To be honest: I was nervous about taking this road trip. Sure, I was stoked to see more of the USA, and after driving across the whole of Australia, I knew via land would be the best way to do it. But I don’t like driving or being stuck in a car, my funds were running dangerously low and Renee and I have really only hung out in one-week stints. Three weeks of being with someone 24/7 in a car: the solo traveler in me who relies completely on public transport was having a fit.
But we survived with plenty of stories to tell, inside jokes that leave us choking on our laughter and songs that will forever remind us of July 2012. The next month will be full of stories, reviews and misadventures, but here’s a first look at the good, the bad and the numbers of the ultimate USA road trip.
Things we did well
- Splitting up tasks: Renee drove while I navigated/started conversations/changed the radio station. Renee cleaned the windshield while I filled up the car with gas. Renee sliced up peaches, I ate them. Renee asked me where we were going every morning, and I told her. Knowing what we were good at–and what we liked–and sticking to it made it much easier.
- Manageable drive times: We had two massive nine-hour days (more about those later), but most of the days we drove for three to six hours. It was perfect to wake up, drive in the morning and then explore a new city in the afternoon and evening.
- Having enough alone time: Luckily, Renee and I both like to read–so most nights were spent in dead silence while we caught up on our Kindles (even better, we swapped Kindles to take advantage of each other’s libraries). Whenever we had a chance to talk to other people, we did–staying at hostels and meeting up with friends is quite good for that! And we weren’t afraid to split up if one person wanted to take a walk while the other wanted to Skype.
- Not getting hungry: We each had a food bag in the back of the car: mine always had Lara Bars, Fiber One bags, plastic pots of applesauce, blanched almonds and apples while Renee had Clif Bars, plastic pots of pears, cashews and peaches. We would buy yogurt and juice whenever we had a refrigerator in the room for a quick and healthy breakfast. We usually had one big meal out each day– local specialities whenever possible–and then snacks while driving.
- Easy gas money system: At the start of the trip, we each put $200 cash in a manila envelope that we kept in the glove compartment. There was no confusion over who paid for gas last time, or tension over one person getting a cheaper gas price. Brilliant in its simplicity–thanks to my mom for the idea!
- Sirius and Table Topics: We wouldn’t have survived this road trip without 90s on 9, endless conversation starters and too many vocabulary games. I think we gave up on a musical instrument for each letter of the alphabet at “N”…
Things we would do differently next time
- Knowing each other’s preferences: This was probably a lot more difficult for Renee because she’s remarkably laid-back while I am borderline OCD about being on time, waking up early and not wasting time. For example: I wake up gradually with the sun–as in I refuse to close the blinds–whereas Renee would rather be out dancing until the sun comes up. She graciously gave in to all of my whims and demands; however, I think we’re both looking forward to getting back on our own schedules in NYC.
- Having our big drive days on Friday: We knew we wanted to spend the weekend in specific places, so we did nine-hour days from Austin to New Orleans and from Charleston to Washington DC. Our Friday nights were shot both times because we were just exhausted from the drive–we were stuck in a massive thunderstorm and standstill traffic in Louisiana that added a fair bit of time and stress to our trip. If you’re planning a big night out: don’t plan a big drive that day.
- Being more flexible: I surprised myself with how go-with-the-flow I was in Southeast Asia, changing my travel plans on a whim and not knowing where I would be sleeping that night until that morning. But my ultimate planning instincts kicked back in once I stepped on American soil, and we had our entire trip planned down to the minute: at the very least, all of our accommodation was booked. If we had a) more time, b) our own car and c) a bigger budget, I think it would have been awesome to just drive until you wanted to stop and stay in cool cities until you felt like leaving. Next time!
By the numbers
Cash spent on gas: $400. Exactly.
My share of the car rental: $400
Most expensive drink: $15 for a vodka-soda in 1OAK in Las Vegas.
Cheapest drink: $1 Lone Star beers at Black Sheep Lodge in Austin. (Thanks to Over Yonderlust for the local invite!)
Miles driven: 3875.
Miles until empty when we turned the car in: 23
Number of hotels stayed in: 4
Number of motels stayed in: 4
Number of hostels stayed in: 4
Number of couches crashed on: 1 (Thanks, Kate!)
Number of states driven through: 11
Number of times the Yelp iPhone app came in handy: 5