5 Tips for Solo Cross-Country Road Trips

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A few weeks ago I drove a smart car from Michigan to Colorado. By myself. Here’s a little wisdom I learned on the way:

1. Sleep at truck stops. They are totally not what they used to be! A more correct term would be “travel stop.” Love’s and Flying J are two popular ones. As a single girl travelling alone, I felt a little leary about it, but I found that it’s totally (or mostly) safe. I hadn’t planned to stop at all on my 17-hour trek, but 14 hours in, Nebraska decided to give me an epic rain/thunder/heat lightning storm. Luckily there was a Love’s at the next exit. I parked my smart car between two mom vans (filled with small children who woke their mothers (and me) up at 5AM) in the well-lit parking lot and slept like a baby for 8 hours. In the morning, I was able to brush my teeth and wash my face as well as get coffee.

I would not recommend staying at a rest area. These are not the same as truck/travel stops. They are not businesses, and therefore not monitored or staffed. There will not be anyone nearby to hear you scream if someone breaks into your car in the middle of the night (not that that is likely to happen).

2. Eat what you want. Give yourself permission to have Krispy Creme donuts for breakfast, or to have a 40 oz Coca-Cola after ten non-stop hours on the road. There is no better way to stay alert when you’re sitting for long, long periods of time than filling your body with sugar and caffeine. Or, if you’re better at being an adult than me, feel free to stop and treat yourself to a good sandwich or a hot meal. Give your body what it wants and needs.

3. Nap in public parks. If you’re driving during the day and you get tired (which I did) because you were way too excited to sleep the night before your epic adventure, find a nice public park to nap at. Cruise around the nearest mid-to-large sized city and find a park that has some people in it. This is key. I found one in Iowa City that had a skate park full of teenage boys and a few families picnicking. Just enough people that if someone tries to attack you while your napping with your windows down and doors unlocked, someone will hear your scream (again, not that it’s likely, but you never know…). If you find a nice enough park, take out the blanket you should have packed and nap outside on the ground. Just pretend you’re a local. It’s fine.

4. Stop when you feel like it. Don’t listen to what people say about stretching every three hours to prevent blood clots, or to drive for as long as you can during the day light hours.  You’ll have to stop and get gas every few hours, so you’re already going to be stretching. Don’t give yourself strict limits. If you want to drive for 9 hours and only stop to get gas, go for it. On the way back, maybe you’ll feel like taking an hour nap after only 3 hours in the car. That’s okay. The best thing about solo road trips is that there’s no one there to judge you.

5. Have a printed map. Even the smartest cell phones die or lie to you about where you are. Or get dropped and are stuck under your seat when you are driving through rush hour in Chicago. Print a hard copy or your directions and study it so you don’t think you are in Nebraska for four hours when you were really in Iowa the whole time.

Those are my best tips for now. If you’re a girl, you should definitely also read Cameron Tuttle’s The Bad Girl’s Guide to the Open Road before you embark on your solo journey. It will change your life.

Do you have any good tips for long drives? Crazy stories of all the stupid shit you did when you drove across the country? Questions? Comment below! :)

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