A Day in the Life of a Full Time Route Shopper on a Budget

Sep 01, 2023
Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash

This has by far been the best year of my life! But what led me here was very traumatic.

My name is Sonja. Back in September of 2019, before the world shut down, my life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt. I was in a double rollover auto accident that broke several ribs, and my scapula, which left me with two compounded debilitating conditions, CRPS and Allodynia. I won’t go into those details here.

I was so angry with the person who hit me. I had to overcome all that anger. As the Lord helped me adjust to my new normal and find blessings in living the hard life, He led me to Mercedes. You see, I worked at a restaurant back in 1996 and again in 2008 that had mystery shoppers. So, I had been curious about the industry for years. It was December and just a day or so before my 57th birthday. She advertised an introductory class. I signed up and took the class as a birthday gift to myself.

Fast forward through many personal and financial struggles, I am now a full-time Mystery shopper. I bought my first video camera in December of 2022. It took some time to figure out how to use it properly. There were angles and settings to master. While I am not perfect my schedulers and colleagues have been a great help. As I am learning, I try to help others. So, let’s look at a typical day.

My day seriously starts a week before with planning my route and packing. I put all my information into a routing program called Road Warrior. There are others out there, I just know how to use this one. It helps me navigate my route. I put all the information into the system. Names of MSC and clients, phone numbers, addresses, pay, targets, hours of operation, appointment times if any, and any special instructions. In this way, I can save time and only look in one place for all my information. If I am in an area with a horrible signal, I sometimes cannot get my MSC site to open, so having it in my map is very helpful. If I am at a stop, I can easily look at the next location and see if they are open and move forward.

Packing my van is key too. I sleep in my van weather permitting to save money on travel expenses. There are plenty of places to park and sleep, but my favorites are truck stops. They are open 24 hours so a bathroom is available if I need one and I can usually hop in a quick shower for $20. I can also get a month of hotspot from them for around $30. I have a mattress I put on one side (my seats are already down). I put my other supplies on the other side.

I found lots of items to help me keep comfortable and safe in my van or hotel room. I have a van-specific air mattress, fans, a small portable clothes washer, a port-a-potty that holds up to 400 pounds (I am not a little girl), a power inverter, a small solar generator (I use a C-PAP), black-out curtains, screens for my windows, hotel door security devices, and more. When I do use a hotel I use a specific brand so that I can earn points for free and discounted stays.

Additionally, I prepare multiple name variations, email addresses, and phone numbers for the shops. I also read the guidelines and add any personal notes to my map program. Sometimes, even though it is the same kind of shop, there are special instructions. So, I want to make sure I have them noted.

On the road, I usually get up around 6am. I can get a quick shower and get dressed. I have special shirts for video shopping, so I get my camera on and start testing angles before I start. Each shirt requires just a slight tweak from each other. They are all slightly different. I designed a camera bra to help me quickly adjust my angles. Since I secure my camera to a front closure bra, I dubbed it a camera bra. I usually wear my camera to breakfast and then watch the footage to check angles then delete it. Depending on how far I am from my first shop, I will either get on my laptop and check for places to eat during the day or work on reports.

I usually do 10 shops a day, so I am moving from one stop to another quickly. I budget 30 minutes for each stop, plus driving time. Having all my info in my map planner is so helpful and keeps me on task, should I get a distraction. I am usually at my first shop between 9 and 10 am depending on when they allow me to start. I am usually done between 4 and 5 depending on the hours listed in the guidelines.

I make sure that I get the name of the agent and a business card from each location. If I have time between shops, I usually photograph and upload business cards. I drink a lot of water between shops so I am always adding gas stations or restaurants to my routes to allow for bathroom breaks, otherwise I might forget. I dare say, I have had a couple of close calls out there. The summer was extremely hot in TX on my summer route with 115-degree heat indexes daily. So, I also packed deodorant, a light body spray, and plenty of extra water. Some shops also offer me water and a snack. I take them and save them for later if needed.

There have been times when a neighborhood was less than friendly looking. Safety first. Have someone on the other end of the phone for emergencies. I will always text someone, including schedulers when appropriate, and say if you don’t hear from me in 30 minutes call the police. Seriously I have done that. But in the end, it was my own demons that made it out to be so bad. On the inside, it was so nice and they were so friendly. Always stay vigilant and use safety guidelines.

At the end of my day, I secure a location to sleep either in my van or a hotel, depending on the weather. I will usually change out of my video shirt and put on a comfy top. I will either eat something I have or find a shop to eat. I then relax, put my feet up, get my lapboard from my laptop, and start working on reports. I will listen to some calming music; a movie or audiobook might get too distracting. I will usually wrap up around 9 and start prepping for a good night’s sleep so I can get up and start all over.

I really love long-distance route shopping. It gives me joy and brings me the quiet I need to think about the chaos at home and how to fix it. I have a goal to buy myself a shopping van and convert it by Easter. So, I will be looking to do all the shops I can find because it all adds up and I need about $25,000 to buy a nice van and then conversion money.

Join me in the Mystery Shopping world will you? Rotations are 18 months so I need plenty of people to help in the months when I can’t. I will see you around the country!


Meet Sonja!

Sonja is a full-time Mystery Shopper. She started mystery shopping in January of 2022 and joined iShop in April of 2022. She started video shopping in January of 2023. She now does many extended, long-distance video routes. Her favorite part of mystery shopping is getting to travel across the country to see her family. So far mystery shopping has paid for four extended trips to see family on the Gulf Coast and a trip to Disney World.

Sonja lives in Utah with her husband and custodial grandson. She has an angel son and four beautiful adult daughters. She has twelve grandchildren, six boys and six girls. She is a Gulf Coast native and relocated to Utah with two of her girls in 2006.

When she is not mystery shopping, she enjoys playing games with her family and friends, cooking/baking, and many crafts. Her crafts include pouring resin, sublimation, acrylic paint pouring, jewelry making, sewing, woodworking, and more.

She collects unicorns and claims to have over 8000 in her collection. Her collection includes many mediums such as resin, wood, stone, brass, glass, acrylic, cloth, ceramic, and more. She has bells, clothes, jewelry, planters, candy dishes, night lights, wind chimes, dishes, linens, paintings, lacquerware, and more. She says her smallest unicorn is .5 inches and her largest was 6’7”. That one is another story.