Driving from Dallas to Boston for a move -- any advice / pointers?
May 19, 2014 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Boston and driving up there with my car and belongings. While the adventurous part of me would want to extend the duration of the trip to make stops and check out scenery, the practical part of me wants to get this 23 - 27 hour trip done ASAP. I want to go with the latter.

I've never gone on such an extended drive and I'm wondering what I should prepare in advance for any emergencies.

I'm getting my car inspected and oil changed tomorrow and my mechanic says I should stock some engine oil in my car, just in case.

Also wondering if I should store a couple gallons of gas? I drive a gas guzzling car with a V10 engine so I have less room for error between gas fill-ups. But I'd imagine I'll have proper access to many, many gas stations along the way.

I'm also looking to get this done over two days by making two 12-hour trips and sleeping in my car somewhere safe overnight (thinking a motel parking lot or something, though this does feel a bit sketchy. FWIW, I have darkly tinted windows so I don't think people will see me very well.).

Any reactions / thoughts / suggestions?

posted by 6spd to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Two twelve hour days of driving without someone to trade off or even keep you occupied is brutal. Add to that the unconformable sleeping arrangement in the car, you're asking for human error, not car troubles.

Plan on three days, stretch a little longer if you feel up to it. No parking lot will welcome you staying overnight, and many businesses may call the cops. Maybe try a airbnb listing if you're averse to a hotel cost.

Don't try to bring gas with you. Full stop. It isn't safe, just don't let your tank run much under half. There is plenty of gas on all major highways.
posted by shinynewnick at 5:05 PM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

We drove New Jersey (Princeton) to Austin in three days and our second night stop was in Dallas (we have family there). Seconding the advice to take it to three days minimum.
posted by immlass at 5:31 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think two twelve hours days is very, very optimistic. That kind of driving always takes longer than you think. Plus, two twelve hour days is going to be exhausting. I'd figure three days, at least.

Also, sleeping in cars sucks. Especially cars full of all your crap so there's no space for you. Especially after a twelve hour drive. Find a fifty dollar motel, camp, couch surf. Sleeping in your car will be miserable, and plus it's surprisingly hard to find a place where no-one is knocking on your window telling you that you can't sleep there. (I have a station wagon that is super comfortable to sleep in, but this aspect is such a hassle that I don't)

Bring food if you're looking to save money. Fruit, pbj, a big jar of iced coffee, hard boiled eggs are all good options. (Don't know if you are, judging by the sleeping in car bit)

Don't worry about gas, there will be plenty. Bring cash for the tollways.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:33 PM on May 19, 2014

Oh, check to make sure your spare tire is in good shape and you've got a jack, wrench, etc.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:36 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have solo driven two twelve-hour days and I have also solo driven one seventeen-hour day, one fifteen-hour day, and one fourteen-hour day (the latter ones not sequentially).

Here's my advice:

Leave as early in the morning as you can while still leaving well rested and prepared so you maximize daylight. Driving in the dark, especially when tired and in unfamiliar terrain, is not fun.

When packing your car, do not block your back windshield at all, put your belongings in the trunk and the backseat and if necessary in the front passenger footwell, and reserve the majority of the front passenger seat for your purse/snacks/drinks/phone/GPS or electronic gear/etc.

Have a back pillow or mesh backrest for your car seat. Bring easily snackable food that can be safely eaten with one hand. Crackers, already destemmed grapes/berries/sliced fruit, popcorn, precut PB&J squares, nuts, veggies, etc. Have a moist paper towel available in a cup holder for hand cleaning. Bring water and also a drinkable protein-y and possibly caffeinated option (green tea smoothie, for instance). When the tank gets to ~1/4 full or when you have to pee, find a gas station and fill up/go to the restroom/walk around to stretch your legs. Bring CDs/podcasts/etc that you will genuinely want to listen to. If you're going to talk on the phone, bring a hands-free headset.

I have never brought oil/gas along. I wouldn't advise you to do so as there's truly no need. I do have my car checked out a couple weeks before departure, which you did, so that's all the car prep I do.

I personally would not choose to sleep in my car even if it wasn't partially/fully filled with belongings. It sounds really unpleasant and I already get kind of sleepy for about two hours in the afternoon even when well rested; I would not risk falling asleep while driving or being so tired I had dulled reaction times for the displeasure of a cramped, non-temperature-regulated, uncomfortable night's sleep and a possible savings of ~$45. If you're really trying to save money, you can figure out what town you want to stop in and call all the hotels/motels to find out their rates so you can pick one that's around $35/night.

On my two-day trip, I stayed in a hotel the first night and had given myself advanced permission to stay in a hotel the second, too, if I didn't feel like completing the drive or if the weather acted up. I do not want to do unsafe things because it's dark and I'm sleepy and not clearheaded so I just give myself total permission in advance to use motels whenever I become deeply unhappy or it feels unsafe.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:43 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to contradict a bit of the above advice - bring one can of motor oil, and plenty of water. The reason: your car can't go very far without either, and if you get an unexpected leak, this can be a lifesaver.
Do you have AAA? If not, consider a membership - they saved my bacon outside Lordsburg, NM when I forgot to gas up. Also, you get free maps, and well-reviewed motel recommendations.
Do take three days, do not sleep in your car - you won't rest well, and in some areas it's not that safe.
Think of it as an adventure, instead of a chore, and take a bit more time - it's an amazing country, and if you can slow down a tiny bit, you'll see amazing things.
Good luck.
posted by dbmcd at 6:04 PM on May 19, 2014

I would change the above to MOST major highways. There are places a bit further into the west where gas stations become few and far between. But the Dallas to Boston run should be fine.

Sleep in a hotel. Even a Motel 6 is better rest than your car, and out in the middle of the country, they aren't expensive (especially next to gas). The only place that you are likely to be able to sleep for a sustained period without being chased off or totally surrounded by big rigs is a highway rest area, and your safety there is inversely proportional to how restful a rest area is - at best it is neither restful nor especially safe.

Your enemy on this trip is fatigue - enormous, mind bending fatigue, especially if you are traveling alone, so rest is absolutely essential.

Don't bring your own food, and avoid sugars and carbs. Your mind will be clearest when your stomach is relatively empty and you aren't full of pretzels. I've done it both ways, and low carb, low volume eating is a clear winner. Sitting down even in an awful fast food place is a good opportunity to step away from the road to clear your mind. Coffee is necessary, but should be tightly limited - you don't want the jitters. You don't need to be stopping to pee. And coffee can only do so much to help you - spread it out.

Make it three days. I've done longer trips than this in two, but I knew exactly what to expect, and it still wasn't safe. In particular, driving at night during a long trip is incredibly hard and can be remarkably dangerous. The point where your eyes can only be kept focused and directed at the road starts abruptly, with little warning, and can only be usefully remedied by a nights sleep.

I suggest making hotel reservations during a 5-6pm dinner for a location you can reach by nightfall (ie 90-150 miles away). By that time you will have a good idea how quickly you are moving, and you won't have to struggle with it at the point in the day when your resources are the most depleted.

Don't bring gas - that way lies madness - you're liable to be stuck with a reeking car, as gas cans aren't generally good for this purpose. And you aren't likely to be carrying enough gas to ensure that you can get out of trouble.
posted by wotsac at 6:08 PM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

No matter what the maps or navigator say, avoid the George Washington bridge.
posted by Dashy at 6:29 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow...we did New Orleans to San Francisco in 3 days with two people switching, and slept in motels, and it was pretty tough. If you're on your own I'd definitely do three days and pay for somewhere to sleep.
posted by radioamy at 7:10 PM on May 19, 2014

I didn't notice before that 23-24 hours was your low estimate; all of my trips have taken at or longer than the google maps/gps time estimates so if you think it may take 27 hours then I'd say it could take 30 easily or even more if you hit bad weather. My 17 hour trip was supposed to be a 14 hour trip but I hit about 8 hours of thunderstorms. I would therefore personally break this into three days or at least give yourself full authority to make that call at about 8pm the first day of driving.

(Also if you want to stop to have sit-down lunch/dinners, I would also hazard to say even if it is truly a 23 hour drive you'd need to do it in three days. Each time you pull off the highway, find a restaurant, stop, order, wait for the food to be cooked, eat, possibly go to the restroom, go back out to your car, stop to get gas because you're already off the highway, resettle in, find the on-ramp to the highway, and get back out there you've killed an hour to an hour and a half. That's why I bring all my food. But if you're looking at a probable 27-30 hour drive anyway, I'd just say screw it and do three days and stop for meals occasionally - but still bring a lot of snacks - so you're not miserable.)
posted by vegartanipla at 7:27 PM on May 19, 2014

I've done barely-stopping drive-as-much-as-you-can-sleep-in-car trips, often, and I would not try to drive that amount in two days unless I was sharing the driving with someone or unless someone was on their deathbed. My experience was after you pass about ten hours of driving you're sort of useless and should stop for the night. This can be mitigated somewhat by taking long walk-around types of breaks in the middle of the day but not by much. And it's mitigated the other direction by weather and crappy city traffic.


- Yes to oil and water and a AAA card. No to gasoline.
- Yes to wake up as early as you can, get as much driving done during the daylight as possible
- Bring things so you can charge laptop/phones/mp3 players in the car. Worth it.
- Yelp can find decent places to eat. Even if you don't find the right place, you can find where the food places generally are.
- TripAdvisor or HotelCoupons can find you a $40 motel. I never made reservations ahead of time but once it gets past 10-11 pm sometimes teeny (cheap) motels are closed up tight.
- I am a short female person and I have slept in my car at rest stops and hotel parking lots. The closer you get to the Northeast the less you are allowed to sleep at rest stops, check signs.
- Stay hydrated. This has the double benefit of making you stop to pee which is good also.
- Be okay pulling over even on the side of the highway if you feel like you're getting sleepy or stupor-ish. It's easy to convince yourself that you're fine but don't do it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you've never gone on such an extended drive, I would consider dawdling and building some float time into your schedule. You might feel terrific day one driving twelve hours, and hit the wall day two - just as you're getting into the more densely populated parts of the Northeast and really need your focus.

Even if you're a night person, start driving in the morning, even if it means waiting half a day longer to start off on the right foot. All kinds of issues can crop up at night. Here in Texas, I feel that the wacko road behavior is much greater as the lights dim.

Eight hours a day max is safer for someone driving solo, and staying somewhere overnight rather than using rest areas to sleep overnight. Having said that, I am much, much happier on long trips - I do one or two a year - limiting my time to about 4 hours a day, and then having some time to enjoy a single tourist site and dinner. You're at a transition point, but still without the responsibilities that we gain as we get older - pets, spouses, houses, day jobs etc -- all the more reason to enjoy the fleeting excitements of a road trip.

Rent a Motel 6 or use Yelp/Tripadvisor to find decent motels. You'll be more relaxed if you give yourself more time, you'll sleep better - and if you sleep better, you'll be less likely to get into accidents. I do a long drive at least once a year and find that planning a couple of stops where I can sleep and get a meal, ahead of time, really helps. You could stop in Memphis or Nashville for the first night, then Roanoke the next night.

Have a first aid kit. Plan to take frequent breaks to stretch. Bring a variety of things to listen to.

If you're going to drive through a major city around rush hour (you pretty much have to drive through Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville, as well as greater New York) bear in mind that it's the most dangerous time to drive, especially in the evening. You can listen to XM-Sirius traffic which covers every region of the US repeatedly (one month guest memberships are free, which can be streamed to a phone with a data plan), pull over to a Starbucks and check live Google maps on a laptop or tablet, or just make a note of the radio stations in a region you expect to drive through.

Use cruise control for long periods of time, between major cities and bottlenecks - you'd think everyone knows to do that already, but my first big drive, Portland to LA, I didn't.
posted by mitschlag at 8:49 AM on May 20, 2014

« Older Recipe help: thai egg roll dipping sauce   |   What propaganda cartoon was playing in San Diego... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.