Back in 2011 I spent about 3 months in Las Vegas and I got there by driving my car all the way from New York. I remember it as a very adventurous experience and mostly positive, and felt the same when I also drove back home. But cut to five years later and I find myself driving across the country again. Air travel these days is so cheap, and driving across the country requires entire DAYS of driving, often with little to nothing to do, so I really would have preferred to buy a one-way plane ticket, but I have a car, and must bring it with me.
(So cross country road trip it is!)
So I took the trip and I was on the road for six full days. Far be it from me to keep that experience all to myself, so here I am to share five tips that I learned on my third time driving across the country, starting with:
5) Forget the Cloud
Driving across the country can be a slog, no question about it. Even if you’re driving with a buddy, you will eventually exhaust all topics of conversation, and with long stretches of nothing on the interstate highway system, there will be virtually nothing new to comment on. Unless of course you count the HORDES of livestock like cows and such just chillin’ off the side of the road:
(Never mind, that’s actually children. Delicious children…)
I knew this beforehand, so I figured I stream stuff like music, movies and podcasts off my phone. And for the most part that worked. I streamed my music from the Amazon cloud, and was able to catch up on my podcasts. I tried to mount my phone and watch Netflix, but the Bluetooth caused the sound to lag. So I just put the phone away and listened to comedy specials without the visuals. Fine. But as I got deeper into the country (specifically west of Chicago) I started entering a lot of Dead Zones and couldn’t get any internet whatsoever, leaving me with long drives of silence.
So don’t rely on the cloud for you entertainment. Either bring a bunch of CD’s or download whatever media you’ll be using to the unit itself. And speaking of doing everything through your smartphone, that leads me to the next tip:
4) Don’t book your motels online
This is something that can be counter intuitive to anyone that doesn’t take long trips across the country, so allow me to explain with an example. On my previous trips across America what I would do after a long day of driving was drive into some town in the middle of nowhere and check into a Motel 6 or some other cheaply priced motel. These motels are usually all clustered together and it’s rare for all of them to be full.
But on my first night of this trip, I got a bit anxious and booked a Motel 6 on my phone. Pretty prudent thinking, right? WRONG. I reserved the room and when I showed up, what did I find? What’s that? An active construction site, you say? Wow, talk about a lucky guess!
(Photo evidence above.)
So here I was, walking through the front doors of a building under construction, and unsure what to do. I called the phone number on the site and sure enough, the automated machine gave me directions to where I was standing. I chalked it up to a computer error and left the premises, searching for another place. I didn’t call the front desk, because, well…I was there! And there were no humans present. So why call the front desk at 9pm or 10pm? (I forget the exact time)
I also made another mistake in thinking that if I didn’t show up to my room and check in, they wouldn’t charge me. After all, why is it policy to put a hold on your credit card until you check in? Oh, how naïve I continue to be of capitalism’s ways!
(“And you grew up in New Yawk? What a ****ing clown! Ha ha ha!!!)
Sure enough I was charged and when I disputed it, they said there was a second Motel 6 down the street, and that the online address matched, even though it didn’t and there ABSOLUTELY was not another Motel 6 in the area. This resulted in HOURS of back and forth between Motel 6, priceline.com, and booking.com, over a measly fifty bucks. So take it from me: book your motels in person! You check in right then and there and you can verify the building exists.
Sheesh! Where are the police where you need them? Well, actually…
3) Brace yourself for Law Enforcement
If you’re driving a long distance across the country you are going to be pulled over. Your out-of-state plate is an exotic piece of bait that no bored cop can resist, so unless you are driving perfectly as everyone else zooms past you, honking in frustration, expect to say hi to Casper, Wyoming’s finest.
(You may see a piss-gold plate but the state trooper sees a bullseye.)
Most normal people do anywhere from 5-15 miles over the speed limit, depending on how high the sign allows, and I distinctly remember doing 80 in a 70 when a truck with Wyoming plates comes barreling past me. He was doing 90, easy. He leaves me in his dust and gets in front of me. Then a few minutes later a police officer in the opposite lane whips around and turns his lights on. At this point I have yet to learn that as an outsider I am bound to a different set of rules, so I again naively assumed the cop was going after the other guy. But I was wrong. Isn’t learning fun?
So Officer Scheel pulls a New Yorker over and is licking his chops over the anticipation of seeing the face of a fancy millionaire who spends his weekends golfing with Donald Trump. I don’t say much to him because I know he has me: He clocked me going over the speed limit and the only way to fight the ticket is to show up to court in August, which he knows will not happen, so I don’t fight it. I just ask him what the acceptable speed is and he tells me that 1-5 over gets a warning and 6-10 over gets a ticket. Yeah. Try telling that to all the other people who almost blew me off the road as I did 5 over for the rest of the trip.
I would have liked to make it 3,000 miles without getting pulled over. But you can’t think that way when you’re driving across the country, which bring me to the next tip…
2) Be Grateful for What you CAN Get
There is no perfect time to drive across America. None. Attractions open and close depending on the season, sometimes stuff will be shut down or inoperable. It happens, people. A few examples:
Chicago: The last time I drove across the country, I really wanted to go to the top of the Willis Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, and check out the view. But I came in the afternoon. The lobby was packed, so it was unlikely I was going to get in before it closed. I was also on a schedule, so I left, promising myself I’d return one day.
And return I did. This time around I came first thing in the morning and there was no line. About five employees of the tower warned me that due to the weather the visibility was zero, and that tickets were non-refundable. But I was just passing through that day, so I figured that even if it was hard to see, at least I’d be able to walk around the top of the roof, right?
Except there is no roof. You are in a windowed enclosure. And those windows were pure white. Take a look:
(Another lesson learned. Ugh.)
Mount Rushmore: This example is less painful. I pulled up to the landmark at around 1pm or so on a weekday, and there were no complications. There was a clear view of the four presidents, a helpful staff, and courteous fellow visitors. But the trail leading super close to the mountain was roped off due to the weather. It was April and there was snow on the ground. But I guess that’s South Dakota for ya. (Yes, Mount Rushmore is in South Dakota, not South Carolina!)
(“Quick question, guys. So if we’re at Mt. Rushmore that means Myrtle Beach is only an hour or so away, right? RIGHT? Um…hello?”)
Santa Cruz: And a nice third example to round this tip out. This place wasn’t on the original agenda, but I was close so I decided to stop by. I got there in the late morning, but unfortunately none of the rides open until noon, and not all of them were functioning. But the most famous one, the Giant Dipper, was open. I went on that along with the Fireball, and on a perfect visit I would have spent the day there with friends, but since it was an impromptu visit, I settled for the dozens of local high schoolers playing hooky.
(“Don’t worry babe, I set my insta to private – teach will never know we were here!”)
And that was all. Just two rides and a quick lunch before I was on my way. I had places to be! I had time to make! However, while it’s good to have that “go go go” mentality during your drive, I firmly believe that’s not the best way to go about it. Which brings me to the final tip:
1) Take your time
Absolutely. America is a beautiful country, and like so many other beautiful things in life it deserves time to be appreciated. During all three of my cross country trips I was moving house. At times I was alone, and at other times I had company, but that is NOT the way to do it. My building was expecting me at a certain time and I didn’t want to be late, so I rushed, passing by so much cool stuff that I shouldn’t have. And I made plenty of stops!
(Oh, Interstate Roadside Rest Areas. You truly are the closest thing I’ve ever had to a guardian angel. #blessed #freedom)
Driving across the country is also not for everyone. It can often be a slog like I’ve mentioned above, with nothing to do, and at times I felt like a kid stuck on an amusement park ride, begging his parents to let him off. But the open road is a quintessential American romanticism. All that highway. All those fields. And all those states passing by, your old life in the rearview mirror and a new beginning just over the horizon.
Take a deep lungful and breathe in that raw ‘Murica outside your window. The invention of the car and the road is an emblem of our culture, just like:
(Apple pie. One slice, please!)
(Baseball. Go Team!)
(*sound of needle scratching record*)
What the %&*$ is THAT doing here? Get that #$%^ out of here!
Here I am trying to pay tribute to my country and someone throws that in the mix! Don’t they know anything about what happened to me last year? That experience made me appreciate America in ways I couldn’t thought possible, and I don’t plan on crossing the border anytime soon. I know what can fix this: GOOGLE! BRING ME A BALD EAGLE ARMORED IN OUR GREAT NATION’S FLAG!
(Even better. Even. %^&*ing. BETTER. ‘Murica. ‘Murica Forever.)
Phew. Well that’s all for today. I’m going to lay down for a bit. What’s that? One last patriotic image? Fine. George Washington aiming a rocket launcher while riding a bald eagle, you say?
(My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…)
I’ll end this post here. As always be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email so you don’t miss a post, and if you have any experience driving across America or just with long drives in general, feel free to leave a COMMENT below.
Thanks for stopping by,
J. F. Seegitz