Between moving back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, I have driven across the country four times. I have to say, it's been really fun, interesting, and informative. I've never had much interest in traveling America but I truly learned to appreciate this country and the land we live in. I've had some really great experiences, like seeing the national parks, discovering the magic of Santa Fe, and crushing country music stars at darts in Nashville. I've also had some terrible times, like, getting a UTI from holding it for so long and needing to drive 13 hours with chills and a burning urethra (TMI?), altitude sickness in Wyoming (turns out it's a really high state), and being told my henna tattoo was "the work on the devil" in a state I won't mention.
I suggest that everyone tries a cross-country road trip at least once in their life. Here are a few tips for your big trip:
1. If you have food restrictions, overload on snacks.
I don't eat meat and REALLY can't eat gluten, so rest stops tend to be a challenge for me. While on my last trip, I saw a bit of a improvement in food choice, a gluten free egg and cheese from Starbucks doesn't make for a great breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven straight days. Buy snacks! Buy more snacks then you think you'd ever need...because you will need them. Buy every type of snack because kale chips get really boring by the end of day 2. Plus, when we're bored (which you're bound to be on the road), we eat. Bottom line: STOCK UP!
2. Use your travel apps!
Oh, Waze, how I love you. Because when a storm brings down trees in the middle of Colorado, you'll want to know you're way around it. But more than just the traffic, things like Hotel Tonight will change the way you travel. You will, without a doubt, end up in some pretty boring cities, but staying in a 5-star hotel for only $99 will make you think it's one of the best cities you visited. I didn't quite find the charm in Tulsa, but I did find a luxurious bed and spa shower with complimentary champagne. Such a big win after days cooped up in a car with your 80 lb. dog insisting he be held like a baby in your arms.
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
This isn't my favorite topic, but as mentioned before, my innocent henna was called "the work of the devil". You have to understand that there is a huge cultural divide in a America. As a SUPER LIBERAL Puerto Rican Jew, I didn't always feel comfortable in the land of confederate flag painted sheds, Trump bumper stickers, and "are you a Muslim" glances. I stuck to my metaphorical guns (Yeah! Gun safety laws!) and smiled. I accepted people's views and that I was completely out of my depth and comfort zone. I did my best to be the best version of me, and hopefully change some hearts and minds on human connection.
But this tip is also about general safety. You should look up the statistics of neighborhoods of cities and know where you are safe. Don't let appearances fool you either. Some of the most quaint and lovely towns looked the most run down.
4. Pace yourself.
We once did the entire journey in three and a half days. It was miserable. Take your time. Don't rush the experience, even if you're sick of being in the car. If you're sick of the car, stop in more cities. Give yourself at least 10 days to do the journey to really maximize the experience. You have no idea what places will call out to you for another night of fun. While you're at it, take breaks and get out of the car to stretch.
5. Decide your anchor points in advance.
Pick the cities of towns that you really want to see. Not only will it make it easier to find great hotels to stay in, but it will help frame your entire journey. and make it easier to decide where your in-between points. It helps you stave off boredom because you have an exciting city or experience to look forward to. Chicago did that for me. I was pretty much over the trip and I thought, "We just need to push to Chicago." It was so much fun that I was re-energized for the rest of the trip, plus we ended finding a great hotel deal!
6. Be open to the experience.
There is so much to discover in this country. I didn't think I'd enjoy the national parks, but I was blown away by the beauty. I didn't think I'd end up eating lunch and winning $30 in Vegas. I didn't know I could run through lavender fields in Virginia. But I did. Whether you encounter unexpected jazz festivals or stumble into a line dance, you have to welcome the experience. It's often the unexpected that makes the entire trip special.
7. From playlists to podcasts...
Boredom. Oh, the boredom. Do you know how flat Nebraska is? Do you know what the highlight of Kansas was? Finding out that tumbleweeds actually existed outside the films (as well as a B&B I'm positive was haunted). You will need some entertainment. Start making those playlists and downloading those podcasts. Make sure you have music saved offline for those dead zones (and to conserve precious data). You have no idea how much some 90's R&B can change the very flat, grassy landscape of the heartland.