Driving Across The United States – Part 1: Prepare for your trip

During the year of being “stuck” due to Covid I dreamed of hitting the highways and driving from Los Angeles to family in New York. I spent months planning the route and picking the “right” time to leave (post vaccination). In order to make this trek successful and keep hiccups to a minimum, I prepped with the help of friend, Marj aka, co-driver and navigator. So, get comfy as the next few posts will be dedicated to this adventure from the perspective of two women ready for fun and ready with AARP and AAA cards in their wallets!

And, in the spirit of this blog – lessons we learned will be shared framed with tons of photos and video for your enjoyment.

So, let’s begin with Part 1: Driving Across the United States from the WEST to the EAST COAST – the “getting ready” blog.

Map Your Route

Marj and I decided to prepare a route based on weather during the early and mid spring, places of interest, and shortest distance between points. Our first thought was to go through the Mojave through California and connect to Route 40/ 66 once in Arizona. We decided to spend the first night in Williams, Arizona – north of the Grand Canyon. Then off through New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma the second and third days. Day four we thought we would veer off course to Branson, Missouri and then head back up to St. Louis. Our destination was Chicago to visit our two sons – coincidentally they both live in the Windy City very close to each other. I was then to continue the journey to New York to see more family, sans my driving gal.

Hint: Be prepared to have a PLAN B and PLAN C of your route. We needed to switch our plan due to horrendous tornado activity through Texas and Oklahoma. More about this in the next blog entry.

Prep the Car

I made sure the car was fully serviced prior to leaving. That included a very thorough look-over by the Mazda dealership, including new brakes. We then went to American Tire and added new windshield wipers and four new tires. I even bought a spare set of wipers.

What should you have in your car?

  • Spare Tire – checked and ready to use. Also, FIX A FLAT in a can for quick emergency repairs.
  • Chains for tires, in the event of lots of snow- if you are traveling through snowy regions.
  • Emergency lights.
  • Blanket
  • Water and lots of it.
  • Emergency medical supplies – including an api-pen or something for an allergic reaction.
  • Emergency radio.
  • A book of maps, such as Rand MacNally. DO NOT depend on “Mr. Google Maps” to guide you. (See story in next blog for this lesson learned!)
  • Your cars information guide, including what kind of coolant you use.
  • Spare key to give to your driving partner.
  • Snacks that are healthy (a cooler is a good “addition”).
  • Raincoat or poncho.
  • Flashlight (check batteries).
  • Cords for your phone to recharge while driving.
  • Change of clothes easily accessible.
  • Holder for extra items.
  • Comfortable car seat cover
  • Lumbar support, such as Therma Rest Lumbar Support
  • Download audible books, bring trivia games, and have a good satellite radio.

Where to stay? Should you book hotels in advance?

Some of you may want to stay with family and friends along your route. That is great! Marj and I decided to rough it – meaning we stayed in fairly inexpensive hotels with a few splurges. We also didn’t book a hotel until we knew where we would “land” that night. I found TripAdvisor to be an invaluable resource as to which hotels were rated decently and about their pricing. Much of my bookings came through TripAdivors via the connection to Orbitz. Marj used her AAA card to save money. I also was equipped with an AARP card. We had a few criteria about where we would stay. First and foremost, safety. After all, we are two women who are traveling. Secondly, we preferred a place that had a hot breakfast. For, I wanted an indoor pool, if possible. A bit of exercise after driving all day was a welcome amenity! Nearby restaurants also were a must to grab a nice dinner or a snack. Lastly, proximity to the interstate. After a long day the last thing we wanted was to drive further just to find a hotel that may save us a few bucks.

Hint: Have your travel rewards numbers for hotels ready to use when you check-in or book your room.

Things you may not have thought about when preparing for your cross – country trip

As I said at the beginning – expect the unexpected. So, be sure to have phone numbers of people who you can call along your way. Also, when you see that from Point A to Point B is X amount of time – don’t believe it. Your trip will be longer than what is quoted on your digital map. You see, “potty” and meal stops are not factored in to this calculation. Nor is slow traffic due to weather or being pulled over for a ticket because you went too fast on that flat highway that just seemed so inviting to rev it up to 90 mph!

Do not underestimate the importance of travel apps for cell phones. I highly recommend TripAdvisor, Weather apps with all the key cities on your route tabbed for reference and alerts, and an app that gives you current road conditions (such as unexpected closures or construction.)

Also, if anyone in your party has unique challenges – be prepared that many places in our vast country have not embraced the word – “accessibility”. I met NO ONE who could use American Sign Language (ASL) outside of the city tourist sites. Many of the doorways to restaurants and rest areas seemed too small for a standard wheelchair. There often were steep inclines at rest stops. Only a few restaurants had braille menus. And, if you are a vegan or vegetarian you may have difficulties eating in more remote areas in states like Kansas and Nebraska. Be prepared that mask mandates for Covid were not always adhered to in many hotels and venues.

Let’s talk money. Whatever you THINK it may cost – double it. The price of gas surged after we left our homes and that meant a gas bill allotment far more than we anticipated. Try to fill your gas tank before it dips under the “half-way” point. As you may not know when the next station will be available. Furthermore, the cost of tax on hotels and food varied from state to state. I also ended up having to buy new sneakers after I dropped one in a street only to find it later- broken. And, don’t forget you WILL buy something that you weren’t expecting. After all , who can resist the green hatch chilies of New Mexico or candles of Northern Lights / Zippo in New York?!

Also, remember there are TOLL ROADS. I attempted to be prepared by downloading toll road apps and getting actual transponders. Epic fail. We ended up paying cash or having to pay later.

Final notes: Safety first

Safety should be tantamount when traveling. Not only should you prepare your car and pack accordingly – but also yourself. Know your limits. If you are someone who can’t do long distance driving – plan to take a lot of breaks and only make a few hours of travel per day your goal.

Have a history of blood clots? Consider talking to your doctor before leaving about steps you can take to minimize your risk (such as compression socks, frequent breaks, etc.)

Also, know the laws per state. Pepper sprays are not allowed in all states. You also can’t transport certain fruits, plants, or items that are for “medicinal” purposes across state lines.

Lastly, remember to adhere to local speed limits so part of your trip isn’t spent on the side of the highway being issued a traffic ticket.

May your journey be filled with fun, adventure, and great memories!

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