What are we not thinking of? Canadians in the States.
September 17, 2008 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Roadtrip-Filter: Some questions about a trip from Toronto, Ontario to Salem, Oregon

My best friend and I (both female, late 20s) are driving from Toronto to Salem, Oregon. We're leaving October 15th. We're planning on (trying) to make it to Salem on Saturday the 18th. It will be 4,300 km and change, we're planning to stop in:

Night 1: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Night 2: Laramie, Wyoming
Night 3: Boise, Idaho

And we have some questions.

1. Are there any issues with any of these cities? Excessive crime, etc? We only chose them because of geographical convenience.

2. Better cities nearby to stop in?

3. We're driving a 2003 Ford Focus, we have oil changes planned as needed, anything else we should be doing, car-wise?

4. Being Canadians we always feel vaguely unsafe in the U.S, even knowing that there really isn't much of a difference between the two countries, really. Would it be weird to have a golf club/baseball bat in the backseat?

5. Tips for surviving 3+ days straight in the car with another person? Added wrinkle, only one of us will be driving (me).

6. We'll be going through Michigan, Iowa, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho, etc, I'm assuming that the weather in October in those states will be similar to what we have here, we won't have to worry about freak snowstorms will we?

That's a lot, but thanks in advance for any help or any tips/experiences at all!
posted by heavenstobetsy to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Response by poster: Also, here is a google maps version of our trip, if that helps at all.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 4:36 PM on September 17, 2008

Your worries about crime and the idea of carrying a bat both come off as rather silly. Your stopover cities are all fairly large and I'm sure they have their unsavory neighborhoods, but you'll know them when you see them and you won't stay there if you're uncomfortable. If your car has been well maintained then it should be fine too. A snowstorm is conceivable, though it would be (as you suggest) freakish in most of those areas. Your biggest problem will probably be your schedule. Doing that drive in three days with only one driver is possible, but really, really exhausting. I must be getting old, because I wouldn't do it in less than 5 days. Oh wait... I would never have done it less than 5 days.
posted by jon1270 at 5:02 PM on September 17, 2008

Response by poster: I should mention that the 3 days thing is flexible. We're pretty sure it will end up being 4 days, in reality. But if we make it in 3, great.

Also it may sound silly to ask about crime/baseball bat, etc, but regardless it's something we're thinking about even a little bit. Being female and in a different country.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 5:22 PM on September 17, 2008

There are a lot of highway hotels & motels along I-80. Unless you really want to you don't even have to go "in town". I've found those motels to be safe primarily due to being unpopulated although that is a different kind of safety concern.
posted by GuyZero at 5:29 PM on September 17, 2008

I stayed in Laramie, WY about five years ago driving a moving truck from Michigan to California. While it's a university town, it will also feel pretty small if you've spent your life in Toronto. There's a Motel 8 right off of I-80 on 287 N where we stayed that was cheap and agreeable enough. The restaurant in the neighboring hotel (I forget which it was) wasn't that bad and struck me as cheap at the time. There's probably more to do and eat over on the west side of Laramie where the University is and there's more student life. (Driving a moving van, we had to avoid all that.) It's also somewhere just east of Laramie that Wyoming gets beautiful, too. The far eastern part is sort of flat scorched-earth, mines and oil wells - "Dick Cheney's America" I thought as we were driving through it - and then suddenly you hit a change in the topography and every turn reveals a new view that belongs on a postcard.

Incidentally, the bat is kind of ridiculous, the golf club only more so. Crime rates are higher here, but it's not the coast-to-coast violent dystopia you seem to be imagining. Don't hassle others and they won't hassle you.
posted by el_lupino at 5:50 PM on September 17, 2008

The itinerary certainly seems doable to me. I think you could even push it to two nights if you're in a rush, but why kill yourself. Roadtrip tips:

- The interstate is big and fast and boring. It's good for getting you where you need to go but you will bypass all of the cities and towns so the states will go by in something of a blur. You don't really have time to take smaller highways, but at the very least I suggest you eat your meals at the little diners and cafes and pubs in the city centers instead of the fast food clusters right off the highway. They'll be about the same price but so much better and with so much more character. In pretty much every town there will be signs pointing you to "City Center", follow those.

- If you can squeeze in an extra few days, I highly recommend you stop at some of the natural parks and monuments along the way. You could see Yellowstone, Mt Rushmore, the Devil's Tower, the Badlands, etc etc, all amazing places, and who knows when you'll be in that part of the world again?

- When you get the oil change make sure you ask for a full inspection, and tell him you're going on a big roadtrip. Bring winter basics just in case: scraper and brush, gloves and toques, and keep a bit of food and water in the trunk. That alone should get you through even the worst possible situation. Bring spare wiper fluid in case you hit mud or lots of bugs.

- The baseball bat is kind of silly. Really. Would you carry it on a drive on the 401 to Halifax? You'll have about the same experience on the interstate. And of what use is it going to be unless you carry it around all time? No-one can get you when you're in your car because you're speeding on the highway.

- Don't forget health insurance. CAA can sell you some. If you're a member with them you can get great maps too, and roadside assistance and all that. I'd say it's worth it.

- Music is great but if you really want to pass the time on the road, get some books on tape, or even better, recordings of lectures and talks on interesting topics (go search the ask me archives for interesting podcasts). These things are great, and they engage your mind so it keeps you awake even when you've been driving for 8 hours. Plus they add a little extra flavour to your trip. A Brief History of Progress and the south Idaho desert are forever linked in my mind now.

- Resist the temptation to buy junk food to snack on. The sugars will make you sleepy. Eat as healthy as you can.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:51 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

As everyone else has said, the baseball bat and golf club are silly. You will be driving through some of the most benign states in the US.

I always advise getting a GPS if driving in an unfamiliar place as well.
posted by All.star at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2008

A couple tips for Iowa: I would skip the detour to Cedar Rapids and consider staying in Iowa City. It's right off the highway and it's a college town, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding places to stay/eat/etc. The other tip is to stop at the Iowa 80 truck stop. You can't miss it, because it's the biggest truck stop in the world. They sell a lot of things you don't need.

You should also bring a ball and mitt for that baseball bat so that when you don't end up using it to defend yourself you can at least have some fun during truck stop breaks. Skip the golf club.
posted by tushfestival at 6:28 PM on September 17, 2008

If it makes you feel safer, bring the goddamn bat.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:24 PM on September 17, 2008

Customs - Passing through customs they might be curious about the bat, or they might ask some generic question like "do you have any weapons?" They will definitely ask for passport; they'll probably ask who owns the car and where it's registered; may ask where you'll be staying (including address) and for how long.

Seconding that you should be fine for safety. The towns you're thinking of visiting are near the size of Kingston, and will probably be sort of similar to it or any medium Canadian city. Some run-down areas, where there are fights between locals and there might be petty property crime. But the main areas will be A-OK, and for the most part people looking to start trouble will not be wanting to start it with you. On the interstate you will not want for gas etc. I would be leery of sleeping in the car or going hiking in an isolated area (not that anything would happen, but those would set off my personal "this is a bit iffy" meter).

PercussivePaul is right about preparing for driving over the Rockies - be ready for winter weather there, even if it doesn't happen. I've gone over the continental divide in July and there's been snow on the ground. Have coats, gloves, toques, some food, water, etc in the car. For long trips like this I like to have paper maps in case there's a weird detour or whatever. Do be sure your wipers are in good shape - very intense rain is something you're likely to encounter somewhere along the way. Keep up to date on weather forecasts. Respect those mountains.

Do give yourself a little extra time if you can, to take detours off the highway into some of the amazing parks etc along your route. It's a beautiful drive; bring your camera.

Tips about long solo drive: take breaks. Even just stretch-your-legs breaks can make a big difference. Sing out loud. Play car games. Don't drink too much caffeine or you'll be a wreck. Especially once you get into the more mountainous terrain, you don't want to be dozing off at the wheel. There will be 24 hour diners along your route (Denny's is one such chain), stop there if you need to.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:30 PM on September 17, 2008

If you're not insistent on making it in 3 days, you may as well stop to see a few of the attractions. You'll be going straight through several state capitals and could easily add Salt Lake City. And Lincoln, NE is home of the country's only unicameral legislature, a must see. It's also architecturally unique among US state capitals (most of them are unimaginatively modeled after the national capital), lovingly referred to as "the penis on the prairie". Seriously, though, state capitals are usually worth a 30 minute stop, even though most of the buildings are basically the same. I've only seen Des Moines, out of the ones you'll be passing through. It's pretty nice. It's got a nice mall in front of it, and faces straight down one of the main roads toward downtown, with a nice "old downtown" type district in between. Worth a few photos.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:39 PM on September 17, 2008

I've only been to Cedar Rapids' airport, so I can't speak about that town. But I will say that Iowa City is a really nice college town just a half hour (or so) away with a walkable downtown full of (non-chain) stores and great places to eat. Here's a good Iowa City thread.
posted by booth at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2008

I have driven between Boise and Portland dozens of times throughout the entire calender. I can say with authority that this part of the drive can be treacherous during the winter months. Especially when you hit the Blue mountains just as you near Pendleton. I have driven through this part in late October where there was inches of snow and ice on the roads and dozens of vehicles in the ditch. I ALWAYS bring chains and my snowboarding clothing when I take this route in winter.

As a side note, my wife and I were stuck sleeping in the ditch for 12 hours when they closed the highway down one October.

Just be careful and make sure you are alert and well rested for the final part of the trip.
posted by birdlips at 6:53 AM on September 18, 2008

I'll add the most important thing here: road food.

Definitely do your best to find some interesting, yummy local places to eat on your way. It's not all going to be healthy but it can be delicious. A trip that long, you need to have something to look forward to along the way.

Figure out with your friend how you like to travel, if you haven't done a long trip together before. Are you both talkers, or does one of you need lots of quiet time? If the driving gets scary, do you need dead silence? I think long, absorbing books on tape would be great (thought I guess they won't really be on tape anymore, will they?), esp so you don't feel like you have to make conversation for that long.

Have fun! And what's bringing you to Salem, for god's sake? It's hardly the destination of epic quests! :)
posted by purenitrous at 8:44 AM on September 18, 2008

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