Thanks for staying on the trail long enough to make it to part 3 of The Oregon Trail Guide to Personal Finance! In this section we’ll discuss how to survive on the trail. Before you embark on this leg, please take a few minutes to look over part 1 and part 2.
You’ve finally made it onto the trail! What a happy day!
You’re to be congratulated for preparing for the journey by getting your finances in order and doing some savvy shopping at the general store. That’s a huge undertaking, and you haven’t even walked one step yet. I know that first step is both the most difficult and most exciting one to take. There’s a lot to anticipate, and it can be a little nerve wracking. But don’t worry; you can get through this long, arduous adventure. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to survive the trail, but I know you can do it!
Here are a few ways to survive the trail without destroying your wallet or your health and gaining a few skills along the way:
Accept odd jobs
We all find ourselves, at times, a little short on cash. This happens an awful lot on the trail. Fortunately, opportunities such as delivering packages, finding lost relatives, working a telegraph and even picking up hitchhikers present themselves as ways to earn a few extra dollars. I don’t turn them down often because I like having that extra cushion of money just in case something terrible happens (like a bear runs off with my food in the middle of the night or a gang of bandits rob my wagon). I also like having that extra money so I can treat myself to luxuries like a ferry ride instead of having to ford the river. If I didn’t take on these side jobs, I’d never be able to afford to do that. It’s a good feeling to be able to relax for a few minutes.
While we might not always want to do the extra work or do something that we feel might be “beneath” us, those odd jobs can help give us otherwise unattainable financial security.
Set your own pace
And don’t worry about how fast or slow others are going.
Pace is probably one of the most important parts of making it to Oregon with your whole party alive and in good health. The faster you race, the faster you use up your supplies, your food and the more exhausted your family gets. This makes for some very unpleasant, and expensive, traveling. A fast pace also means you’re going to need to buy replacement supplies, and your wagon can break down even more from the stress; this can get quite pricey depending on how often you need to repair it. But if you take your time, you’ll be able to make what you have last longer and you’ll end up at your destination without ever having to pawn your valuables to fix a wheel or buy a new ox.
Before you set your pace, determine what your goal is. Is it to make it to Oregon as fast as possible or is it just to make it there? Having a goal in place will determine how fast you truly need to go. And remember, you can always adjust your pace depending on what may or may not get in your way.
In real life, I do not fish. I have tried it and I do not like it. However, on the trail, I am an expert fisherman. How did this happen? It happened because each time a fishing challenge presented itself, I accepted. I practiced, got better and now, I pretty much qualify for some sort of fishing championship. Which is pretty awesome. But even more than that, by challenging myself to learn to fish, I can feed my party when they need it and by participating in challenges, I can earn rewards which help us later on (through bartering, selling items at the general store, trading with others along the trail for other items, etc). It’s a skill that comes in handy in more ways than one, and it’s proven to be very beneficial.
It’s important to challenge yourself to learn new skills and tasks. Not only can it save you money but you can use those skills to provide for your family in hard times. You may not need the skill all the time but it’s nice to have it in your arsenal.
Be mindful of your food and rest
Medicine is expensive. It’s necessary if you need it (and I certainly don’t begrudge you if you do; after all, I need it, too) but sometimes, it’s easier just to take care of yourself in healthy ways and that will help ward off physical illnesses (or at least make them go away more quickly). I realized this when I was on the trail and my family kept getting cholera and dysentery and some other diseases. I didn’t have the money to pay for the remedies so I opted to rest, hoping that would give them time to recover. It helped, but not enough. They still walked around ill. Then I started to restock our food supply AND rest. Lo and behold, that’s what made them feel better! Having that proper nutrition combined with enough rest made them healthy enough to continue without the looming thought of a roadside funeral.
Even in the thick of a major undertaking such as traversing the country for a better life, it’s still important to take care of yourself by eating and sleeping. Without that, you’ll have very little energy for everything else.
Talk to people
As I cross the Oregon Trail, I often run into people wanting to talk to me. Sometimes it’s to invite me to meet the rest of the Mormons at their gathering place, sometimes it’s to ask me to deliver a package, and sometimes it’s to offer me a hunting or fishing challenge. I take the time to talk to these people for two reasons: 1) it’s polite and 2) until I talk to them, I don’t know what opportunity might present itself. It’s often heard “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and on the trail, this is definitely the case. By talking to the right people, you can earn money, food, supplies or even get some medicine to improve your party’s health. And if you’re lucky, one small favor for one person (like delivering a package or a letter) can set off a chain of lucrative events. All of these are essential in making it to the end of the trail with everyone in tow.
Being friendly, talking to strangers (well, those that look safe and approachable), and networking are all key to getting to your ultimate destination. It’s almost impossible achieve your goals by going it alone.
Walking the trail is probably the ultimate test of endurance, discipline and perseverance. There’s a lot to do and accomplish to get to the end. And while it’s a long, difficult trek but it is possible to survive, thrive, and achieve your goal.
Come back tomorrow when we conclude our series with Part 4: Arrival in Oregon: Reflections on the journey