Last summer as a graduation gift to myself I took a two week vacation just traveling the greatest country (some can argue this but it is to me) on Earth, America, via by car. It was an amazing experience I got to go through as it’s been a childhood dream of mine to see as many corners of our land as possible. Two weeks seems long but when you’re traveling on the road over such a great distance it goes by in the snap of a finger.
I managed to find myself in Washington D.C. in front of the White House; New Orleans’s famed Bourbon Street; cavernous workings of Roswell’s crash site; immense beauty of the Grand Canyon’s southern rim; sins of Las Vegas; suspended bridge that is the Golden Gate; Yosemite’s pristine natural wonders; rock formations in the form of Arches National Park; Chicago’s fastest elevator up the Willis Tower and of course the falls that separate New York state from our neighbors up north.
This all seemed fantastic, and it was, but I learned so much during my trip that I want to convey some knowledge for any potential travelers waiting to embark on this life changing adventure. Here are my Top-Ten Things, in no particular order, you must do in preparation, duration and ending of your trip to ensure the best possible outcome (we plan for the worse and pray for the best!)
- Do not use your own vehicle. I learned this the hard way as I took my less than Eco-friendly; gas guzzling V6 across 8,000+ miles of American road. The maintenance I needed to do in order to prep for the trip was troublesome not to mention the less than ideal MPG we got, about 24 HWY, which isn’t bad but comparing it over the entire distance wasn’t outstanding. Not to forget about the oil changes you’d need to do as well. It was a headache knowing more wear and tear was being done. Thankfully no flat tires, ripped belts or overheated issues occurred while on the road. There are plenty of car rentals out there that provide unlimited mileage as a request when renting their vehicles and I suggest you go this route. Not only can you pick a better MPG car but one that can be roomier than the sedan I chose to bring as well as being more reliable with the incentives they can give you for on the road travel. Peace of mind is a small price to pay.
- Pack light. I can’t stress this enough. On my trip I allotted everyone a duffle bags worth of clothing needs, but no one ever listens. My trunk was filled to its brim with luggage, resulting in more weight than necessary and more things people brought that they then realized on the road they didn’t need. Pack light, save the headache, trunk space and leaves you some room for collecting trinkets along your trip.
- Bring SOME CASH. Yes this may not seem like that great of an idea but when divvying up who’s up to pump gas, toll expenses or parking meters it is a pain when everyone carries just their cards and have no cash on them. It makes paying for things equally that much harder in the end if no one keeps track of the expenses incurred for the group. I combated this very simply, I brought half my spending in cash for such tolls, gas, parking duties and hotel fees as well as the other half on my card for food, gifts and frivolous spending. It worked out great for myself but not so much for my compatriots who most all opted to bring just cards.
- Stay with friends on the road. This is where the fun really is, meeting up with old friends and staying with them. Provides two things a) you have your own personal tour guide, and who doesn’t want this when they’re traveling to unknown cities, and b) you have a free place to crash where you’d feel comfortable and don’t have to be in some dingy hotel or motel. On our trip we got lucky and spent 50% of our time staying with friends and the other 50% crashing in motels when we had too. On this point it is great to pull up the idea of splitting a room, not only will it be cheaper for the group in whole, minus some privacy, but you get to really know the people you’re traveling with.
- Split up driving time. Nothing was worse than having to pull 12 hour driving shifts a few days straight. The problem here is you must trust the people you’re driving with, which are hard for me because I am only used to MY kind of driving, as most people would be. Here is the breaking point because everyone needs a little sleep when driving for so long so split it up, 4 hours here, 4 hours for another, keep it equal so people can have the joy of just watching things through the window and not having to make a lane change to pass that Prius.
- Stop & Get Out. Probably the most important rule here is to stop and get out when you see something that interests you and your mates. There were countless times when we were driving that I saw some pretty crazy and amazing things out there on the road for example the biggest truck stop in the world in Illinois, Native American handmade jewelry stands in Arizona, Colorado river through a valley in Denver & the loneliest road in America that stretch for a desolate 160 miles with no gas stations in Nevada. In retrospect I kind of wished I got out of the car and spent some time just checking the sights out.
- Play games. When you drive for 12-16 hours a day getting from one destination to the next it can be a bore when nothing is on either side of the highway besides cows and corn. Play some games in the car, keep it entertaining, talk and get to know your friends some more, this is the perfect opportunity to dive into someone whom you may have never gotten the chance to before. This is where the bonding happens. Just don’t sit in the car for the whole ride playing video games and not talking. It makes for an even more bore and kind of kills the mood of the whole trip.
- Get some tunes. Once you leave the vicinity of your normal radio station’s range you’ll soon be flicking through the dial in panic searching for some music. Get together with your mates beforehand and make a list of requests and have someone burn a few MP3 CDs to listen to on the road. This worked well for us as we have a handful of CDs each consisting of hundreds of songs. From classic 80s to the RNB of the 90s all the way to the pop boy bands of the early 2000s. It brought back nostalgia for our trip and it was a good mood setter for our driving.
- Plan a sensible route for the time frame. You’re working with a time frame and you’re trying to see as much as possible in it – not a hard task right? You’d be surprised to see what happens when everyone puts their inputs in. Our route consisted of going down the eastern coast of the country, then pull out west towards Texas, eventually ending up in Northern California from which we would head towards the northern Midwest and head towards the east through Chicago and finally upstate NY for the last leg home. It was a daunting task and with our time frame we managed to hit all BUT the northern Midwest where Yellowstone & Mount Rushmore, on our list, were not visited due to time constraint. We used Google Maps which worked FANTASTIC and kept us well on track for the most part.
- CHOOSE YOUR TRAVEL MATES WISELY. This is pretty self explanatory. When you are in close quarters for THAT LONG OF A TIME you end up learning things about people you’re friends with that you probably didn’t know before. Could make, break, taint or invigorate your friendships with them so it’s important to travel, not only on a road trip, but in life with people you mesh completely well with. Of course there aren’t any guarantees that there won’t be hiccups here and there but the sole purpose for this kind of trips are to bond more with the people you’re with, use that time wisely and pick your best mates.
This list consists of my PERSONAL experience but it should not deter anyone from embarking on such a trip of their own. It was probably one of the best adventures I have had the chance to experience in my life. I had a chance to learn, see and grow in that span of two weeks. I would certainly do it again with maybe a few changes here and there, but definitely one more time on my life’s bucket list.