Who talked me into this madness?
May 15, 2006 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Roadtrip Filter: I need advice on how to kill 72 hours in a mini-van, among other things. We leave on Friday.

So I am planning a roadtrip to Banff, Alberta from Toronto, Ontario and we leave this Friday (the 19th). We return on the 29th, so its only a 10 day trip.

I need advice on the following:

- We'd like to go through the USA on the way there (at least as far as North Dakota), but my friends have no passports. Is this a problem? I know technically its allowed, but we'll be 3 males in our early 20s, crossing at about midnight, in a rented mini-van, only one of us will have a passport (me), and we're claiming to be going to Banff (which is in the country we are exitting).

- What will there be to see in the prairie provinces on the drive back? Is there a good place to dump the bodies of bad travelling companions?

- How plausible is it for us to run a 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan for almost 36 hours straight each way? What if I start plugging in devices to the cigarette adapters (ie. XBOX, a tv, etc..)
Also, How plausible will it be for us, three young men to drive for almost 36 hours straight (in shifts)?

- Finally, and possibly most importantly, how do I kill 72 hours of downtime in a mini-van? There is a built in DVD player, and monitor, but I figure I can only watch so many DVDs when Jack Bauer's head is the size of an eraser.

Sorry for the disorganization of this post. I need lots of advice, so let me know your thoughts, please.
posted by kevin_2864212 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
- I go to school in Boston, and my Michigander girlfriend hasn't had any problems getting between Canada and the US. (She drives west through the wide part of New York and then crosses into Canada before hitting Michigan.) She says crossing the border is no big deal, and they never have any problems. YMMV, of course, since your situation is a bit more suspicious. Still, since the US isn't your destination, even if you don't make it through, you'll be okay (right?).

- This question I can't answer, I'm an East Coaster.

- I think you'll want to take breaks -- not just for the car, but for your own sake. No one wants to be in a car for that long. When you're going to change shifts, pull over to a rest stop, get some coffee or something, and kill an hour or two before heading back out.

- It sounds like you have some ideas already -- XBox and television. If you have an MP3 or CD player, that'll be good too. There are probably other electronic diversions you can come up with, but the best suggestion I have is to sleep. Even if you're the kind of person who can't sleep in cars, try. You know how you're not aware of time passing when you're asleep? On a trip this long, you'll like that. :)
posted by danb at 11:05 AM on May 15, 2006

For the final part, how about:

- Music (obvious)
- Conversation
- iSpy
- Prayer
- Write a song
- Think about what you would do if money was no object
- Discuss one thing you can change for the better this year
- Colleague to write down the top ten things you want to achieve in life
- Listen to a recorded book
- Take photos to record the journey
- Sing (even blokes can do this when tired!)
- Tell jokes

Hope some of this may help.
posted by pettins at 11:06 AM on May 15, 2006

Hmm, a basic check list:

-iPod(if available) with videos as much as music. With connector for battery.

-Books, looking at the horizon once in a while.

-Games, trivial pursuit. Question games work well. Deck of cards.

Apart from that, Ive driven more than 12 hours a day for 5 days switching with a friend. Its very doable, just switch every 3 hours or so to relax your back. Get some krispy kremes and enjoy the scenery.
But yeah, its a long time to be cooped up inside a vehicle. If you can actually plugin an xbox, that would be brilliant. Setup some goals or just try to pass a certain level of a game or whatever, to keep determination going and morale up =). Its gonna be a long ride.

Dont know what kinds of friends or interest you have. But having a couple of interesting topics to talk about can stir up a conversation and make the time fly by pretty fast. Philosophy, religion, politics, football... anything than can cause violence inside a moving vehicle is good... just dont kill each other.

Also, comedy cd's have worked well for me. Get a good comedian's cd like Dane Cook or something, proceed to have a laugh.

Alright, good luck!
posted by theholotrope at 11:15 AM on May 15, 2006

Listen to 'on the road', play the 'movie game', and play 'seat warmer tag'.
posted by o0dano0o at 11:25 AM on May 15, 2006

you will have no trouble with your car, especially since its a new rental and should therefore be in top shape. I ran a 1992 camry nonstop for around that time without a hiccup. and I doubt you'll have trouble driving in shifts for that length of time, especially since there's three of you. just do four hour shifts, and that's only three shifts each.

I agree that crossing the border without passports is fine - make sure everyone in your party has a driver's license, or, preferably, a birth certificate. 'A bunch of guys on a road trip' is probably a fairily common occurance at the border and you are not likely to raise suspicion.

Heading west: i haven't been across the Canadian prairies but I've heard they're pretty dull; you'll want to burn through them as fast as you can. but it sounds like you're planning on doing that anyway. if you're staying in canada all the way back the road around lake superior is breathtaking but very long. you might want to cut around the south shore and cross at sault ste marie.

basically there are two ways to drive across the country. one: take several days or even weeks, take scenic byways, stop at monuments, national parks, major cities (eg mount rushmore, devil's tower, yellowstone national park). two: blitz it as fast as you can, which sounds like what you'll be forced to do given your timetable. in the latter case it doesn't really matter what there is to see along the way; it's nice if it's pretty, but you're just going to burn through it anyway, and it might even be pitch-black out when you're there. all you're going to do is cruise.

on such long trips I have found that ridiculous distances don't seem so bad. driving, say, 500km sounds bad, but really that's just an afternoon, five hours. (or four.) you go for two hours, you stop and stretch and eat, maybe switch drivers, and go for another two, stop and get gas, and so on. time just sort of passes. make your stops frequent but very brief.

but if you find conversation doesn't spring up and you need something to focus on to keep yourself awake, try the radio. NPR in the states, CBC in canada; both usually have good talk programs. or, you could bring a book on tape. my friend once brought an entire audio course, philosophy 101, from a well-known university. (he found it on bittorrent I think). we found that time passed much faster when our minds were engaged. Interestingly, audio books and talk shows and the like were much better than music; talk is more in the foreground while music can be in the background.

and don't forget there will always be something to see out the window, even if its just endless wheat fields and farms. if youre a daydreamer like me you might find this to be entertainement enough. oh, and don't forget the other cars you'll pass along the way.

trips like this are daunting if you've never done them before, but I think you have nothing to worry about and I'm sure you'll have a great time.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:30 AM on May 15, 2006

he found it on bittorrent I think

I'd imagine that your local library will also have a pretty good selection of audiobooks that you could bring along. Since you're in a car, no worries about space as in a plane...
posted by whatzit at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2006

Contrary to popular belief, there is scenery and stuff to do on the Prairies. The Qu'appelle valley in Saskatchewan is really beautiful, as are the Cypress Hills. Drive the backroads in SK and AB -- just about as fast, really, and you can read the names on the mailboxes and view the cows up close. The Alberta Badlands are amazing, and you can stop at maybe the best dinosaur museum in the world in Drumheller. Also, head-smashed-in buffalo jump interpretive centre. Drive Banff-Jasper highway, but turn east at Saskatchewan Crossing, then just past Lake Abraham you can take forestry roads down past Ram Falls (beautiful) to Canmore, or break out onto the flats into Mennonite country. Get some easy-read history books, like Pierre Berton on building the CPR.

Oh, and with the American loop, consider the Michigan Upper Peninsula and driving the South Shore of Lake Superior.

Basically, I am saying, don't treat it as "time to kill", but immerse yourself in the country you are passing over. Why watch TV when travelling over some of the most beautiful land in the world?
posted by Rumple at 11:43 AM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

PS, I am pretty sure you need a driver's licence AND a birth certificate to cross into US if you don't have a passport.
posted by Rumple at 11:45 AM on May 15, 2006

You may already know this, but you're not always allowed to drive rented vehicles over the border. You should definitely double-check to see if this is allowed.
posted by GuyZero at 11:46 AM on May 15, 2006

good ideas whatzit and rumple. I should say my road trips have all been in the states but I took smaller highways whenever possible and tended to enjoy those roads much more.

rumple: I and a few of my friends (we're all Canadians) successfully crossed into the US with just a driver's license not too long ago (last may). so you can probably get away with it. but yes, birth certificates are definitely a good idea just in case. and a passport will soon become mandatory, but not yet.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:49 AM on May 15, 2006

Why seek distraction? Think of it as an opportunity to get some of your own thoughts in order.

Bring only a notebook and a pen. And earplugs if they'll let you.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2006

Until 1/1/07, the legal requirement for Canadians to enter from Canada is driver's license and birth certificate.

Are you and your traveling companions all Canadian citizens?

Have you confirmed with the rental company that you can take the minivan into the US?

How plausible will it be for us, three young men to drive for almost 36 hours straight (in shifts)?

Easy. It's only 12 hours each. This should not be in question -- only particularly wussy old ladies wouldn't be able to do 36 hours with 3 drivers.

BUT, be prepared to have two people awake from midnight to 8am -- you'll want someone else awake to talk to the driver and keep him alert.

Killing time is easy: bring a book and a booklight. Also, sleep.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2006

I'll go against rumple.

If you were taking a trip to the prairies to see the prairies, that would be one thing. If this were a trip to really get in touch with your Canadian identity and see what the country has to offer, that would be one thing. I'm sure you can find worthwhile places to stop in the Canadian prairies, or the US prairies, or, really, anywhere in the world, maybe even Ohio. But from what you've described, this trip isn't about any of those things.

So just burn through the great lakes and prairies as fast as possible and get yourself to the mountains that this trip is about, and don't feel guilty about it.

Personally, I might go straight through from Toronto to Jackson Hole WY, drive up through Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone, and then go up to Banff through the Rockies. Devil's Tower is also on the way if you take I-90 west.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:10 PM on May 15, 2006

Good stand-up comedy CDs and trivia games always help to pass the time. My friends and I enjoy making up stupid games on the spot, and making small bets about anything and everything. If you bet small enough amounts and just keep making up new bets, everyone pretty much breaks even in the end, and it provides endless entertainment, especially to people as competitive as us.

On one long drive, some of my friends made up a game called The Great American Sweat-Out: roll up the windows and turn on the heat full blast. The first person to roll down a window, open a door, or turn down the heat loses.

Yes, we are idiots. But we have great road trips.
posted by TunnelArmr at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2006

Bring a video camera. Make a docu/mocku-mentary out of the trip. You'll find all sorts of things to stop and film, even in the middle of nowhere. It'll break up the time for you and the car, and it'll be fun to put together once the trip is over.
posted by nyterrant at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2006

Bring extra fuses(It's easy to blow out the cigarette lighter circuit, especially with an inverter), some road flares, a can of fix-a-flat, and a good celphone - The only thing worse than a breakdown is a breakdown in North Dakota at 3am.
posted by Orb2069 at 1:03 PM on May 15, 2006

Maybe to take advantage of the DVD player, bring along some comedy concerts? Or maybe some movies that don't have a lot of physical action, like some mysteries or courtroom drama.

If you're going for a book on tape, I recommend The Alienist. My sister and I listened to it on a roadtrip between Albuquerque and Portland once, and there's nothing like some good scary scenes to keep you awake for the night driving.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:05 PM on May 15, 2006

1. Make sure you're familiar with your vehicles procedure for changing a tire before you leave. Finding out you're missing something in the middle of nowhere kinda sucks.

2. Since you're taking point A-to-point-B trip do not stop unless absolutely necessary. Bathroom breaks are obviously a requirement but do not stop for any other reason than bathroom, gas or food. It has been my experience that with more than 2 people, a 15 minute quick stop turns into a 40 minute stop. If you add all of this wasted time you end with a travel time of 20 hours instead of 15 and so on. Bottom line, avoid quick stops!

Regarding your questions:

I hate to tell this to you, but chances are you won't be let into US without proper ID. Especially if it's 3 males supposedly going to the other side of the country*. Have a back up plan.

You shouldn't have any problems running appliances off the cigarette adapter or a converter of some sort. As far as I know there's nothing to see in the praries but the horizon.. Although I've never been there :)

Driving 36 hours straight is going to be a drag. If I had to do it, I'd grab a tent and crash somewhere at a rest stop half way through. I have driven Vancouver to San Francisco with my buds. The drive was ~16 hours and it was a drag. Mind you, I drove the whole way. In terms of entertainment, your best bet is movies and music. A book if you can handle reading on the road. Buncha snacks, water, and a pillow for sleeping. I think one thing that'd provide much entertainment would be internet access. GPRS isn't cheap though.

*: me and a couple of friends took a drive to San Francisco last summer. The border guard was mighty suspicious of us going there for 5 days when 2 of those would be spent driving. Upon reentry to Canada, the canadian border guard was suspicious as well.
posted by aeighty at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2006

- bring a crapload of DVDs
- get a handheld gaming device (psp, nintendo DS, etc) preferably one that allows multiplayer gaming.
- get an ounce of pot to help pass the time
- read a book
posted by deeman at 2:23 PM on May 15, 2006

ROU -- I take your point though the OP does ask for places to see on the prairies on the way back.

The 36 hours each way is a bit of a stretch, in any case. Its about a 3600 km trip, so averaging 100 km/hour. Thats not that easy to do, especially since the shortest km route is over Lake Superior. I'd give it 24 hours straight from Banff to Thunder Bay, and another 24 hrs from Thunder Bay to Toronto. So, one way or another, you've got 4 days out of 10 on the road, and why arrive at Banff completely knackered? Arrive a day later fresher, and having seen something on the way.

Back on topic, I'd reccommend a pair of binoculars, a cooler and a variety of tupperware, a decent road atlas so you can see where the smaller roads and pokey towns are. A single burner propane stove and a stovetop expresso pot can give you a fabulous, quick coffee anywhere, anytime (unless you like Tim Horton's). Listen to the local radio stations as you pass through -- don't take all your entertainment with you. Lots of pillows for in-car napping, also earplugs, eyeshades. Wet-ones and paper towels to freshen up en route. A frisbee or equivalent to loosen up at rest stops. A booklight/reading light for night-time. Your own squeegee to clean the windshield when you stop for some reason other than gas. A star atlas for night driving on the prairies. A big book of dirty limericks. Enumerate the "big things" greeting you at many towns: Hanna and the giant geese, Vegreville and the giant Easter egg, Drumheller and the giant T-Rex, etc.

Also, maybe get or borrow a set of the Historical Atlas of Canada I, II, III, or its smaller sibling the single volume Historical Atlas of Canada: a fantastic road companion to see the landscape as it was first known and how it changed, to travel further in an hour than people did in two weeks. Tastes differ, but I think that can be a really stimulating, absorbing way to travel even if one's in a hurry, and makes time pass quickly if thats the ultimate goal.
posted by Rumple at 2:46 PM on May 15, 2006

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