Just two months ago, I helped Michael move his entire life from Orlando to Seattle. Since I live in Virginia (which wasn't on his route), I flew to meet him in Nashville. We began our journey in Tennessee and spent the next nine days driving to the West Coast. Our trip was incredible, stressful, hilarious, and exhausting all at the same time. Before our drive began, I had an inkling it wouldn't be all fun and games. I mean, nine days in the car?! I had several worries - that we'd want to kill each other by the end of the trip, that driving 3,000 miles would wear us out, or that we'd be delayed by weather. I'm happy to note, however, that we made it out alive and kicking. We enjoyed each other's company and didn't encounter problems with personal space. Driving did wear us out, but we kind of expected that. And snow only delayed us once, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We got lucky with that one.
If you're planning your first drive across the country, throw on some comfortable clothes and pack plenty of snacks. You're in for a wild ride! Here are some noteworthy tips to remember before embarking on your adventure.
1. Pack plenty of snacks - I wasn't kidding. It's amazing how time can totally cease to exist while you're completing a 40+ hour drive. Michael and I regularly forgot to eat substantial meals while we were on the road. You might be thinking, HOW?! Basically, we got hung up on reaching our destination as quickly as possible and put off lunch and dinner until several hours had passed. The only snacks we had included a few bags of potato chips and some candy. By the end of the trip, I never wanted to see a potato chip again. If you're preparing to drive cross-country, bring a large variety of nonperishable snacks. If you have room in your car, you can even bring a small cooler.
2. Take frequent breaks. When driving long distances, it's really important to get out and stretch your legs. Despite our absurd inability to eat meals on time, we did a surprisingly good job of pulling off the highway every 1-2 hours. Cars tend to get stuffy after a few hours. The fresh air will do you a world of wonder, trust me. Use the bathroom at a rest stop, refill your gas tank, or find a scenic overlook to photograph. Anything will do. Just get out and walk around.
3. Download the Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon apps. Tripadvisor and Urbanspoon were lifesavers during our drive. We used them almost every day. Tripadvisor allows you to search by location, with options that include hotels, restaurants, attractions, shopping, and activities. Urbanspoon lets you choose what kind of cuisine you're craving and your desired price range before listing nearby restaurants. You can even "Shake" if you're feeling spontaneous, and the app will give you a random selection. These apps are especially useful if you don't have time to research your destination prior to arrival.
4. Use discount sites to find hotel deals, but don't be afraid to splurge. Michael used Priceline and other discount sites to book most of our hotels. We stayed in some really nice places without breaking the bank, like the Drury Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. Our stay there was wonderful. It may have been more expensive than Motel 6 down the street, but the amenities were unbeatable, and that extra luxury was priceless after hours in the car. When hotels offer additional perks like free continental breakfast, a pool/hot tub, and free happy hour in the lobby, it's usually worth the extra cost.
5. Make a few lengthy playlists. You'll need them. Music is essential in the car. I think that goes without saying. Imagine my disappointment when I realized I completely forgot to make a few playlists before flying to Nashville. How in the world did something so important slip my mind? Fortunately, I didn't forget my iPod. I shuffled that baby until the very second we pulled into Michael's new apartment in Seattle. Take my advice and make some good ol' playlists. Pick your favorite genres and go crazy.
6. Bring a book of stamps. If you think there's even a slight chance that you'll want to send postcards to friends and family, bring a book of stamps. I ended up buying several postcards and filling them out each night. I couldn't for the life of me remember to buy stamps, though. I wasn't able to put anything in the mail until we reached Seattle. It would've been much easier if I had packed a book of stamps before leaving.
7. You never know what kind of emergency may arise, so stock up with essentials. These essentials might be common knowledge, but they're still good to note. Don't forget to pack emergency items, such as: jumper cables, flashlights, wiper fluid, oil, duct tape, a pocketknife, bottled water, basic meds (especially ibuprofen for driving-induced headaches), a reliable GPS, an atlas (in case the GPS fails), toilet paper (just trust me on this one), and pillows/blankets.
8. If you have time, allow a few extra days for sightseeing. Michael and I were slightly rushed because his classes started the second week of January. Fortunately, we still had time to explore the major cities on our route. If you don't have a deadline, take a few extra days to get the most out of the cities you visit. There were so many places we wish we could've seen. For example, Arches National Park in Utah. We were dying to visit but it was too far out of our way and we just couldn't rationalize the detour. I guess that just gives us an excuse to take another road trip, right?
9. Research the cities you're visiting so you can see everything you'd like to see. I'll be the first to admit, we didn't plan very well for most of our stops. We were so excited to visit the cities on our route that we didn't even consider the specifics of what we would do when we got there. We had vague ideas of things we wanted to see, but we found ourselves clueless in a few places, like Denver. #3 came very much in handy during this particular time. We did some quick research on our phones while eating lunch downtown and discovered Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Only twenty minutes away? Yes, please! We had a great time exploring and were so happy we made it to the park before sunset.
10. Expect the unexpected. Life never goes as planned. Don't get too wrapped up in perfecting the details because your trip definitely won't be perfect. You might get stuck in horrible traffic. Your wiper fluid might freeze on your windshield, forcing you to pull off the highway and scrape the ice off with your bare hands in the middle of a snowstorm. Your camera battery might die at the worst possible time. You might eat something that upsets your stomach. You might misplace your wallet and panic before realizing you left it in the hotel room. You might get hangry. In fact, you'll definitely get hangry. You might question why in the world you ever thought a cross-country road trip was a good idea. But that's the beauty, isn't it? All of your experiences, good and bad, will ensure your trip is unforgettable. Stay positive through the tough times, and remember that every moment is molding a memory that you're definitely going to laugh about later.