Because it was Kansas, almost the entire parking lot was filled with out-of-state cars, trucks, vans and busses. Sure, there were plenty of hippie vans painted in psychedelic colors, but beyond that were rows and rows of thousands of vehicles, almost all of which were on some sort of a concert-venue fueled road trip.
Since Deadheads will often spend all day in the parking lot before a show, I had hours to walk up and down the grassy rows, peering into, and sometimes even being invited into, hundreds of long-distance homes. There were old school buses with the frames of VW busses welded to the frame. There were hippie vans piled high with luggage and gear, and Jeeps that had everything needed for three months on the road, strapped down compactly in every scant empty space.
But I think that seeing those busses and vans was more of a road-trip education than reading any road-trip classic. To see a thousand vehicles bound on long journeys is to see a thousand different road trip strategies. The lesson is that everybody organizes road-trip gear differently and approaches the trip in a different way. I think to see a thousand strategies is better than to have one perfectly illustrated one.
Twenty-years after seeing those Deadhead vehicles, I’m still learning from all my mistakes on the road. But I’ve learned that a series of successive smaller, shorter road-trips; repeating a process over and over again, is the key to producing consistently successful and happy road trips.
My system is based on the idea that I think of my vehicle as an extension of home. Making your vehicle your moving home isn’t so much about how you modify it so much as creating that state-of-mind. For me, keeping it clean and organized, so that everything stays in its place, throughout the trip, and repeating your rules to your passengers, so that they follow your system, is key. Everything has a spot, everything has a place.
It’s easy to be tempted to want to fill your vehicle with as much gear as possible; it’s not like you have to carry your gear on your back, after all. But over time, I’ve learned that you have to pack your vehicle with the same intention as when you’re backpacking: less is more. Forget bulky items and try to find tools that have multiple purposes. There is nothing worse than a cluttered road-trip vehicle.
My first road-trips were filled with clutter, even though I thought I was packing as minimally as possible. The more you get out on the road, spending one, two or three-night weekend trips, the more you encounter trials and errors. The more short trips in your backyard, the better you’re prepared for the longer ones, and the more you begin to feel completely at home, as if you are own a moving castle, out there along those lonely windswept beaches and dark, rain-drenched forests.