Solo road trip advice, Virginia to Las Vegas - 4 days, full car
May 29, 2016 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Virginia to Las Vegas. I-64 to I-70 to I-15. Four days on the road by myself. Any advice?

I'm starting a new job in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, and I'll be driving out there soon, and I'm not really sure how I should handle things. I've always wanted to drive cross-country, but not in this scenario. I will be alone, in a car packed full of stuff I need to live in LV, and I won't have time to stop and smell many roses. I'd really like to finish on the fourth day.

My tentative schedule is to drive 12ish hours to St. Louis, stop for the night, drive 12ish hours to Denver, stop for the night, and then do the last 12 hours split across two days so I can at least take some time to admire the scenery or take some short walks or something in Colorado and Utah. I've been to Vegas before, but I've never been in any of the other states I will be driving through, so I'd love some advice. I'll be making 1-2 stops per day, I figure I can stop for 2-3 hours total on the first days, and 6-8 on the last two days.

I'd like a few stops that include stretching my legs, seeing the sights, but I don't want to get super dirty or sweaty and then get back in the car for 5 hours. I would love recommendations for good places to stop at (St. Louis/Kansas barbecue? Biggest X Ever? World's best donuts? Awesome town to stop for the night?). I've checked these threads, but am hoping for more current wisdom from mefi.
posted by skewed to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
I've done a lot of driving between western NC and the southwest and I'd take I-40 all the way to the Nevada line and then take the 75mi jog to Las Vegas. You can drop down from VA to catch I-40 and then go through NC TN AR with great scenery, into OK (which has Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper AND the Tom Mix Museum in Bartlesville north of Tulsa), into pink-tinged northern New Mexico with a short jaunt north of Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and into northern Arizona with nearby Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Canyon de Chelly. Hit the state line and follow the signs to Las Vegas. That's the way I'd do it. Check for lots of useful information. Enjoy your trip.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:54 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your car is full of stuff, it may be a target for thieves. Get a car cover for it, or if you're stopping at a hotel with a valet, pay to have them keep it close to keep an eye on it, or unpack anything visible at every overnight stop.

Get AAA.

Have a ton of water with you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:37 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

What RB said about thieves. Keep it in mind when you sightsee, too. Bring anything expensive (laptops, tablets, cameras, phone) into the hotel for the night with you, and if you sightsee you also keep your expensive stuff on you.
posted by clone boulevard at 2:52 PM on May 29, 2016

If it is financially feasible, you should reduce the amount of stuff in your car and have it shipped. Take only the immediately necessary in the car, so that you can not stress about your stuff every time you go into a rest area, hotel, tourist attraction, restaurant, etc.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

So the stuff in my car is just clothes, towels, pillows and a backpack with electronics, so I'm not super worried about thieves.

As for the route, I've spent a good deal of time in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, but have never been to Utah or Colorado, so I'm planning to take the more northerly route unless there is something about the route that would make it markedly worse. Google says they are essentially the same mileage with the northerly route taking 36 hours vs. the southerly route only 35. Close enough on that account.
posted by skewed at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2016

Perhaps you should rethink the one or two stops per day part of your strategy. I've always found it better to take more frequent, shorter stops during long days of driving. It breaks things up better and gives your body a chance to relax and unmold itself from the driver's seat. It's also a good mental break.
posted by sardonyx at 6:59 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you can take more than four days to complete your trip? If you're driving by yourself, that's going to be a brutal slog, with no real time to sightsee - and there's so much natural beauty out the way you're going that to pass it by would be a real shame.

If you can spare ANY extra time (ideally, you would add AT LEAST 2-3 days to see the small sampling of gorgeousness I'm about to list), I'd recommend getting off of 70 around Limon and taking 50 to Colorado Springs, where you can visit Garden of the Gods and Pike's Peak. Continue on 50 west to Black Canyon of the Gunnison and end up in Grand Junction, where you can stop at Colorado National Monument. From there, rejoin 70 and continue as planned. This part of the country is stunning, and if you've never visited before, I can't recommend enough that you take a few days to enjoy it.

But if speed and not getting sweaty are truly paramount concerns, you may be disappointed, as it is going to be inescapably, brutally hot, and each of these scenic wonders demands more than a cursory walk-through. Also, beware the elevation change if you are blasting straight through from VA to CO in the time frame you mentioned above, particularly if you do decide to drive to the top of Pike's Peak; you may find yourself dealing with a bit of altitude sickness.
posted by the thought-fox at 7:30 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I-70 between KC and Denver is brutally boring. Like couldn't keep my eyes open boring. Plan accordingly.
posted by LoveHam at 9:08 PM on May 29, 2016

As LoveHam says, the interstates can be boring in the wide, flat parts. The second tier, state highways once you get west of the Mississippi have the same speed limit as the interstates between towns, though, so are not too slow (they have less traffic out west), and are considerably more interesting. It can be a nice way to get some feel for the country you're traveling through without stopping a bunch. Except Garden City, Kansas. If you value your sense of smell, or have any empathy for farm animals, don't go near that hellhole.

I like taking a little cooler and some basic food prep tools so I can eat better on long road trips.

Staying hydrated is important for staying alert.

Depending on your musical interests, large sections of the drive may have no radio stations of interest.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast/tornado watches in the section between the Mississippi River and the Rockies.

I've mostly camped on long road trips with full car. It's one way to avoid the hotel parking lot theft concern. You can get a national parks pass, or there are some very nice (and often less busy) state park campgrounds. You can stay on BLM land for free, too, but there's no facilities.

I didn't leave myself enough time for Utah. It's incredible, and just so different from any other terrain I've seen. But living in Las Vegas you'll be able to take weekend trips there, so maybe spend more time in the Rockies in Colorado? There's a state park in eastern-ish/central Kansas with the last remaining swath of original tall grass prairie. Nebraska has dinosaurs in the southwestern corner, I hear. College towns that aren't big cities are good places to stop for lunch or dinner - varied options, and not so much time spent navigating local traffic.
posted by eviemath at 10:04 PM on May 29, 2016

People will break into your car just to see what you have. I know whereof I speak. Do you really want to mess around with replacing a window?

You can do the trip in 4 days OR you can see things. Both isn't really an option.

40 is great because it's flat, with tons of places to stop. I might not do a more northern route because of altitude and long stretches of not much of anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:35 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

The trip is primarily utilitarian, not a vacation. Just wondering how to best spend the part of my day that I won't be driving. Probably will end up taking more short breaks than just 1-2 long ones. Hadn't considered how hot it will be out west. I won't be treating this like the only time I will see Colorado/Utah/whatever, so I'm fine skipping anything that takes too much time.
posted by skewed at 8:57 AM on May 30, 2016

I've driven both the I-70 and I-40 routes dozens of times. I used the I-70 route only when I needed to embark from or end up in northern cities; I usually avoided I-70 in the winter when possible. The best part iof I-70 is between Denver and Las Vegas. The scenery, high desert, is stunning. But I-70 between Denver and Kansas City is the most boring, tedious stretch of freeway driving I've ever had to endure--and that includes the time I stupidly decided to go through Texarkana to New Mexico via southern Texas. Scenery on I-70 does pick up a bit once you get to Missouri, but further west is a mind numbing series of straight roads and a horizon that's flat for a million miles. I get nosebleed just thinking about it.

I-40 is generally high plains or desert (once you get past Oklahoma City). I happen to like high deserts and desert mountains, and I love mountain driving, so that explains my prejudice in routes. The drive through Tennessee is scenic, if a bit monotonous: tree-line boulevard, gentle rolling hills. If you are in the mood, stop at Bucksnort (not far south of Nashville) for some great biscuits and gravy.

If you were to set your trip for about 550 miles per day (This works out to about 8 hours driving time + a little time for short breaks, lunch and fuel stops. Try to fuel where you eat lunch), you would leave yourself ample time at the end of the day to walk about the area you decide to stop for the night, have a leisurely dinner, and get a good night's rest. Of course, this would put you into Las Vegas in the middle of the 5th day. When you get ahead of schedule, take your slack out of the end of the day, not during your lunch break. I agree with the upthread comment that you ought to press for another day's travel time. You schedule is doable in 4 days, but unless you are carrying a fresh heart for a transplant, it ain't worth it

I like to start the day with a good breakfast, but eat only a light lunch. After the first two or three hours I like to hit a rest area for about 15 minutes. I like to take another 15 minute break in the mid-afternoon, too. If you factor fuel stops (1/2 hr) and lunch (1/2 hour), this gives you about 1 1/2 hours off the road each day. That translates into, at most, 80 or 90 miles driving time, so you can see how factoring your breaks is a good idea. Most passenger cars don't quite get a 500-mile range per tank, so you should figure a fuel stop in the middle of the day to top off the tank, and the other one at the end of the day. You can use the base number of 65 mph to estimate your distances between breaks but not for the entire day. Best is to fill up the tank during the lunch break, before you eat.

Another way to look at it, is that each 10 mph you average gets you 80 miles further down the road, but only if you are able to keep it up for 8 hours. So don't worry too much about trying to weave in and out of slower packs of autos to get a better slot in traffic. Put yourself between the clusters of cars rather than travel in a pack of go-fasters. You'll be far less drained at the end of each if you don't make a contest of it. I like to travel between two clusters of traffic on the open road, and when I'm negotiating bypasses in large cities, in the outside or next to outside lanes. When you see the go-fasters coming up behind you, stay right and let them do their thing. At the end of the day your constant speed will put you further down the road and you'l be less frazzled.

If you have any experience towing a trailer, you might find it useful to rent the smallest U-haul to carry your stuff, and leave the interior of your car less cluttered. Keep valuable stuff with you in your motel. This would probably require you to keep your max speed to 55 mph in some states.
posted by mule98J at 11:25 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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