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Need a Car to Work in USA

Car Strategy for Saving Travel Funds

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Automobiles cost a lot of money. If I am saving money to go traveling, I do not want to spend a lot of money. But I also know that my employment options are severely limited in the USA without having my own transportation. If I want to make as much money as I possibly can here, I often need an automobile.

My reasoning is as such:

Outside of a few vibrant urban areas, such as New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, transportation in the USA is set up on the premise that each person who wants to go anywhere has the use of a personal vehicle.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com

in Bangor, Maine- July 8, 2009
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Public transportation in the USA is atrocious: trains are expensive, take an insanely long time to get to where they are going, are prone to breaking down or being canceled, and only run along a set track between major urban centers. Buses in the USA are not much better. Discount airlines are often a good value, but how the hell are you going to get anywhere once you land? I have found that even urban public transport is not very efficient.

It is my experience that if a traveler wants to land a job outside of a major city in the USA, they need a way to get there: they need their own vehicle.

For my first seven years of traveling, I would return to the USA each summer and work on archaeology projects around the country. Sometimes I would try to do this without my own vehicle, but found it severely difficult to do, as I often needed to work in locations not serviced by public transport. I also found that many employers were hesitant to hire me without a car: as it was well known that it would be difficult to get to where I needed to work without my own transportation.

Simple strategy for temporarily owing a motor vehicle:

I buy a cheap, used truck or a car as soon as I want to start looking for work in the USA, I use this vehicle to transport myself around for the three or four month work season, and then I sell it right before I leave the country for the same price I paid for it. It is more like I taking out a free lease on the vehicle rather than really buying it.

I have followed this strategy four times now, and it has worked in all instances: I am usually able to sell the car for what I paid for it (give or take a few hundred dollars).

Tips on temporarily owning a vehicle:

  • Try to buy a Nissan, Subaru,Toyota, or another well made foreign car. Brands like Subaru are known for quality parts that are most likely made in Japan. Try to stay away from an American brand automobile, as they are made to break and you stand a better chance of finding yourself stuck in the middle of a work season with a pile of junk. The object behind this strategy is having the vehicle last three to four months without loosing a lot of resale value or needing major repairs — foreign cars tend to retain their resale value longer and I have found them to to hold together better.
  • Find someone who knows about automobiles to help you buy one. If you don’t have such a person, then study a little online about what warning signs to look for when considering a purchase of a used car. You want to get a vehicle that stands the best chance of getting through the season intact and ready to resell.
  • Buy the cheapest car you can that still runs decently. Conversely, you can by a $600 piece of crap that retains its inspection stickers for the length of time you want to use it, and then sell if for a penance or junk it when you’re finished.
  • Change the oil immediately.
  • Put it back up for sale a month before you plan on leaving the country.

To date, I have purchased four vehicles, have used them for only a work season (three to four months) and then sold them for what I paid for them. In this way, I have been able to transport myself to work around the USA while at the same time not losing a lot of money through keeping and maintaining a vehicle for a long period of time.

I have found that to raise enough money to travel, I have to work, to work in most parts of the USA, I need an automobile.

I do not like buying, having, using, or even selling automobiles, and if there is any way I can get by without one, I do it. If I was in a place where I could consistently find work within a ten mile radius from where I habitate, then an automobile would not be necessary: as I just ride a bicycle. If I lived in a major city that provides good public transport, then having a car would not be to my advantage. But I have rarely found myself in such ideal circumstances when trying to work in the USA. For me, having a job in the USA has always meant traveling across the continent at a moments notice, commuting 30+ miles each day, or randomly jumping between cities in search of better employment options. These circumstances have decreed that I it is often to my advantage to purchase a used automobile, keep for the work season, and then resell it before leaving the country.

Editors note: the Subaru that I am using now was a wedding gift to Chaya and I from her grandfather and has not been factored into the above equation.

Project- How to make money to travel

Car Strategy for Saving Travel Funds


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Filed under: Travel Preparation, Travel Tips, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

5 comments… add one

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  • Anonymous July 8, 2009, 5:46 pm

    Some good ideas here, but I have to take issue with the idea that american cars don't hold up as well as nissans etc. I've had both domestic and foreign. Both seem reliable with one caveat avoid chrysler. Chrysler is junk, ford and gm are fine. A point you overlooked: put a preference on standard transmissions over automatics. Standards hold up a lot better than automatics they also get better mileage. Last, cheap cars are easier to resell than more expensive cars. Buy a $1000 car, drive it, change the oil, wash and wax right before you resell and you stand a good chance of making a small profit.

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  • Wade Vagabond Journey.com July 8, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Good suggestion with the standard transmissions. You are right on that cheaper cars are easier to resell. There comes a point at which a running and functioning automobile can not be sold for a cheaper amount. If you are able to find this threshold, you could easily resell it for the same price are you paid — or more.



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  • Byron J. Gaudette July 31, 2009, 2:49 am

    Very good advice. I am finding this to be more and more true as I look for work here. I have had to pass up many employment opportunities due to the face that I have no vehicle.

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  • Wade Vagabond Journey.com August 3, 2009, 9:53 am

    Hello Byron,

    It is funny when you need to spend money to make money . . . but, man, I have always found it much easier to make more money in the USA with a car. . . How has everything been going with you making money to travel? Where are you going next?


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  • Anonymous August 6, 2009, 8:21 am

    No mention of scooter or moped, or even motorized bike? The laws in most states in america are very favorable to these – no inspection, can be had for $300 in good shape, little to no registration costs, no gas, often no insurance, etc…

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