The ultimate USA road trip: the good, the bad and the numbers

The ultimate USA road trip: the good, the bad and the numbers

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. 

Christine Amorose & Renee Eggers at Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

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.

Table Topics conversation starters on a cross-country 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”…
Rainy drive in Arizona on the ultimate USA road trip

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!
Sunny day in Arizona on the ultimate USA road trip

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

Do you have anything in particular you’d like to know about the road trip?

  • So sorry I missed you guys in DC- it sounds like an awesome trip though. I have a friend who I often do road trips with (we did 6 weeks together in Australia) and it definitely comes down to knowing the other person’s quirks, being as easygoing as possible and definitely not getting too hungry!

  • I loved getting to meet up with you gals! You have some great tips here, especially the $400 gas rule. And making sure you have alone time is also big. Can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip, especially those backyard bars you spoke of.

  • I’m excited about your upcoming posts… I’ve never been across the US. Actually, I’ve only been in two states… New York and Florida. The US seems to be as diverse as Europe as a whole… I’m sure it was a fantastic trip. 

    I’ve done a 3 week road trip with two other friends across New Zealand… and what I’ve learned from it is that we need to exploit each others “strengths” – I drove very few times (as usually I scare people with the way I drive and this brought up lots of tension) but, instead, was the one organizing the route, the first one waking up and kicking the rest out of bed when it was time to go.  

  • Elissa Shaw

    Sounds like the trip my chef and I did from Texas to Maine! Glad you got to visit the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo! Was there in March and couldn’t help but get a tad bit disappointed–I didn’t really care for all the graffiti! Did a post about that trip here :
    and the Texas to Maine trip here: 

  • LostInCheeseland

    I physically wouldn’t have survived 9 hour drives but the idea of seeing the vast expanses in the middle of America IS enticing…and all that quality time with a friend! I’m sure this won’t be the last time we read about a road trip adventure from you 🙂 

  • I’m more of a morning person. I’d explore after breakfast and drive in the afternoon.

  • Gary

    Interesting points. Nice tip on the gas money. Will do that on future road trips… 

  • I like going on a road
    trip usually with my family. But I also have a travel buddy and I can bring her

  • Raquel

    I have been stalking ALL your pics! Looks like a great a great time. Can’t wait to hear all the new details of life in NYC!

  • Dude. Nine hours from Nola to Austin is REALLY good time. You must have missed rush hours through Houston. I am very impressed! Also, only $400 for gas? What were you driving? A Flintstone mobile? That’s GREAT mileage.

  • camorose

    Shame that we missed you in DC–we really loved the city! And yes, key to keeping me happy is keeping me from getting hungry 🙂

  • camorose

    The gas idea worked out perfectly! Looking forward to sharing everything we saw on this trip–lots and lots to talk about 🙂

  • camorose

    I really do think there is a ton of diversity in the USA–maybe not as much as Europe, but lots of different foods, cultures, etc! Definitely all for playing to each other’s strengths–that was key on this trip as well.

  • camorose

    Yeah, I’d NEVER do another 9-hour day if I could avoid it! And yes…I need to do the Northern Route now 🙂

  • camorose

    All about knowing what works for you 🙂

  • camorose

    It really worked out well–so easy but helpful!

  • camorose

    Travel friends are super key!

  • camorose

    Yes, so much fun! Looking forward to life in NYC–so many Chico people out here!

  • camorose

    Definitely missed rush hour from Houston, just got super held up in the swamp with killer rain–everyone was driving about 20mph with hazards on. We drove a Ford Fusion–highly recommend!

  • Ohmygosh, 90’s on 9 is the best xm station ever. Sounds like you guys did a GREAT job making that trip work! I am impressed! 

  • purplekat99

    Interesting way to do the gas rule, but awesome! My friends and I actually flip it on road trips: one person pays for all the gas and keeps track of what was spent and then at the end, it’s divided by everyone and everyone pays the one person back their share. I would worry too much about running out of money if I did it your way, considering how expensive gas is (or maybe that is just Los Angeles:-))

    Glad you survived the road!

  • Oh 90s on 9! Love it! And vocabulary games; we learned way too many of those as kids. I think we would be good road trip partners! Haha. Glad you had a blast. 🙂

  • BrielKrystek

    I love number posts! Sounds like you guys worked out a good system. I like that cash idea for the gas money. It can get confusing trying to keep track along the way and it can be pretty easy to estimate how much you’ll spend on gas using online tools. 

    How did you only manage to spend $800 total for your three week rental car?! My sister and I rented one for 8 days last summer and it was $1200.  I am doing something wrong!

  • I miss going on road
    trips with a couple of friends. By the way, I love the first photo. The colors
    are vivid.

  • Is that first photo Cadillac Ranch?  How wild – I love it!

  • Ford Fusion… nice! Hybrid engine?

  • After reading the post in which you announced your road trip plans, I decided that was something I needed to do, too. I plan to quit my day job next year, so perhaps that’ll be a good time. 

    So what was the thing you enjoyed most about Austin?

  • camorose

    Haha yes wouldn’t have survived without Sirius or vocabulary games–luckily, I had MANY to pull from my childhood 🙂

  • camorose

    Renee was in charge of the rental car, and got a great deal booking from Australia–SO much cheaper when you’re booking out of the country and she’s 27, so we didn’t have a young driver surcharge. The real expensive bit was the additional $500 one-way fee!

  • camorose

    Cadillac Ranch was such a cool place to visit–crazy colors, especially since we visited in sunshine RIGHT before a thunderstorm hit!

  • camorose

    Yup, Cadillac Ranch–so cool!

  • camorose

    Nope, not a hybrid–just good on gas!

  • camorose

    We found these awesome backyard bars that were just too much fun! Plus, it has a really great healthy, active vibe–Whole Foods flagship and plenty of biking paths. Will definitely talk more about Austin in a post 🙂

  • camorose

    We figured that if we ran out before we got to our destination, we would both stick another 50 in and then just split the change if it was too much. Definitely makes it easier–AND you get cheaper gas at a lot of places because you pay cash 🙂

  • camorose

    Thanks lady! Nothing like a little 90s music to get you through a long stretch of driving 🙂

  • A lot of useful tips to go on a roadtrip, good to know, thanks for sharing this!
    Amazing pictures too!

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  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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  • Laura

    I can relate to lots of these things from my US road trip last year with my friend from Germany. Except that we were in the car together for a little over 7 weeks which made it more fun, and slightly more stressful 😉 We did have the luxury of planning as we went though which was really fun!

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  • camorose

    I definitely wouldn’t mind doing a road trip, version 2 and going the northern route–still SO much to see!

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  • Kristine

    Bookmarking this page!! So many good ideas. My next trip (…at all) isn’t for at least another year, and since I haven’t seen a whole lot of the US I was contemplating doing this. Especially since I’m turning 25 soon and will be able to rent a car :).

  • camorose

    A summer USA road trip is a must-do in your 20s, I promise 🙂

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  • Melissa

    I am living in the US but am from New Zealand I would like to do a roadtrip around the U.S but am not sure how to go about it. Where did you get your rental car? I am only going to be 19 when I go on the trip so am having trouble finding a car.

  • camorose

    My friend from Australia actually handled the rental car side of things since she was 27. You’re going to have quite a tough time renting a car if you’re younger than 21 and still pay a premium on it until you’re 25. Might be easier to buy a cheap car and then try to sell it!

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  • Marcus

    Thanks for the tips! im just planning a roadtrip at the moment, for September next year. I’m from the UK, but planning on a 3 week road trip from Pheonix,. Arizona to Miami, across the northern states, visitng Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore and New York .. plus obviously a hell of a lot of other places!

    Liked the read, and some helpful tips in there for me and my friend! Thank you!