2017 has been a really weird year. I’ve experienced lots of great change and amazing opportunity, but the world at large seems to be spinning out of control with the news bringing one punch after the other; from natural disasters to men behaving badly to a U.S. president acting like a petulant moron. All of that leaves me conflicted – happy for myself but disappointed for the world. It’s an odd feeling and I am sure I am not alone with it.But this post is about none of that. It’s about a road trip. In fact, it’s about a cross-country road trip and my seven top tips for any road trip.
Earlier this year, I decided that almost two decades out west was enough and it was time to move somewhere back east. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go but I knew I wanted a walkable place with worldly culture and a decent climate. After lots of research, Internet browsing, coin tossing, and dart throwing I decided on………..Washington, D.C. It was a rather anti-climactic decision since I moved from D.C. to Arizona oh-so-many years ago, but it made sense as I’d missed the city since I moved. It wasn’t that I didn’t like where I was, I loved it, it was just in a small, quiet, some-day-I’d-love-to-go-back kind of way. So, with lots of planning, and a little luck, everything fell into place. I sold my house in Arizona, bought a condo in D.C., sold, donated, and gave away a lot of furniture, loaded the rest onto a container, and packed the car with the cameras, iGadgets, some clothes, and the dog. My faithful companion and I were ready to hit the road!
Now, I’d like to briefly point out that at the beginning of each year I set my intentions. I don’t make resolutions, but I do spend quiet time contemplating what I want to achieve, see, experience in a year and then, I write them down in clear, concise terms. It’s cathartic, reflective, and fun. For 2017 my list included a road trip with my dog. 12 months ago, I had no idea that would be realized by a 2,375 mile trip spanning seven states and one federal district. I’ll write more about intention setting in the New Year, but for now, back to the road trip.When planning a cross-country trek there are a few routes that are nearly straight shots across the U.S.. Since it is December, I knew I wanted to stay away from the northern routes of I-90, I-80, or I-70 as there was too much risk of snow. I didn’t want to take the I-10 as that was too far south and would take me mile further that I wanted to travel. That left the I-40, sort of the Goldilocks of trans-continental highways. Here is an overview of the route, from www.furkot.com
I’ve written about furkot.com before and it was great for planning purposes. I was able to locate the best places to stop and it even helped me find pet-friendly lodging. On that note, let me recommend La Quinta Inns. While each one is independently operated, they are all dog-friendly, but some do have size/weight restrictions. Since I had to be out of my Arizona house two days before I could leave the state, I stayed in a La Quinta nearby and was bowled over at the style and cleanliness. The interior was more boutique hotel than budget chain. The others (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee) were not near as nice, but serviceable and dog-friendly for my 70 pound pooch. I plan to write individual reviews for each location in the coming weeks.
We all know that road trips are more fun when you have someone to share the driving, or at least talk back to you, but with some good driving music, clear weather, and a definite plan I made the best of driving solo. I talked and sang to the dog but he never did answer me back. Nonetheless, I kept a good pace, with a total drive time of 33 hours, accounting for stops about every four to five hours. I’ve made several cross-country trips in my lifetime but this one seemed to be the easiest. Enough context, let’s get to my top seven tips for road tripping!
7. Have a plan, but be flexible. I mapped out where I’d stay in advance but I left myself enough flexibility to change that depending on how I felt each day. One day I only drove for six hours instead of the planned nine hours. I was really tired so I decided to stop for the day. Another day, I drove for 11 1/2 hours since I felt rested and refreshed. I also flexed a bit on route, opting for a smaller two-lane highway for a portion of the Arizona leg. This took me through some beautiful high country that I would have missed had I stuck to the main route.
6. Pack thoughtfully. I knew I wanted my most valuable things in my car, instead of the shipping container. Jewelry, cash, electronics, and personal papers were packed into boxes and tubs and loaded throughout the car (Jeep Grand Cherokee). It was a pain in the ass unloaded these tubs from the car every night, when I checked into a hotel but it was better than having someone break into my car and steal it all. As the saying goes “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
5. Consider your canine traveling companion. Keeping with the packing theme, I made sure to leave plenty of room for my dog so he could stand, turn around, and lay down. Since this was a new experience for him, I wanted to be sure he was as relaxed as possible. Dogs are creatures of routine, or at least that is how you get a happy well-adjusted and behaved pet. This trip would throw all his routine out the window, so I made sure that nothing rattled or could fall on him. He has his favorite toys with him and a blanket from the old house so he had familiar smells. I kept up his feeding time as best I could and made sure to praise him copiously when he ‘did his business’ on the roadside (also a new experience for him). I also made sure he had plenty of water, both in the car and when we stopped. He handled everything like a champ!
4. Let others know your route. Now, if you watch too much Criminal Minds or CSI, you may think there are serial killers at every roadside gas station. There aren’t, but there are opportunistic creepers so it is a good idea for a man or woman to let others know when you stop and where you stopped. Technology is great for this. I simply snapped a cell phone photo of where I stopped and sent a group text with that when I parked the car and then, sent another text when we were back in the car and ready to get back onto the highway. It gave family and friends peace of mind and it gave me some fun photos (a few of which are included in this post).
3. Consider your food and drink. Sitting is a killer – and so is eating fast food – and being trapped in a car just compounds the negative physical impact. Road trips are usually not what you think of when you think of healthy eating and knowing I was driving through the ‘meaty’ center of the United States, I made sure to pack some snacks. Almonds, snack pack fruit bowls, water, and a few packs of low sugar oatmeal kept me going on the road and in the hotels. Of course, I had the occasional candy bar and soda but I largely stuck to my healthy options. The added benefit of this is that I felt good most days and able to drive longer than I’d planned.
2. Move as much as you can. Similar to the tip above, this one is all about keeping the physical impact of sitting for long periods of time as minimal as possible. Even though you are driving for a large chunk of time each day, try to schedule stops every 3 to 4 hours, even if it’s just to get out of the car and stretch your legs. When you get to your lodging each night, make time to do some yoga poses or stretches, specifically for your back, hip flexors and neck. This makes a world of difference in how you sleep and feel the next day.
1. Have fun. This should go without mentioning, but since so many things can go wrong on the road it is important to remember that a road trip of any length gives you the opportunity to see new landscapes, meet some real characters, and have quality time with yourself or your traveling companion. Take pleasure in seeing the sun rise over a new horizon, take note of how each state decorates her highway ramps (I am still partial to Arizona’s stylized glyphs), and breathe in the air of a new place. A road trip is a quintessential American experience, so get out there and have your own!
Bonus tip – Make sure your car in ready for the road. That means getting your belts, hoses, fluids, and wiper blades checked. Have the tires and brakes checked. Not only does it harsh the vibe of your trip if you have to get towed from the middle of nowhere to a garage, it can be dangerous to break down on the side of the road.
Hopefully, these tips will help you plan for your road trip. I’d love to hear about your road trip experiences or your favorite tips, so please leave a comment below and thanks for stopping by!