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  1. #1

    Default My First Cross-Country Road Trip

    I've always wanted to just jump in a car and go, and next month, that's exactly what I plan to do. This will be my first big road trip, the one I've always dreamed of taking - I'm going across the U.S. from home in the New York metropolitan area to San Francisco traveling through the southwest and part of the midwest. My destinations mostly lie in Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I'm excited and intimidated all at once.

    Being a woman who has lived in the city my whole life, I've always wanted to make an escape and go on my own adventure - a cross-country road trip. This is the only thing on my list of what I want to do before turning 30 (which is right around the corner). I'm a dreamer with an independent spirit, but I've never gotten to put that independence into practice, and I know that taking this trip will be the experience of a lifetime. I'm going to be visiting friends along the way (fortunately, I'll be able to stay with some), and I'll have plenty of time to explore because I'll have a few months before I need to be home, but I will be in touch with someone at home the whole way.

    While I'd love to have a traveling companion, I will be going it solo. I prefer doing this on my own anyway. Though I constantly battle indecision, I prefer being able to make decisions myself.

    As past experiences go: In my early 20s, I drove once to Florida with a friend, and that was supposed to be my big cross-country trip, but complications arose, and we only made it along the east coast and came right back home. Then, a few years ago, I traveled across the southwest from San Antonio to San Diego by bus. Then, I took my current car from New Jersey to Washington D.C. this year, again traveling with a friend, and I was pleased with how it handled and its highway gas mileage. I also love long driving trips. My family used to take them along the east coast all the time throughout my childhood and teens, and I loved it.

    I feel like I've been building to this for so long, and now as the time approaches - I'll be leaving late next month - and though I've done research and reading, I'm getting very nervous and I'm trying not to let it shake me. My normal amount of caution, living in a city, should serve me well along the way, but it's still my first solo trek into areas I'm largely unfamiliar with. Finding this forum was a huge relief in and of itself.

    First, let me address some usual points. I invested in a GPS, a new phone, an iPod, and an aircard (not sure how useful that will be, but it may come in handy), and I have car chargers for most of these devices. I have a 1999 minivan that will be getting a tune-up from a mechanic before I leave, and I will be purchasing a road kit and cooler for the journey. I'm planning to get a case of bottled water and low-sodium, low-sugar snacks. I'm also a member of AAA.

    So here are some concerns and questions that I'm hoping the knowledgeable travelers here will be able to discuss with this novice:

    One of my hopes for this trip is to drive Route 66 - at least a significant part of it. I'm wondering if anyone can recommend one of the books on the market for following Historic Route 66, since I know the road is now a broken trail and renamed, and the only books I've been able to find in stores are retrospectives or don't offer clear guidance through the modern course of it.

    Another issue is that I plan to stick mainly to interstates and state highways or roads for much of the journey - I have a good road atlas book, and I'm not looking to deviate much, if at all, from roads that appear on the maps. As an aficionado of Old West history, I plan on seeing things like Billy the Kid's grave and Boot Hill in Dodge City. I also want to see Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, though I'm not much for the wilderness (while I love nature, I rarely venture deep into it, because I know enough to know that I don't know enough), so I will not be hiking or wandering too far from main roads or those that run through these vast national parks.

    I'm aware that these things are much more isolated than other areas I will be in and the type of environment I'm used to, but how frequented are the roads that lead to and from these spots? Are they among the most isolated, or are they relatively not too far removed from towns and people?

    My concerns of course are breakdowns and being unable to reach someone in case of an emergency. In such a situation, I certainly would heed all of the advice given here and at every other site about staying with the car. But the question that always comes to mind when I read that warning is what if no one is driving by even after two days and there is no cellular signal to call for help? How likely are situations like this?

    For all the talk and worry, I understand the need to prepare for a variety of bad scenarios - "Except the worst; hope for the best" - but is this stuff that common? There's such an impression of paranoia out there, and I want to be smart and safe, but it's kind of unsettling to hear at every turn that I have to prepare for the inevitability of road trip apocalypse or something, you know? I'm not trying to make light, I'm merely seeking advice about a mounting concern. I'm just looking for honest input, because I don't want a fear for my survival to overshadow the joy of finally taking this trip.

    Finally, the weather. I'm taking to the midwest first, so I'll be there in early October, and then I'll be traveling up the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco come mid- to late- October, and in November, I'll probably be making my way back through the southwest. I know the weather in that part of the country can be very warm to hot in the day and very cool to cold at night, and I will be keeping an eye on the weather as I travel, but are there any specific conditions that might affect my trip that might not be that apparent?

    Any advice, thoughts, input or questions on anything concerning this trip I'm taking would be welcome and greatly appreciated!

  2. Default Have fun!

    Hey Serra-
    Sounds like a great trip...you're going to be fine! I did a similar trip in celebration of my 30th birthday last year (followed by 6 months in South America) and had no problems whatsoever. So it looks like you're doing this over about two months? I spent 3 months and 13K miles on the road trip section of the trip (though the bulk of the driving was over two months) and amazingly I still felt rushed but that's probably because I was meeting up and staying with a bunch of people on the trip so I was on more of a schedule than I would've liked.

    Anyway, to address your safety issues... I know the feeling, you want to be safe but don't want to be too paranoid and unfortunately there is some inherent danger in traveling alone. I think there are ways to strike a balance though...here are some tips based on my experiences:

    1. In my glove compartment I kept a typed up piece of paper with my name and address as well as the name, address and phone numbers of my emergency contact people.

    2. I also kept a small notebook where I would note the date, time and where I was going that I either kept in my glove compartment or in my hotel room if I was leaving from the hotel. I wasn't too religious about this and only really did it if I was going off somewhere remote by myself (eg. a hike in a state park) but I think it was a good idea in case something did happen people would have a clue where to look.

    3. Make sure you keep in regular contact with at least one person. Maybe you're someone who talks to your mom every day anyway but I'm not that type so calling every day was too difficult for me. I kept an online trip blog and told her if I hadn't posted in 3 days she could start to worry. Typically I posted every other day and if I was behind would at least type something to the effect of "I'm not dead. Will get caught up soon." If you think 3 days is too long maybe a simple text message once a day to your contact person would do it?

    4. Since you're driving alone make sure you are getting enough sleep. I had to cut a few things out and a couple of times ended up getting a later start than I planned because I needed the extra rest. I think I did a good job of this and at no point on the trip did I feel exhausted which really makes the trip so much more enjoyable (and safe).

    5. As to being stranded for 2 days at a time I think the odds of that are pretty close to nil especially if you're mostly traveling on the Interstate. For one, you'll be traveling before winter weather sets in and there are always long-haul truckers going by. Having said that, make sure you do carry warm clothes, blankets, high-protein, high-carb foods and extra water for any possible break-downs.

    6. For your Ipod I would highly recommend getting an FM transmitter so you can listen to the music through your stereo system rather than through the earbuds while you're driving. Believe me...there are lots of places in the country (especially in the middle) where there are NO radio stations. I got one called the iCarPlay by Monster and it worked great. They don't have the exact one available that I bought but check Best Buy or Circuit City and you'll find it...it's about $100 but worth it as some of the cheaper ones don't work well.

    I hope that helps some...good luck. I'm jealous...it makes me want to get back in the car and head back out the door for a few months. Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll try to help out.

    Stacey

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,747

    Default Quite some adventure!

    Hello and welcome to R.T.A.

    It looks like you have given this plenty of thought and have got most things sorted out, but checking things out is always good.

    First off you may find this link useful, it is another post from a lone female road tripper and there are some useful links about going solo.

    None of the roads into or out of the parks are isolated there is always somebody passing through, and unless you go seriously of the beaten path [which it sounds as though you are not] I doubt you would have more than hour or so to wait on the remotest of paved roads.
    The weather is generally o.k in October, but come November if you were going across high ground you may find that some roads will close due to ice or snow, but Interstates shouldn't be a problem.

    You may find this link handy as well discussing recommended miles to cover in a day.

    here is how the trip turned out for birdybird in the original link I gave you.

    Hopefully that will help to put your mind at rest, but feel free to come back with any further questions or doubts you may have.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 08-17-2008 at 10:56 AM. Reason: added link

  4. #4

    Default

    Thank you so much, Stacey and Dave for all your advice!!

    Stacey, thank you so much for your tips!
    They are all very useful, and I appreciate the benefit of your experience - it all sounds very much like me.
    I'm not one who would be great with calling every day, but I'm going to do my best, and at least text message if I can't call - so you're advice is exactly what I was thinking - making sure one of my close friends always knows where I am and where I'm going next.
    I definitely plan to stay well-rested! It's one of the luxuries of driving - when I took my bus trip, I was going at all kinds of crazy hours, and it will be nice not to be at the mercy of the alarm clock.
    And I'm making sure to pack for warm and cold weather.
    Also, I did make sure to buy a FM transmitter for my iPod - it was a cheaper one, but so far it's working fairly well here in this densely-populated area of overcrowded airwaves. If I have a lot of trouble with it, then I will pick up a better one along the way - thanks for the heads up on that!

    Dave, thank you for the welcome and the links!
    I cannot tell you how helpful and comforting I have found the forums so far! I had already read birdybird's post, but I had not seen the outcome of her journey, so thank you for linking me to that - it was very encouraging to read!
    Thanks for the heads up on the high roads come November. I will be mostly sticking to interstates as well as state roads, but I will keep this in mind if the temptation to deviate a little further off main roads hits me on the way back.
    And that thread on safe mileage per day for solo travelers is one I had not come across yet, and it is very handy indeed! I think 500-600 miles per day would be my maximum and sounds more than reasonable - I always try to be aware of my own limits - and most of the trip I'll probably be stopping to stay somewhere more often than that anyway.
    Your suggestions and feedback definitely helps put my mind at rest!

    Big thanks to both of you!

    I still have a few questions and concerns if anyone might be able to answer:

    Anyone have any recommendations for a good comprehensive map/guide to contemporary travels along Historic Route 66? I've seen several online, but don't know which is really worth buying and contains the maps and lodging/dining info I would want.

    Any additional advice or input related specifically to traveling the roads in west Kansas (Dodge City) or rural New Mexico (Old Fort Sumner) - how is cellular coverage in those areas?

    Anybody have any input on using broadband aircards for Internet access while on the road? What is their coverage and service like in the mid- and southwest?

    Lastly, the case of water, cooler, and these things are all in addition to three suitcases I will be packing for the trip. I'm certainly not going to overdo it, and I'd like to travel with as little as possible, but the item list keeps growing - so is there a general average weight or percentage of space that trip baggage and necessities should be so I don't overburden my minivan (and put a significant dent in its fuel economy) on this long trip?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default Solo Adventuring

    Quote Originally Posted by Serra View Post
    Anyone have any recommendations for a good comprehensive map/guide to contemporary travels along Historic Route 66?
    I'll probably never understand the interest is this route -- there are far more interesting and historic roads than Route 66 -- for my money the Lincoln Highway is far more appealing -- here is an excellent guide book for that. The best online virtual guide is this one. Several of our members have driven Route 66 several times -- here is one field report by one of our RoadTrip Advisors. And here are some other good links. Guidebooks to Route 66 -- I've reviewed a couple -- here are three to look at:
    Drew Knowles has sort of made Route 66 his career.
    I actually think Sara's book is one of the best (and the smallest).
    This is Drew's latest --

    We are hiring a solo roadtripper expert columnist and her first article will be published here in September with a bunch of tips. Here is review of one her books, "Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips" Also, you might fine this article I wrote about the art of solo travel useful and this one about safety on the road.
    traveling the roads in west Kansas (Dodge City) or rural New Mexico (Old Fort Sumner) - how is cellular coverage in those areas?
    Pretty good on the major highways and Interstates.
    Anybody have any input on using broadband aircards for Internet access while on the road? What is their coverage and service like in the mid- and southwest?
    Verizon and Sprint have excellent coverage in the cities -- less so in the rural areas.
    Lastly, the case of water, cooler, and these things are all in addition to three suitcases I will be packing for the trip
    There are hundreds of posts about packing tips on this forum -- here is a good place to start reading.

    Mark

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default recommendations

    Anyone have any recommendations for a good comprehensive map/guide to contemporary travels along Historic Route 66? I've seen several online, but don't know which is really worth buying and contains the maps and lodging/dining info I would want.
    We've got several book recommendations and other guide ideas in the Route 66 page of the planning section.

    Any additional advice or input related specifically to traveling the roads in west Kansas (Dodge City) or rural New Mexico (Old Fort Sumner) - how is cellular coverage in those areas?
    Cell phone reception, especially in rural areas, is going to depend upon your provider. Even on the interstate coverage is good, but not 100%, but I certainly wouldn't plan a trip around cell phone coverage.

    Anybody have any input on using broadband aircards for Internet access while on the road? What is their coverage and service like in the mid- and southwest?
    Many motels, restaurants, coffee shops, truck stopes and libraries offer free wi-fi access.

    is there a general average weight or percentage of space that trip baggage and necessities should be so I don't overburden my minivan (and put a significant dent in its fuel economy) on this long trip?
    This thread has some thoughts of what people carry with them on the road. I really wouldn't worry about your fuel mileage. Unless you are carrying several hundred of pounds of gear, the difference really won't be noticeable.

  7. Default No problem...

    I should've mentioned that those FM transmitters don't work as well in metro areas so if you're getting it to work at all now you'll probably be fine with the one you have. This inconvenience is really no big deal since you can get decent radio stations in metro areas...it's out in the middle of nowhere that the FM transmitter is awesome!

    I can't speak to the Route 66 stuff or the cell phone coverage in Kansas but a couple of things cross my mind (sorry for the excessive lists. I LOVE lists!).

    1. I'm not familiar with the Aircard stuff...is this some sort of subscribed to internet service? If you already have Wi-Fi capability on your computer (I assume this is for your computer not Blackberry or something) then I wouldn't bother. You can pick up unprotected wireless internet pretty much everywhere. If I needed to check my e-mail or web search while driving just pull into most shopping areas (especially if there's a coffee shop), hotel/motel parking lot or residential neighborhood and you should be able to get a signal. I can't think of a single time I couldn't get a signal and most inexpensive/moderate hotels have free Wi-fi (some upscale places charge for it which seems sort of counter-intuitive to me). I wouldn't exactly do this for extensive web searching but if you just need a quick minute to look something up I think it's fine and you can do longer surfing at the hotel at night (you are doing hotels, right? Not camping?).

    2. There are lots of great threads on packing. I ended up with a pretty large cooler with wheels and a drain to dump out the melted ice. I also kept a smaller cooler up front with me for some snacks, cold drinks, etc. One thing I wish I would've done better is to buy less food at a time. It's pretty difficult to keep things properly cold with just ice so I ended up throwing out more food than I would've liked. Since you can find a grocery store anywhere I probably would've done better to buy less food more frequently...I could've then gotten by with a smaller cooler. Good to know for next time I guess.

  8. #8

    Default

    Serre
    This was the year that I finally made it cross country what I learned was that I can't wait to do it again but yes make sure you have your vehicle checked out because there are places out west you do not want to get caught with your pants down. Plan plenty of time drink lots of water and have plenty of rest. I went out (left from Western New York) with my best friend My husband met me in LA and we drove back going over thru Wyoming and South Dakota and dropping down. I have a lot more appreciation for truck drivers and was very in tune with my car even so we broke down in Reno and ended up buying a new car not our plan but was very blessed. Make sure you can laugh in every situation and follow your instincts if it feels wrong get out if things feel right go. I think generally people are good and I think you will have memories for a life time keep a journal for the pics you take one thing I did not do and enjoy keep us updated on your journey.

  9. #9

    Default

    Thanks to all of you for your input and advice! It is greatly appreciated, and all of it is very useful!

    Mark, honestly, Route 66 was not originally in the plan. I barely knew anything about the road - and then as I planned, I realized how many states and areas I wanted to see that it ran through, and I had planned the trip to encompass many different interests of mine, including some elements of history different scenery from the natural to the urban, from the quaint to the spectacular, and I realized Route 66 may be something I want to see for myself. I may not spend much time on it, but I would like to check it out. One of my stops will be the Superman museum in Metropolis, Illinois, so I'm certainly looking for oddities that fascinate me and have some value that speaks directly to me - be it wide open land or pure camp. Though I'll be passing on things like the world's largest ball of twine - just not my thing. Thank you for your recommendations on the subject - and I will certainly check into Lincoln Highway more!
    I actually read your "Rolling Solo" article before I found these forums - in fact, it's how I found the site! So thank you!
    As cell phones go, I have AT&T, which I'm sure isn't as widespread, but at least it's one of the major carriers.
    Thanks for all of your answers!

    Michael, thank you for the links you provided as well!
    I'm definitely not planning my trip around cellular coverage areas, and I know I cannot depend on them. I do, however, like the comfort of being able to reach friends and family back home and them being able to reach me, whether it's an emergency, or just checking in. AT&T is my carrier, and I will take advantage of wifi when necessary, but I already have an aircard, which is why I asked if anyone has experience with them on the road.
    And I've read Mark's article and I'm reading the posts in that thread about packing. Thank you again!

    Stacey, I have no aversion to lists, so feel free!
    I cannot tell you how thrilled I am about having the FM transmitter! I'm sure it will be amazing to have on the road.
    The aircard is a subscription Internet service with a card that plugs right into your laptop, and you can connect by broadband. I already have the aircard, and so I will be taking it with me, though I'm not sure how useful it will be, so I'm wondering if anyone on the board has one and knows how useful they are. I've been to too many hotels and other areas that charge ridiculous amounts for Internet, or when I haven't had my computer, for access to a machine. I will be staying at hotels primarily, and usually I wind up at larger chains (hence the Internet charges, which I do not understand either), but I will probably be at smaller hotels almost all of the time on this trip. I know free wifi hotspots are becoming more common, but I'd prefer to use my own connection where- and whenever possible. Otherwise, I'll just make use of it and see how it fares on the trip.
    I was thinking that taking too much food from the start would be a mistake for exactly the reasons you mention. I will get enough to begin with and shop along the way then.
    Thanks for the additional tips!

    critterwoman_98, thank you so much for your advice from your first cross-country venture!
    I'm very sorry to hear that your car broke down, but it sounds like it worked out in the end, since you got your new car!
    I really appreciate your input regarding the approach and attitude when facing any difficulties while traveling - I whole-heartedly agree, and I hope to rise to any challenges with that philosophy in mind.
    And I will definitely keep you updated!

    Thank you again to everyone who shared advice and feedback - you have no idea how much this has helped! It's a huge relief just to be able to discuss my concerns and budding anxiety with others who understand it, are experienced in doing this often, and have overcome some of their own.

    I would always welcome any further input anyone here has to offer that they think might also be useful!

    Thank you just for having these forums! They are a wonderful resource!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default CB and Weather radio would be essential

    Quote Originally Posted by Serra View Post
    As cell phones go, I have AT&T, which I'm sure isn't as widespread,
    AT&T used to the very best coverage in the land -- in reality they still do... (but it is not available to mere consumers)

    One of the key bits of road gear that I would consider essential is a CB radio equipped with the NOAA weather channels -- here is an overview about CB radios and we are adding another expert columnist, Andrew Youderian, who will provide current information about CB radios and other electronic gear -- his first column will be published here on Sept. 26th.
    I was thinking that taking too much food from the start would be a mistake for exactly the reasons you mention. I will get enough to begin with and shop along the way then.
    Here is a good overview for snacks on the road and here is a list of some of the road food recipes we have published.


    Mark

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