and it’s no fun to be held back from exploring a rare opportunity somewhere else just because you’re all the way in South Dakota and your co-pilot doesn’t feel like making the trek. Second, you can play all of the embarrassing songs you like on repeat and no one will get annoyed. You can be weird and sing and cry to a sad song and have time to think about your life. I like to take the time to come up with all of my ideas, plans and further adventures. Third, it’s easier to CouchSurf or sleep in your car if you’re one person. And fourth, being by yourself challenges you to go outside your comfort zone and engage with new people.

“There are absolutely a lot of women who do it solo—ones who are doing so in cooler ways than me, too. There are a lot of badass women who are hopping trains around the country and hitchhiking. Meanwhile, I feel boujee in my Subaru.”