NY to LA roadtrip with a baby in early April...best route?
March 10, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

We (my husband, and 11 month old daughter) are moving cross country from Brooklyn to Los Angeles- and will be driving our new car cross country. We leave April 1st, have 10 days to get there, (our stuff is being shipped via movers and doesn't arrive for 10 days, so we need to take our time) and we are trying to figure out the best route to take that avoids severe weather as much as possible. Any ideas?

I would prefer to take the most southern route since it will pretty much be full on spring by then- and who doesn't love a little New Orleans/ Savannah Georgia action? However, my husband who is a born and bred yankee is hesitant to drive through the deep south- for many ridiculous reasons. Having grown up in the south, this makes me roll my eyes since it's asinine- but since he is doing ALL of the driving I am happy to let him have his say.

I am no longer nursing so we don't have to stop every 2 hours- but for the sanity of the baby we will make an effort to stop pretty frequently so she can stretch her legs. We were also thinking about trying to drive a bit at night so she can sleep in the car seat and we can explore areas by foot during the day.

So with all that said- anyone have recommendations for cool cities, routes, or scenic areas that we should check out?
posted by rubyeyo to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The middle route is best. Turn south in Western Pa. Head through WV til you hit Nashville (which is awesome) then take 40 the rest of the way. Some stretches have nothing (except pretty vistas) but others have great small towns and cool cities like Albuquerque and Memphis.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:17 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

@Potomac- How is the weather across the middle in April? Is there still a chance for snow/ blizzards in that area?

posted by rubyeyo at 7:39 AM on March 10, 2013

Here's a map with the predicted last freeze of the year for the US. That should give you an idea of where you're likely not to see any frost and where spring is happening. Snow would be even less likely than frost in those areas.

I'm a New England Yankee and I've enjoyed traveling cross country through a southern route.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:47 AM on March 10, 2013

Ten days? Hell, take 95 down to Jacksonville and then turn right onto 10. You'll be able to plan for six hours of wheel time a day and still pull over whenever the kid needs to go to the bathroom. Weather will be perfect, and you can kill a whole day in New Orleans.

However, fully a quarter of that trip will just be going across Texas, and some of it's pretty empty. I recommend stopping in San Antonio (or diverting up north to Austin) long enough to make that your night-time drive, because it's a long 7 hours to El Paso without much to recommend it in the daytime.
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 AM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

April across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois can be stormy and blustery as all hell, so I'd avoid taking the I-70 route through there, if you haven't already nixed it. Go south.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:22 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Family members made a similar trip around similar time. They took the southern route (I-40) through the mountains once out west. Some of the passes through the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas can be closed if you have bad timing and there's a storm. If you're not in a hurry and don't mind potentially being delayed/snowed in for a day or three, that's not a big deal, but if you want to keep a schedule, I'd recommend going south, at least from the Midwest onward.

I've driven across the US south recently (with Canadian plates, no less!), and encountered no "My Cousin Vinnie" type hassles. It helped that I had friends along the way to stay with. There are nice mefites along the route, too, and a fabulous (for us leftist or liberal types) hostel in Memphis that I stayed at (I don't know how tot-friendly that would be).

My recommendations would be:

1. Quick Route

Take I-78 West through Pennsylvania. It eventually switched to I-70. Follow this to St. Louis, then take I-44 southwest to Oklahoma City. Get on I-40 and follow it to LA.

2. Scenic/Interesting Route

Take I-81 down through the Appalachian Mountains to Knoxville, TN. Stop in at parks along the way, such as the Smoky Mountains. Get on I-40 at Knoxville. Stop in Memphis. Detour through Hot Springs, AK. I-40 roughly parallels the old Rt. 66, and you can take the older roads for the interesting parts, or get back on the new highway for the boring parts that you just want to get through quickly.

If you want to see Texas, take I-30 at Little Rock, AK. There's a section in the middle of the country which is interesting if you haven't seen flat, flat land and big sky before... but not for as long as it takes to drive through that section. There's kind of no way around that, unless you go very far out of your way, either north or south. If you do detour south, I hear that Austin is a cool city; I also have enjoyed San Antonio, and the Texas Hill Country is surprisingly pretty (surprising given stereotypes about Texas).

I haven't been through the desert in southern New Mexico or Arizona, but along I-40, Albequerque is a nice city, and just north of Albequerque is the Santa Fe National Forest and some other national parks, which is worth a visit. Heading in to Arizona, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks are (literally) just off I-40 as well. The Grand Canyon would be a do-able detour off of I-40. Entering California, you'll pass through the Mojave Desert as well. I-40 then brings you directly into LA.
posted by eviemath at 8:57 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ten days is plenty of time to get across country. I can be done in three if you're in a hurry. First time I drove was with my first hubby and our three-month-old daughter. We moved from Northern California to Florida, and we took our time with six days. Since then I've driven across country, by myself or with someone, more than five times and I usually take the middle route then go up or down as needed when I get near my destination. It's been my experience that with I-40 there's less of a chance of severe weather. I like eviemath's suggested route.
posted by patheral at 9:04 AM on March 10, 2013

I took the southern route once, driving from NYC to New Orleans and hitting the 10 freeway and taking that all the way across to LA. As a native New Yorker (and person of color) this was the most interesting route to take because of all those same concerns your husband mentions but nothing happened in that respect. El Paso is a hell of a drive. Remember to keep your gas tank full because the stations are spread out real far and also remember to bring sunscreen or the entire side of your face will be burnt red by the time you get to the Pacific.

Also previously.
posted by cazoo at 9:24 AM on March 10, 2013

Once you get to west Texas, NM, and AZ, you will be driving through desert. Make sure that you have plenty of water in your car, along with whatever your baby needs, as well as food. You never know when/if your car will break down and you don't want to be stuck in the desert without water.

Wal-Mart is your friend in this regard; plan ahead to determine which one you will stop at to stock up on your way west.
posted by dfriedman at 9:48 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mr. Adams and I drove from Michigan to Reno (and then, while we were there, to Las Vegas and parts of the edge of California) last July. We took a "northern" route, going through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada. Obviously, most of this route is out of your way and a good thing, too - there is a whole lot of nothing for big, long stretches in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. *We* enjoyed the vastness of the land and the scenery, but we didn't have a baby in the car. To return home we went the southern route - Arizona, New Mexico, northern Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan. I wanted to drive on Historic Route 66, and if you can work that into your trip I highly recommend it. Plenty of places to stop for gas or sundry supplies, and the scenery is very interesting - some of it is like a step back in time to the 1950s.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2013

Re I-40. It wasn't where I anticipated any trouble, but I got snowed in at Flagstaff, Arizona in mid-April on a trip quite a few years ago. They may have improved their weather since.
posted by uncaken at 10:20 AM on March 10, 2013

Tell your Yankee husband he will be perfectly safe down south. Remember, there are a lot of Southern military bases, and everyone down here/there are used to Yankees. ;-)

Tell him I said to take you the southernmost route because it truly will be the prettiest, and I promise people will be friendly. The only thing he will need to remember is tea comes iced and sweet unless requested otherwise. I live in NC but have lived in Pensacola and travelled elsewhere in the Deep South, and you would have tons to see and do at stops all along the way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:38 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Connecticut Yankee-born but longtime resident of Virginia here: tell your Yankee husband to stop watching 'Deliverance'! :D

eviemath has the two best major routes for you; the only theing I'd suggest varying is, trade off on at least some of the driving. Also, don't reserve hotels in advance: that just forces you to keep going when you might already be tired for the day, or else requires you to stop for the night when you might be ready to put in some more miles. Plus hotel reservations lock you in to a pre-set route, and mean you can't vary that route if there's a side trip you suddenly decide you want to make.
posted by easily confused at 2:25 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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