If you’re thinking of traveling across the good ole’ US of A, you’ve already started thinking on my level. The United States is a beautiful country, diverse not only in its people, but also in landscapes and agriculture. The trip is long and can be very draining, but it will leave you feeling accomplished, changed, and as any trip of its kind it can open your mind to see all of life’s possibilities.
My husband and I have not yet come down off of our cross-country high (see previous blog posts for evidence!) Our specific journey was unique because we do not plan to make our return trip for a few years, that alone added some next level excitement/ fear/ “what the hell are we doing!” feelings to our trip that yours might be lacking, but rest assured, you will never regret taking that ‘I always wanted to’ trip.
As with any journey, we made some really good decisions and some not so great decisions, I thought it might be helpful to share these lessons, in hopes that they help you to plan a better educated trip. Obviously all journeys will be unique, but this list is pretty generic to details and could really be helpful in any situation.
Without further ado…
Cross Country Dos and Don’ts
DO ~ Add a few days on!
Planning your trip now? Why not just throw on an extra day or two? Leave some room for spontaneity, or that flat tire you worry about every single time you hit a big bump! When you’re traveling for so long with everything planned and calculated without any room for errors, you will miss out on the adventure part of this adventure. How can you throw caution to the wind when you haven’t allowed a single moment to find it… hidden in the back seat buried beneath those back up wiper blades you will never actually need? Live a little, that extra day will not be something you regret, and you might even find it to have been necessary.
DON’T ~ Eat Fast Food
Ok, so this rule is a little loose, because, well, when you drive across the country your options are pretty limited. Do yourself a favor, before leaving grab a cooler and pack food that you know you are going to want to eat. I’m talking fresh, clean, non-death trap, ready to eat foods people, and the reason is because you are going to eat fast food. You’re going to swear that you won’t, and kick yourself when you have no other option. But the thing is, one or two fast-food meals will not kill you, and if you’ve packed smart, one or two meals is all it will end up being. But sitting in a car, driving across the country for a week (or however long your trip is,) surviving off of McDonald’s is a recipe for disaster.
DO ~ Take as Many Photos as Possible
So, this may be the one area that I am biased in, as a photographer, but seriously how can you drive across the country and not take a million photos? For me, taking a photo is like stealing a moment of your journey to enjoy for years to come. The best part is that the photos will have a back story and substance, that only those on the journey can truly appreciate. If you end up deleting a hundred scenic photos that didn’t pan out, for that one perfect image, it was worth it, right?
DON’T ~ Expect Mother Nature to Cooperate 100%
When we crossed from Texas into New Mexico the landscape began to change drastically, and just as the landscape was new and exciting, it began to rain, not just rain, it began to pour. I remember feeling so disappointed, like a part of the trip was stolen from me because I hadn’t prepared for crappy weather, and I dealt with it like it was the end of a bad day. But then I realized, this was the first time in my life I was in New Mexico, and quite possibly the only time I would be caught in a rain storm in New Mexico, and only then did I began to enjoy the moment. Each part of the journey will be unique to your circumstances, do not let your expectations ruin the moment when they don’t go as planned. Oh and, just an FYI, New Mexico is quite beautiful in the rain.
Just as the storm was passing.
DO ~ Try to Talk to Locals
Talking with locals is the best way to get to know the people of a town or area. So, seeing the country is only a part of the experience, learning the culture and watching it change over your journey adds an exciting element. In most of the places we visited locals were happy to chat it up with the out-of-towners, and it was fun to hear how the accent changed as we progressed. Make sure you ask them if there is anything exciting nearby that you should check out, you never know where you might find yourself, oh and this is where that extra day comes in handy!
DON’T ~ Worry Too Much if You Miss Something You Wanted to See
This one is pretty hard, because, you may never make it back out to that spot again. But if you missed something, that you really wanted to see, be it caused by time constraints, weather, car trouble, or any other situation, then it simply was not meant to be (sorry not much advice there!) The point is, don’t let it ruin the remainder of the trip! Yes, you missed out on it, yes you wanted to see it badly, no you may never see it, but you’re still driving across America seeing and experiencing things that many people dream of, get over it!
DO ~ Find Random Roadside Attractions
One of the best things about America is that we will make a monument out of literally anything. World’s Largest Ball of Twine, we got it, World’s Largest Mound (yes a mound of dirt,) I’ve seen it! So when you’re driving through those states that just seem to go on and on, these attractions keep you, well laughing at the very least. Through many a web search, we found ourselves in Okemah, Oklahoma, home of Woodie Guthrie, listening to his world famous song “This Land is Your Land.” Not only was this one of the coolest old towns we saw on our trip, it was somewhere we never would have stopped if we didn’t look up roadside attractions.
DON’T ~ Underestimate how Tired You’re Going to be
It seems crazy, because all you’re actually doing is sitting, but driving all day is absolutely exhausting. Keep that in mind when you’re planning out your next stop, or deciding if you should go a few hours out of the way. Now I do not mean that you shouldn’t stray off course, but don’t run yourself dry, because no one is fun when they’re grouchy. Oh and to those of you thinking, “I’ll just nap while I’m the passenger…” No, you won’t. Not because you can’t, but because you will not want to. You will not want to miss any of the journey, you didn’t sign up to drive across the country to sleep through half of it. And trust me, it will be worth it to stay up!
DO ~ Get a Hotel Room
America has some of the most picturesque campsites in the world, so I am certainly not suggesting you miss out on camping, if that is your cup of tea. However, at some point in your journey, you will find yourself mentally and physically exhausted and in serious need of some R&R, and like a huge bed. For me, I wanted a hot meal and a glass of wine, and had it delivered via room service! Because a trip like this deserves your attention, each morning you should be well rested, and ready for what is in store. You owe it to yourself to sleep well, and keep yourself nourished, and you owe it to the trip to be attentive and keep a record of where you have been. It is, after all, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Enjoy the ride!