90 Days Traveling the USA: Part Two
New York City
The second portion of our USA trip began. We took the bus from Washington D.C. to New York City. The ride was about five hours and as we began getting closer I could feel the excitement rising up inside of me. The cityscape of skyscrapers with the Empire State Building beckoning me to make my approach. There is something unique about New York City. It sucks me in with its wildness and unpredictability.
We stayed 10 days in the city at an Airbnb in Brooklyn in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district. Our place wasn’t special and it wasn’t a place I would generally pick out, but we booked it too late so we were limited on our options. There was no air conditioning so it was hot and we had to keep the windows open which let the loud street noise inside. The kitchen was tiny, dirty and had limited cooking supplies. According to Airbnb, Bedford-Stuyvesant “bears an unsavory reputation”, but almost everyone we encountered was friendly or at least pleasant towards us. The district has a lot of historic Brownstones and small, local businesses. I also enjoyed that the district was adjacent to the “ultra-hip” Williamsburg.
We visited Times Square, which I recommend avoiding if you hate huge, tight crowds. If you’ve never seen it before, yes, of course, GO. Otherwise, stand clear of the shoulder-to-shoulder tourists. It’s even worse at night.
We saw the Rockefeller Center and paid to go up to the top for the ultimate view of the Big City. Many people go to the top of the Empire State Building, but I recommend going on top of the Rockefeller Center because this gives you the view of the Empire State Building.
We also spent some time in Central Park– my favorite part of New York City.
I highly recommend seeing the Statue of Liberty from the free ferry going to Staten Island. Although you don’t get to see Lady Liberty up-close, you still get to see her for free. The ferry is crowded with people trying to take photographs, but if you’re on a budget then this is a way to cut some cost without cutting out an important sight of the city.
We went to Lower Manhattan and saw the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street, the Charging Bull and the World Trade Center Memorial. Slowly walking our way up Manhattan Island we arrived to Greenwich Village and saw the Flatiron Building, Madison Square Garden and then we arrived to Midtown to see the iconic Grand Central Station.
One day we took the subway to Lower Manhattan and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge– another one of my favorite things to do in New York City. Afterwards, we just kept walking. We walked through Dumbo, around the pier and up to Williamsburg. We continued walking to Bushwick and spent our whole day walking and exploring Brooklyn. There were eclectic street markets and we saw a group of five people giving out free haircuts behind a building on a basketball court.
One day went all the way up to the Bronx (which took nearly 1.5 hours by subway from our apartment to get there!). It was a huge zoo with a lot of different animals. And it’s free on Wednesdays.
Another freebie is visiting the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art Museum) on Friday afternoons. I’m not much of an art person, but it was surprisingly fun to walk around and look at the different eras of art they displayed. It was interesting, but after about two hours it was enough for me.
We didn’t explore too much of the nightlife as it was usually fairly expensive, but we did go out a few times. We went bar-hopping one evening in Hell’s Kitchen. I really liked this district. It was laid-back and well-suited for those who wanted a good time without spending a lot of money. We found a Groupon for a Friday night entry into a rooftop bar as well. The music wasn’t great, but the rooftop experience was enjoyable. Our last night we went to a nightclub in Brooklyn, but again the music wasn’t really what we were wanting. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the right nightlife experience for us while in NYC on a budget, but that didn’t stop us from participating in several Happy Hours.
We were lucky to have enough time to slowly explore a lot of the different districts in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Most of our days were spent wandering around streets, casually dropping in at a bar for a Happy Hour drink and grabbing some overpriced NYC street food.
After our 10-day trip in New York we flew back to Atlanta where we had left the car. We had originally planned to drive straight to Miami from there, but there was a tropical storm hitting Florida pretty hard at that time so we had to make an adjustment. Instead of going to Miami first we decided to go to New Orleans instead.
Road Trip USA
It was a 7-hour drive there and we stopped somewhere in Alabama to sleep that night. Our adventures of sleeping and living out of the car had begun once again. We were going to sleep at a Love’s Truck Stop, but we were told we weren’t allowed to stay overnight there. It was only for trucks. I’m not sure why they care if people in cars sleep there if truck drivers sleep there, but whatever. We continued driving and eventually found a large, unguarded hospital parking lot that we called home for the night. There was no sort of public restroom nearby so that was unfortunate for me, but it was quiet and the air was cool so we slept until the employees began arriving for work the next morning.
We continued our drive to New Orleans early the next morning. Sadly, it is still torn up from the damage of Hurricane Katrina and the construction going on. We walked through the streets of the French Quarter looking at the quirky shops and bars. We went to the French Market and drank a beer in the courtyard of St. Louis Cathedral (because that’s what you do in NOLA) and walked along the harbor. We didn’t care for New Orleans much so we only stayed one day. That evening we went out to a few of the bars and then slept in the car at a Walmart parking lot.
The next morning we began driving East towards Florida. We were meeting up with my family in less than a week in Clearwater. We beach-hopped our way there and continued sleeping in the car wherever we could find a place to park. First, we stopped at Pensacola, then Destin and finally Panama City Beach. We only stayed one day in each place and then continued onwards.
My favorite spot we stopped at on our Gulf Coast drive was a small little town called Mexico Beach, FL about a one hour drive from Panama City. It was quaint, cute and very friendly. We stayed on the pier and watched the fishermen until dusk. We then went to eat our picnic dinner on the beach with the radio. It was a pleasant evening and we slept right there in our car in the beach access parking lot. No one bothered us or seemed to care. There was also a public toilet which is always a ‘plus’ for me.
Now, let me pause for a second and talk about something I’m sure everyone is wondering about. Doing a road trip and sleeping in the car. Yes, this is correct. I don’t have a lot of money when I travel so paying for a place to sleep is a part of my budget I feel I can cut out if I have a car and it’s warm outside. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are many challenges that come about when living out of a car (especially when it’s just a regular car and not a van specially altered for someone to live out of like we had in Australia). It takes some time to get accustomed to and figured out. But it’s not as bad as you think and it’s a way to cut a significant cost.
We stayed at a lot of Walmart parking lots. The lots are huge and unused at night so usually no one cares or even notices. It’s especially nice when the Walmart is a 24/7 store so there’s a bathroom nearby when you need it (my biggest challenge living out of a car). Some Walmart’s have signs posted saying “No overnight parking” or “No RV and truck parking” so we try to stay away from those. However, in one instance we didn’t even see the sign until the next morning, but no one came to tell us to leave.
When there isn’t a Walmart or we just want something a little darker and quieter we would try to find a place near the beach like we did outside Pensacola and Panama City. As far as safety, we have never had an issue. No one has ever bothered us and I’ve never felt unsafe. Yes, we got some stares, but many people actually asked us if we needed help. We appreciated the kindness.
I definitely would only do it in a warm climate. It’s impossible to sleep when you’re freezing. There were times when we were so hot we couldn’t sleep, but having a couple of nights of being really cold (like in Northern California which I will get to later) made the heat seem like no problem. But with heat comes insects. So have bug spray. There were no showers unless the beach had a beach shower which we would utilize. Swimmers would be rinsing the sand off of them while I would go in there with my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, etc. Yes, more stares but, oh well.
It’s always toughest the first few days, but then after that you just becomes normal and you start realizing what’s really necessary and what isn’t. Sleeping out of a car is definitely more challenging here in the USA than it was in Australia. It’s not really a thing here- if you road trip you get a hotel/motel or you have an actual RV. In Australia, people traveled and slept on the side of the road inside their vehicles all the time. So a lot of the challenges stemmed from knowing we were doing something abnormal.
The next day we made our descent upon Clearwater. We drove most of the day and then had one more overnight at a Walmart before meeting the family the next morning to move into the rental house. Sleeping in the car always makes a regular home seem like the ultimate luxury! The car started having problems as we were descending upon Clearwater. I was begging it to make it there, and then back to Missouri!
We stayed four days in Clearwater. It was a relaxing trip and most of our time was spent on the beach or just enjoying each other’s company in the beach house we rented. We went parasailing, to the aquarium and some of the group went on a fishing trip.
After the short stay with the family, Paul and I continued our road trip down to southern Florida. Our next stop was the Everglades! The was one of our favorite parts of the trip. We went on an air boat tour on the Everglades and saw a few alligators. I really just enjoyed riding on the boat! Our guide was a lot of fun and he took us on a lot of sharp turns within the swamp.
Following the Everglades we continued our way down to the Florida Keys. It was a long, slow drive to the end of the Keys seeing as there is only one road in and out. Therefore, we stopped in Key Largo for a night before driving to Key West. We slept in another parking lot, and it was a hot sweaty one! I also noticed a lot of bug bites appearing…
After a couple of hours we made it to Key West the next morning. This is the Southern most tip of the Continental USA, and 90 miles from Cuba. We hopped around a couple of the beaches, but we were a little disappointed by what we saw. The beach was dirty and the ocean wasn’t very pretty. We decided to only spend one day here so we continued our drive back. That’s another positive note of being homeless when traveling- if we didn’t like the spot we could just leave and move on to the next one. We stopped about halfway through the Keys to sleep for the night at another parking lot.
This was the worst night ever! Apparently the car had become infested with bugs! I couldn’t sleep at all and became absolutely covered in mite bites. We hadn’t been careful enough with keeping the car clean of all food crumbs and we now had a bug problem. I was so grumpy and itchy the next morning and I felt disgusting. I was ready to be done with living in the car at this point- I had reached my limit once the bug bites came about! We cleaned out the car as much as possible, doused it with bug spray and continued driving to Miami.
When we arrived to Miami we went straight to Miami Beach. Now this beach was nice! I was pleasantly surprised. The beach was very, very crowded but the sand was nice and the water was finally a clear blue. I was trying to get over my grumpiness of being itchy and looking like a had a disease, and I told Paul I couldn’t live in the car anymore for right now. I needed a break. So we made a last-minute booking to an Airbnb in Miami for two nights. We could see a storm starting to come so we hurried to make the booking and luckily the guy responded very quickly. We were able to get into the apartment that evening.
Paul dropped me off at the apartment with all of our stuff while he looked for a parking garage for the car. The host met me there and gave me the keys and code to get inside the property. I waited and waited and waited for Paul to get back. He didn’t have a phone here so there was no way to get into contact with him so I just continued to wait. It started raining and I just sat outside quietly laughing to myself while sitting on the luggage getting rained on. About an hour later I get a phone call from a strange number. He had gotten lost and used a stranger’s phone to call me to let me know he was almost there.
Once again, the simplest of apartments felt like a castle when we got inside. A clean bed and a shower! I was so ready to get cleaned up. Paul cooked dinner for us that evening (like he does every evening) and we relaxed.
The next day, feeling like a new woman, we happily walked down the Miami Beach boardwalk. We walked for most of the day enjoying the beach, scenery and watching people go about their business. That evening we once again wanted to take advantage of the apartment so we made dinner, drank some cocktails and chilled inside the nice air conditioning which was a luxury after living in the car.
Back to Missouri
The following day we made our long journey back to Missouri. We drove almost non-stop and the whole way I was begging the car to make it there. It was about 2am somewhere in southern Tennessee when we finally had to stop to pull over and sleep. We parked in a Subway parking lot to sleep for a few hours, and then continued onwards. We finally made it all the way back to Missouri that evening. I was proud of us and the car for making it that quickly!
We spent a few days in Missouri resting up before continuing our travels. While at home we ate some Mexican food and drank margaritas, and spent one day at a campsite and recreation area. One of my friend’s parents own a home there and they invited us over for the day. We hung out in the pool and then went mudding on their 4-wheelers. Paul had a blast; I was a little scared. It was a ton of fun though!
After our rest we took the car on one more long drive up to Iowa. We stayed at my sister and her husband’s home for a couple of days before partaking in our next adventure!