Cross Country Road Trip FAQ: Logistics, Tips, and Lessons Learned

In addition to the full recap of our trip I thought I would put together an FAQ full of tips, logistics, and lessons learned. We’ve been asked so many little details about our trip so I hope putting this together is helpful!

You drove cross country? Whaaa? WHY?
I know it’s not for everyone but road tripping is something we love doing. I grew up road tripping with my family. John has also gotten used to long stretches of driving since he’s from New Jersey and has lived in Boston for the last 8 years (we make that 4 hour trip often and the drive is like nothing now). This was our second cross country road trip and was a blast. It’s something I can see us doing again and again. Driving cross country definitely gets into your soul somehow. There’s something romantic about it but also so practical. We live in a big beautiful country that begs to be seen, a lot of which you need to drive to to get to. There is so much to explore and learn from our own country and we intend to see it all.

So, you rented a car one way? How does that work?
Yup! One way rentals are pretty common actually. We rented a car in Boston and dropped it off in Portland at the airport right before our flight. Pro tip: the airport location will mark up the rental price exponentially. Try to pick up, drop off, or both at an off-airport rental agency and you’ll see huge savings (a few hundred bucks for us on this trip). For full disclosure, our one way car rental for 10 days cost $600.

Did you ever break down? Run out of gas? Get pulled over?
Nope, thankfully!! Rental cars are great because usually they are newer with very little miles on them so the chance of break down is lower. We kept the gas at a half tank or above the entire trip to avoid the possibility of running out. We’ve never gotten pulled over on a road trip but we obey speed limits very closely and use cruise control a lot.

How did you plan your route?
Our plan of attack was to do between 5-8 hours of driving each day, depending on location. We mapped the entire route, calculated the time it would take to drive the whole thing, broke it down into 8 hour stretches, and picked a destination point for each day. Every day followed the routine of getting on the road by 8AM, stopping every 2 hours or so for sightseeing/meals throughout the day, and then getting to our destination around 9-10PM. We booked all of our hotels in advance to keep us on our route and schedule.

How did you book hotels in advance?
See above. We used Yelp and Trip Advisor to look up review on hotels and Priceline to book them. Priceline is great because the Name Your Own Price feature really cuts down on costs. Our average hotel rate per night was about $65 (some being as low as $40/night and some as high as $150/night, depending on location).

What did you pack?
We each had a backpack for everyday things (wallets, phone chargers, cameras, etc). We each then had a small suitcase filled with clothes (those two items were brought on the plane ride home as the standard carry on plus one personal item). We also packed a huge snack bag and a cooler bag with 2 gallons of water, peanuts, fruit leather, Cheez Its, granola bars, and trail mix at all times (just in case, you can’t be too careful driving across the country). The last thing we packed was our hugest suitcase, empty, to collect souvenirs along the way (which got checked at the airport on the flight home). Pro tip: Everything stayed in the trunk while we were driving, minus our backpacks. You should keep the car clean of anything someone might want to steal.

What are your top 5 must haves in the car for a successful road trip?

  1. Podcasts/Audiobooks – John and I don’t exactly agree on music so we love podcasts and audiobooks in the car. We used both, primarily podcasts though. I highly recommend Mike & Tom Eat Snacks. We actually listened to 27 episodes on our trip (17 hours) and got tweeted by Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh for doing so!
  2. Water – Hydration is key! Drink often!
  3. GPS – This goes without saying. Our iPhones were handy with addresses and quick navigation but you don’t want to drain the battery on your phone just for mapping. And speaking of which…
  4. Dual iPhone Car Charger – A must have for obvious reasons.
  5. Road Trip Specific Apps – We downloaded many apps on our trip that came in so handy. My recommendations are: Roadside America, Rest Area Map, Brewery Map, NatGeo National Parks, FoodTrux, and MyMaps (which interfaces with Google Maps, where we had our whole route saved).

Honorable mentions: A huge tub of antibacterial hand wipes and these plastic utensils (because sometimes you gotta eat in the car).

What items that you packed ended up being the most useful?
The empty suitcase we brought to pack souvenirs in was infinitely useful and allowed us peace of mind. Also, I brought 2 rolls of quarters on a whim and they were lifesavers (between laundry and parking meters)! It also goes without saying that our iPhones were invaluable as well.

Things you learned?

  • One thing about our 2010 road trip that made it a little boring was the route we took. We didn’t spend a lot of time on any major highways so we weren’t able to make many fun, impromptu stops. On this road trip we took I-90W almost the whole way across there country and there was so much more to do, see, and stop for on such a main road.
  • Road trips aren’t cheap. I think they cost as much as a regular vacation (if not more) however, the value is much greater. A road trip covers more ground, allows you to see so much more, and is a bigger adventure then just a single destination vacation can be.
  • Also another thing I learned was that John’s and my relationship is pretty rare! So many friends told me they wouldn’t be able to deal with being stuck in a car together for so long or they’d run out of things to talk about or they’d start annoying each other. Not once did we fight or get annoyed with each other. We talked and laughed the whole way. I’m not even making this up. That lesson made me so happy and proud of us and our marriage.

If you could pick 3 places to return to to spend more time in, where would they be?

Oh, that’s an easy one. In order:

  1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  2. Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
  3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Have more questions? Ask away in the Comments!!!

About Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, cereal, going to shows, scarves, kettlecorn, Gwen Stefani, yoga, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.
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13 Responses to Cross Country Road Trip FAQ: Logistics, Tips, and Lessons Learned

  1. Pingback: Our Cross Country Road Trip: A Full Guide | Domestocrat

  2. jadisajinn says:

    I think my John and I could handle a road trip. Funnily enough because we’re okay not talking to each other. lol. We’re sitting right next to each other. We know what’s up. It’s cool. :-)

  3. Bob says:

    Here’s to road trips! I think one key to not getting on each others’ nerves is to avoid boredom. Don’t overdo it on the driving for each day; see everything there is to see along the way instead.

  4. Jordan Louis says:

    Since you loved roadtripping together so much, do you think you could take the trip alone? My boyfriend and I were planning on driving from Florida to California but his work isn’t allowing him to join me. I’m moving to California and have to take my car so I am contemplating driving alone .. what do you think?

    • Domestocrat says:

      I definitely couldn’t. As awesome as the trip was, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on simply because my husband and I were together. If I didn’t have someone to share it with, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Plus, there is so much driving! I couldn’t keep myself entertained long enough to go cross country by myself – no way! I suppose if you’re just getting from point A to point B – and not stopping to sightsee – you could do it alone but I wouldn’t be able to.

  5. Pingback: California to Oregon Road Trip | Day 3: Sequoia National Park & Clovis, CA | Domestocrat

  6. Jo says:

    I road tripped alone finger lakes ny to Utah in November. Easy as pie. Fun too!

  7. Alyssa says:

    I am planning a cross country trip with my sister and was wondering if you could share any other information. Not a lot, i was just curious about how much average money did you spend a day on food and was that eating out or what? It sounds so much fun and your blog about this trip has been helpful for me in trying to get together a plan! So thank you already (: anyways i’m trying to figure out how much money we will both be needing on average to have saved for the trip. We live in Ohio and are hopefully driving to California and back!

    • Domestocrat says:

      We made conservative estimates on everything and saved knowing we’d have a lot of wiggle room. We estimated $150/night on hotels, $50/meal per day, $50/each spending money per day….added that all up and used that as our savings goal. Since we had more than we needed we could spend a little more on a nice dinner out a few times or a nicer hotel, etc. I hope that helps!

  8. Kathleen says:

    This is very helpful information. I am taking a road trip around (from Boston, to Florida, to L.A. to Seattle, and back to MSP) the U.S. this summer and already heard about the podcast suggestion, but quarters in the car is an amazing tip and thank you for including the app – I am downloading them right now!
    I will make a point to stop in your suggested city in Idaho, that is right on my path!
    P.S. I live in Minneapolis and I agree it is a city that you need to spend more time in, especially in the summer when all the festivals and fairs are happening or for the State Fair in late August.
    Cheers.

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