Sacramento to NYC by way of 40 hours of driving
September 22, 2013 11:57 PM   Subscribe

Driving cross country for the first time from Sacramento to my soon to be new home in NYC with my dog and my brother. Tips, advice, route help are all welcome, please.

As of now, planning on taking I-80 the entire way but based on this metafilter answer, are considering taking US-30 through Indiana/Ohio to avoid toll roads. Can anyone second that that is definitely the way to go? Also any other tips about the route?

We would like to make it in 4 days and we can't leave until about 2pm on Friday.

Other factor: My dog. I have a very cute Jack Russell that needs to be able to sleep with us in our hotel each night. The plan as of now is plotting the route so that we end for the night at a La Quinta, since they accept pets.

Any advice, info, and warnings are welcome. I've been spending the last month, packing, moving, job hunting and interviewing, and still have a lot to do before we leave, so I haven't had a chance to spend as much time on research as I might normally for a trip like this.

Bonus challenge: Have relatives in Memphis that want to meet up with us for a dinner along the way. They are willing to meet us wherever we are along the route (we are not trying to actually drive through Tennessee or go out of our way at all, we are focused on the most direct route). Where would be the best place to have them meet up with us?

Thank you in advance for your insight mefites, I'm always impressed with what you guys can do with questions like this.
posted by veronicacorningstone to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get the highest level of premium AAA membership possible.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:02 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: -Bring a universal car charger that can charge all your phones, laptop, iPad, etc.
-Load up with a lot of books on tape or movies.
-Get AAA before the trip. It's worth it, if you end up needing it.

-The Rockies may put a crimp in your plans if there is a snowstorm. You may have to wait to cross. Even though October is not the snowiest month, there was one when I tried to cross on a road trip in May one time.

-Not sure how adventurous you are, but Couchsurfing could be a lot more interesting than staying at La Quinta.
posted by cairdeas at 12:04 AM on September 23, 2013

I've driven Chicago to LA a couple of times. One time I drove from Chicago to San Francisco, and took the I-80. I have to admit it was the worst. Except for Park City, the most boring drive ever.
posted by phaedon at 12:28 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: Take your car to the shop you usually take it to, or if you haven't yet with this car a reputable shop for that brand in the area(if it's a subaru, for example, check out subaru messageboards like NASIOC. Stuff like that exists for every major brand and even specific models if it's a car that has a following. They'll have a "recommended mechanics in XYZ city" thread).

Tell them what you're planning on doing, and pay them to go through the whole thing with a fine tooth comb. Shouldn't be much more than $100 and will be fucking worth it.

If i was tight on cash and had to choose between that and AAA i'd do that every time. I'd rather just get there than have to deal with AAA dragging my ass to PodunkRepairDeluxe where you're stuck in a motel for 3 days while a part gets shipped in and then pay out the ass to get it fixed because where else are you gonna go?(and this exact scenario happened to a friend of mine undertaking a massive drive like this).

Do anything they recommend even if it's a bit early for it.

Personally though, i'd shell out for both. And i'd be assuming i could't afford the trip if i couldn't get the car checked out and get AAA+, and pay for any preventative maintenance they suggested.
posted by emptythought at 12:30 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just to add to the AAA chorus: another benefit of membership that might come in handy for you would be discounted hotel rates, including several chains besides La Quinta that will also accept pets. (There's a AAA book, Traveling With Your Pet, that includes really thorough listings of hotels across the US that accept pets, including rates and conditions. It might be worth checking it out of your library, if you can, even if you don't decide to join.)

My partner and I actually sat down with someone at our local AAA to talk about our route options when we moved cross country. It seems kind of archaic, given how quickly you can find maps and hotel listings on your own online, but the folks who do this (at least at our branch) thought of weather concerns (heat, high winds, etc.) that hadn't crossed our minds and helped us figure out where to make our overnight stops.

It's not clear to me why you are hoping to avoid I-80 on this trip. I've taken it through Ohio and Indiana (traveling between the Twin Cities and the East Coast) many times. Yeah, it's boring, and it can be a bit of a pain to enter and exit. But that's because it's really the only game in town if you're trying to get through the northern part of those states as quickly as possible, and it's a direct shot through Pennsylvania to NYC. Unless you're willing to swing much further south than you would need to otherwise, I'd just pick a really good audiobook, etc. for that leg of the trip.
posted by Austenite at 1:13 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: Road trip with your bro! There's no time like this to make some memories. Two silly suggestions (both of which really work):

1) Cook on your car engine.
2) Do a handstand against your car at every stop, and hold it as long as your can. Apart from laughing your asses off it will seriously boost your circulation and energy after the hours of sitting.

Seriously, make some memories.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:21 AM on September 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

OK, some general rules:

- If your car needs a general service within the next 3 months, get it done now. Having a mechanical problem on the road won't be life and death, but it will be highly inconvenient. If you don't get your car serviced, at a minimum check your fluid levels, oil, and the state of your tires, including your spare tire. Check you have the wherewithal to change your own tire.

- Bring water - I'd take a minimum of 10 litres. If you don't use it, brilliant. If you do, you can use it for emergency purposes for yourself, your radiator, windshield washer, dog etc.

- Bring fuel. Not a lot, but it will give you piece of mind when you are driving in the event you miss a fuel stop or don't like what you see when you stop.

- Bring a sheet of tarpaulin. Lots of uses, but the biggest and best one is covering stuff in your vehicle when you're not in it. I would recommend you use motels, park near your room and unless you feel the area is really safe or your room is especially unsafe, unload your vehicle each night. Also - bring a blanket or two - useful in an emergency but also really useful to stop stuff moving about in your car.

- Plan your stops ahead of the journey, at least by what town you're aiming for each day. You ask about where your Memphis relatives can meet you. You can't do this until you plan your route.

- Don't drive at night. It's a long haul, it's not a race, the risks go up - not just in terms of your driving, but also that of other drivers and, more importantly, the risk from wildlife running across your path. Get up early and leave early so you don't have to drive late.

The Google says this is a 40 hour drive on the I-80 so you're going to be pushed in terms of detours and sightseeing if you want to do it in 4 days. If it were, me, that would translate into leaving at 7am each morning and aiming to wrap up by 5pm, by which point you will be knackered. This also buffers in some additional time if you need it - arriving somewhere at 6pm is not the end of the world. By contrast, if you muck about and don't leave until 9am your days are going to feel very long indeed.

In an ideal world I'd avoid the interstate where possible in the back country and stick to it around cities - but you need to research this because it doesn't really look feasible. For example, avoiding the I-80 from Reno to Cheyenne takes 13 hours on the I-80 and 16 hours off it. In short - unless there is something really special to merit the detour or you can find more time to do the trip I'd stick to the quickest route.

I'm no expert on the geography of the US, but your Memphis relatives are going to have a long old drive to meet you if you stick to the I-80. If you don't stick to the I-80, then somewhere like Indianapolis would be a compromise for your route (it adds about two hours total to you but is a 7 hour drive for the relatives) and them not having to drive more than 500 miles to meet you. Indianapolis is 11 hours from NYC, in theory, so that could be your third overnight stop. Going via Louisville means adding 3 hours in total to your journey, is 11 hours from NYC and is 5h30 from Memphis. Any further south than that and you're teeing yourself up for a 13 hour onward journey to NYC (e.g. Nashville - 3 hrs from Memphis, but will mean a long next day for you, and adds 5h overall to your 40 hour journey).
posted by MuffinMan at 2:05 AM on September 23, 2013

I've driven between Chicago and CA several times and taken both 80 and 66. As far as I can tell, there is no way that doesn't pass through hours and hours of flat nothingness. Stop often, nap, do jumping jacks, don't drink too much coffee, and lots of books on tape and radio shows. And hey... most of the drive will be beautiful! Drive carefully and listen to the weather reports.

Nthing car check up and AAA.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:10 AM on September 23, 2013

Drink lots of water, and wear a skirt so you can pee behind the car if it comes to that. Staying hydrated is key to sustained brain function. So is peeing! (Few things are more distracting, but stopping is good for you anyway.)
posted by jrobin276 at 2:15 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, I forgot - tire pressures. Check them now. Check them before you leave to make sure you don't have a slow puncture. Make sure you pump them up as per manufacturer guidelines for a loaded vehicle.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:22 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're leaving in the near future, you shouldn't have trouble with weather in the mountains.

Do get a tune-up before going. I've only used my roadside assistance once on long trips (locked keys in car) though, so AAA may depend on your budget, age of vehicle, and comfort with risk. I'd ask the advice of the reputable mechanic who inspects your vehicle for the tune-up.

Nevada and western Utah along I-80 don't have much by way of gas stops. I'd keep that in mind when planning gas station breaks. Wyoming and western Nebraska are slightly better, but still a ways between towns.

The I-80 around Chicago question depends a bit on both how much you want to pay in tolls and on time of day you'll be passing through. You could take I-74 from Davenport, IA and go through the middle of Illinois and Indiana. Still takes you through some cities with more traffic than you'll have encountered from Tahoe to the Mississippi River, but not Chicago traffic.

Your Memphis people could meet you in Urbana-Champaign, IL, if they don't mind several hours drive for a brief visit. You'd have to go much farther out of your way (adding something like 10+ hours to your driving time) to get closer to Memphis.

In Indianapolis, you could then pick up I-70 and follow it the rest of the way to NYC. This would avoid both the worst of tolls and of traffic.

I second the recommendation to bring a couple gallons of water. Also, a cooler and easy, healthy travel food (eg. cereal, sandwich fixings). Some places along the above route that have restaurants that are more similar to the type one might find in coastal cities include: Nevada City, Ca, Tahoe of course, Laramie, WY (a surprisingly cute little town), Iowa City, Urbana, IL, one particular neighborhood of Indianapolis that's not very convenient to the highway, and then more places as you approach the East Coast - college towns (that aren't large cities where you'll waste a bunch of time in city driving off the highway) tend to have more coastal-type restaurant options. If you like meat and potatoes, though, any diner should do you.
posted by eviemath at 3:57 AM on September 23, 2013

Books on Tape are great. If you don't mind a weird selection, Cracker Barrel has a thing where you can pick them up at one location and drop them off in another.

Also, Cracker Barrel is pretty good for value, they have some decent food offerings in addition to calorie, fat and carb laden options. You can buy vintage candy in their store or just random crap if you're into that.

Clean bathrooms if nothing else. They have a mobile AP and a fun thing that will take your route and show you where they are. It seems that you won't see a Cracker Barrel until NE, but hey, after that, you're golden.

Don't let your gas tank get below 1/4 tank.

Check out your La Quinta stops with TripAdvisor, and FYI, Motel 6 also allows pets.

I recommend this with kids, but a Jack Russel is a type of kid, so run around at rest stops every couple of hours. It's good for you, it's great for him. Let kids pet him, if he's friendly, disregard if he's bitey.

Drink lots and lots of water. (This will necessitate rest stops.)

While the stuff isn't so great for your tire, it can be a life saver, get a can of Fix-A-Flat.

Nthing AAA. Really, it's awesome, you get discounts on hotels too! It may pay for itself!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: As for meeting relatives, you might consider I70 and meet them in St. Louis. I70 and I80 are both boring across the plains, but at least I70 goes through the heart of the Rockies.

I've driven from St. Louis to New Hampshire, straight with no radio; Sac to Denver; and denver to St Louis, at various times. Kansas is terribly long, but even it can't stack up to the flatness of Illinois and Indiana. I swear you could make a lake out of those two states with a three-foot levee.

Here's some other advice on road trips I've given on AskMe.

Wear wool socks when you're not wearing flip-flops.
posted by notsnot at 5:51 AM on September 23, 2013

Lots of great advice upthread. Here's my $0.02:

Carry a good pocket knife or multi-tool.

Get an extra copy of your car key. Take a zip tie and attach it to the underside of your car, out of sight. This covers your ass in case you lock yourself out of your car in the middle of nowhere (which I have done, more than once.) Lots of driving, lots of pit stops, tiredness all increase the likelihood of such a brain fart.
posted by gnutron at 6:06 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've travelled with my pet twice, and I've found to be pretty accurate in terms of which hotels accept pets and which don't. Check it out if you'd like to stay somewhere other than a La Quinta—and to be honest, limiting yourself to La Quintas is going to make your life more difficult when you're in Nebraska and the La Quinta locations are hundreds of miles apart.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:15 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done Sacramento to MA and back a few times taking various routes, and recommend starting on 80 then switching to the 70 wherever Google maps tells you to. The toll road through Indiana is hellaciously boring, so that helps you avoid it. Nebraska gets a bad rap but I kind of liked it. Wyoming is really beautiful, and the Midwest isn't as flat as you would think.

We like to bring peanut butter, jam, and bread to make sandwiches. It's faster and healthier than stopping. I don't know about La Quinta, but if you can stop at a place that offers a free breakfast that saves time too, plus you can pocket some fresh fruit for later. Stop at Runzas in Nebraska and eat a runza.

We travelled with cats and lots of places will let you have pets. Howard Johnson's are reliably nice, as are Best Westerns. Motel 6 allows pets but I have found that if you spend a little more money you have a much more pleasant experience, plus breakfast. When you're spending so much time in the car a nice place to stay at night is very important. 10 hours a day in the car is a long time. You are going to be sore and exhausted by the end of it.

Bring a paper road atlas. It helps you get a big picture look at where you're going, plus you can see if there are any interesting sites along the way.

We didn't bother with books on tape, but we did load up with podcasts. You Look Nice Today is still a road trip favorite. It also can be interesting to just listen to the radio.

Good luck! Driving across the country is a great experience.
posted by apricot at 6:26 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: I've done Cleveland to Sacramento, and also Cleveland to New York a few times.

It's boring. Brace yourself. Four days is totally doable, imo--I would, when I was younger and stupider, to it in two by driving until I was nearly running off the road with tiredness, then napping for a few hours. If I were doing the drive now, I'd probably do it over three days.

I've always taken 80 for this. The tolls in Ohio and Indiana aren't that bad--I suspect that you'd spend as much on gas as you'd save by avoiding the tolls. I want to say that you're looking at about fifteen bucks for Ohio. That said, brace yourself for the PA tolls--there's a $5 entry fee to enter the state on the turnpike, after which you get nickle and dimed to death.

When you're in the long, flat states (Wyoming, Utah, etc) get gas every time you see a gas station and have less than half a tank. No exceptions. Coasting into the station on fumes is no fun, and many of the gas stations close very, very early. Also, though I know this is by no means a universal thing, I was harassed by cops in Salt Lake City and would advise against stopping there last in the evening if you can. The city seems to empty out really early--gas stations close up, and the cops are weirdly suspicious of anyone driving around.

Wear sweatpants and slippers to drive in. It sounds stupid, but it makes sitting in one place for that long a lot more comfortable. No one likes having their pants button digging into their belly fat, and driving that long (plus the crap one eats when driving that long, I suppose,) often means you swell up a bit, in my experience.

Many EconoLodges allow pets, and I've stayed in some shockingly nice ones. I'd add them to your list of potential places to stay.
posted by MeghanC at 6:37 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: I don't know why you would consider using US-30. It will burn up time and fuel. Yeah, it's more "scenic", but that means there are large sections of local traffic you have to go through. Just stay on I-80.
posted by chengjih at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've never driven clear across the country, but I do know that I-70 does not go to to NYC - it goes to Baltimore, which is about 3.5 hours south in good traffic - and that I-80 does not have tolls in PA, while 70/76 does.

To avoid having to take I-95 from Baltimore to NYC, which is often a bad idea, and to avoid the tolls in PA, if you're gonna take I-70, you can switch over to I-71 in Columbus, and then get I-80 east around Cleveland. You'll blow straight through PA without tolls or big cities.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:22 AM on September 23, 2013

I had really good experiences at La Quintas when we drove cross-country last year. One was even nice enough to notice that we had dogs and put us on the first floor by the side entrance so it was easy for us to take them outside.
posted by radioamy at 9:55 AM on September 23, 2013

Best answer: I've driven from CA to Manhatten and environs and back about 600 times. My choice would be to drop down through the SJV, cross the mountain at Bakersfield, then take I-40 to Memhis, then take I81 to I78, to Manhatten.

This seems to add about 200 miles to the I80 route, but if you break your trip down to, say 600-mile days, you can see that it doesn't add any appreciable travel days to your destination. Also, you can adjust your travel time to put you in Memphis in time to spend the night and have a good visit with your relatives.

As noted above, your doggie will appreciate regular rest stops, so a 600-mile day would be pretty much all a single driver would like to do on a trip this long. I've done this other ways, but that makes for a frantic and tiresome trip. Anyhow, you can plan one--or maybe two--fuel stops per day, maybe two food stops, and maybe a rest area every two or three hours. This works out to about three hours of breaks plus your driving time each day. Six hundred miles asks for about 8 hours and some change per day. After an 11-hour day, a relaxing evening in a pet-friendly motel will get you charged up for the next day's work. Leave early, quit early, and take any slack out of the end of the day, not the middle. Avoid the temptation to get another hundred miles in before you stop for the night. You will perhaps have another chance in the future to see how quickly you can get across the country in a car....just don't take the doggie with you then, on account of how he'll hate it.

Anyhow, this route will keep you off all Toll Roads until you get to New York. You can vector with the I80 route just before you cross the George Washington Bridge at the river, or else you can cross over through Jersey City, at the Holland Tunnel.

The I80 route is scenic enough, but I got tired of Nebraska really fast. I didn't like what I had to do after Chicago, though. My trips were in a big truck, so I have a bias for unfettered routes, rather than have to frequently navigate big-city interchanges, usually during commuter madness.

The best tactic (either way you go) is to drive at a steady speed, and avoid placing your vehicle in traffic pockets. You can do this by finding an open place in the traffic stream and setting your cruise control to track the group in front of you, as long as they are keeping a steady pace. Let the go-fasters go by you. You will find that your gas mileage will be optimal, and the wear and tear on your energy will be much less. Also, you'll get the benefit of, now and then, watching the go-faster that blew your doors off near Albuquerque get his speeding permit validated by the NMSP as you cruise by at your steady pace.

I posit that this trip will be a bit more of an adventure than you suspect. Take lots of pictures, and let us know how it turned out. Seeing America this way is a perspective-enhancing experience.
posted by mule98J at 10:00 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was going to second notsnot and suggest switching to I-70 at some point and meeting your Memphis relatives in St. Louis - it's about a 4.5 hour drive for them, and probably the closest you can get without really going too far out of your way. I've driven St. Louis to Boston before, and you can take I-70 to PA, at which point you have several options for getting to NYC.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:02 AM on September 23, 2013

If you go I-70, don't stop around Garden City, KS. It's smelly; and all the hotels were booked up by industry groups while I was passing through there. Combination of feed lots and gas extraction fields. Though I was on 50, not the interstate, and it was fine by Dodge City, so that may be a fairly localized phenomenon. Speaking of which: not-quite-interstate highways in the west (between the Rockies and the Mississippi) may well be limited access for much of their length and not pass directly through towns (which would necessitate slowing from 70mph down to 45 or 25 every 20 or 30 minutes). Get a good road map that would indicate which of these highways are limited access, if that's what you'd prefer. They are, in general (Garden City excepted) prettier than the interstates. East of the MIssissippi, the secondary highways will be a bit slower, and much slower once you get to the Appalachians. If speed is your goal, definitely stick to the interstates.

On the I-70 route, you will encounter traffic around the following cities if you happen to pass through them at rush hour: Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis. I found much less city-rush-hour traffic on I-80, west of the MIssissippi. But trying to avoid cities at rush hour in general is a good plan. (I-80 through Chicago in the middle of the night is very different than I-80 through Chicago between 7am and 8pm, for example.)

(And yeah, it is I-78 that cuts up to NYC - my bad. But you could cut back up I-71 from Columbus to get to I-80 for the last section through PA and NY, as folks above have suggested.)
posted by eviemath at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2013

Get an extra copy of your car key. Take a zip tie and attach it to the underside of your car, out of sight.

GOLD right here, i will never own a car that doesn't have a key hidden somewhere like this.

However, there is a product specifically designed for this, these.

Look at how cheap that is. The magnet is VERY strong. Tuck it up in a frame rail/beam/jack support under the door area/etc. I put mine in my engine compartment, but that's because i can pop my hood without getting in to the cabin. Make sure it's on a good piece of solid metal.

That key box has saved my ass countless times, and my Dads ass several times in my childhood. And put it RIGHT BACK as soon as you get in no matter how much of a hurry you're in. I once had to walk for like an hour to go get keys because the magnet box hadn't been put back in it's proper place.
posted by emptythought at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much to all of you! I marked a bunch of best answers, and then started realizing almost all of you mentioned something very useful, so much obliged.

We've decided to do I-80 all the way, thanks to those of you that let me know going US-30 might be slightly less bad but overall not worth it time and money wise. I have a pretty high tolerance for boring road trips, so its not worth going out of my way for slightly less bad when my main goal is to make good time. We may still consider I-70.

Many thanks for the suggestions about tune ups and AAA! My husband is a AAA member, and because of you he added me as a associate and we jacked it up to premium. My car is getting its rotors repaired and tires balanced as we speak.

Really appreciate the pet suggestions as well as the reminder to make memories!

Also, we decided to just try to get together with the Memphis relatives at a later date, since one or both parties would have to lose so much time to get together. I briefly considered the 1-40 through Memphis option but 6 additional hours is just more than we want to lose. But THANK YOU @mule98J for giving us that option.

We plan to load up on music and podcast, and I plan to take lots of pictures!

And a special thanks for the tips about dainty lady pee stops... I'm either wearing a skirt or bringing one with me that I can throw on in an emergency. ;)

This has been an especially helpful thread. Much gratitude all around!
posted by veronicacorningstone at 2:20 PM on September 24, 2013

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