Devil went down to Georgia...and Louisiana...and Texas...and Arizona
October 5, 2006 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Planning a cross-country road trip--Florida to California: How do I do this?

I'm going to be driving my aunt's Jeep from Jacksonville, FL to Los Angeles, CA. For those of you playing along at home, yes, that is from one coast to the other, all along the southern border. Google Maps informs me that this is roughly 2,500 miles.

I've never done a road trip before. I will be traveling alone. (For the record, 23-yo woman, not very imposing.) I am okay with both of these. I will likely be traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday (leaving Nov. 16/17 and possibly taking up to Nov. 30). I will get the car fully serviced and tuned up before I go.

I want to spend a few days in Baton Rouge/New Orleans (as that's where I grew up). I'd also like to spend a night or two in Austin.

Aside from that....I'm flexible.

1) Tips for traveling long distances. What have you found absolutely invaluable to have in the car? Any food/snack recommendations? Great books on tape? Great music for road trips? Seat covers that will make my life glorious?

2) How many miles should I plan to cover each day? The longest trip I've done thus far has been Boston to NJ (about 300mi). I would guess that I'm comfortable traveling for six to eight hours a day; is this too ambitious/lax? I would also be happy to have a day where I drive for twelve hours and then spend a couple of days in a city at the end of that. In short...I'm super-flexible.

3) Any cities, sites, restaurants, oddities...etc. that you'd recommend I stop at along the way? Is one highway better than another for some reason? Anything to be aware of wrt local cops, etc.? In the northeast corridor I've never had any trouble doing 80 in a 65mph zone (just keeping up with traffic). Can I expect the same to be true in the South?

4) How would you recommend I handle hotels and accomodations? I'm not made of money, and I'm kind of tempted to hostel-hop my way across the US, as I think it would be a lot cooler than just doing a Comfort Inn in each city. How safe is this? Is this a good idea? (I've never been in hostels before.)

5) Safety along the way. Usual rules apply, obviously, no hitchhikers, no strangers, AAA membership and charged cell phone, regular check-in times with family...any other tips, tricks, or warnings. Insert Texas Chainsaw Massacre joke here.

6) I will have more or less all my worldly possessions (clothes, mostly) in a cloth-top Jeep with me. Nothing except my laptop is very valuable, but it would be nice if it all stayed in my possession. I could also, in theory, travel with a duffel or two and ship the rest to California. Any suggestions?

7) Theme suggestions? I'd love to blog this.

8) Catchall - anything else I'm not mentioning that I really should know about?

And hey, if any mefites live along that route and want to grab a beer when I swing through your town...
posted by fuzzbean to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've done Ft. Lauderdale< -->Boston and Ft. Lauderdale< -->Dallas numerous times (I really want to go all the way to California, and someday, drive to Alaska).

1. Bring enough music. If you like talk radio, research stations in each region so that you always know what station to tune to (I keep a map of NPR stations in my car for cross country drives)

2. I play mileage games during long trips. I estimate 10-12 hours of driving @ roughly 60 miles an hour *but I always wind up pushing it to 14-16 hours). Basically, stop when you feel like you need to stop - no later. No need to risk falling asleep.

3. From Jax, I assume you'll be taking I-10. If you go through Alexandria, LA stop at Eddie's Barbeque (if you like's the tastiest food on earth!). You'll also pass through some beautiful bayou in S. Louisiana.

You need to be careful on I-10 around (either Biloxi, MS or Mobile, AL..there's many vagrants that wander the median and occaisionally cross the highway...I've almost hit many people many times)

4. Hotels - I stayed away from the big cities, as they were much more expensive. I remember getting cheap motels in LA and TX for around $29/night.

As for safety, I've had few problems. Then again, I'm a big and kinda scary looking male. If you stick to the main highways and stops along there, I feel like you'll be safer.

You may want to find hotels better than what I mentioned above with regard to security of your stuff. I've never had a problem, but when you're have everything you own, the shit-fairy gets a boner.

Good luck, and I hope you have an awesome trip!
posted by zerokey at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2006

Do you have AAA? They offer great travel services for their members and I have used it numerous times. Basically, you give them your origin, destination and any places you want to stop at on the way. Then you wait for a little bit and a huge bag of stuff comes to you in the mail. Included in this bag is a detailed map (with your path highlighted) and directions to get you from place to place. They also send you big books for each state you will pass through on your trip. These books are full of tourism info, hotel info, restaurant info, etc. It is an awesome service that has made all of my road trips much more enjoyable. If you have AAA, I highly highly recommend it.
posted by chrisroberts at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2006

A few things I just remembered from my adventures (most of it is about Louisiana). I though it was all quirky fun (and would have made good blogging) - you may too:

Driving through S. LA, I passed several roadside stands that would sell Cajun Squirrel Dogs. I dare you to try one!

In LA (last time I was there), there are gambling machines everywhere. I remember one right next to a urinal that made for a rather interesting (and expensive) pee break.

Along the highway through AL, MS and LA, you'll often see shallow runs of water. These are full of crawdads! I stopped, fished some out with a hat, said hi and put them back. It's neat to know that little lobstery monsters live all along the road (and it would be pretty cool to blog about :)
posted by zerokey at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2006

Carry a good road atlas, but there are some places where and even more detailed map would be useful. Northern AZ is generally more interesting than southern AZ. Plan on driving through Sedona, it's very touristy but beautiful. Be aware that there may be snow at high elevations in November and weather can be mild or cold. Stay off the interstates when possible. Eat only at local non-chain restaurants.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2006

I did it the summer of 03. It took me 3.5 days and about a 12 pack of red bull. Take the 10 and keep chasing the sunset till you cant go any further.

Places to see: Austin (absolutely), Las Vegas (perhaps) and as many cheesy roadside stands/resturants as humanly possible.

I second the "music is a must" response. Be sure to bring songs that make you feel either A) nostalgic for the past or B) optomistic about the future. There's just something about a good road trip that demands introspection and self exploration/acceptance.

Enjoy the road and be kind to truckers.
posted by Meemer at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2006

I've taken i-10 from Santa Monica to Jacksonville [but on the same trip].

To me the worst stretch is the part just outside San Antonio until you get to the New Mexico border. It can get pretty boring and there's not a lot to keep you entertained. It is almost a whole day watching the mile markers slowly decrease. There aren't a lot of gas stations out there. One time back when gas was about $1/gallon I came across a place that sold gas for $2/gallon out in the middle of nowhere. The larger little towns [those with a Dairy Queen] will be better for a stop.

It is good to stop for a bathroom break, getting a bottle of water and to stretch your legs ever few hours. Don't push yourself to go farther than you can go. If you're getting tired and you see a motel, stop in even if it means you have to drive farther the next day.

Austin is a nice stop about 1/2 way. I'm not just saying that because I live there. It is a long drive from N.O to Austin. East of San Antonio, take highway 183 north to Austin and you can avoid most traffic headaches in S.A. and along I-35. You can connect back to I-10 by taking highway 290 west from Austin. It is more direct -- and again avoids the godforesaken i-35 corridor.

When I go on i-10 west from Austin I usually make it a point to get out of Texas on the first day drive to Las Cruces, NM. From there it can be a long day, but a single day to get you into LA the next night. Again, stop if you think you are pushing yourself. I'm not a proponent of pulling off to the side of the road for a nap, if I get tired and I'm absolutely out in the middle of nowhere, I get out and walk around for a while and it usually gives me the energy to get to the next town.

I usually book my motel/hotel reservations online or will call ahead. Some of the smaller towns will either sell out of the nicer places or when you walk up charge what the Four Seasons would since they know they'll be able to sell the room. I haven't done hostels, but wouldn't think you'd find any outside of the major cities along the way.

It will be a great experience. The time on the road is perfect for thinking. Bring books on tape, an iPod or CDs as you'll be starved for entertainment about 90% of the trip. I bought a satellite radio for my old car when I was a truck stop to help pass the time since I forgot to bring CDs with me.
posted by birdherder at 8:56 AM on October 5, 2006

I drove from Los Angeles to San Antonio (with a friend) - we took about a week and saw a lot of the sights. There's a bunch of great stuff in Arizon and NM, so don't feel like you have to push through and drive 600 mile days or anything. Carlsbad caverns (west of SA) is a must see - I also enjoyed staying in Albequerque and Santa Fe. The longest side-trip was to White Sands, which was definitely interesting. You can drop me an email if you're interested in a more detailed trip report.

On my trip, I didn't plan out all the accomodations ahead of time - I used AAA to make reservations at cheap motels about 2-3 days in advance.
posted by muddgirl at 9:08 AM on October 5, 2006

1) Buy a case of bottled water, and drink often. It's easy to get dehydrated, and soda will make you edgy/hyper/sleepy.

2) I've done 1000 miles a day, but not for any extended period of time. Stick with driving while it's light out. Stop when it starts to get dark.


4) Sleeping in the car is always an option...


6) Buy an incar power converter. You can pick them up at Walmart for $15, then you can use your laptop on breaks.

7) Take a digital camera. You are gauranteed to see some wacky stuff driving across the country.

8) Take a small suppy of basic automotive fluids, oil, coolant, windshield fluid, etc. Any one of them could run out when you're driving that far.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2006

What Meemer said about being kind to truckers.

When a truck is passing on your left, give them a double flash of your lights when they are clear to move over. They are really appreciative (the nice ones give you a double flash of their brake makes me stupidly happy :)
posted by zerokey at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2006

1. Chowhound is pretty essential for finding interesting places to eat along your route; we've gone cross-country four times now and it's been invaluable. If you want something you can carry in your car, Jane and Michael Stern's Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A. is very worthwhile.

2. If you want it to be fun, I think 8 hrs. driving a day is maximal, and 6 hrs. is flexible -- you want to have the freedom to stop at some utterly unexpected place and look around for an hour, and that's hard to do when you're getting sleepy and have 300 more miles to cover.

3. As others have said, West Texas is the long, boring part of this drive. If you've got time, a detour to Marfa or even Big Bend could be very worthwhile. (It's also a tough stretch for food -- Pepe's in Ozona is pretty good.)

4. You'll be going right through Tucson -- the Saguaro National Forest is like nothing else in the country, and is a must-see. If you've got more time and like the Cold War, the decommissioned nuclear missile silo in Green Valley, about 20 mi. south of Tucson, is very much worth the trip. White Sands, NM, another small detour, is another small miracle of nature you should see.

5. Your most direct route is going to hug the southern border pretty closely, taking you through Blythe, CA, maybe the bleakest interstate stop anywhere -- and you will stop there because there's a whole lot of nothing for many miles in either direction. If you go this route, you should stop and see Joshua Tree. But if you haven't seen the Grand Canyon before, then obviously you are going to keep going north from Phoenix and do Grand Canyon - Las Vegas - Death Valley and then loop back to LA from the north. You might even consider switching to a more northern route even earlier and doing OKCity, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Santa Fe....
posted by escabeche at 9:15 AM on October 5, 2006

Hostels in my experience are few and far between. However family-oriented campgrounds tend to be a great deal if you don't mind camping. They are generally cheaper than hotel rooms, and many have small cabins. A cheap propane stove will pay its self in terms of eating cheap, and many places will serve pancake breakfast and coffee. KOAs draw the families, semi-retired snowbirds and goldwingers. State Parks can be a toss-up in terms of crowd, but can be cheaper.

Also, you can shave a large chunk of your budget by eating only one meal a day at a restaraunt. For breakfast and lunch, hit groceries instead. Pack a cooler and bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.

Oh, and IME the SW is really vast and sparse compared to the East or Midwest. Don't play games with the gas guage.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:21 AM on October 5, 2006

Second KirkJobSluder -- the first time we did this, and were saving money, we carried cereal and rice milk for breakfast, and bread, cheese, mustard for sandwiches. (If it's just the one of you, cheese might be too perishable.)

Also, since you've got your laptop, you should know that almost all highway motels now have free high-speed internet, which is great for last-minute planning, morning weather forecasts, etc. Also many will have free breakfast (donuts, rolls, coffee) which saves you a bit.
posted by escabeche at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2006

Bring a hand held voice recorder to record some of your thoughts, what you see, experience, etc. See if you capture unique sounds of the places you travel through. Bonus points if it's a digital one, so you don't have to worry about running outta tapes, you can transfer to your laptop and then later upload (hint hint)

Bring a car adapter power plug for the laptop so it can recharge in the car.

Travel with a duffel bag, ship the rest to Cali. Why advertise you got stuff in the jeep?

Make up a couple of mix cds, with specific themes for certain moods. Like with old country and blues, an uptempo one

Bring a camera too, take lots of pictures.

If you have an an iPod or other such device, maybe get a device that will let you play it over your car stero.

A small cooler in the passenger seat, so you can have cold drinks (water's best) and maybe some fresh fruit. Nuts are good too.

A can of mace, on your key ring. Another in easy reach in the car, just in case.

Try camping in some state parks?

Hostels are cool, and you can meet a lot of people for some social interaction.

Theme: Have you ever been many of these placs before, like the cities you'll be stopping in? If not, how about a theme of discovery? or finding the "soul" of the cities you visit?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:28 AM on October 5, 2006

If you can rent a GPS with a full map set, do. GPS is an incredibly liberating way to drive -- you can get off the Interstate whenever you want, take whatever detours or alternative routes you need. They're also loaded with what is effectively a national yellow pages; makes it easy to find any kind of retail service, hotel, gas station and many other kinds of places of interest.
posted by MattD at 9:31 AM on October 5, 2006

I've stayed at a ton of hostels, both in the US and in Europe, Turkey and Morocco. They've always been really safe, friendly, and with a vibe ranging from sterile dormatory to hippy. I'm a 22 year old woman who's very unimposing too. Lock your bag though, and possibly chain it to a bed leg if you're worried.
posted by juliarothbort at 9:31 AM on October 5, 2006

You're going to have a blast! I've done [nearly] the same trip, being a roadtripping Jacksonvillian myself.

First, I highly recommend forgetting about hotels and find some good hostels and guesthouses. You meet other travelers who are almost always super-cool and want to go out exploring and having fun with you. You'll also hear about other good hostels further upstream. There a number of good resources for finding good hostels, I always used Boots 'N All . I advice against Hosteling International because they're not nearly as fun and community oriented as the locally owned hostels, but they are safe and clean.

Second, I'm a binge-and-purge traveller. I think it's better to do long, hard days with little stops and good local eating followed by a day or two in a good locale. Just my style. I think for the first half of your trip, you'll note there's not a lot to do between Jville and New Orleans anyway. Or between New Orleans and Austin.

You can do Jville to New Orleans in one day down I-10. Do it. I've driven it the whole way, though I've had company. It's a tedious drive between Jville and Mobile... endless pines. It's also hard to get to any of the panhandle beaches in short order. Biloxi isn't too far from the highway and makes a good hour or two pit stop if the city still exists.

The Garden District and the French Quarter were largely spared the horrors of Katrina. I've stayed at the St. Charles Guesthouse twice and highly recommend it. It's a haunted old orphanage built by Union slave labor :-) There's a really cool artist whole lives upstairs who my friends and I have had wine with up on his roof overlooking the city skyline.

There's a not-as-clean but really fun hostel called the India House. I've heard they have a pet alligator. I've stayed at India House II in DC and it was a blast.

I've also covered Austin-to-NO in one day, but that was with a girlfriend trading off. I can't recommend any hostels because everything was booked out when I was there. I highly recommend checking out some of the used CD stores there like El Cheapo records to stock up on good tunes.

I also did Austin to Truth or Consequences, NM in one drive. That was tough. We also stopped in walked around Juarez, Mexico [opposite El Paso] for a few hours. Not recommended. Bad vibes. Girls routinely disappear and the locals hate you.

I haven't gone further west than that, so I'll stop there other than to say the Truth or Consequences hostel was really cool. They have a jacuzzi fed by hot springs right along the banks of the Rio Grande. It's also a [long] daytrip away from Gila, NM which is absolutely incredible. It's not far away distance wise, but it's pretty tedious and slow mountain driving. There are a lot of lookouts where you can see the densely forested mountain highlands turn back into deserts. T & M is also a long day drive from Moab, Utah with Arches Nat'l Park [hands down the most beautiful place I've ever been]... but that's probably too far north for you.

Blog it!
posted by trinarian at 9:43 AM on October 5, 2006

1) A great book on tape is one you like. You know what you like and we don't. There are many available to illegally download from usenet.

2) 6--8 hours seems pretty weak. I would plan on at least 10--14 hours, or about 700-800 miles per day.

4) Drive until you're bored silly and then start looking for an offramp with a Super8 or Motel6 or place of that ilk, and that has someplace to eat dinner. There are lots of them and if one town is full, the next is unlikely to be. Cool doesn't matter. If you're not too tired to care about cool when you stop, you didn't drive long enough.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 AM on October 5, 2006

psst.. if you're looking to get a great taste of hostels before you set sail I'd recommend sleeping at the treehouse hostel in Brunswick, GA. It's an hour outside of Jacksonville. The setup is incredible, it's staffed by super-cool family, and the owner is super-swell guy. It might not be in the cards, but just throwin' it out there.
posted by trinarian at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2006

I've driven cross country ten or twelve times and my advice is probably going to be the same as other people's mostly. I have done it alone many times and find it's really mostly no big deal. It's good to have a cell phone and AAA in case you're in a jam, but I did not think about safety much at all when I was travelling, or wasn't forced to anyhow. On to your questions.

1. water bottle that you can refill. it's good to stay hydrated and enforced pee breaks keep you from getting road weary. I liked having a GPS that would tell me about how far I was from my next destination as well as how fast I was going etc. Road atlas is a must and I taped a big white piece of paper to it for making notes and keeping a small calendar while I was travelling. I sent postcards from the road and sometimes 'find a mailbox" became my little sub-project in an otherwise dull day of driving.

2. my experience was that any more than 800 miles of driving a day made me crazy, but I got a LOT of driving done if I started driving as soon as it was light, much less so if I started later because driving is more fun when there are things to look at. Taking this trip in the winter will give you less daylight. I think 400-500 in a reasonable long day with few other stops. 200-300 if you want to see something along the way.

3. I don't think cops are super different in different regions but if you're in a loaded up car with out of state plates you will be conspicuous so be sure to stay with traffic.

4. You may not want to, but you can sleep in rest areas in almost every state in the US but it may be way too cold for that. In most non-major cities you can find a super-8 on the side of the road for $30-50. If that's way outside your budget hostels are an option but it's sometimes harder to make plans in advance, they can close their doors early some places and they can be full of noisy young folks. Nothing wrong with that but if sleeping is your main aim, it might be tough.

5. No, you should be fine with what you have. Don't flirt with people in other cars if you're going to be in the same highway with them for the next 1000 miles. Have a kit in your trunk with fix a flat, fluids [oil, brake, wionshield] a tire gauge and the usual stuff, spare fuses, batteries, etc.

6. A car full of stuff parked outside a hotel is a bit of a target, esp if you have a cloth top Jeep. While I think your stuff will be fine because I'm sort of a hippie like that, you'll have more space [for sleeping?] and may be more comfy if you ship some stuff. Think $20-50 a box, is it worth peace of mind or do you have a tight budget?

7-8. Everyone seems to have this covered well. Camera, batteries, laptop. You can get wireless LOTS of places nowadays including a lot of public libraries, so keep them on your radar when you're looking to connect.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

sorry... one more thing:

the PERFECT way to wake up on long drives.....

ready for it?

here it is...

right now...

run. when you fill up on gas, sprint back and forth through the parking lot till you're out of breath. careful not to do it when you really should be sleeping, as I've had at least one great flip-n-fall spectacle somewhere south of the Tennessee border.

Pick up a copy of On The Road for inspiration. Just read the first half.
posted by trinarian at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2006

one more thing, and i swear this is it... thumb through a Lonely Planet or Frommer's or another backpacker oriented travel guide for a really good run-down of city life, odd/cool things nearby, and local resteraunts and cousine. You can find them at bookstores and, better yet, at the hostels. Many traveller's leave them behind for others to use.
posted by trinarian at 10:06 AM on October 5, 2006

How many miles should I plan to cover each day?

Since you can travel from the 16th to the 30th and a mad dash across the states in 3-4 days is possible, why not take it easy? Do mad dashs on the boring bits (west texas) and then for hte rest, just do...whatever. Drive 2-5 hours and spend the rest exploring. Find some dive local diner and spend 4hours there talking with locals and people. Hit it between the rush hours say between 9am and 11am and 2:30-5pm and you'llk get an earful from the waitress.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:07 AM on October 5, 2006

Everyone has great advice. I'd definitely second getting AAA coverage in case of emergency.

And though this should be obvious, get one of those road map almanacs that has all 50 states. They are invaluable, have campgrounds marked on them, and you can plot out good stopping points well in advance.

Also, speaking as someone who has fallen asleep behind the wheel, do not hesitate to pull into a rest stop and catch some sleep if you are feeling tired.
posted by gnutron at 10:35 AM on October 5, 2006

See also this thread.
posted by tkolar at 10:39 AM on October 5, 2006

I did a cross country (well, more big circle - Baton Rouge to Washington to Philly to NYC to Boston to Pittsburgh to Detroit to Denver to SF to LA to Austin to home) trip - 8000 miles in 18 days solo in the summer of 2003. I learned an awful lot about myself and driving, in that time.

1. Start small. Your first day's drive shouldn't be more than 500 miles. Get yourself acclamated to your car. Build up, you'll be trying for 1000 miles a day by the end of the trip - and making it with ease.

2. STOP WHEN YOU'RE TIRED. If your eyes start falling, get a hotel room. You do not want to wreck. Turn around if you just missed a place. Make up the time in the morning.

3. MapPoint, Streets and Trips, Street Atlas and GPS tracking. You want to know when you missed a turn. Make sure you get a current listing of hotels, roads, restaurants, etc. That will save you time and save your ass - it did mine when I missed a turn onto I-80 once.

4. AC powered ice chest. You want cold Jolt/Red Bull/whatever, water, powerbars, M&Ms (a NECESSITY), sandwiches, leftovers.

5. Hydrate. Also, listen to your body - when it says go stretch/wee/whatever, DO IT.

6. Get an FM modulator and buy the largest iPod you can afford. FILL IT UP. (or, if you have a disc-based mp3 player in your car, leave home with no less than 100 CD-Rs FULL) Audiobooks, podcasts, your album collection, your friend's album collection, anything you can get legally/illegally. Call your friends randomly and have them suggest albums for you (I did that, and rediscovered some great stuff that had been lurking in the back of my collection since high school - "Teenager of the Year," anyone?) Sing along to everything at the top of your lungs.

7. XM/Sirius. When you want completely random near Van Horn, TX at 2 AM, you'll thank me.

8. Be nice to the border patrol, but try not to let the dog scratch your paint job.

9. Scratching your head feels AWESOME.

10. When you reach a destination, unpack your car completely. No bags, no boxes, no cooler, no GPS, no stereo faceplate (if applicable). Make your vehicle less of a theft target.

11. Not all gas cards are accepted everywhere. You could probably do the Gulf South on a Chevron card, but don't be surprised if you don't see one for 500 miles. Or 3000.

12. Pill box. Have in your glove compartment at all times: Tylenol caplets. Tums. Imodium. Aspirin powder (trust me.) Stacker/Hydroxycut (take one around 6-8 PM). Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief.

13. Eat well, but don't eat too much. Sleepy stomach bad.

14. Drink well, but don't drink too much. Hangover driving is pretty miserable. (can be cured with Vitamin Water or in my experience, aforementioned Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief)

15. AC power inverter. Charge/run your laptop while driving.

16. Radar detector, but know which states they are illegal in. Don't speed too much, even if you get the urge in what appears to be an isolated area - this ain't Bull Run, and an extreme speed blowout will be costly in terms of your safety.

17. Dry run. Take a small trip in the car with what you'll need for this trip about a week or two before - figure out what you'll need, what you forgot, make sure your car is up for the task.

18. Start exercising now. Believe it or not, but you want to be in good shape for this trip - maybe not so much in terms of looks, but you want a little leeway with your body to do this. Also, short runs on your trip will be nice.

19. Make sure your cell plan will accomodate no roaming AND free nights and weekends. You don't want to come home with a $350 cell phone bill because you called your s/o every night and talked for 45 minutes.

20. Use common sense and be safe.

(oh yeah, totally in BTR. Couple of us MeFi folks here. We show you the good drinks.)
posted by kuperman at 10:39 AM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

When I drove from Texas to Seattle, I greatly enjoyed Bill Bryson's, "In a Sunburned Country", read by the author himself. He has an interesting accent and a lovely dry sense of humour and I learned all sorts of bizarre and interesting things about Australia. The audio is very long and perfect for a long drive.

As other people have noted, definitely bring a cooler and a good atlas. I opted for sleeping in the car, because I'm cheap and that worked out okay. The campgrounds sound like a better idea.

I like someone's suggestion of a tape recorder, because I dearly would have liked to take notes on things I saw.

One note: If you try to do too much siteseeing, it will take you *forever* to get where you're going. However, if you have the time and the money to dawdle, now is the time to see things. Just remember that any kind of a stop will slow you down far more than you think it will. That's a very long drive.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by digitalis at 10:40 AM on October 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

First, realize that a lot of the fun of road trips is the planning process. You're having your trip right now.... don't miss it!

I've driven across the country once as a driver, and many times as a passenger. Eight hours/day of driving is what I found myself most comfortable with, when not under any kind of time pressure.

The single most important part of traveling, to me: a GPS. I cannot easily tell you how useful and important the GPS was. Combined with software running on a laptop in the passenger seat, it told me precisely where I was at all times. I was never lost, even in the absolute middle of nowhere.

With a GPS, you may not be quite clear on how to get to your destination, but you will always know the exact direction and distance. You don't have to spend any time figuring out what road you're on, then trying to find it on a huge map. Instead, you just know. It's right there, all the time, updated constantly. It completely changes the experience of a long trip. You're never stressed not getting lost... there's no real worry that you're off track. It's just an ongoing puzzle to figure out how to get from here to there, and you always know precisely where here is.

I have said many times that the GPS is the biggest invention since electric lighting. The light bulb did away with the dark; the GPS does away with being lost.

Be a little careful, though, with the routing. Most map programs don't really understand the relative merits of different roads, and can send you down some very strange routes. When I was traveling across Georgia, it sent me straight through downtown Atlanta, on old and slow "highways" with stop lights. It had been great up to that point, but I guess the maps in Georgia suck or something. It ended up taking me probably four hours for a 90-minute trip, and man did I have have a headache afterward. To be fair, in the entire trip across country, Atlanta was the only spot where my GPS got it really wrong.... and even at that, it wasn't WRONG, it was just inefficient. And it sure saved my butt in Dallas/Ft Worth... their freeway system is extremely confusing, particularly at 10pm when tired. :) And it saved me many hours in Birmingham; the interstate had road construction and was backed up for HOURS. I was able to use the GPS, sitting stalled in traffic, to find an alternate route and go around the traffic jam. Zoomable, scrollable maps with a YOU ARE HERE sign are the best thing ever.

So to avoid possible problems, I'd suggest planning your route via several different sources; Google Maps, Mapquest, and Yahoo Maps are all good. Compare those with what your map program/GPS unit suggests, and make sure your route looks sane.

If you have a laptop already, I think the basic units without a display of their own are about $75 or $100. The software will probably be about another $50. If you need a unit with a display, they're quite a bit more expensive, but generally much more capable.
posted by Malor at 10:56 AM on October 5, 2006

Sigh. "never stressed ABOUT getting lost." Too much rewording, not enough proofreading.
posted by Malor at 11:00 AM on October 5, 2006

A couple pbservations, all from personal experience:
Get some books on tape that you know would take you a year to finish in print. Finnegan's Wake is NOT recommended, however ;-)

If you're a young woman by yourself, DON'T sleep in a rest area. Rest areas along I-10 and I-20, perhaps more so than other places, are extremely sketchy places, under the best of conditions.

Stop when your eyes get heavy, and don't try to drive through the night. It's not worth it, and you feel like crap when you get there.

New Orleans isn't like you remember, but it's a good time nonetheless. Magazine St. is currently where a lot of the non-FQ action is.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 1:29 PM on October 5, 2006

I second using the laptop as a music player, DC->AC converter is also a useful thing.

As far as places to sleep, you may want to check out couchsurfing, it's a nice site that lets you meet up with local people plan a route. It's a nice site because its got safety in mind, as people are verified with their credit card info to make sure they are who they say they are, and there is a community feedback system and users will vouch for people they've stayed with.
posted by gregschoen at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2006

I drove from Gainesville, FL --> Portland, OR and back this year. We took the southern route all the way to LA because it was January and neither I nor my boyfriend had ever driven in snow. Here were my impressions -
- Get a great atlas and pore over it before you leave. This way you'll have some sense of where you are in the vastness of the country. Knowing where you are in space is important while driving, especially for your mental state.
- Texas is really fucking big and boring and soul-crushing. Sorry Texans.
- If you're used to driving on Florida highways, the hills are going to be scary, especially at night. In fact, if
I were you, I would avoid night driving as much as possible.
- Pack your car the night before you leave Jax so you know whether you have enough room to lean your seat back and/or see out the rear view mirror.
- On the way back, we made hotel reservations before we left. It made it a lot easier having a destination rather than just driving til we were dead. I highly recommend this if you can do it.
- I wish I had known about Roadfood before I left. Lots of interesting/authentic places to eat along the way.
- Listening to books on tape, comedy routines and "This American Life shows helped take our minds off the tedium of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. has a free trial membership and an ok selection of books. We listened to a lot of Augusten Burroughs.
- One last thing - not to scare you, but this trip fucking sucked. I like to drive, but it was pretty scary driving for 4 days through unknown, sometimes very creepy places (i.e., Slidell LA and Wexler TX.) I'm pretty sensitive and whiny, though, so YMMV. (ha)
posted by tatiana wishbone at 4:04 PM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yes, hostels are definitely safe, fun & substantially cheaper than motels. The two best sites for finding hostels and hostel reviews are and
posted by allterrainbrain at 8:21 PM on October 5, 2006

As a Birminghamian (of AL, not MI), I tell people that my state and my town is worth visiting. Once. Unless you go along the south of the state, you should stop off in B'ham for the Civil Rights Museum and Dreamland ribs (Tuscaloosa would be a touch more genuine on the dreamland front, but B'ham is now just as good and more convienent for you). Don't forget to notice and admire Vulcan.

As far as roadtripping (I've done a decent bit, including AL to MT and another time VT - always solo), my suggestions:

1. Books on tape, for the love of goodness. They really are wonderful.

2. Do you have an mp3 player? If so, in addition to all the music, find a ton of podcasts and other interesting things to put on there. That stuff really can keep you awake because it satisfies your otherwise languishing mind. Here is a bunch of options you should consider.

3. A vacuum thermos for coffee works very well for me.

4. Singing loud and along with the song works very well.

5. Finally, my most recent aid: sunflower seeds. A big cheap bag. And I chew them until they are pulverized. It just keeps me awake and going. Like having something to do.

Peace and godspeed. I think this trip is a good idea, but for Pete's sake, good luck on those long stretches in W. Texas and beyond.
posted by gbinal at 7:33 AM on October 9, 2006

Be sure you have several good maps of Los Angeles and the surrounding area. I am an engineering student, a man of science, a skeptic, but the one encounter I had with the paranormal occured while being lost in LA. On a cross-country trip that was supposed to end in Santa Barbara, I got lost somewhere in the outskirts of LA at midnight or so. I was on top of a mountain, knew I was nearing the coast, and figured if I just kept driving downhill, I'd eventually hit the coast and be able to get my bearings. We drove for half an hour on a curvy mountain road, going downhill the entire time. The strange thing was, we somehow ended up where we started. We drove in a circle! My girlfriend, a physics major, will also attest to this. The laws of physics and topology get horribly mangled somewhere in Los Angeles county, and the result was driving around for 5+ hours trying to find the right interstate.

The same night I learned not to trust logic in Los Angeles county, I learned not to trust people in Los Angeles to give accurate directions. Point being, if you have to navigate LA for the first time, have your route planned out extensively.

Incidentally, the previous 3000 or so miles of the trip went off more or less without a hitch. And southern California is an incredible place in spite of LA's highways. Best of luck to you, and hope all goes well.
posted by SBMike at 7:35 PM on October 9, 2006

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