Just me, my FJ, and the highway.
February 12, 2012 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me make it through 2 days of driving alone!

I've been planning a move to Pittsburgh and the big day has finally come. I'm leaving tomorrow morning and will be driving (with an overnight stop in Knoxville) for about 1200 miles. I should hit Pittsburgh Tuesday night. I'll be traveling alone with a car loaded with stuff.

What are some neat tricks to keep myself awake and entertained for 19 hours of driving? I've loaded up my iPod with music, grabbed a few 5-Hour Energy drinks, and have a few snacks to bring with me. I'll probably also be calling everyone I know at some point just to keep busy. Any tips on surviving a long solo drive? Fun games to play alone? Alternatives to texting and/or playing Words With Friends while driving?

Other pertinent info: I plan on stopping for breaks as necessary, but I can't exactly take as much time as I want, since my stuff arrives on Wednesday. I've driven really long distances before, but never alone.

Thanks in advance!
posted by tryniti to Travel & Transportation (47 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Mentally outline your next novel. Find roadsigns with place names that would work as character names.

Sing out loud all you can.
posted by procrastination at 7:10 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always use books on tape for these kinds of things, mixed in with a plethora of podcasts.
posted by SNWidget at 7:11 PM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I did something similar a few years ago, but my trip was a little longer - Minneapolis to Boston, about 24 hours. A few things that helped me:

- I discovered that I have a hard time staying energized and focused on the road once it gets dark so I would leave pretty early in the morning (basically, as soon as it was light). I did my trip in December, farther north than you, so this was a bigger deal for me, but something to watch out for.

- If you've never done a trip like this, you might find that 10 hours/day of driving is too much for you. Have a backup plan in place in case you realize you need an extra day.

- I found that podcasts were good for keeping me alert, since I really had to listen to them to follow them.

- Fill your gas tank whenever it gets to half-empty. This is good for fuel efficiency and gives you a break every 2-3 hours.

- Bring some healthy, filling snacks, like almonds, cheese, fruit, etc.
posted by lunasol at 7:17 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Why not record a travelogue of some sort? If you can do so on your phone or another electronic recording device, say what you're passing, what you're seeing, what the other drivers on the road are like...it's something to keep you awake, and it'll most likely be really fun to listen to much later on.
posted by xingcat at 7:17 PM on February 12, 2012




I've done several 6-8 hour drives, and I've found that having a story told to me makes the time enormously less frustrating and subjectively much, much faster
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:20 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you find yourself starting to fall asleep at the wheel, just pullover and sleep for a little while (like 30 minutes or an hour) and you will be much better off and actually get where you are going alive. Don't go much faster or slower than the traffic around you, this stresses you out and makes other drivers be aggressive toward you. Stay out of the left lane unless you are actually passing someone right that instant, it lets the faster traffic get by you and makes you less likely to get involved in an accident if you have some maneuvering room around, not a stack of cars in line behind you. I find either books on tape or talk radio (of any stripe except religious anyway) to be the best for keeping me alert and thinking and not succumbing to road hypnosis. But anyway, if you are sleepy, get some sleep. It is just as dangerous to you and others as being drunk. Oh, and stop and eat decent food. It keeps your energy level higher and wakes you up.
posted by bartonlong at 7:20 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Audiobooks for sure. For drives that long they're the best thing there is.
posted by Jairus at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2012

Fresh fruit, sandwiches, plenty of water, enough sleep, regular breaks, comfortable clothes.
posted by leigh1 at 7:22 PM on February 12, 2012

- I sometimes count a specific make/model/color (individually or in combination) of cars that cross me going the other way. I calculate % of that type of car relative to the total, which I also count. I change the make/model/color after a while or at certain fixed km/time limits. I love doing these and other such simple mental math exercises, YMMV.

- I listen to talk radio. A lot of it is stuff that makes me angry, so I talk aloud to myself about how I would countered the host/caller if I could. The rage keeps me alert.

- Music, you've got it.

- You must take a quick break at least every two hours. Stop. Revive. Survive.

- Pay attention to the road, but also pay attention to stuff that's around - signs, trees, cars, drivers, passengers, whatever. My mind keeps some random thoughts going if I keep at it.
posted by vidur at 7:22 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whenever my grandmother is worried about falling asleep at the wheel, she takes grapes and eat one every fifth minute or according to some such scheme. I cannot attest to the efficacy of this method, but as far as I know she has never fallen asleep and crashed!
posted by threeants at 7:23 PM on February 12, 2012

Um, just for safety's sake, I should add that the grape method is for concerns regarding boredom and such...in cases of actual sleep deficit, GIT SOME SLEEP.
posted by threeants at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2012

Two days is no big deal, seriously. A lot of the advice here is good. Take lots and lots of breaks. Don't be all macho and insist on eight hour stretches with no pee breaks. Stop for gas. Stop for peeing. Stop for coffee. Stop for greasy diner food. Every time, take a few minutes to stretch, walk around a little bit, and both relax and reenergize.

Most importantly, stop when you are feeling tired. Don't push on if you start getting those little starts, where you realize you don't remember the last 20 miles. Take a break and drink some coffee, or better yet just get a motel or sleep in the back seat at a rest area. It's never a good idea to push on when you are feeling tired.
posted by Forktine at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2012

Wait, so you're planning to drive 19 hours straight with only short breaks? It's going to be hard.

I don't know your age, but even though I used to do shit like this in my 20s and first half of my 30s, it would be dangerous for me now. I just don't have that stay-awake stamina any more, regardless of stimulants. But if you feel like you've got what it takes, then here's my advice. I've done lots and lots of LD driving.

Yes to loud music, but change it up with podcasts and short novels. Intersperse them so nothing starts to have a droney effect. I find that things with a narrative or at least a changing conversation make the time pass much faster than short songs one after the other. Whole albums are good because they also have this cohesion that makes them feel more like a time unit than a random selection of songs.

Maximize the daylight, like someone said above.

Every few hours, like when you get gas or stop at the bathroom, take a few minutes. Walk around and stretch your legs. Hop up and down a little. Look at some stuff up close, like maybe read a sports page or some tourist brochures, just to give your eyes a rest.

While you're driving, keep your eyes moving around for safety. Like scanning. Scan the road ahead, scan left and right, and check your side and rear mirrors - do the whole rotation every couple minutes. It keeps your eyes from zoning out and getting bored, and keeps you totally informed about everything going on around you.

Get drinks with ice; you can suck on the ice chips when the drink is gone to relieve your thirst without having to go to the bathroom every half hour.

If you get drowsy, open the window and blow some cold air in your face.

Peppermint flavor/scent also triggers alertness. Have some mints, gum, York patties or just aroma spray to make your trip minty.

Whenever you feel your eyelids starting to droop, pull into a rest stop and just take a 10-20 minute nap. This can refresh you beyond belief and can be just a lifesaver. It doesn't seem like much but makes a huge difference.

Phone calls are a good idea but get the equipment to go hands-free and make sure it doesn't distract you when you get tired.

Play some games. Mentally redecorate your new place. Recite poetry you once remembered.

Stretch your non accelerator leg, or both if you have cruise control.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2012

Seconding the advice to get up early and get on the road as soon as possible. Also, if you're going to be hitting any metro areas around rush hour, have an idea of how you're going to get around traffic if you have to.

This might be an old-lady problem, but bring along a little cushion or a rolled up towel for back support, and a couple of Thermacare heat wraps. I find it difficult to sit in a car for more than a few hours at a stretch without these things.
posted by elizeh at 7:25 PM on February 12, 2012

Audiobooks. Cracker Barrel rents them. I wouldn't recommend the food, but they do rent audiobooks. And they have a selection of candy and strange trinkets at every one.

Bring plenty of real food. Stop at grocery stores along the way and get fruit, baby carrots, whole wheat pita and hummus. Avoid cheeseburgers and french fries if you don't normally eat a ton of that stuff. Drink lots of water. Twice as much water as coffee or soda.

Pee early and pee often. Fill your gas tank at 1/2 instead of closer to E, that way you get more pee breaks.

Stop and take a nap if you're feeling a bit drowsy. Don't wait until you actually start nodding off at the wheel. This means bring a blanket and pillow in the car.

I have found that jumping hacks help keep me invigorated. YMMV.
posted by bilabial at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2012

Never done it alone? Please make it a three-day trip. I've crossed the U.S. by myself more times than I can count, and I will never, unless I'm going to miss someone's last words, do more than eight hours a day.

Podcasts work better than audiobooks for me, but YMMV.

Take a break every hour. It won't add that much time, and it will greatly help you get through the hours.
posted by Etrigan at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2012

Music, but remember you have a radio too, it's less predictable than your own music. (And often just strange; once when I was driving through Tennessee all the radio stations kept playing Billy Joel. ???)

Also, this is going to make me sound so old, but just look at stuff out the windows. Two days on the road in the US should take you through some pretty different-looking environments. Better if you don't have to take highways, but often interesting even if you do.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Audiobooks are a great suggestion - wish I had thought of it before now! Any places to pick them up early in the morning?

Also, I am making an overnight stop, so it will likely end up being 10 hours tomorrow and 9 on Tuesday. No way could I do it straight through!

Thanks for all the ideas so far - keep 'em coming!
posted by tryniti at 7:30 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The key thing (audiobooks) has been said so I'll add my preference, sunflower seeds. Big full bag of seeds and a big empty cup for shells. It's somethin' to do, anyway.
posted by ftm at 7:32 PM on February 12, 2012

Oh, got it! Sorry I missed that. You'll be fine, I'm much relieved you get a night's sleep!
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on February 12, 2012

Also, I am making an overnight stop, so it will likely end up being 10 hours tomorrow and 9 on Tuesday. No way could I do it straight through!

I'm going to bang on about the scheduling thing again - 10 hours/day will end up being more like 12-14, with breaks, traffic jams, etc. It just will. That is a really long day of driving. Some people can do that with no problem and will think I'm being a worrywart, but some people really can't. So, seriously, make a contingency plan in case you realize you can't!
posted by lunasol at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep the windows down and play the drums on your steering wheel to a few of your favorite albums you know by heart. That always kills the first two hours of driving for me when I go up to visit the bay from LA. I like nuts jerky and gatorade as snacks with some sour candy thrown in.
posted by murkywaters at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2012

Any places to pick them up early in the morning?

Oh, you can download audiobooks at Audible.com and some other places too (maybe someone will have other suggestions). Also, almost all truck stops sell them now, but maybe not titles you're dying to read -- if it's not Chicken Soup or other inspirational, it's action or the like.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2012

Itunes sells them, or you can join audible and get them for cheaper. If you give us an idea of what you like to read we can probably give you some suggestions.
posted by kjs4 at 7:38 PM on February 12, 2012

I drive from St. Louis to western Colorado, straight, at least once a year, and then back again. I've driven I've driven to Boston with a hangover and then home from central New Hampshire two days later with no radio and only using the clutch to start out from gas stations. Just to get my bondafides out of the way.

Get some Crystal Lite caffeine packets and some Propel. Mix one of each in a nalgene bottle. Enough caffeine to keep you going, enough liquid to keep you pissing. Take a gallon of fresh water (tap if you get good tap water) to make refills.

Clif bars and such should be enough to keep you going on food through the day; if not add trail mix. You don't ever want to eat enough to be full.

Audiobooks are great. Esp. sci-fi, for me. But have some music you can scream along to, as well.

Every time you get out of the car, stretch, do some jumping jacks, a couple pushups. Every time you wash your hands, splash water on your face, ears, and neck.

If you start to nod or wane, get off the goddamn highway immediately. Set your cell to alarm in ten minutes. Kick the seat back and take a power nap.
posted by notsnot at 7:38 PM on February 12, 2012

Oh, and you tend to get obsessed with "making good time" on these trips. Keep in mind it's not how fast your speedometer says you're going, but how fast you're averaging that makes a difference. Aim for a reasonable average number of miles covered per hour, don't just gun it and try to beat the clock. Reasonable and steady is way better than gunning it only to get stuck or drive in a risky way.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on February 12, 2012

Cracker Barrel has audiobooks on CD that you can rent and return to any Cracker Barrel. You should pass plenty on that route.
posted by deadcrow at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate the stupid morning and when I'm driving long distances I get up and go earlier because it's easier to drive while it's light out, you can get sort of zombified at night. Stay hydrated and this will also help (force) you to make some stops for pee breaks during which point you may as well walk around and stretch your legs. Keep a little bag for trash in the car so it doesn't get grotty, make sure you have AAA or some other roadside assistance plan and try to put as much stuff as possible within easy reach distance from the driver's seat [like drinks and your phone and the trash bag]. If you have a favorite podcast this is the great time to listen to ALL the episodes. Have fun.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on February 12, 2012

I drove across the country alone, and I recommend bubble gum. The really gross Hubba Bubba little kid giant bubble blowing gum. When I got that driving trace I found blowing enormous bubbles in overly sugar fake fruit flavors really helped me stay alert.
posted by girl scientist at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

So my sister and I many times have driven up and down the East Coast. You CAN do it in two days, it's about 18 hours for us from point A to point B, but the best trip we ever took we spread over two and a half days. We split it up 8-8-2.

I have the warmest, fondest memories of that Microtel the second night. Oh my god.

We could have made it to our destination that night, but we both felt so horrible. We would have gotten in at 10 p.m. Our "treat" to ourselves was stopping at a Wendy's and eating at a table, around 7 p.m. It was just starting to get dark. We were trying to psych ourselves up to get back in the car, and we couldn't quite get up. We sat there with our fountain sodas staring vacantly at each other.

"You know," I said finally. "We could just stop."

We sat there for another minute. There was a Microtel across the highway.

"It says there's a pool," my sister said faintly.

Oh my god. Oh my god in heaven. We splashed around in the pool in our gym shorts and tee-shirts. We watched TV. The beds had these beautiful down comforters in lovely white duvets, they were so puffy.

Now, was it really like staying at the goddamn Plaza? Dude. It was a MICROTEL. I think the room was 69.99. But I swear, that is in the top ten, hell the top THREE, of the best seventy dollars I have ever spent.

So I think the way to survive this trip is to take two overnight breaks. You will not regret it AT ALL. You'll still get there on Wednesday, just a couple hours later.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

I've driven 36 hours non-stop from Saskatchewan to southern Ontario (though I'm accustomed to marathon drives this was a special circumstance: I'd been 'delayed' for 3 days at the ND border and really wanted to get home by Christmas Day, and of course now having to take the long way around the Great Lakes). What kept me going was that about every 2 hours on the TransCanada Highway there's a big, bright 24 hour Husky gas station and restaurant. So I just took it 2 hours at a time, and at every Husky I'd buy two large coffees and nurse them for the next 2 hours - talk to them too.
This was winter in Canada, so of course there were a couple of snowstorms along the way, culminating, almost like the boss battle in a video game, in serious, cars in the ditch freezing rain on the home stretch of the 400 and 401 for the last few hours.
Anyway, it's not so bad - my advice is just to break it up into small chunks and develop a ritual to get you through those small chunks.
posted by Flashman at 7:56 PM on February 12, 2012

Make sure to eat as well as possible, it is so easy to eat really poorly on the road
posted by brinkzilla at 7:58 PM on February 12, 2012

grabbed a few 5-Hour Energy drinks

Maybe it's just me, but I've found massive stimulants not too helpful at long-haul driving. Instead of being half-asleep and driving poorly, I'm wide awake and driving just as poorly. Whatever part of my brain is in charge of noticing unexpected things and reacting to them is just as tired as it would be without the drink, and now I'm too wired to take a catnap at the next rest area. It's a net lose, for me at least.

Other than that, I'd second what everyone else has said: take breaks when you're tired, walk around and stretch at the rest area (or just at the side of the road), drink plenty and pee plenty, music or audiobooks to keep you entertained (or local radio, if there's anything good within range, but there usually isn't), have some not-too-trashy stuff to munch as you drive.
posted by hattifattener at 8:15 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sunflower seeds are my best friend on long trips. I don't know why, but the constant shelling keeps me alert, regardless of the music or podcast or lack of stimulation.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:24 PM on February 12, 2012

Whenever I have a long drive I try to load up my iPod with songs I know and can sing along to. This keeps me more engaged/awake than just listening to random music.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:26 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whenever I have to drive for a long time, I operate the pedals with bare feet. then i can hang just a couple of toes on the gas, instead of gently pressing with my whole leg.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:36 PM on February 12, 2012

If you don't like audiobooks, do a search for podcasts that might interest you. "Stuff you missed in history class" and "The Bowery Boys" are really neat, and not exclusively for history nerds. I also would suggest downloading the first lesson or two of a language you're trying to learn.

Kind of a given, but remember to bring sunglasses. Also, make sure if you're using a GPS, you also have a road atlas. You never know.
posted by oxfordcomma at 9:52 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alternatives to texting and/or playing Words With Friends while driving?

Please DO NOT do these OR use the phone while you are driving.

Nthing audiobooks/podcasts and using the cruise control.

Last summer I drove from PGH to Iowa City; stopping for the night in Elkhart, IN. I had a huge breakfast that morning, which got me through most of the day.
posted by brujita at 10:26 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love long solo drives! Besides the already mentioned podcasts, music, audiobooks, cruise control and quick breaks, I occasionally get off the highway and take some side roads even though it's slower. I find it reinvigorating to drive on a road with some curves, hills, trees, houses, businesses, etc. I just wish the GPS had a "get me off the highway without adding more than x% to my trip" button.

Oh...speaking of which: GPS is another critical piece of gear for reducing the stress of a long (or any, IMO) drive.

Have fun!
posted by The Dutchman at 10:49 PM on February 12, 2012

Write a list of people who have birthdays, anniversaries, etc. coming up and brainstorm gifts for them.

If you have a list (mental or physical) of things you've been meaning to think about, now's the time!
posted by shortyJBot at 4:50 AM on February 13, 2012

I'm coming in here to disagree with the majority and say not audiobooks.

There's nothing I find more annoying when I'm driving than to lose the thread of a story or play I'm listening to on the radio because I'm concentrating on something on the road. So unless you're confident you can concentrate 100% on both the road and the story and not end up losing the plot, then by all means have audiobooks. But for me I have to have music to sing along to.
posted by essexjan at 10:03 AM on February 13, 2012

Plan ahead on when you're going to be hitting cities. If you're an hour away from one and it's 4:00 think about pulling over and napping for for an hour in the car or getting an early dinner instead of being stuck in traffic. If you have a smart phone with a traffic app it can be useful for this. Or find the local news stations and listen to the traffic report.

Wear comfortable clothes/shoes. If you're a man take your wallet out of your back pocket. Nothing is worse than getting wallet ass after a few hours.

I'll second/third/whatever sunflower seeds. An empty water bottle works great for spitting the seeds. Or put down the window and spit them out. Even when it's cold I'll do it that way, the air feels great and is a nice change.

I always pack a little cooler with a couple apples and some water/gatorade. I'll toss a bottle or 2 of each in the freezer overnight and use them as ice packs to keep things cold. As they melt drink them. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated. This has the bonus effect of making you stop more often to go to the bathroom.

Speaking of bathroom, try not to pass more than 2 rest stops in a row. Even if you don't "have" to pee it's worth it to get out of the car and walk around for 5 minutes. If you're a little tired/weary a quick 10-15 minute nap in the parking lot can do amazing things.

Home made gorp is a great snack to have. Get a big piece of tupperware and mix peanuts/m&ms/reeses pieces/raisins/etc. Toss a bunch of packs of crackers in as well.

Make sure you have a really good pair of sunglasses. Double check your windshield wiper fluid levels.

Take great music and sing and dance.

Don't marry yourself to 10 hours on day one. If you're feeling good push on. It's nice to have as little as possible on the 2nd day.
posted by bowmaniac at 10:27 AM on February 13, 2012

Crank your favourite music up loud and sing along with it with all the gusto you can muster. It doesn't matter whether or not you can sing. I do this whenever I'm on the road for long periods and it helps keep me alert and happy. Stop and take photos. Stop at interesting-looking diners or cafes and load up on coffee. Break the monotony.
posted by Decani at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2012

Hattifattener, thank you for mentioning the energy drinks. That, to me, sounds like a really bad idea. A huge caffeine boost and the only body part you're really moving is your right foot. Best to go easy on the caffeine and maintain with water or fruit juice.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 10:32 AM on February 13, 2012

I love audiobooks but I've had the same problem as above when trying to concentrate on driving and the story at the same time. I've solved the problem by listening to books that I've read before and really loved. You get to re-live the story and often the narrators add to the characters quite nicely.
posted by catbehindthecouch at 4:48 PM on February 13, 2012

I've done a bunch of 8-15 hours/day cross country drives. I always like to stop every 2 or 3 hours (check the time when you leave a rest stop and figure out exactly when you're going to stop next -- seems to make it easier to eat up the miles and gives you concrete driving goals), indulge myself in lots of Mountain Dew, and sing along loudly to the radio. Also, buying vending machine kids' toys at rest stops makes every drive more fun!
posted by jabes at 4:59 PM on February 13, 2012

Response by poster: Just wanted to let you guys know that I made it all the way to Knoxville today. All the suggestions were wonderful! I got some audio books, sunflower seeds, and stopped every 1/2 tank of gas for a stretch and rest. I made 650 miles today and have only 500 to go tomorrow!

Thanks so much for all the awesome suggestions!
posted by tryniti at 8:12 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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