My mom and her husband are talking about spending some time in an RV or van when they retire. The other day my mom asked me how to scope out a new town (and lemme tell you, she was shocked to learn that Laundromats in the lower 48 don’t have showers).
The first thing I do while driving to the town is consider what I want to experience while there. Am I just looking for a place to shower and buy food while holed up in a National Forest? (Probably). Or do I want to do some volunteer work? See a movie, take a class, go to poetry readings? Whatever it is, I think about it and I visualize it while driving.
At the last big town right off the freeway before the little town, I get off and find a hotel parking lot with wifi.
I get out my notebook and make a page for that town. I google “free wifi (town),” and “gym (town).” I usually click on the jiwire results (jiwire has a program you can download that will direct you to free wifi even when you aren’t on the internet, if your up for that level of technology), and write down the name, address, and phone number of two or three of the more promising results. When you google “gym (town)” google itself will actually give you a list of gyms and their phone numbers and addresses. I write down all of them, and their phone numbers. If I’m planning on working, I also check out the local strip clubs and their reviews on http://www.stripclublist.com and http://www.stripperweb.com, and write down all of their phone numbers. Then I see if the town itself has a website, and I read it. I might look for town calendars to see if anything interesting is going on. I google anything else I’m interested in “(town) health food store,” “theatre (town),” “(town) volunteer,” “(town) open mic,” etc.
Next is where to sleep. I look in my copy of Don Wrights Guide to Free Campgrounds. It’s a great book. If you don’t have it, scroll down and click on the picture of it over there —-> to buy it on Amazon. In there I find directions to designated dispersed camping in the local National Forest. Then I google “dispersed camping (name of national forest),” “dispersed camping (town),” “map (name of national forest),” etc. I also find the website for that NF and write down the phone number for the ranger station.
Then I go to town. First stop is usually WalMart. That’s my worst-case or got-into-town-too-late parking spot, and it’s good to know where it is. Then I scope the hotels for more parking + wifi. Then I check out the local internet coffee shop. I read the bulletin board, I buy a fru-fru coffee and tip well, I check my email, and I smile at people. You can get a really good feel for a town this way. Often you meet people who are fascinated with you and invite you over for a meal or a shower. Or you meet people who just think you’re weird. Either way, ask them about local pools or rec centers where you might be able to shower for super cheap or free (in Tucson at the city park pools, it’s a dolla fifty for a shower and a swim).
Then I hit the local health food store and head out into the woods. I look for a place near a river that’s not easily seen from the road. The first few days I just walk around and get to know the place (with, of course, daily trips to town for the Internet. It’s not necessary to get out of the van for these, just park somewhere you can pick it up). Once I know it a little I start to engage with it a little. If I need a shower and my spray bottle isn’t doing it anymore, I go to town and call all the gyms for their daily rates (weekly, if I’m working) and then go to the cheapest for a shower.
Eventually, I run out of food money or just feel like moving on, and I start all over again.