from sea to shining sea!
August 31, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Driving cross-country from Southern CA to Atlanta with my best friend to drop her off at graphic design school. What to see? What to avoid? How to budget?

Definite stops: Grand Canyon, Austin, New Orleans. Where else? We're pretty open-minded, and we like anything eccentric or out of the ordinary (at least, out of our ordinary).

Also, how can we safely do this on a shoestring without staying in creepy Stephen Kinglike truck stop motels? We're both 24-year-old women.

posted by changeling to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Carlsbad Caverns. There's a fairly cheap but clean Motel 6 nearby. I'm a guy, so I'm not that sensitive, but it seemed fine to me.
posted by Malor at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2007

Get a tent and stay in State or National Parks, if you can deal with sleeping in a tent and using the public bathrooms and showers, many of which in my experience were cleaner than the shower in any place I've ever lived. Powerwashing every day will do that. Dirt cheap, and if you have to worry about safety, they're full of families and old people. You're liable to need reservations on the weekend or for really popular parks.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2007

Best answer: Ooh! I know this one! (I drove from JAX to LAX.)

You absolutely MUST see the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. They are utterly breathtaking. I did one day where I didn't cover very many miles but saw both the Caverns and ran through Roswell (because...ROSWELL.) The UFO museum is a hoot and a half. Send postcards to your friends.

I stayed in KOA camps the whole way across. Their cabins are quite nice (although you do have to go outside to get to the restroom) and I felt very safe while I was there. Lots of retirees doing the RV thing, etc. I was warned very strongly against staying in National Parks due to safety concerns, but the KOAs were perfectly nice. A cabin rents for $30/$40 a night, depending on size and site. You can get a KOA membership card for $16 that will get you 10% off.

I kept Mace and a hunting knife accessible at all times. YMMV. The most important thing is to be sure you're comfortable using whatever defense mechanisms you have. (I didn't have to, fwiw, I'm just mentioning it.) Don't flirt with people in truck stops.

A GPS device is awesome for this kind of road trip. You never need to worry about how far away the next gas station is, and you never need to worry about getting lost. I strongly, strongly urge you to get one.

I'm a 24 year-old woman (23 at the time of the trip) and was travelling alone. I got loads of great advice in the thread I linked. Feel free to email me if you've got any specific questions. Have fun!
posted by fuzzbean at 4:03 PM on August 31, 2007

If you haven't seen Roadside America, they have maps that tell where all kinds of wacky local tourist sites are.
posted by TheClonusHorror at 5:50 PM on August 31, 2007

Best answer: If you do decide to stay at a cheap motel, ask to see the room before paying. I'd avoid any that advertise weekly/monthly rates, and I'd avoid any that advertise being "american owned". Motel 6 is usually fine, with clean and bland rooms. Privately owned places are often a bit cheaper, but more of a toss-up as far as the rooms go. You can often find coupon books at truck stops, or try asking "Is that your best rate?" In many areas these will be cheaper than the KOA.

If you come through Albuquerque, avoid the motels on Central, also known as old Rt. 66.

There is a bunch of neat stuff in Albuquerque, and it's probably smack dab in the most sensible route from the Grand Canyon to Austin. Previous questions about Albuquerque. As far as eccentric goes, you might be interested in the Rattlesnake Museum.
posted by yohko at 6:07 PM on August 31, 2007

Food recommendations welcome? Once you get to the Southeast area, if you've not eaten them before, make sure to have boiled peanuts. A unique experience for sure.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:53 PM on August 31, 2007

I drove from Santa Barbara to Atlanta many years ago. The hightlights were Canyon De Chelly, carne adovada, the Cadillac Ranch, Graceland, and Beale Street. Be sure to gas up before you hit the Mojave Desert!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:16 PM on August 31, 2007

Swing a little outside of Austin to Lockhart to go to BBQ heaven. I'd recommend staying north of Houston on your way to New Orleans--and then you can go through Brenham, TX, home of Blue Bell Ice Cream (tour info).
posted by mattbucher at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2007

Seeing the Very Large Array in person is awe-inspiring, if you're at all interested in that stuff.
posted by Myself at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2007

The road into Austin from the west can be extremely long and boring. But when you finally get to Austin, don't leave without hitting Maria's Taco Xpress in the morning for a breakfast taco. Then gas up at Rudy's before you leave.
posted by FearTormento at 11:05 PM on August 31, 2007

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