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For most individuals, traveling on a cross-country road trip can be either be a great adventure or a week of misery. I have now driven coast to coast three times and the most recent trip was my favorite. Both of the first two trips involved an urgent need to reach my destination and involved travel companions who may not have been as eager to explore the sites. My most recent cross-country trip involved a solo drive from New York to California. Have I mentioned what a great trip I had? Everyone worried about me driving solo across the country, but this was not my first rodeo… I was super excited for my adventure.
I had an opportunity to stay in Manhattan for two nights and enjoyed some of the sights which I truly missed from my previous decade in the Tri-State Area to complete graduate school.
Preparations & Goodies
Road trips are often full of expectations, discoveries, and disappointments. My goal for road trips is to have fun, explore everything possible, and stay safe. Rather than spend much time talking about the pre-trip preparation, here is my quick graphic to serve as a reminder.
Before the trip, I had prepared a fold-up cooler that I planned on filling with drinks and snacks for the trip, but I realized that this did not work as well for me on a solo drive as when I am accompanied by my terrific co-pilot. As a solo driver, I like to stop at approximately every two and a half hours. I prefer to have cold fountain drinks (or my plastic cup filled with ice and club soda) and I stop for a local snack just to stretch my legs, freshen up, and simply get out of the car. When a companion travels with me, then it’s easier to ask for snacks along the drive just to break up the driving time. With multiple individuals in the car, snacks, ice, and drinks come in very handy and make for a fun distraction to pass the time.
Exploring and Adventures
Taking a cross-country road trip is not a regular occurrence for most of us, so why not make the most of it if time is available. My first two drives from coast to coast took less than a week and involved minimal exploration. During the third road trip, I took about 12 days and drove an average of eight hours a day. In New York, I spent two full days as well as an extra day in Pennsylvania, three days in Page, Arizona and one day in Las Vegas, and two days in California.
I had plotted out several locations I wanted to explore and arranged my hotels and driving distances according to those adventures. For example, even though I left New York with plenty of time to cross beyond Pennsylvania, I gave myself two days in Pennsylvania in order to spend several hours exploring Eastern Penitentiary and Falling Water (one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes).
Additionally, I marked several caverns that I wanted to visit so that I could stop at the most convenient one along the way. With the help of the app RoadTrippers, and some additional points that I added to my map, I had over 60 possible places to stop and visit along the trip. Most of those stops were deleted along the way based on weather, time of day, day of the week, my interest, and traffic. For example, there were two locations that I wanted to visit in Indiana, but I was unfortunately crossing the state on a Monday which happened to be the day that both of my sites of places of interest were closed. Additionally, along the way, I discovered cities that interested me for future explorations.
For example, I only had a few hours in St. Louis for dinner and then breakfast, but there were so many sites that I would have liked to visited. I did not have an opportunity to visit the St. Louis Arch but I did enter the courthouse where the Dred Scott case was decided just a hundred yards away from the Arch.
Whenever possible, I never allow for my gas tank to fall below half a tank. On road trips where I am not sure about the frequency of gas stations and the hills of the terrain, I always want to make sure that I have enough gas to get me out of any situation… including getting lost.
One of the most interesting discoveries that I learned was about the incredibly well-equipped truck travel centers (Pilot Flying J) which contained showers were truck drivers who were on the road for multiple days at a time sleeping in their trucks. After getting gas, I was purchasing some snacks at the enormous truck stop/ gas station/ convenience store when I heard over the loud-speaker a message that said, “Shower number 9 is ready for visitor 24.” Who knew? What a fun little piece of trivia to remember for this trip.
Lodging & Amenities
I love to have options in everything I do, but during this trip, I planned out my stops more thoroughly than usual. Because I had planned out my stops ahead of since I travelled during the summer travel months, including on Labor Day, I was able to know which cities had expensive hotel rates and used my reward points for those locations. My criteria for the rooms included that the hotel was located in safe areas which were typically close to either restaurants or stores such as Target. Most of the time, I choose well based on the reviews on TripAdvisor. I diligently attempted to stay with hotels within one Loyalty Program since I knew I would be accumulating many nights which could push me into a new tier level within that rewards/loyalty program. By attempting to strategize my hotel rewards, I can then use my earned points to plan future trips.
Solo Road Trip Travels
Ok, driving solo has its ups and downs. First, I had complete control over the radio and could roll down the windows as much as I wanted…. Yay! More importantly, no one was there to stop me from walking in the mud to take photos of Cadillac Ranch in the middle of the rain and seriously slippery mud. This was a highlight of my trip because I felt as if I was doing something naughty by traversing through all that mud. More importantly, it was a huge challenge to myself to see if I could make it to the cars and back without slipping and sliding on my tush. It really did feel as if all of us out there were imitating Bambi on ice. Everyone had smiles and found ways to make this little adventure work.
In my case, I did my “mud trek” and then used grocery bad on my feet to drive to my next stop at which point the mud had dried off. The tough part of solo driving though is while driving through pouring rainstorms with minimal visibility and not having someone else for support and encouragement.
Bucket List Stops
While I had visited multiple cities in Arizona and the Grand Canyon in previous years, I had never visited Antelope Canyon… Wow! The slot canyons, which I had placed on my bucket list after seeing the incredible photographs at multiple photography studios, were even more impressive in person. I had planned on three days in Page, Arizona so that I could cross this incredible place off my bucket list and really enjoy myself. The nice surprise that I was not expecting was that Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo lands and therefore any visits to the Canyons are conducted by Navajo guides who escort you through the canyon.
The guides had incredible knowledge and shared many tips for finding the best spots to photograph even shared several photography tips. I highly recommend making Antelope Canyon a priority on a trip to the region, but make sure to order reserve tickets to the Canyon so as to avoid missing out on the prime hours for canyon tours. During peak season, some of the prime times fill up quickly. I choose the 10:30am tour and was fortunate to be coming back through to exit as the sunbeam was just beaming into the canyon as a large ray of light.
People Along the Way
One of the benefits of solo travel is that it is much easier to meet people while traveling solo. I suppose that it’s because we as travelers are more open to asking questions and engaging with local residents as opposed to having conversations with our companions and wondering about the meanings of local traditions. For me, there were two highly memorable interactions along this trip. The first involved a sculpture artist in Ohio and the second involved a restaurant owner in Page, Arizona. Meeting Alan, the owner of the sculpture studio in Ohio was an informative and inspiring experience. He welcomes every visitor and explains the process for making the sculptures from beginning to the end. Then, he invites everyone to roam around the studio looking at the various pieces. All the sculptures outside the studio are incredibly eye-catching, but there is one piece located inside the studio that caught my attention. It was a sculpture of the two coffins with quotes written around the edges where he and his wife would spend eternity.
We talked a little about that work before I left and the conversation reinforced a message of making sure that we each live our days to the fullest because the end before losing that opportunity. It was such a wonderful conversation and inspired me to continue my drive with the radio off and simply reflecting on all my personal thoughts regarding life and my life journey.
Since I consider myself a lifelong learner, I was determined to find a place to have my first Navajo tacos made with fry bread while in Page. Again, I turned to online reviews and found an interesting restaurant that only serves dinner at a designated time. Intrigued by the prospect of learning about Navajo culture, listening to live music, and eating Navajo tacos, I immediately called up Into the Grand Restaurant to make a reservation. It was a wonderful experience! When I arrived, I was greeted by the owner of the restaurant who discussed the history of the locale and the evolution of the family based restaurant.
The owner’s grandparents had been rafting pioneers in the rivers of the canyons and the locale of the restaurant used to be the warehouse that stored the rafts. After several decades, the rafting business closed and the space was repurposed as a restaurant that also highlighted the Navajo culture prominent in the area. The service, food, and entertainment were incredible. Everyone was so authentic and willing to share information. I was able to talk with a young woman making the fry bread and asked her lots of questions about the area. As it turned out, during the day she was a guide for Antelope Canyon so she gave me several tips on the best times to go to the canyon. As mentioned, the owner of the restaurant was extremely welcoming, and the women selling hand-made jewelry were very willing to discuss the symbolism of the various stones used in making the bracelets. They were not only the artisans of the jewelry but also the mothers of the young performers demonstrating various traditional native dances. We learned about the symbolism of the dances as well as of the regalia worn by the dancers. For me, visiting Page was one of the highlights of my trip. The sunsets were spectacular, the people incredibly welcoming, and the natural beauty, completely unsurpassable.
Eventually, I reached Las Vegas and California which both feel like home to me. This was a time to decompress and simply relax from the stresses of driving long distances on some days and under occasional unexpected harsh weather conditions. This trip left me wanting to take a yearly road trip. The next trip will be a trip along the West Coast. While I drove from Southern California to Seattle multiple times during my college years, this trip will be a bit different. This trip will involve many more stops and it will also continue the trip into Vancouver (one of my favorite cities). I can’t wait to cross Capilano Bridge as adult rather than as a child… Stay tuned!
Do you have a favorite roundtrip to share? Email me… I’d love to hear about it.