I've done a lot of traveling around North America and I've discovered a few important things. The most important thing to do is to have fun! Secondly: Take lots of pictures!
Step 1: Always Be Prepared for Anything... But Be Flexible.
I like to have the perfect balance between preparedness and adventure. Some things that are good to have along no matter what the mode of transportation:
1) Duct tape- Ok, kinda cliche but true, I've used it to fix swim trunks, radiator hoses and leaky car windows, boats, luggage and many other things, you only need a little roll. ( you can wrap a bit around an ink pen if you like.
2) Tools- somthing as simple as a Leatherman can get you out of a lot of jams. (Think of the dude who was hiking in Nevada and had to cut his arm off with one.)
3) Extra underwear- Yeah you can wash your old stuff in a river or hotel sink or a truck stop bathroom but I really like a clean pair every couple days at least.
4) A map- some times the best maps to have are the ones that states and cities gear toward people with young children. They often have a better list of attractions within a city or state and they are usually free.(and with the maturity level of a 5th grader they are great for me)
5)Backpack- A lot of times I will travel only with a large daypack.
within I can cary a waterbottle, toiletries, a pair of shorts, t-shirt, fleece, rain jacket and even a couple books to read while on a train or plane.
6) Multiple payment options, I always bring a cheque book and cash along with my card, if you run out of cash in the middle of Kansas and need to pay for a campsite cheques usually are accepted whereas there are still many places that do not accept Visa or Mastercard.
7) Flexibility- this really should be number one I can't count the times I've had to change my plans because of rain, wildfires or strange airline standby procedures.
Step 2: Eat Local
DO NOT GO TO MC DONALDS!
You can get Mickey D's at home.
I have my favorite places all over that I like to go to when I visit a city. VooDoo Doughnuts in Portland is one of my favorites. You can check out places that people tell you are good but I would encourage you to look for your self. I've found that a good indicator of good food is that the place is off the "beaten path" and has a lot of local college-aged people inside.
Step 3: Eat "in"
I cannot afford to eat at even a cheap restaurant every night that I'm out on the road, some times I'll be hungry and 60 miles from the nearest town.
I've found that stopping at a grocery store to get some bread and lunch meat can save time and money. When traveling by a means that allows me to bring my camp stove I'll bring it along for a gourmet meal anwhere. You can pretty much make whatever you want to. Set up a picnic in a city park or by a stream in the mountains. Some of the best food I've had was made on a camp stove.
Step 4: Spend the Extra $7
It is sometimes hard for me to spend money on "silly" things while traveling. I have found that most times the good stuff is the free stuff. Think; Pikes Place Market in Seattle.
BUT, don't be afraid of spending a little. For example it costs 3 dollars a person to get in to see the four corners it's kinda worth it... once.
Getting a Gondola ride to the top of a mountain in the Rockies may just be worth it.
I have been disappointed though too. I went to the National Forestry Museum in Portland once not realizing that it was a propaganda tool of the logging industry until I paid my $13 to get in.
Live a little
Step 5: Use Public Transportation
In Big cities like Chicago it is a lot easier to get on the El than to try to find parking around town. Denver has really nice free parking areas where one can get on the Light rail going into down town, and Portland MAX Service goes right to the airport!
Cities like Portland and Denver have fareless ares where riding is free.
Also, you can look online beforehand to figure out where the bus or trolley stops to plan out your day. You might even find that you can ride on some unique forms of transportation like aerial trams or old city trolleys.
Step 6: Don't Go to THE Tourist Spot.
Yeah, I like to go to the Tourist spot alot, but many times you can have a lot more memorable time seeking out somthing special. At the Grand Canyon, for example, I like to find the places that fewer people visit, Hermits Rest or Supai.
Step 7: Meet People, Make Friends, Share Travel Secrets.
Spend some time getting to know fellow travelers.
I met these two guys in Denver recently on the train. From England on business they were spending the day in the city just looking around as we were. They were able to tip us off to places we never would have found otherwise. Because we had researched Denver public Trans beforehand we were able to share some info with them as well.
Step 8: Finally: Sleep on a Friend's Couch.
Why else did you go to college than to have friends all over the world?
Seriously though, I love to visit my friends who live in various cities I visit. I can also spend a lot less money by sleeping on their couch and taking them to lunch than I would spend at a nasty hotel.
This also can benifit you, they often know the best places to eat and shop in town... and the best bars. Like this one In Mesic, MI.
Second Prize in the
Lonely Planet Travel Tips Contest