Advice for cross country moving and road-trip
August 14, 2008 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Some general/all around advice and tips from experienced/veteran movers and road trippers to help me with my move across the country would be extremely helpful.

So I just got a job out in Northern California and I will be moving there from New England. I've never made a big trip like this before, I've lived on the pretty much in the Northeast my entire life. I've also never really made a big road trip like this before either.

I was going to use Pods but the don't deliver to the town I'm heading to and I don't want to do Uhaul; so I'll be just packing up my SUV (and putting the rest in a storage unit) and driving out there probably by myself.
Some things I would like to know are what are some vital things that people bring on road trips? Such as I assume bring an extra cannister of gas since I assume there are long stretches without gas stations and a SUV isnt that great for conservation.
I've had some friends recommend sleeping in Walmart parking lots or bringing a tent. Others just go to Motel 6 when they can find one.
As well as some decent sites to see, I'll be traveling across route 80 which I hear can get pretty boring
posted by Rustbeard to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Double check the price of the storage unit and do the math to make sure you're aware of the total cost over the whole period of time you'll be using it. Unless you've got alot of irreplaceable stuff, storage probably costs a lot more than selling it and buying something again when you need it back
posted by winston at 11:56 AM on August 14, 2008

If you're staying on the main interstate highways, I wouldn't worry about bringing reserve gasoline. When you enter a very sparse stretch there'll be signs warning "Last Services for XXX Miles." Keep an eye on your gas gauge and refuel at the last stop if you need to.

Do bring extra food and water in case of a breakdown. There are usually enough cars going along the interstate that you could flag a ride in an emergency before too long.
posted by handful of rain at 12:10 PM on August 14, 2008

Have someone that you can check in with to let them know where you are from day to day - It's always good to have someone know at least what state you are in.

If you are bringing your things with you in the car - I would recommend that you NOT camp anywhere (especially Walmart). You really want to have a motel room where you can bring in any valuables overnight - you really don't want to leave good stuff in the car.

If you take 80 across the plains and Rockies you shouldn't have too much trouble with gas - there are a good amount of services.

What time of year are you going?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2008

One general suggestion: rethink the storage unit. If Item X is thousands of miles away, and you can't enjoy it, profit from it, or share it with others, why not sell it, donate it, or give it away?
posted by mdonley at 12:25 PM on August 14, 2008

Such as I assume bring an extra cannister of gas since I assume there are long stretches without gas stations and a SUV isnt that great for conservation.

Totally unnecessary, unless you are driving to California via Chile's Atacama Desert. According to this webpage (which looks sufficiently monomaniacal to be believed), the longest piece of interstate in the US with no services is 106 miles on I-70 in Utah. I-80 doesn't have any serviceless stretches of that length — I would guess the longest to be about 60 or 80 miles, probably in Wyoming. On most of your route there are services every 10 to 40 miles, with big billboards and signs letting you know what is coming up.

If you are on a super budget, sleep in the car at rest stops. If you have more time and a few more dollars, camp along the way in state parks and national forest campgrounds. If you have less time and more money, stay at cheap motels. If you are camping or sleeping in your car, you can get showers at truckstops, usually for about $5 or so. Walmart parking lots are ok for RVs, not so good for sleeping in a car, and not ok for tenting.

Having AAA membership will be good for your peace of mind, and will save you money at hotels.

Make sure to have a gallon or so of water in the car, plus some snacks, in case you get stuck somewhere by bad weather or you have a breakdown. Get the car serviced before you leave (and check the tire pressure yourself — don't trust the guys at the quicky oil change place to do that for you even though they will say they did it). Make sure your wiper blades are good, rather than old and streaky.

Honestly, there is nothing easier than driving cross-country on interstates. There is almost no navigation (you will be on I-80 alone for something like 1800 miles, maybe more, depending on where you are starting from), services are frequent and clearly marked, and outside of cities the traffic is rarely heavy at all.
posted by Forktine at 12:26 PM on August 14, 2008

We just moved from MI to NC....

I like having a cooler with sandwich stuff, salads, drinks, fruit, etc. I get soooo tired of eating fast food or at restaurants for every meal. Stop at grocery stores along the way to replenish your cooler.

Have a GPS like a Garmin or Tom Tom. These are awesome when traveling in unfamiliar places.

I always stay at Super 8s: cheap, usually a pretty good consistency in room cleanliness, and they all have free wifi.

Have something for entertainment - like an ipod with music or audio books. When driving for that long my brain starts to shut down and I need something to keep it engaged.

Bring a camera, and stop at a few places to relax, take pictures, and have fun.

And if for some reason you decide to get a uhaul and bring your stuff, you may want to consider making your uhaul reservation for a day before you actually want it. Uhaul apparently doesn't understand the concept of keeping a reservation; I've known too many people (myself included) who got their uhauls a day or two late, which put a kink in our moving plans.
posted by at 12:29 PM on August 14, 2008

If you want to turn this into a somewhat fun trip instead of a get-there-fast trip, buy a National Parks Pass and visit the many that will be along your route, more or less. You can also camp in many of them, and as it is "car camping" you don't really have to worry about your valuables in your car as it will be a few feet away from your tent as you sleep. Optionally find a friend who wouldn't mind a free ride to the west coast to come along to make the driving easier.

If you are more in a hurry, stop at a Motel 6 (or your preferred cheap motel chain) for the night, get their book/map that lists all the Motel 6 locations and pick your goals for each day based on your driving ability.

You won't need the extra gas and I agree that you should sell/get rid of much stuff as you can instead of getting a storage unit. It would be cheaper to ship mid-sized boxes of stuff out to yourself via UPS.
posted by mikepop at 12:35 PM on August 14, 2008

I do think it's a good idea to carry a couple quarts of oil and some anti-freeze (an opinion borne out of road trips in old cars, admittedly). Make sure your tires and spare are fully inflated, and get an oil change right before you leave.

Second the idea of bringing a cooler with snacks and sandwich fixings. The camping thing would depend on how much driving I was doing. If I was doing relatively short pulls on each day, I might be inclined to find a state park and actually camp. But if I'm ending each day's driving after dark, I would want a real bed to sleep in, and a shower in the morning. Spring for a hotel.

Also second the idea of getting rid of stuff rather than putting it into storage.
posted by adamrice at 1:08 PM on August 14, 2008

One road-tripper suggestion I can give you: drink water instead of caffeinated drinks (unless you specifically need the caffeine to stay awake). Caffeine makes you piss quite more frequently than water does, and so robs you of precious road time.

Also, people are right about the gas can. Except that they're not quite right that there are always services every 10-50 miles. There may be gas station buildings that close together, but many of them are shut down, abandoned, closed, lacking in gas, with two hour lines, etc. I think the longest we went on our Philly-Seattle trip (along the southern route) was about 100 miles between operational gas stations.

So, you don't need the gas can. But, you *do* need to make sure to fill up basically any chance you get. My rule for that trip was not to let the needle drop below half-full until we got out of the desert. And this isn't an issue at all except for a few hundred miles in the desert and plains.
posted by Netzapper at 1:15 PM on August 14, 2008

Nthing the "sell, ship or pitch" advice rather than storage. I have made any number of moves and paid waaay more than I'd ever admit to store stuff that, when I finally retrieved it and looked through it, was really just junk.

Look at this as a great opportunity to decide what things are really precious to you--imagine if there were a fire heading your way and you could only take a couple of boxes.

Pare down your wardrobe (Northern California weather is very different from New England weather), sort through your books, dvd's, cds, etc. Cull your mementos, be ruthless!

In terms the drive--don't worry about gas as others have said and check out the info at Roadside Attractions--it would be great to have an excuse to see the world's biggest ball of string or some such goofy thing.

Enjoy the trip, and welcome to NorCal!
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2008

Book on Tape.
It looks like Cracker Barrel has made it to the East now, so stock up on a few and then trade them in as you go.

AAA for the peace of mind. You might consider getting the "upgraded" membership with longer tow distances since you're going out West.
Also, since you are a bit worried about gas, you can have them print you a TripTik with all the gas stations along your route marked.

For sleeping, if you are young, crashing in a rest stop is fine. I preferred finding a quiet corner tucked in by the truckers. It's generally quieter and you are less likely to be hassled in a "no camping" rest stop if you blend in. Just make sure that you aren't parked such that a half-awake trucker won't see you in the morning when he's pulling out.
These days, however, I just get the hotel and my back thanks me.

Even if you aren't camping in the rest stops, bring some wetnaps and a flannel (washcloth). After a days driving, a quick splash and wash to take off the grime helps tremendously.

If you can and have the time, get a copy of RoadFood or something similar and skip the chains.

Have a service done before the drive, oil, belts, wipers, etc, then take some spares with you. Probably won't need 'em , but it's easier than trying to find a fan belt in a Western Wyoming town when the garage closes at 4 on Saturday and won't be open until Monday morning.

If you are loading down the SUV, make sure you adjust the tire pressure accordingly.

If you've got the space, pack yourself a bag of assorted munchies. It really sucks when it's 11 at night and you've got the urge for cookies and all you have is trail mix.

Finally, read the information signs in the rest stops. A surprising number are near an old battlefield or (especially out West) on a wagon trail. It gives you an appreciation for the land you are cruising through, and also gives you a chance to stretch (mentally and physically)
posted by madajb at 1:19 PM on August 14, 2008

Be wary about assuming 24x7 service for some of the more out of the way gas stations. While moving from St Louis to Portland, we had to spend a couple of hours sitting in a chilly car waiting for a gas station to open up in Oregon, because the station we'd "aimed" for turned out to be closed not just at 10pm, but all day on Sundays....
posted by nomisxid at 1:29 PM on August 14, 2008

I've never made a big trip like this before, I've lived on the pretty much in the Northeast my entire life. I've also never really made a big road trip like this before either.

If there's any way you can, definitely try to build in some extra time to sightsee on your way. The scenery between Colorado and California, particularly if you plan your route right, is some of the most spectacular in the country (in my humble opinion), and is well-suited for road trips. By that I mean, even if you weren't road-tripping you might choose to see some of the national parks by car, because they're huge and geological formations are not necessarily improved by getting out and walking around. This has been a real contrast to my experience on the east coast, where most of the best things to see and visit (New York City, Washington, the coast of Maine, beach towns in North Carolina) require going far off the interstate, parking the car and going on foot.

Specific suggestions: take I-70, not I-80, over the continental divide (unless you're going in winter)--it's gorgeous Colorado mountains and waterfalls versus what my boyfriend and I affectionately named "the Great Suck Basin" of boring scrubland in Wyoming. Also, when you're in Utah and have a day or two, definitely drop down to Moab and Canyonlands, which are well worth seeing.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2008

take I-70, not I-80, over the continental divide (unless you're going in winter)--it's gorgeous Colorado mountains and waterfalls versus what my boyfriend and I affectionately named "the Great Suck Basin" of boring scrubland in Wyoming.

I second this advice! Wyoming sucks and the people I met there weren't very nice (sorry to any nice people who love their great state of Wyoming) avoid if possible!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice. I might change it up to 70, I have some friends in missouri who would be cool to visit. If any of you have recommendations for places to stop and sight see along the way either 70 or 80 I would love to hear them aswell.
Also anybody have thoughts on those rooftops cargo carriers, I was thinking of getting one to store more stuff for the trip.
I'll def reconsider the storage unit, but I think I'm still going to get it. The collector part of me is strong and wants to keep all my books and nice winter clothes that I might want to keep incase I move back to a colder climate. And hopefully I won't be using it for to long, I'll try to come back and visit and pick up my stuff and bring back with me at a later point.
posted by Rustbeard at 5:39 PM on August 14, 2008

since you were thinking pods, have you looked into upack? it was a relatively painless way to move a lot of stuff cross-country, and they're not scammy like so many movers are. also, ditto the 70-west-of-denver suggestion.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:18 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: Oh Sorry I missed your question early on, light fantastic. I will be leaving sometime the first week of September.
Thanks for the Upack link, it seems they do a pod like deliver service I might look into that.
The cooler is a great idea did not think of that and no one else I know thought of it.
I have been stocking up on some audiobooks from librovox.
Thanks for all the great tips, if you have any others please post.
This should be fun
posted by Rustbeard at 8:09 PM on August 14, 2008

I know you said you don't want to do Uhaul, but I can't help but chime in and agree that you really don't want to use Uhaul.

In addition to what said above about their "reservation" policies, there are lots of documented cases of their vehicles being unsafe.

So, if you do decide to rent a truck, your best bet is a different company.
posted by altcountryman at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2008

late in the game, but still want to be the gazillionith to say this: sell everything, give away the rest. unless you have some priceless belongings, that stuff is just going to nag you from thousands of miles away. many books are easier than ever to replace, and winter clothes are still being manufactured at any given moment of the day. give yourself the opportunity to start fresh -no entangling alliances with a storage container, nothing you need worry about. I made the NY->OR move about 12 years ago and left behind a whole mess of stuff that I never needed again. that ups payment was a true stupidity tax.
when I moved, the only gifts I asked for were mixtapes from friends and co-workers; the folks I knew the least provided me with some of my greatest music. (Getting surprised by some music from Oklahoma in the middle of Kansas is a wonderful memory.) (of course you probably don't have a cassette deck...)
Say hello, eat off the beaten path, drive in complete silence whenever possible, watch out for random urine bottle bombs, think about who has made the trip before you, and take as much time as you can. safe and enjoyable travels to you!
posted by TomSophieIvy at 11:19 PM on August 15, 2008

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