In these crazy coronavirus times, I’ve gotten back into the wonderful world of bartering.
I live fulltime on a 19-foot Skoolie named Bubba the Bus. Making money while living on the road is a challenge, but, why do you need money? Well, for starters, to acquire things like groceries, gas, parking, power, water, and showers. Now that campgrounds and RV Parks are reopening, some of these burdens are alleviated; however, the average cost for a night’s accommodation begins at $35 and only goes up from there. Where can you park when campgrounds are closed? Where can you shower when gyms, Rec Centers, and public places are closed? Where can you dump your toilet or fill your tanks when RV parks and rest areas are closed? Welcome to my wonderful world of bartering.
The current situation has prompted me to dust off a lifetime of skills and recycle them into things of value. In the process, one-of-a-kind experiences and connections have been created.
The biggest challenge has been proposing the barter/exchange in a way that people understand because they aren’t used to hearing it. The conversations usually start with “This might sound a little crazy” or “this may seem odd, but” which were the exact words I said to a fruit farmer in Bakersfield, California, when I made my first barter on the open road. Here are the many things I’ve been bartering en route.
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Language Lessons in Exchange for Free Parking
Bakersfield, California, is a place that has lovingly been referred to as the Outback of California. Fields of carrots and almonds dot the roads, while the smell of livestock pricks your nose. Pulling over to one of the many fresh fruit stands, I approached a man standing behind a plywood table, covered with rows of fresh strawberries and baskets of pistachios, the brim of his hat casting a shadow over his eyes.
I noticed a child carefully printing alphabet letters in a workbook. I asked the child’s name and the man answered for him, “Se llama Alejandro.” Suddenly I had an idea. Pulling rusty words from four years of college Spanish, I said, “Esto puede parecer una locura pero…” (I know this sounds crazy, but…), and the first of many such conversations began—fortunately not all in Spanish. Perhaps I could help Alejandro with his homework in exchange for parking my bus in your field for the night? And my first successful barter was complete.
Having a college degree and TESOL/TEFL Certificate has allowed me to replicate this exchange a few times over, practicing English with both young and old as I traveled through the fertile farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley. More recently, in Denver, Colorado, I answered an ad on Craigslist to tutor a Thai woman who has only been in the U.S. for three months.
Letters to the Editor in Exchange for Parking
Who would have thought those typing classes we took in high school would come in handy? While in Salem, Oregon, I stopped at an Alpaca Farm owned by an older man named Charlie. I was looking for a place to park my bus overnight and he had ample room, so I suggested that maybe there was something I could help him out with, in exchange. His eyes scanned the farm. I imagined he was looking for a shovel for me to clean stalls with. Then he asked if I knew how to type, “But not on one of those computers, on an old fashioned typewriter?” Thanks to Mr. Dillinger and his high school typing classes I took in the ’80s, I was able to say “yes” and spent the next couple of hours typing “Letters to the Editor,” in exchange for a night of sleeping safely in my bus on an alpaca farm.
Moving a Manual Transmission in Exchange for Internet
Northern Idaho is Verizon land. I don’t have Verizon, therefore I had no internet service in that state (or Oregon, Wyoming, and Colorado, for that matter). My GPS had long since stopped GPS’ing and the “NO SERVICE” alert was permanently etched into the top corner of my phone. In the distance, I saw a tractor in a cornfield. I pulled over and asked if there was any internet service around. The driver told me they had it “at the house.” “Do you think I might be able to use it?” He looked at Bubba the Bus and then back at me and asked if I knew how to drive a manual transmission. I obtained my driver’s license with a stick shift years ago, so the answer was yes. He pointed to an old Chevy and said, “The keys are in the ignition. Take it over to that barn and park it, and then you can come up to the house, get freshened up, and use the internet,” which I did. I even got to print out directions to cross the state of Idaho.
Handwritten Invitations in Exchange for a Shower
Traveling along the Oregon Coast, I began to dream of a real shower, the kind with a faucet and an endless stream of water. I Googled the only youth hostel in Florence, Oregon, and dialed. There was no answer, so I decided to drive by. A lovely older woman was cleaning the hostel, which was closed due to COVID-19. I approached and explained that I would love a shower, but did not need to stay in a room, as I lived in my bus. Once she understood that I only wanted the shower, I asked if there was anything I could do to help her out and earn my shower. “How is your handwriting?” she asked. “It’s very good,” I answered (honestly), showing her the postcards I was getting ready to mail. She inspected them approvingly and then asked if I would handwrite some invitations for her? I could use the shower and park in the back if I wanted to stay overnight.
Website Work in Exchange for Mechanical Work
Sometimes a girl needs a mechanic, and this was one of those times. Bubba needed a new starter. However, due to COVID-19, mechanics were scarce, overbooked, and expensive. I went to an AutoZone and bought a replacement starter. I returned to the Walmart parking lot, where Bubba patiently waited. Tools in one hand and my phone (complete with YouTube videos) in the other, I began the process of replacing the starter. As I was peering under the hood, I heard a voice ask, “What are you looking for?” “The starter,” I answered confidently. “Well, you’re going to be looking quite a while,” he said. “The starter’s underneath.” He came over and had a look. He had been sitting in his truck, trying to make a website for his Mobile Mechanic business on his phone when he noticed me carrying the starter and looking in entirely the wrong spot for such a thing. We chatted and I asked about his website attempt. His appraisal was that they were expensive and difficult. I suggested a free template from WordPress. He asked if I knew how to make one. I said “a little bit.” He changed the starter—the one located underneath the bus—and I made him a very simple site called “The Mechanic.” It was a win/win.
Transporting a Pig in Exchange for Gas
Bubba the Bus is a guzzler, not a sipper, which is how I found myself out of gas and standing on the side of an endless desert road in Eastern Nevada. There had been few vehicles and no gas stations for miles. As I admonished myself for the miscalculation, a pickup truck pulled up. “What’s wrong?” asked the driver. “I ran out of gas.” He nodded knowingly. “Where are you headed?” “Tonopah.” “Well, I got a gas can, but, it’s not enough to get you there.” He thought for a minute. “I tell you what…” as it turned out, he was taking a pig to Lunning—he would give me gas if I delivered the pig to Lance in Lunning and Lance would have gas.
I thought about it, and answered that it depended on the pig; if it was a boar, hard pass. He went to his truck and returned with a little, oddly noisy pig tucked under his arm. And just like that, we had a deal. He put gas in my tank and a pig on my bus. It was one of the best barters I have made on the open road; I almost kept that sweet little pig…almost.
Vineyard Work in Exchange for Temporary Provisions
Having worked in the wine industry for three years in Newport Beach cultivated in me a devout love for those attitudinal grapes—a love which came in handy in Oregon’s premier Pinot-land the Willamette Valley, where I spent nearly a month bartering wine skills for parking, power, and the occasional shower. I worked in a vineyard clearing blackberry bushes in Pleasant Hill, labeled wine bottles in Monmouth, and hosted wine tastings in Gaston.
Horse Grooming in Exchange for "Stable" Accommodations
While in southern Oregon, I came across a beautiful winery that also had a barn and stable housing horses. I went inside to enjoy some amazing pinot noir and struck up a conversation with the owner, as will always happen over a bottle of wine. He told me about camping on the Umpqua for 45 years—before that was even an “en vogue” thing; I told him about living and traveling in Bubba the Bus and the new challenges that were cropping up during the pandemic. As we continued to chat, he said that he couldn’t pay much, but he could use some help with grooming the horses, if I was interested. I wasn’t interested in pay, but I would love to drop my extension cord for power and park on the property for a few days. We exchanged the socially-distanced “thumbs up” sign, affirming our deal. He provided me with a parking space, an outlet, and horse brushes, which I used to groom a beautiful stallion and three mares on the backdrop of the Umpqua Valley.
Instagram Marketing in Exchange for a Spot to Stay
Most ideas for making money from the road involve things like starting a blog and implementing affiliate marketing, designing websites, and becoming a copywriter, but the list goes on. Although these ideas are good, they take time and, if you are like me, a broader understanding of technology than what I possess. However, there is one platform that, as a traveler especially, I love: Instagram. I like taking pictures—sometimes they turn out all right—and I LOVE writing the captions. This brings me to the barter I stumbled upon one night while drinking beer at a distillery in Oregon. I was to create Instagram posts for their new mead in exchange for Bubba the Bus accommodations. I wasn’t sure how or if I could do it. I love Instagram, but don’t understand how the magic works. Then I remembered the Richard Branson quote: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!” Armed with my iPhone and the ability to stalk similar Instagram accounts, another successful barter was made.
Fly Fishing Help in Exchange for a Barbecue Meal
Being home to such amazing places as the Snake, the North Platte, and the Green River, it’s no surprise that Wyoming is a big fly fishing sporting area. And being from the Rogue River area in rural Oregon, it’s no surprise that I can tie flies–something I never thought would be of much value in the modern world. I was wrong. In Alpine, Wyoming, about 45 miles out of Jackson, there was a huge breakfast barbecue with farm-fresh everything: milk from the cow, eggs straight from the chicken, and fruit and vegetables galore. The entry price was $20 and I was tempted, until I saw a family sitting on some rocks, struggling to tie a fly. My internal voice began recalling “the arbor,” “double surgeon,” “whipped,” “nail,” “blood”—all types of knots that every angler needs to know. I wandered over and offered to show them some quick flies if they would add me to their barbecue ticket. They were delighted, as the art of tying flies isn’t for everyone.
If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get a little creative, you will be surprised at how many talents and skills you have lying in reserve that are of value to those around you. Just ask—the worst they can do is say no, and you’re no worse off. And when the answer is “yes,” both parties win; because in the end, giving and receiving turn out to be the same things.