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  1. #1

    Default Chicago to Portland

    Hello all! I just came back from an amazing road trip from Chicago to the southwest, hitting 10 states and several amazing parks (Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Arches, with a few places in between). Now I'm itching for more!

    I initially intended for my last trip to be solo, but a friend really wanted to join me (and then her friend joined us along the way as well). It was great, but I felt there was a lot I missed out on because after our hike through Zion, my friend was done (and that was only our second stop!). She said towards the end of our trip that it was clear she was a city girl because all she wanted was to get home. Meanwhile, I'm already ready to hit the road again.

    So I decided to start planning and keep it as a solo trip this time. I'm thinking Chicago to Portland - probably mid-September 2016 (the only other time I could take off work would be in the middle of summer and that seemed like a bad idea temp-wise and crowd-wise). I love love love driving. The trip I just took, my friend doesn't drive at all, so I drove almost the entire trip myself. Her friend insisted on giving me a rest at one point, but then I felt like I missed out on some of the most fun driving of the trip! I would have been content driving the entire time.

    So with all these things in mind, here's my question(s). How many days should I set aside for a trip like this? To drive there and back? I did the last trip in 10 days, and I made it from Chicago to Oklahoma City in day 1 (if that's any indication of my driving stamina). I know that's pretty far (800ish miles, I think?), but I felt fine. I got an early start (7am I think it was), made a bunch of stops along the way, and decided to stop for the night around dinner time, giving myself plenty of time to rest before the next day. (The intent was to get the most driving done in day 1 so I'd be able to relax and drive less each day after.) For that trip, my intention was to be spontaneous and stop anywhere that seemed interesting. We did a little of that, but again... my friend didn't really want to do anything so that was pretty limited. So this time around, I want to be able to stop if there's something interesting. I don't intend to spend half a day wandering around each state, though. So how many days is reasonable for a trip like this?

    I picked Portland because I heard it's a fun city to tackle on your own. Anyone have experience with this?

    I've never traveled super long distances by myself, but I used to drive from NYC to Montreal alone all the time. I think that's where I found my love of driving. I want to travel the world, and don't want to wait for someone to travel with, so I decided I would need to learn to travel solo. I figured a road trip would be the best way to do this. I could always turn around if I *really* needed to. I honestly don't think I will, though. I know Portland is far and maybe I should try someplace closer, but I love a challenge. : )

    I was using roadtrippers to plan a route, and basically, I'm currently looking at this:
    TO: Illinois > Wisconsin > Minnesota > North Dakota > Montana > Idaho > Washington > Oregon
    FROM: Oregon > Idaho > Utah > Wyoming > South Dakota > Iowa > Illinois

    I like the idea of going through 12 different states, and I would like to be able to say I actually went to each one as opposed to just drove through, even if for just a meal and/or a walk around town.

    Does this sound like a decent plan? Any suggestions of places to see along the way? Any alternate route suggestions? I love doing active things, like hiking, and adventurous things, like skydiving, but I also like just seeing the sights. I just want to see something I've never seen before. Coming from Chicago, I already know city life. I want to experience something else.

    Thanks in advance everyone, and sorry for the long post!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Going solo - safely!

    Hi, and Welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    All your reasons for wanting to take this trip solo, are all the reasons why I have (as a senior female) travelled almost 200000 miles in north Anerica, on my own. Way to go!

    The first thing I should advice you is to get hold of good detailed maps of the States through which you plan to travel. The detail on good old paper maps is invaluable compared to any computer mapping program. Then I advice you to follow the advice in the following paragraph:-

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck
    Start with maps. Not GPS, not software, not Google, but real honest-to-god paper maps that show you your entire route, that you can mark up (and erase), that you can stick pins in, and that show something about the land you'll be driving through. Those are your essential tool in any RoadTrip planning process. Start by marking all the places you know you want to visit. Then connect the dots. Then look for more places of interest and scenic routes along the lines connecting the dots. Repeat until you've got as many sites and roads as you think you want.
    Good maps can be got from AAA and are free to members. If you do not already have it, a AAA membership is great insurance when going solo.

    I do need to point out though, that your trip from Chicago to OKC was not the wisest thing to do. It is way past what professional drivers are permitted by law, for safety reasons. Doing such a distance on your first day is particularly unwise, as fatigue could set in, and without you knowing it, you are becoming a danger on the road, not only to yourself, but to everyone who shares the road with you. As well it is not only on that first day, but on subsequent days. Fatigue is cumulative and an insidious enemy on the road.

    For your safety and enjoyment I would urge you not to exceed 600 miles (11 - 12 hours) on any one day, and that is without sightseeing. It is much more enjoyable to keep your miles to 450 - 500 and allow yourself to stop as the mood takes you.

    So get out some good maps, see what there is along the way of interest to you, and plan your trip accordingly. You will soon know how many days you will need for the loop trip.

    Enjoy the planning - you have lots of time to do the research.


  3. #3


    Thank you so much! I'm extremely jealous of your 200000 miles and hope to reach that someday. : ) I would definitely be interested in some solo female road trip tips, too (though I'm sure there are plenty of posts here on that as well).

    And thank you for the maps tip. One of the most exciting things for me pre-trip this time was the purchase of an atlas. I know that sounds strange, but there was just something about it that made it feel so much more... authentic. I had also printed out all my intended directions ahead of time, just in case. I love the idea of marking places on a map then connecting the dots to plan my route, though. I will have to stop at AAA (which I do have) for some paper maps. My atlas is great, but it sounds like the paper ones may have much more detail.

    I guess I probably should have mentioned that after reading a few other posts this morning that I realize the drive to OKC was probably not the wisest thing to do. I didn't know that at the time, though. I figured with the amount of stops we made and the amount of time we rested at each stop, plus the fact that we got there early enough to have at least 8 hours of sleep plus some down time, it would be ok. Luckily, I was fine (and I know - I need to add on "this time" here). There was not a single point in my trip where I felt any exhaustion (well, except after one of the hikes, but that passed quickly). : ) I think knowing there was someone else who could drive if absolutely necessary made me a little more comfortable driving the distance. (The friend I went with *can* drive - she just doesn't.) But if I'm on my own, I don't want to take any chances. So it's good to have that 600 mile cap as reference. I know the first few states I've already been to so won't really be stopping. I will plan even less mileage per day in the other states, though.

    I'm so excited for this! Glad I decided to start planning now, and would definitely love suggestions of places along the way that people recommend. : )

  4. #4



    Another tip for your planning is to ignore the times you see on any mapping programs. Generally, 50mph is the average speed you should use, because those apps don't include any stops for gas, meals, rest stops, coffee breaks or anything else but nonstop driving. If you plan a 400 mile drive, it will likely take at least 8 hours, and if you are going to do sight seeing along the way, you should limit mileage to 200-300 maximum per day.

    You have about 4,500 miles to drive on your loop trip, which would call for about two weeks to see and do things along your route. I wouldn't plan on any less than that. Use the Map Wizard on this site to plot each day's drive and then click on the "Find RoadTrip Attractions" button to see what is along that route to visit. Keep in mind that most interstates run parallel to local highways that are usually more scenic. a lot of the attractions are on those local roads.

    One more thing . . . Plan on at least two days, maybe three, in Portland, as the Columbia River Gorge, Washington Park, Aerial Tram and other attractions are right up your alley.

    Stay in touch as you do your research and ask questions as they occur to you. Good luck!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default You've got it!

    Quote Originally Posted by Challenge Accepted View Post
    One of the most exciting things for me pre-trip this time was the purchase of an atlas. I know that sounds strange, but there was just something about it that made it feel so much more... authentic.
    Nothing strange at all about it - all of us who have discovered the joy of a roadtrip know that exact same feeling. The planning of a trip can be just about as much fun as being on the road!

    Thank you for reading and learning about the dangers of fatigue while on the road. The worst part about fatigued driving is that by the time you "feel" tired, you've already pushed yourself far beyond the point you should have stopped.

    How much time do you think you can take off for your next adventure? I'd agree with Harry, 2 weeks is about the minimum I'd plan for a trip to the west coast and back.

    I guess the one other thing I'd suggest based on your post is avoid the idea of seeing states like a checklist - and once you've been there you've "done it" and can move on. Just because you've been to a state before doesn't mean you've come close to seeing everything there is to see - and even specific places you have visited before can seem completely different on a return trip.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Lots of tips on this site.

    You've obviously made a good start. Getting the atlas was a good move. Many of us travel with an atlas, AAA maps and State issued maps, which are available at all visitor centres. As well of course we have our electronics to help find specific addresses, when required.

    To get many more tips, spend some time reading the Roadtrip Field Reports Forum. Those are the reports of people's actual experiences, rather than just suggestions. Many of us have multiple trips in that forum. By doing a search, you will find quite a few of solo trips.

    With accommodation: be sure to inspect the room before committing. Besides cleanliness etc., be sure to check the smoke alarm is working (many a time I have found it to be disabled) and that the door has a lock which cannot be opened from the outside - such as the chain lock.

    You might also like to check out these two pages - The solo trip - The art of the roadtrip.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    I see you've discovered the hazard of going on long trips with friends. You do need to iron out issues that might come up, ahead of time. We've heard of friends traveling together where one wants to sleep till noon then drive off, when the others are itching to be on the road at 8 am, and similar issues.

    Each state that you've mentioned has something interesting to stop and see. Depending on how much time you can commit to this trip, you could travel up to US-2 -- so many beautiful things along that route. If you do that, though, realize that on many days, 400 miles is going to be your limit. That's because there are places where you have to come to a full stop in the center of town, and go through other bigger cities where US-2 is the city street (Duluth comes to mind).


  8. #8


    Wow! Thanks everyone for all the feedback! I really appreciate it!

    Harry - Thanks for the tips about planning extra time in Portland. I will definitely need to check those things out!

    Michael - I had taken 10 days for the Grand Canyon trip, so I figured I would need more than that. As long as I don't get sick too often next year (this year was a doozy, topped off with pneumonia after I got back!), I was thinking I could take 2 weeks (plus weekends would make it 15 days).

    I understand your point about the checklist, but that's not entirely the way I'm thinking about it. I mean, yes I do want to check every state off my list, but I also know there are places I will want to return to to explore further. It's like when you go to a buffet - you check out everything on the buffet before you fill up your plate with what you really want. (And then seconds of what you really *really* want!) : ) I know I will be going back to Utah for seconds - that's for sure!

    Lifey - I will definitely check out all those links. Right now, in fact. : ) That's a scary thought about the locks for the rooms. I will definitely be sure to check. I haven't really thought much about accomodations yet. I have never stayed at a hostel, but figured it might be worth looking into for this (I would rather spend my money on the trip itself than a 4 star hotel). I don't know if I'm too old to do the hostel thing, though. It always seemed like a thing that 20 year olds do, and I'm 36. : P

    Donna - That made me laugh! We did kind discuss my thoughts about what I wanted to do on this trip ahead of time. After all, it was *my* trip - she was just tagging along (and I'm glad I thought of it that way, because she was ready to nix all of Utah in the beginning!). But I hadn't thought that she would have wimped out on the active parts of the trip. She's super active and we love hiking together. I don't think even she was aware that she could only take so much. I was grateful her friend joined us as well, since she an I were both into being more active, so I didn't miss out entirely. I will keep that in mind about US 2, as well.

    I really appreciate all of you chiming in with your tips and experiences! This is something I've always craved and no one else in my life seems to understand. Actually, that's not true. My dad is super supportive. Worried, cause he's my dad, but he seems to understand. (We are very alike when it comes to these kind of things.) And after telling him how much I thought my last trip might have been better solo, I think he finally understands and is accepting of it. (Haven't told mom yet, though... she's wonderful, but sooo negative. Figured I had time and could wait.) ; )

    Anyway - point was, it's nice to see I'm clearly not alone. : )

    Off to research some more with the rest of my lunch break!

    - Mindy

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default RoadTrip Compatability

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    I see you've discovered the hazard of going on long trips with friends. You do need to iron out issues that might come up, ahead of time. We've heard of friends traveling together where one wants to sleep till noon then drive off, when the others are itching to be on the road at 8 am, and similar issues.
    As Donna mentioned, traveling with good friends can sometimes lead to unexpected results. We actually have a "roadtrip compatability quiz" that you might find helpful for thinking about these issues.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Never too old.

    My first hostel experience was when I already had my senior's card. The oldest person I have met in a hostel was 96, she was with her 66 year old daughter. And when I stayed at the HI in Seattle, back in 2004 (probably the best I've ever stayed at) at least 50% of the guests were over 50. Hostels are no longer regarded for the young only - hence they are no longer known as Youth Hostels, but just as you said - Hostels. As a solo traveller, I always chose to stay in a dorm of 4, 6 8 or more beds. After being in the car on my own all day, it was nice to have others with whom to share the day's events and hear of their adventures.

    My first couple of trips were hostel hopping back and forth across the US. Just like everything, there are some you'd never want to return to, and others about which you will rave. Be sure to write an honest review.

    Check that the hostel has a locker for each bed, and bring along an average size padlock. Never put your valuables in lockers where you have to pay to remove the key - management has access to those lockers. Lastly, do not stay at hostels where sleeping bags are permitted. These are a major source of bed bug infestations.

    Hostelling is a great way to travel and to meet other travellers. Most have coffee and tea 24hrs, and a cupboard full of free food (basics), the sort of thing you may not necessarily be carrying. They usually organise discount trips to local attractions, often have discount tickets to shows, and good hostels are a great source of information about the local area.

    Highly recommended!

    Here is the most comprehensive and up to date site for hostels. Be sure to read the independent reviews, and note how old they are. The more recent, the more reliable.


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