You've got the plan.
You've got the money.
You've got the clothes.
Now you need the goods...
A lot of the equipment I bought was from eBay or thrift stores. A good portion of my equipment was donated to me, either by giving me money to purchase it or given to me directly. Here's a break-down list of what I'm currently using; you'll probably have your own inventory of materials, but this should give you a baseline for what you may need.
The cart that I'm currently is a retrofitted Runabout triplet baby stroller that my friends souped up for me by attaching a basket tray to the body with zip ties. I bought the Runabout used from eBay; I was lucky, it was quite a steal and the owners happened to be in the same area as me. The set-up is rather sturdy, and I'm appreciating the Runabout strollers more and more because they add a sexy hand-brake (MANY DISASTERS WERE AVERTED BECAUSE OF THIS). The basket tray easily let's me hold my stuff down with bungee cord and compartmentalize each section.
The steel chassis has definitely taken a good beating from the road as well, and its still going strong. I was originally worried that the wheels had rusted enough to fall apart, but I haven't had any problems so far.
A few advantages of having a cart rather than carrying a backpack are that you can reduce the stress to your back and shoulders, and you can carry far more weight (which will be critical for carrying water across 50 - 100 mile stretches of deserts). The bad news is that unlike a backpack, you have to figure out where to park the damn thing without getting it stolen, and you need much more width along road shoulders to walk along highways.
- Water Storage
When you're in a city or town, water storage will not be as much of a challenge because there will always be water available, whether from a restaurant, a grocery store, or a resident. However, once you get out in the middle of nowhere, water storage becomes highly essential.
I brought along two 5 gallon collapsible water jug from REI, which were given to me by my walking friend, David, when he decided to return home. These things are awesome because you can reduce their size while your water level creeps lower over time. Also, they're square rather than cylindrical like the 5 gallon hard plastic jugs you get for drinking fountains, so they fit better on the cart.
The problem is that they're easily punctured, and on more than one occasion, I've had to repair them with duct tape and super glue. I tossed one of the jugs after it had leaked after a repair, so now I only carry one water jug. I supplement my water jug with 2.5 gallon containers from the grocery store if I need them. Eventually, I'll have to go over to the hard plastic jugs because my current collapsible is starting to break down.
Now, I don't know very much about taking only a backpack on a walking journey. I believe that there have been many other cross-country walkers who've done as such, and you should be able to find blogs about them.
But even with the cart, I brought along a backpack just in case of an emergency or the cart breaks down. I like backpacks because they have a lot of compartments, so it makes my life easier when I'm organizing my stuff. It's also nice to park the cart and keep all the expensive electronics in the backpack, which I take in with me if I'm shopping or talking to someone. I have nothing fancy, just a regular 'Trans' backpack that I've used since high school.
For mouth hygiene, I just brought along a toothbrush and floss. I had some tooth damage in college, so I brush with toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, but its nothing fancy, just whatever I can pick up at a Target or Safeway. I have facial gel cleanser that I use to wash my face every night using a sponge and some water. A bar of soap and a sponge does the job for my body. I don't bother much with washing my hair because I shaved off a good lump of it before I headed on the road.
I wash my feet and nether regions with a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol to disinfect the areas. It's overkill, but I'd rather keep jock itch and athlete's foot at bay for as long as I can.
Get a check-up with a physician before you start. It may be a good idea to have a feel for what kinds of allergies, injuries, and physiological imbalances you have so that you can manage them along the way. You can be prepared with whatever medication or therapies you'll need as you walk; there's no reason to stress parts of your body more than necessary.
Pack the basic medications, like pain-killers, antibiotics, cold medicine, and indigestion medicine. I'm not a big fan of poppin' pills to treat a symptom rather than a disease, but my dad was a doctor, so I took it for granted that the road can be fiercer than expected.
On the other hand, I've never felt in better health in my entire life. When I get sick, it just seems to go away the next day. And I'm more conscientious about what I eat, so I have fewer stomach aches than at home. Each body will be different, each journey its own difficulties.
- Sleeping Gear
Proper sleeping gear will be critical for a good night's rest. If you're already used to sleeping on the ground, back support and cushioning may not important for you. Otherwise, you'll need a portable pillow, a foam sleeping mat, and an inflatable sleeping pad. The foam mat will also help to reduce heat loss into the ground during the night.
And then of course, there's the sleeping bag. Depending on your route and season of departure, you'll need the proper temperature rating for your sleeping bag. Expect to see colder weather than you'd expect, especially if you're going by the average temperature of a region in the country. I use a military-grade sleeping bag that I picked off from eBay, rated at -10 F. For what its worth, I walked through the California and Arizona deserts during the winter, and the sleeping bag has worked even better than I expected.
You may also want to bring along a small, cheap tent. Snakes and poisonous bugs are prone to crawling into warm, comfortable areas, so a tent will be invaluable in keeping those critters out. Also, you can keep your food inside, away from raccoons, rats, and other vermin. Windy conditions can be pretty grueling without a tent as well.
Maps and a compass are critical. Even if you're sporting a GPS or smartphone, you'll still want to keep maps in the event you're out of signal or batteries. Learn to read a compass and a map. Unless you're a veteran at wandering, you'll probably want to know where you're going.
The Adventure Cycling Association
carries excellent water-proof maps that each cover ~500 mile sections of various cross-country cycling routes. They're highly portable and don't cost anymore than $16 a piece. Plus, they describe details about lodging, elevation, amenities, stores, and water. I was gifted one along the way to Arizona from a cyclist coming in the other direction, and its been a valuable tool in conjunction with my complete map book of the United States.
You don't necessarily need any electronics to walk across the country. Plenty of people had been doing it long before cell phones or laptops, so they're more optional than anything.
That being said, a cell phone is always nice to have to keep in touch with friends and family back home, not to mention the potential 911 call if you ever needed it. A GPS is also handy to have so that you can keep track of where you're currently located in real time. And of course, there's the laptop. There's really not much you couldn't do with one; I'm sure you could even order pizza online to be delivered to you while you were walking down a highway. A digital camera isn't a bad thing to take along either. It's definitely great to be able to share a beautiful sunset in the Mojave Desert with friends.
You'll be able to recharge your electronics practically anywhere in a town or city. All restaurants and residences have some form of electricity, and most people will be kind enough to let you recharge your equipment if you let them know what you're up to. I was donated a Nomad 7 Solar Panel, which let's you plug in USB adapters to recharge your equipment. I haven't had to use it particularly often, but its been helpful nonetheless.
Given the dangerous nature of wandering through the country alone, you will want to bring some kind of weaponry, unless your purpose for walking prohibits it. I'd say that the danger mostly comes from wild animals; I haven't yet met a single person who's been malicious towards me. So unless you're a saint or a Disney princess, you're probably better off having some form of defense.
I started my walk without any sort of weapon, besides my blunt pocket knife. A guy I met going into Parker, AZ gave me his bear spray, which is basically an upgraded version of pepper spray (think Siege Mode for Terran tanks in Starcraft). He kept telling me about all the fights he'd be in at bars and how he'd meet with rather suspicious folk (think American Psycho-status). So I've kept the spray around. Just in case.
Either a flashlight or a headlight will do. I prefer headlights because I have to use both my hands to set up camp. Plus, it makes it easier to write or read during the night. Take your pick, there's a ton of different ways to illuminate your journey. Just remember that bringing a brick of a flashlight won't do you much good.
You'll also need extra batteries to have around even before you start running low. The Nomad 7 Solar Panel comes with an LED flashlight that contains four rechargeable batteries. So every so often, I'll leave the panel out in the sun and know that at the very least, I'll have that for light and electrical power.
Bring a first aid kit and learn how to use it properly. You'll also need some way to contact the police or fire department besides a cell phone. The GPS I use comes with a way to call 911; since it's connected to multiple satellites, it's less likely to lose reception compared to my cell.
I'm also carrying along the following in the event of an emergency:
~ Two Emergency Blankets
~ Instant Foot and Hand Warmers
~ Waterproof Matches
~ Fresnel Lens (to start fires using sunlight)
~ Electrolyte Powder Mix
~ Protein Bars
~ Water Purification Tablets
~ Sewing Needles