Before I could even see over a steering wheel, I remember daydreaming about packing up a car and taking a road trip with my best friends across the country. Cliché, perhaps. But what can I say? I’m a mid-20s girl who grew up obsessed with Britney Spears. I was one of 30 people that saw Crossroads in theatres and (even though the movie was horrible) the road trip part looked like the most amazing experience ever. It somehow left an impression that’s stuck with me for many years.
All through college I begged my friends every spring break to take a road trip with me and it never worked out. We would start planning it, never book anything or fully commit, and then hear everyone was going on a cruise or to Key West for the week, and we would immediately change our plans. Typical Florida girl behavior, oh well.
Then around this time one year ago, my fiancé Matt and I started to discuss what we should do for his last real winter break before he finishes up Law School. My mind immediately sprang to the crazy road trip I had been planning in my head since I was ten. I even realised we could bring our dog, Zelda, along with us. Thankfully, Matt didn’t need too much convincing.
After what seemed like a million nights of endless planning, we finally left in early December 2014. On the way out there we took our time, staying in cities, big or small, for a couple of days before moving on. Some places were solely just layover cities between two of our “must-sees”, but more often than not those cities surprised us. On the way back we drove (nearly) cross country in three (12 hour) days, finding lodging when we couldn’t drive any longer. In total, we put 5528 miles on Matt’s car over the course of one month.
We almost exclusively stayed at the cheapest motel in town, attempted camping in the cold, subsequently slept in the car when the camping didn’t work as planned, hiked jaw dropping spots, found snow at a mountain in New Mexico, saw the stars up close and freaked out a little because we had never seen them that bright (I know, we are city kids, what can I say!), took in the Grand Canyon, celebrated Christmas skiing down a mountain, tore one MCL on Christmas day (mine), lost $10 in Vegas, realized we don’t like to gamble, nearly bottomed out the car a dozen times unadvisedly off-roading through a canyon near Death Valley, got within a few feet of a wild sea lion, attended the first ever college football playoff game, fell in love with the west coast, ate a ton of In-and-Out Burger and, most importantly, dipped our Floridian feet into the Pacific Ocean. Exhale.
If I can be cliché again, I truly felt like a proud American to see so much of my gorgeous country. The sad thing is we didn’t even scratch the surface because the US is just too incredibly enormous to even attempt seeing in one month. But what we did see will be remembered for a lifetime. And that leaves more for later.
Matt and I learned a lot of travel (and life) lessons on this trip so if you do ever plan a trip like this let me give you some advice:
1) Take the road less traveled. It is absolutely no fun sitting on an interstate for six hours straight. Take some of the iconic roads – route 66, the turquoise trail, route 395, to name a few – and don’t be afraid to explore even more obscure side roads off of those main roads. One of my favourite points in the trip was when we took a random road off of Highway 1 (the highway that Big Sur resides on) and we ended up in a forest with houses small and large alike that were built INTO the trees. That was truly magical.
2) Wake up early! You are on a road trip, you are going to see things so presumably you need sunlight. Matt and I were frustrated with ourselves a few times when we had to get driving done at night because we weren’t seeing America, we were just driving through it. So wake up as early as you can so that you can really take advantage of all those day light hours.
3) Pack a cooler in the car. This one I definitely wish I had done more. Food eats up your budget so incredibly quickly. Having a cooler in the back with lunch meat, fruit and snacks means you don’t have to stop as often for food and you save money.
4) But also try the local food. Matt and I got Roadfood from his brother as a gift for our trip. We were constantly using it and trying all the different amazing diners and dives on the side of the road. If you are on a tight travel budget you can just share an entrée as most of these places give GIANT portions.
5) Realise that you can’t, and won’t, see everything. Remember how I said America is huge? I wasn’t kidding. The drives will take longer than you think because you stop so many times for pictures. The sunlight will fade fast and you may be upset that you didn’t get to see that one other thing on the list. Don’t be!! Appreciate what you did see, know that you stopped those times because you loved what you saw, and realise that tomorrow is another day.
A road trip is an amazing experience I wish upon everyone I meet. The freedom to go anywhere and not have to stick to a train timetable or rail line is incredibly freeing. We have already started planning our next road trip (Pacific Northwest!) and recommend it to anyone looking for a new travel adventure.
Follow more of my travels on my blog, Where to Next?