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  1. #1

    Default X-Country Trip June '06 - So. Cal.

    Hello everyone,

    I think this site is awesome! It's been a huge help in putting together ideas for my trip. Here's my situation: I graduate from college in a few weeks, and after I attend my roommate's wedding at the end of May, I want to take off on a road-trip across America before my full-time accounting job starts in October. I'm estimating going in the month of June, but could stay out longer. I want to visit my extended family members, who are scattered all over the U.S. I've been writing and e-mailing them for years, but never met most of them. I'd also like to see some interesting sights. I come from a long line of cheapskates, so I want to spend conservatively, but I realize this will cost money. I'm trying to find a friend to go with, but so far they're all either getting married or unable to take time off work. I'm planning on starting and ending in Southern California.

    My questions:
    -I have a '93 VW Jetta (manual transmission) in decent condition. I'm thinking it's not the best car for the trip b/c of how small it is and the trouble I'd have finding a repair place that services German cars if I get in trouble. I'm thinking a Toyota, but I'd love to get suggestions. My preference is to stay with a 4-door car, and I care very little about appearance.
    -Also, I don't know the terrain of our country very well. Will a manual transmission be troublesome? Should I get an automatic?
    -What's the best way to organize the progress of my trip? Should I have a binder, a fold-up map, or something else? I will have a laptop with me on the trip, but even with that how do I plot out where I'm going to go next, what road(s) to take, etc.?
    -As far as sleeping at night, what's the best way to go? I've been reading on a page or two here that sleeping in your car at a public rest stop is illegal in some places. How do I go about finding out laws like that? And would that mean I have to for a motel each night that I don't make it to a family member's house?
    -Also, I haven't seen this addressed, but is there a way to find odd jobs along the way? I'm thinking of full- or half-day temp jobs like clerical work, washing dishes at a restaurant, or unloading stuff in a grocery store. I'm a hard worker, and I'd be up for something that could defray costs and provide a fun memory of a place I visit.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default On the Road - Take One

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America forum.

    Congratulations on the upcoming graduation, and on connecting with your family. Finest kind of RoadTrip!

    If your Jetta is in good shape, and absolutely have a good mechanic give it a thorough inspection before starting out on such an extended journey, there's no reason not to take it on this trip. It probably gets pretty good mileage, you're used to it - probably got that seat molded pretty well to your anatomy by now, and now's probably not the time to be shelling out big bucks for something new anyway.There are very few places in the US where the terrain is an issue for cars with manual transmissions. San Francisco is one, but again, if you're used to your car, this should not be a problem.

    As to setting up your trip, that is very much a matter of personal taste. All you really need is a good atlas, and you can get one for $10 or less at most map/book/discount stores. There will be enough Internet cafes, WiFi equipped motels, and libraries along the way to keep you connected with the web so that you can research things to do on the fly as you drive. And don't forget to pump your relatives for suggestions as you proceed. For my own big road trips, I do make a loose-leaf kind of book with information about sights and attractions I might want to see along the way. It's mostly short descriptions, directions, hours and fees. It usually contains more things than I can possibly get to, but it lets me pick and choose as I travel and makes a good reminder of the trip later.

    It's the same with where you stay each night. What works best is what works best for you. Besides family and motels, other options include camping or sleeping in your car at one of practically ubiquitous truck stops. One of our women moderators, Gen, reports that she does this quite often. What she'll do is to make sure to buy something from the facility (you can even rent showers) and inform the cashier/waitress/employee of her intentions just to make sure they know she's there and what she's doing. On the other hand, I always stay at motels, but I can usually find something relatively clean and quiet for $40-$60, sometimes less.

    As for finding odd jobs, probably the best resource is the local paper, 50¢ most places. Or, if you have a particular skill, you might check with a local franchise of one of the national temp firms (Accountemps comes to mind) and see if you can demonstrate your skills for them and get some sort of certificate that will identify you as a trained professional to their other franchises around the country. Just a thought.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula


    Hey NumberCruncher!

    I agree that if your Jetta passes a mechanic's muster, that it should be OK to drive. I'm a big VW fan (both the air-cooled and water-cooled) and most towns have a mechanic with some skills with VWs. A good resource for help along the way if you need it, like referrals to a good mechanic, would be a VW fan websites like VW Vortex. You could go into the forums which have sections for different regions of the country and probably get a good referral.

    Personally, I'd never travel without a AAA-Plus membership giving you free towing up to 100 miles. They will send help for breakdowns/towing, to unlock your car if you lock your keys in, to give your battery a jump, to change a tire, etc. If you just use one of these services, you have pretty much paid for your membership for the year. They also have tons of free guidebooks and maps. You can get these by visiting one of their offices or they will mail them to you for free. Very cool and very useful. You get discounts, too. These discounts can add up. I will ask at restaurants, attractions, lodging, etc. if they have a AAA discount. Sometimes retail shops, auto repair/supply shops, etc. have AAA discounts, too. It's surprising how often I have saved money on something by just asking for the discount. I will also sometimes have them create something they call a TripTik for me when I travel. They will figure out what they consider the best route for you and give you a small booklet with this information. I don't usually follow their suggestions to the letter, but it often has a lot of useful information that helps me with my planning. I really encourage you to consider a membership. No, I don't work for them and won't get a kickback for this. LOL

    If you are good with a stick, you can drive anywhere in the US, even in hilly places like San Francisco and Seattle. If you're not good with a stick, then just do some practices on some hills in your hometown before you leave. It's not that tough to learn but I wouldn't want to learn how to start on a steep incline in a strange place with lots of traffic.

    I think a notebook is too cumbersome. Especially if I have to glance at something on it while driving so I typically put pertinent information on a clipboard. Anything that is nice to have access to but not something I will need immediate or regular access to goes into a small totebag that I usually put either on the floor on the passenger side or, if someone is with me, behind the seats on the floor where it can be easily reached while driving. I put extra maps, guidebooks, and information that I might have printed off the internet, etc. in the totebag and, if there's a lot of it, I might use file folders or pee-chee type folders to categorize the information to make finding it easier.

    Typically, I create a route with MS Streets & Trips software before leaving. However, sometimes it's fun to have alternate routes in case I have more time to explore than I anticipated. These alternate routes take me on sidetrips to things I want to see. But I really hate the directions MS S&T gives you. Far more detailed than I like. So I will print out the maps that show the routes and then type up just the highpoints like which exit or road to take, and which direction I'll be traveling on, and the number of miles in-between, and then print it out in big print that can easily be glanced at and read while driving.

    You could do something similar using online planning tools if you don't want to purchase software. MSN has a good one. And some folks really like Mapquest. There are a lot of choices out there. You can find more with a google.

    I like to camp if the weather is fairly warm and dry. You can find places to camp with a google and print out that information to take with me. I like to travel with a campground guidebook in my totebag in case I end up stopping someplace I hadn't anticipated. This page on this website has some good information and various links that might give you some good ideas. If you get a AAA membership, you can get free guides to lodging, including hotels and campgrounds.

    I agree with AZBuck's recommendations for searching for jobs. However, I would also add that there are places in cities called Labor Ready (or something like that) that focus on unskilled labor positions. I would imagine there are other companies with different names. You might find them with a websearch before you go. My daughter moved to Seattle without a job and found work through them until she found regular work. These jobs might include working at construction sites or in a warehouse, etc. They might last a day or a week. Of course, if you're able to get jobs that utilize your skills, you'll earn more. But this might be a nice option just in case. If you're not opposed to physical labor, that is.

    Enjoy your trip!

  4. #4


    Thank you both for all of your advice; it's been invaluable as I plan more and more. I'm sorry I neglected to mention it earlier. And I will absolutely be rejoining AAA. I've been absent for a little while because I've been working on the final touches of my Senior Project. It's now done, and I graduate in 12 days!

    Okay, so I have another question. How much clothing should I pack for this trip? I have family scattered all over the U.S. and expect to be able to do laundry at each spot, but how do I plan for delays between destinations, such as finding a spot I want to stay in for a while?

    Also, can you recommend a good brand of digital camera for my trip? I want to document this well. I'd be able to download pictures to my laptop everyday, but I'd like a good battery life, decent resolution, and the ability to store a lot of pictures. Special effects aren't important to me.

    Also, if I essentially want to travel the perimeter of the country, how many miles would that be? I'll do some zig-zagging in and out, but the general plan is to go counter-clockwise around the country.

    And how many miles can I expect to drive in a day if I go solo? How does that change if I have a partner? This is assuming I/we don't do a speed-run, but a reasonable pace with a willingnes to stop at a place that looks interesting.
    Last edited by NumberCruncher; 04-25-2006 at 12:00 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Happy Graduation!

    I hope you're walking. That's a cool experience and, after all that hard work, you deserve the applause.

    Re clothes: I would take what you can reasonably pack without over-crowding your car. If you have room, more is better, imho. I hate bothering with laundry while traveling. But, since this is a longer trip, you'll obviously have to do laundry sometime. Most towns of any size have laundries. Quite often, hotels and campgrounds do as well. I wouldn't sweat it. You shouldn't have much problem with finding a place to wash clothes in-between visits at people's homes.

    An option is washing some clothing items in a sink or bath-tub. You can find good laundry supplies for travel (this is a good source). The Travel Wash on page 2 at that site is good. It cleans fairly good and rinses out well. I typically take this and a hanger and a few clothes pins just in case I need to launder something and don't have access to a washer/dryer. Everything but jeans dry fairly well overnight and then, if they're not quite dry, just lay them on the top of your luggage in the trunk or in the backseat and the heat of the car should finish drying things.

    I also always have Shout brand travel packets (individual wipes) in my car because I'm a slob. These work well for spot-cleaning. And, if worst comes to worse, I also always have a small spray bottle of Febreeze spray in my car and I have been known to spray it on clothes while traveling if they could use laundring but I can't get to one....special attention to armpit areas. LOL I've never had anyone hold their nose when talking to me so I assume it gets me an extra wearing without being too offensive.

    Remember, you won't be seeing people daily like at a job or school so you can wear the same things repeatedly without anyone wondering about your wardrobe.

    Gosh....there are tons of good cameras out there. I will often read the reviews of items at Amazon even if I'm not going to purchase from them as this gives you good insight into people's experiences. You might also check out the reviews at CNet, dpreview, and Steve's Digi-Cams. I've found these sites quite helpful.

    When I plug the farthest corners of the US into MS Streets & Trips (Perry, Maine; Key West, FL; San Diego, CA; and Neah Bay, WA) I get a roundtrip mileage of about 9840 miles.

    As for daily mileage, gosh....hard to answer. Your mileage will likely vary so much on a long trip. There might be days when you can drive 12+ hours and it will be fairly easy to do. And there might be days when driving 2 hours seems like a marathon. It all depends on mood, driving fatigue, etc. Obviously, with a driving partner, you can travel a few more miles each day safely. However, even if you're not driving some of those miles, just sitting in the car for hours on end can be tiring. I would say that if you intersperse long travel days with day of either shorter drives or staying in one place, you should be fine. You might want to check out The Art of the Speed Run and the great Drive Safe with Uncle Bob series for driving tips.

    I would say a good average to intermix driving with sight-seeing would be about 4-6 miles of travel per day. But even this might get old without a lay-over once in awhile.

    I can't wait to hear more about your plans. Keep us posted and come back with more questions anytime. And don't forget to return with a roadtrip report once your trip is over.

  6. #6

    Default Thank you so much!

    Well I now have my B.A. in Accounting! And yes, Judy, I did walk. A week and a half before the ceremony, however, I was about to skip the whole thing. I just wanted out, but now I'm very glad I walked. When the student body president (who's a friend of mine) got up to talk, he gave a "Top Ten" list of reasons you know you're a 2006 graduate, and #4 was remembering when I pierced my ear freshman year. And considering how reserved, professional, and proper I'm known for being, the whole auditorium was absolutely roaring. It was great!

    So I'm now back with my parents in Orange County for the summer until my job in Fresno starts full-time in September. And I'm eagerly planning more concrete phases of my trip.

    Thanks for all the advice! It's been so wonderful to have your help in planning this. And I will definitely be posting a trip report once I come back. In fact, I hope to post interim blogs on my xanga site. If I am successful at that, I'll post the link here. I'd probably type on the road and upload them when I reach a relative's house.

    I can't think of anymore questions at this point, but I'll probably come up with a few more as time goes on. I just wanted to give y'all an update.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Congratulations!

    How you still wear earrings or is that out of place for accountants? Glad you walked. I almost didn't and am glad I did, too. It was a thrilling end to a very tough but gratifying experience. Those graduation caps really cap off the experience, you know!

    If you think of any other questions, we'll all be glad to help. I look forward to your trip reports. Best wishes!

  8. #8

    Default 2.5 Days to Launch

    Hi everyone!

    Well, most of the details are set. My car is $800 more ready for the trip, I just did a system restore on my laptop to get all the bugs out before I leave, and I think I'm just about ready!

    As it turns out, I didn't find a partner for the trip, so I'm driving solo, which I'm now glad about. My uncle may get a chance to join me for a leg of the journey, which would be nice, but I think I'll enjoy the majority of solo time.

    My trip route has altered slightly. Instead of going for the four corners, I've thinned it to a mangled oval: southwest to northeast. There just weren't enough people/things I wanted to see in the southeast or northwest. And a AAA map gave me some great advice: save something for another trip. Even though I probably won't get another chance like this one, I'm sure I'll have some traveling opportunities in the future.

    And my xanga site can be found at If you feel so inclined, follow me along the highway.

    Oh, and Judy, the earring only lasted four months. I liked it and the way it looked, but not the image it would have given of me to others.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default No northwest? Bummer

    Hopefully you'll make it up here on another trip. I think you underestimate the beauty that you'd find here. And, of course, you could have come to see me. LOL

    Yeah, I suppose earrings and accounting don't mix too well.

    Have a great trip and let us know how it went. I'll try to read your trip reports on your webpage, too.

  10. #10

    Default Trip Report

    Hello! Hello!

    First off, I want to thank all of you for your valuable tips and tricks. The quality of my trip would have been extremely diminshed without them.

    I ended up staying out six weeks. I left on June 6 and arrived back on July 18. I had such a wonderful experience! Reading over my previous posts, I see I didn't elaborate much on school, but suffice it to say that I had a miserable job, terrible interactions with the housing office, and so many other things that I was burnt out more than most when I finally finished. This trip helped me to heal from all of that. I felt so rejuvenated and ready to begin the next phase of my life.

    I started in Orange County, California and drove all the way to Acadia National Park in Maine, and then back here. My Jetta did fine until Colorado when the engine began a pattern of increasing sputtering and eventually dying, though it would start up again after some rest time. It crawled back into California just as the heat wave started (the problem was temperature sensitive so I drove the last 250 miles without air conditioning).

    I have now met all of my first cousins and most of my mom's first cousins (and she hasn't even met them!). I also got to meet some absolute strangers: some delightful, others not so much. I think that all made it so much more fun.

    I didn't stay in a motel once. If I didn't have friends or family to stay with, I slept in my car parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. My dad had fashioned a curtain for me that covered all of my windows.

    Not counting car repairs, I spent about $1,500 on this trip of just under 9,000 miles. I budgeted well, eating out only once as a celebration of making it half-way.

    Below is a list of things I learned from the trip that I posted on my website:

    1. There is a euphoria from completing a trip like this that does not last long enough to completely unpack. I'm still slowly finishing it all up.

    2. I learned to relax more. I lived this trip in a strangely Type-B manner. Friends have described me as completely Type A+, but I didn't do anywhere near the proper planning for this trip, and I think it was a great idea. I learned that great things can come out of spontaneity.

    3. Along the lines of relaxing, I am now starting to walk on grass again. For about two years--with rare exception--I have not walked on grass because of how it tracks on your shoes and then onto everywhere else, etc.

    4. I've learned that I love to travel. I now have the traveling bug and hope that work offers me the opportunity to travel with my job. I used to find travel exhausting and packing to be my most stressful pastimes. But after living out of my tiny car for six weeks, I am amazed at how I'm able to cope with things.

    5. I've learned how much history our country has that sadly misses the textbooks of our schools. For example, I had never before heard of Acadia National Park, and after sitting through a 15-minute video on it, I have an amazing new perspective on what it means to our country to have that and all the other national parks.

    6. I've discovered a desire to one day get married and have kids. While I was in school, I was certain I was destined to a life of bachelorhood, and I was very content with that. That's what I wanted, but now I feel like God has something greater in mind for me and whomever He has in mind for me.

    7. In contrast with that, I reaffiirmed my love of being alone. Solitude is a beautiful thing. It's not something I want permanently, but I like the opportunities to just go wherever God leads.

    8. I learned how much family means. I met so many of my cousins; it was fascinating. I am glad to now have a face and personality to connect with when I receive contact from them.

    9. I saw how beautiful the rest of the country is. I thought I would never leave the west coast, but now I'm considering a move to Tennessee one day.

    10. I learned how God can use seemingly random moments to connect complete strangers.

    I took over one thousand pictures and kept a very long journal. I did post it on xanga as planned, and I'm really glad because I've already reread parts of it and noticed things I've forgotten.

    Thank you again so much! I'll be back for my next road trip (although I don't think it will be soon given my job).

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