June 17, 2007 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Tips and advice for a long-distance move by car?

In about two weeks, I'm moving from suburban Maryland to Phoenix, Arizona for grad school. After looking into the prices for moving truck rentals and professional moving, I've decided that I'll load all my heavy/high-value items (computers, cameras, books, personal papers, etc) into my car, ship light stuff (clothing, mainly) via fedex freight and abandon the bulky stuff (mattress, office chair, ridiculously large CRT monitor, etc) in my father's basement to be yardsaled in the future. Buying new furniture of the low-end student-grade seems more cost-effective than paying to move my current posessions.

My car is old and somewhat beat-up looking -- a 1990 Camry with some visible rust damage, even though the internals are in remarkably good condition -- but I worry that a car packed to the brim with stuff, even stuff covered with blankets and other cheap-looking stuff, still screams 'break a window and take me!' when parked in a cheap motel parking lot somewhere in middle America. Also, I'm a bit worried about the health of electronics left in a hot car. My really valuable gear (laptop, DSLR, etc) will live in my backpack and stay in the hotel/motel with me overnight but I'm worried about heat damage to what's left in my car. I'm also not sure where I should hide/store my personal documents (passport, etc) -- in a firesafe in the trunk or in my backpack, etc?

Beyond that, any other tips for long-distance driving would be appreciated. I've done plenty of one-day long-haul trips, but this'll be my first solo multi-day cross-country adventure.
posted by Alterscape to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a money belt for passport/wads of cash. keep it with you, strapped on or around your neck. Park your car in well lit, easily viewable areas when at hotels. Get up at/before dawn and start driving before it gets hot.
posted by edgeways at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2007

I have done the cross country cheap move and it went pretty well (other than taking a few wrong turns occasionally). I mostly camped along the way so I was near my vehicle at all times but this made the trip seem longer and definitely stinkier. I would second the idea of getting up early, less traffic and less heat. I would also plan the trip to avoid big cities (this was where I always managed to make a wrong turn) if you can.
posted by estronaut at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2007

preventative maintenance for the car is a must and get AAA it is well worth it if you should break down somewhere.
posted by estronaut at 1:19 PM on June 17, 2007

I did this exact thing in November 2005, Boston to San Francisco.

First, I think your approach is a wise one, assuming you want to keep your car. In retrospect, I wish I had sold mine before I moved, but at the time I was very very attached to it. Since then, it has cost me an incredible amount in repairs, but hindsight is 20/20. If you're not worried about that sort of thing, then divesting yourself of possessions and moving the important stuff in your car is definitely simple and smart, I think.

As for the security of your belongings, I had the same concerns. All I can tell you is that I made a 7 day drive with multiple nights at hotels, and none of my stuff got stolen. You're right to be concerned though. I don't think there's a lot you can do about it; keep the high-value stuff on your person at all times, and hope for the best. Think hard about how much of it you need to keep. I kept two jurassic Sun workstations and three Cisco routers. Ask me if I've powered any of them up in the last 18 months.

As for health of electronics, I left an X-box and various other electronic items in the back of my car for 24 hours that I spent at the Grand Canyon, and they all emerged unscathed. Most of the rest of my trip, I drove all day with A/C on in the hot areas and stopped at night, so the car wasn't really very hot. I also have a Mini-ITX Windows PC in the car that does navigation, MP3s, etc. I've had it for two years, and heat has never caused it any problems, despite endless hot days sitting in parking lots at work. I think you'll be fine.

I personally left "important personal documents" in a file box in the car throughout the entire move; never really considered that they might get stolen. I guess this is a toss-up; I would think that in the car they could get stolen, but on your person you'd be more likely to lose them.

As for the solo long driving tips, I was lucky to have a fantastic co-pilot on my trip - he really made the difference between an amazingly fun, memorable trip and what could have been an unpleasant, lonely grind. Even with him there, he spent a certain amount of time napping, so there were some "solo" hours. My main suggestion is that you be very aware of your level of tiredness. The open road has a hypnotizing effect on you, and I think it's _very_ easy to doze off at the wheel. If you feel tired, don't screw around; pull over, get out of the car and get some air, do some jumping jacks, and maybe drink a little coffee.

If you can pre-plan your stops, I recommend Best Western motels. They're cheap enough, and most of them have free internet in the rooms and decent continental breakfasts.

Make sure you have some car repair crap handy. Take along some oil, pre-mixed coolant and, if you're mechanically inclined, some basic hand tools. Also, make 100000000% sure that you have a jack and a lug wrench, and that your spare tire is in good shape; check its pressure before you hit the road. A membership in AAA could save your ass as well, if you care to get one.

Speaking of AAA, they have great free services for members, including route planning. I called them up the week before I left and told them when I was leaving and what all my stops would be, and they made me a custom Trip-Tik with maps and step by step directions for the whole route. My Mom made me do this; I had GPS in the car, and didn't think I needed maps. Maps are so 20th century. You should have seen the look on my face when I crossed into New Mexico, and the GPS map display went blank. Oops. I forgot to load maps for New Mexico and Arizona. Thanks Mom...

Good luck, have a great time, and be safe!
posted by autojack at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

The most important things for a successful southwestern road trip are air-conditioning, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, lots of spare water, and a music selection that's going to keep you awake when the road runs straight and flat for 350 miles.

At this time of year about 50% of the people on the road will also have a car full of stuff so I wouldn't worry about theft too much. Besides, there's really nothing you can do except park it close to where you're sleeping and keep more important stuff in the trunk where it's slightly harder to steal. I usually carry my computer, camera and ID/money in one backpack for convenience, and I take that pack with me at night etc. I can't imagine you'd need a money belt, it's not like you're going to get pick-pocketed in your car. You can pay with a debit card just about anywhere these days so no need for wads of cash either, $100 or so should do it.

Get AAA before you go and have the car overhauled. Totally worth it. The temperature in the SW and do funny things to cars that aren't used to it! For example re-tread tires are a bad idea there. And you'll need a polarizing filter for the camera for sure. A slight warming is worth it too, I've found.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 PM on June 17, 2007

I think your plan makes a lot of sense. Just a few thoughts:

- Do get AAA before doing a trip like this
- Look into your car/homeowner's/renter's insurance and see what they will cover if stuff is stolen from your car.
- Put the computer and other stuff that's tempting-looking in the trunk. Put the boxes of papers in the backseat, preferably so that people looking in can see it's just paper.
- Can you get a friend/family member to come with you for the drive? Or part of it? Company/another driver makes multi-day trips much more tolerable.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:30 PM on June 17, 2007

Have a neck pillow, a but pillow, all your favorite music, don't be afraid to sight see...When I moved to Los Angeles from Detroit, I went to the meteor site in Arizona, The Big Texan in Amarillo, it was so much fun. At every gas fill, be sure to stretch for at least 10- 15 minutes.

Do not park over night at a rest area.Thats bad!
Do park at busy rest stops with gas stations, hotels, retsurants whatever.

have fun, rock out and jam to all your favorite music.
posted by eve28 at 1:45 PM on June 17, 2007

Nthing AAA. It's worth it for the peace of mind, and you'll probably make up half a year's membership in motel discounts.
posted by almostmanda at 1:46 PM on June 17, 2007

Just a driving tip.... when making VERY long drives, your eyes tend to get fixed on a spot down the road. I find that constantly looking at that spot makes my eyes WANT to look away, and if I ignore this for too long, they start doing this involuntarily and I have trouble watching the road. I found that if, when my eyes start going all googly like that, I simply pull over and doze (not sleep) for a few (10-20) minutes, I can then continue on for another 2-4 hours before I start getting googly-eyed again. Simply pull over in a rest area or just off the freeway, leave the stereo going, set your alarm on your phone (if you have one) and just go to sleep. I find I can't fall asleep that quick, but just giving my eyes a brief rest helps me drive on through.

I did this last spring when I drove up to Iowa to pick my son up from college. I drove up alone (14 hours), then drove back with him the next day and we split the driving (14 hours). No problems staying awake.
posted by Doohickie at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2007

Install a car alarm. When the trip is over, possibly you could recover some of the cost by selling the components on ebay.

If car is parked mostly at night, then maybe heat not such a problem. However laptop (and lcd monitors) might be more sensitive than other items to excess heat. From user manuals (or surf around) you can probably find max ambient temp for your major electronics. Stick a thermometer in your car to compare.

Make sure that the major sudden-failure car parts are not past due for maintenance/replacement. These would include timing belt, serpentine/fan belt, hoses, battery. Tires should have plenty of tread. The extra weight will increase stopping distance, so brakes should not be near end-of-life.
posted by Kevin S at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2007

-Don't drive as if your 1990 was made to keep up with the 85mph highway grouping of newer autos. An inline transmission cooler would not be a waste of $100 either. Uhaul locations used to sell/install/refer for more info on such.
-Temps in the South and Southwest might require different grades of oil than are required in the East, some owners manuals even list the requirements for different 'enviroments'.
-AAA has a AAA+ grade which covers tows of more than 5 miles for free. It can be pretty easy to be farther than 5 miles from a city large enough to have car parts and repair chains. I think AAA+ tows to 30 miles for free.
-Window tint is par for the course in the SW. Cools the car interior and you down, and you won't arrive in Phoenix with one arm sunburnt either.
posted by buzzman at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2007

Regarding your valuables: there is nothing stopping you from bringing most of the stuff into the hotel with you each evening. Especially if you're in a "walk up" type hotel where you can park directly outside of your door. Just spend sometime unloading the car.

Yeah it sucks to load and unload (especially if your stuff is heavy) but if it gives you piece of mind...
posted by wfrgms at 5:19 PM on June 17, 2007

I've got a similar plan this summer, and I took up LobsterMitten's suggestion: renter's insurance (at least from the couple national companies I called) will cover theft from your vehicle, even if you're moving. I think that's a great idea -- renter's insurance can be quite cheap.
posted by one_bean at 6:00 PM on June 17, 2007

Having done long-haul-ish rides in Malaysia, Japan, Europe and America, I would recommend stopping every 2 hours to recuperate and go to the bathroom. You don't have to stop very long, perhaps 15-30 minutes or so. It's a great way to relax and reenergize, especially since your legs would probably cramp up after a while. Take the bathroom breaks even if you don't think you do - you never know when the urge will strike, and there's no telling when the next restroom is!
posted by divabat at 6:08 PM on June 17, 2007

I'm being overly protective (I'm not your Mom, but I worry about you!), so I suggest doing an inventory of everything you'll pack in your car. Photos or only a list, plus estimates of each item's replacement value; keep a copy in your backpack and give a copy to Mom or Dad or someone else you trust. This way, if your car gets burglarized and stuff goes missing, you can give the cops and your insurance agent an accurate accounting. Also, DO keep important papers with you, not in the car. And I'd make copies of them to give to Mom, etc.

Please take lots and lots of breaks -- but don't rely on rest stops. Just last week, we stopped at one on Interstate 20 outside of San Antonio where the characters were straight from a scary movie. I'd rather stop at a gas station and only put 1 or 2 gallons in the tank, or at a Dairy Queen and get a snack; you can walk around, go to the john, feel refreshed and be surrounded by other tourists.

Do get AAA. Totally worth it. Be careful, have a great trip, and don't make me worry so much!
posted by Smalltown Girl at 6:28 PM on June 17, 2007

Seconding divabat. My sister-in-law is a massage therapist and she told me to always stop every two hours for at least long enough to stretch out your legs. The sitting position puts pressure on some nerves or something, and being in that position for more than two hours at a time is what causes your legs to hurt after a while. But, if you stretch at least every two hours, no leg pain! Yay!

Also, this is the most inconsequential advice you've been given so far, I think, but perhaps you can learn from my experience: do not speed in Texas! Never, ever, ever.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:03 PM on June 17, 2007

Stopping every two hours is for the weak. You stop every two hours for 20 minutes, you're making your trip 16% longer. That's turning a 30 hour trip into a 35, or knocking you from a two-night trip to a three-night.

Obviously stop if you're sore or bleary-eyed or otherwise feeling bad, or if you've gotta pee, but I've found in many solo trips from D/FW to Toronto that stopping twice in a twelve-hour day is fine, with each stop no longer than business requires.

The other thing that will *kill* your ability to make time is eating. So. Lunch is something easily eaten while driving, that saps minimal attention. McNuggets or other chicken dinguses are good for this, esp. if you forego the fries. Fuck dinner until you stop for the night. Dinner is a reward for getting there.

And stop for the night no later than 8, 8:30. You get up early, you can get 12 good hours and 750+ miles in during the day. And stopping at 8 means you can grab a dinner, relax and eat it in your room, and catch some boob tube or internet before it's bedtime. I've done the thing where you drive until 11 or later, immediately go to bed, and then get up and start driving. It turns a bad but tolerable thing horrible.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on June 17, 2007

For truly irreplaceable paperwork, it might be better "piece-of-mind-wise" to leave them with someone you trust, and then get them to post them registered post when you got to phoenix.

Probably not any safer, but reduces the amount of stuff you have to worry about.
posted by kjs4 at 7:31 PM on June 17, 2007

Make sure you get your car checked out by a reputable mechanic and replace anything that may cause problems (worn tires, torn belts, hoses). If you are AAA member or have a friend that is a member get a trip tik planner for your route. Plan on driving at night on major highways and sleep during the day at a good motel. Avoid sleeping at rest stops (lots of crime). Avoid travel through major cities during rush hour traffic.

Park your car next to your motel room so that you can keep an eye it through your window. Keep all valuables in your motel room. Don't leave any items on your car seats - store them in your room. Use plastic storage containers or large durable plastic bags so that you can move them in and out of your car with ease.

Keep a cooler on the front seat stocked with snacks and drinks. Stock a good first aid kit. If you have a laptop with wi-fi stay at motels that offer free wi-fi. Stay on top of road conditions via and weather via

Know your limits when driving. Drive defensively and keep within five to ten mph over the speed limit (on good road conditions) not 20 to 30 mph over. You will pass the speed freaks pulled over by a highway speed trap. If you find yourself dozing off or weaving in and out of lanes pull over and take a break.

I drove solo from California to Georgia, it took four and half days in a little car designed for city driving (no cruise control). The only bad experience I had was traveling in middle of a blinding rain storm. I got through the storm by trailing behind some slow trucks (and a new set of tires kept me on the road).
posted by plokent at 4:41 AM on June 18, 2007

congrats! I'll be going to grad school in AZ too, but I already live here :)

I would treat it like a trip abroad; keep everything important within arm's reach, and keep inventory of everything else in case you "lose" your "luggage."

I always enjoy trips more with a friend, but if you're set on going solo then load up the ipod with new music or books on tape. If you have to be alert to hear new things, you'll be alert watching the road. Or make a playlist of stuff to sing along to, since nobody will be around to complain.

It's just starting to get hot BTW. You're going to enjoy the summer!
posted by Chris4d at 8:56 PM on June 18, 2007

Stopping every two hours is for the weak. You stop every two hours for 20 minutes, you're making your trip 16% longer. That's turning a 30 hour trip into a 35, or knocking you from a two-night trip to a three-night.

That's a worst case scenario. It's usually more like 5-10 minutes per 4 hours. But if you're driving alone, forget about thinking of yourself as weak. Better to take 16% longer than to fall asleep and wind up killing yourself as you veer off the road at 70.

Taking the short eye-closed breaks I went 900 miles in 14 hours. That's an average of 64 mph, even with the time spent standing still, giving my eyes the rest they needed.
posted by Doohickie at 7:18 AM on June 20, 2007

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