Advice and suggestions for a solo cross-country road trip?

Near the end of the summer, I’m hoping to take two-week (give or take) road trip from Illinois to the Pacific. I’ve never been further west than Des Moines, so it’ll be a totally new experience. My plan is to never touch the interstate, and to state highways and such. Hit up small town diners, visit some natural beauties, and check out all the kitschy tourist traps along the way (if it says “world’s largest,” then I’m there.) Probably gonna go south first, then head up the coast, and come back in the north. The only place I know for sure I’m stopping at is Albuquerque, otherwise I’m avoiding big cities. Route-planning will come much later, but any must-see places I should be thinking about? Best way to get through the Rockies?

Also, I know most of my money will go to gas and food, so I want to spend as little as possible on lodging. The seats in my hatchback fold down, and I know I can sleep semi-comfortably in the back. So are there campgrounds or parks where I can park and sleep for free/cheap? I’ve never actually been camping, so I have no idea. I tried looking online, but it seems like all the advice is for people in RVs. I’m not sure what different rules might apply to them. I’d rather not sleep in a Wal-mart parking lot or some backwoods road.

Anything else you can add is great. Anyone done anything similar and have some real-world tips?

Go to a truckstop and buy a handheld cb radio. portable ones online might go cheap as well.

Smokey Bear pops you- going to cost a lot more than forty bucks

And if young ladies start banging on your windows at the rest areas, have some food available :wink:

Pretty rare these days. Most places, you would need at least to pay for a “tent site,” i.e., a parking place without any hookups for power or water, but with a picnic table to sit at, perhaps. What you’re really paying for, in those cases, is access to some sort of bathhouse, a place where you can take a shower, fill your water jugs, etc.

In most places, the local police would want to have a chat with you if you tried that. It’s simply not allowed.

If it were me, I would find a way to budget enough $$$ for a hotel/motel room every 3rd or 4th night…

A real bed, shower and living space every few days will make the rest of the trip MUCH more enjoyable. If it ends up costing an extra 150-200 bux, it is money well spent, in my opinion.

Hope you have a great trip!!!

How expensive are we talking about? I can spend some money, I just have no intention of staying in motels, expect for maybe once or twice. I might borrow a tent from a friend, just for some variety.

Depends on the Wal-Mart. I drove from Tennessee to Massachusetts last spring and caught a few winks in, I think, Pennsylvania, and no one ever knocked on my window. I also napped a bit in one in Oklahoma City while driving from Oregon to Tennessee about four years ago, and no one bothered me there, either.

That’s going to vary a lot depending upon where you are, whether it’s a commercial campground or a park campground, etc. But we’re not talking about $5 - more like $10 to $25.

I think you’d definitely appreciate having a tent and a sleeping bag. It ends up being a lot more comfortable than trying to sleep in the car. Just remember the other stuff you might want, like a cup of coffee in the morning. Unless you’ve got a stove, fuel, a pot, etc., you’re not going to get that in most campgrounds, whereas even a bargain motel will have some coffee and maybe some breakfast food.

In a lot of places, your only choice may be an RV park that has some tent sites. One downside of an RV park is that a lot of RV’s have generators that rumble away all night.

Luckily I don’t drink coffee! Part of the reason of this trip is to get outside my comfort zone. I was inspired by a friend who just completely a 176 mile hike across Southern Illinois. I know I can;t do that, so I’m kinda going halfway.

I did such a trip with my then-girlfriend, for 4 months and 12,000 miles, and it was fantastic. Soon afterward, William Least Heat Moon wrote a book about his trip, called (I think) Blue Highways. Eerily, he traveled almost exactly the same route we did. It’s a splendid book and will probably help you imagine your own trip, though I don’t remember him giving a word of advice.

My wife and I stay in the state rest areas all the time. They are really beautiful areas. They are cleaner than most hotels. Nobody bugs you and they are very safe. The problem for you is that most of them are on the interstate. With some planning though that should not be a problem to end a day at one. They also have all the information you would ever need about the area they are in if they are a tourist info rest area. If you want a shower you can get one at truck stops. They are free if you buy a certain amount of fuel there. I like “The flying J” the best. Get onre of their customer cards before you go for discounts and free showers and such You don’t need to spend much on food. A 12 in subway is only $5 and it does me for 2 meals. We find little eateries off the beaten track are usually not too expensive. Big breakfast in a nice place in Missouri was only$4.95. If you like Mexican food your route is full of good places that are downright cheap. Agood idea for you is after you know your route goggle"Ttucking Forums and join a couple. Ask the truckers where are the best places to eat along that route. They always know the good and inexpensive places.
The route through the Rockies I like best is the one out of Denver where the pass is 12000 ft high. I forget the name of it but it’s awesome. I also like the one that is on a fairly small rd in Washington that goes right by MT lassen. I got caught on that one in a blizzard. I hope your trip is as awesome as the country that you will be traveling through.

I travel a lot solo and frequently sleep in my vehicle. I actually enjoy it. Often, I find it more comfortable than a tent, and it certainly saves time in the morning to be able to just get up and go.

My favorite places to sleep overnight are at truck stops. There are people around, so it is safe, lots of parking, and it is expected that people will sleep there. I’ve never been bothered at a truck stop. I usually buy something from them at night before I go to sleep or else in the morning when I get up.

Other places I’ve slept in my car for free or very cheap:
-Large casino parking lots
-Airport parking lots
-Rest stops (these vary a lot - some are really sleep friendly, some are not. Some are scary isolated at night, others have limits for how long you can stay parked. Those on toll roads tend to be the best for sleeping in my experience.)
-state fairgrounds/county fairgrounds - if there are RVs there, chances are you can park overnight and not be bothered by anyone.
-24 Superstores (Wal-Mart, etc.) - Again, if there are RVs around, it should be okay.
-US Forest Service campgrounds (however the free or really cheap ones tend to be really off the beaten track and may require substantial backtracking in the morning).
-If driving late, at non-24 hour gas stations in remote small towns (you can use the pretext that you were running low on gas and afraid to continue).

A problem to avoid is having the windows fog up, which could attract unwanted attention. Unless bugs are a problem, I always crack the window open a little bit.

I always take a full-sized pillow from my bed. I find it amazing how much more comfortably I sleep as a result.

I have a friend who practically has made an art of sleeping in his vehicle. He frequently parks along a street where other cars are parked. I haven’t tried this myself though, except in NYC.

Off the beaten track is definitely what I’m looking for, unless you actually need an off-road vehicle to get there.

Looking around at my car, I think I could very easily hook up a mosquito net.

Sounds like a great road trip.

Some thoughts:

  • books on tape/CD. Lots of them. Best way to keep you awake while you drive (much better than music). You can usually borrow them from the library.

  • staying off the interstates is fine, but realize it will take you significantly longer to get from point to point. That is, two weeks will go quickly without having covered as much ground. Depending on how much stopping you do for all those roadside attractions, you may not make it very far up the coast before needing to turn back. (Many attractions aren’t right on the road, so you need to spend time going to, and coming back from).
    One alternative might be to take your time and stay off the interstates until you get to California, or until you have gone X days. And then change gears and high-tail it back, if two weeks is you limit.
    The other thing to look out for when you stay off the interstates are speed traps - especially going through these little towns.

My biggest worry is that if I stick to the interstate, I’m only going to see what I plan out. They’ll be less opportunity to discover something, which is what I really want. I imagine I’ll stick to the interstate through most of the midwest though. I’ve seen most of it already.

I would seriously consider investing in a GPS, if you don’t have one yet.

If you get one. Learn how to use it. It can be a god send. But you need to know it’s different functions. Paper maps are not used that much any more.

There are places, particularly in Utah where gas is 100 miles away. And that’s on I 70. Watch your fuel out west.

If you have seen the mid-west, and you are only taking two weeks, I would burn pavement on interstates until you get to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico depending on your route.

If it where me. I would shoot to Colorado, dip down to the four corners and then head for northern California (Redwoods). Then Oregon and Washington. Thru Utah. Come back through Idaho and Montana and North Dakota.

Have fun.

Two websites for ya:
Free campsites
Roadside America

Have fun!

Some things not to be missed, if they are anywhere near your route:

Redwood forest [N.Calif] check out any of the big “hiking trail” signs you see in the area. They are awesome, free, and not difficult hikes. Pick up a pinecone [just 1, I think it’s illegal] for a free souvenir - the pinecones are ENORMOUS and cool. There’s the ubiquitous “drive-thru tree” also, makes a nice campy photo op.

Yellowstone - pack a sleeping bag and camp out under the stars! Take the 5-mile boardwalk that goes all through the vents and springs! For God’s sake don’t see Old Faithful and turn around and leave! It’s an amazing state park with more than you could see in a month. [But you can do a bang-up job of it in three days]

Grand Canyon / 4 Corners / Hoover Dam

Roswell NM [silly good fun]

Red River/Taos NM - Beautiful area to camp out in summertime. The ski resort is mostly empty of tourists and the locals are friendly artsy types. One cool campground on the edge of town I remember is called Elephant Rock. Beautiful scenery, nice hiking and/or light mountain climbing. Or you can take the ski lift to the mountain top to look around. [They charge for this, not sure how much.]

There’s lots and lots of smallish Indian reservations around and about - check out any that sound even remotely interesting - more culture than you can shake a stick at. Lots of the local “crafts shops” are almost like mini-museums and are quite fascinating.

Carlsbad Caverns - caving will get addictive if you get started on it. There’s also Natural Bridge Caverns & Innerspace Caverns [both in TX near I35.

The Alamo - absolutely fascinating little slice of history right in the middle of downtown San Antonio. Also nearby, the famous Riverwalk - take a river-taxi and get some yummy TexMex food - it’s everywhere.

Fort Worth - skip Dallas and check out the Stockyards and Sundance Square. Lots of good cheap camping to be had South of town on Benbrook Lake [holiday park].

Thanks. Those look really useful.

I don’t think I’ll head down to far into Texas. I wanna zig-zag around so I touch as many states as possible, but I might just dip into Texas. That’ll be another trip.

For someone who’s never seen mountains before, where’s the best place to approach the Rockies for the first time?

Death Valley.

I drove to California last year, and here’s what I did that day. I stayed the previous night in Vegas and headed off along I-15. God, that was a boring drive. I got as far as the town of Baker and I stopped to get some gas. I saw a street sign that said “Death Valley Road”. How could anyone not take it? There was a sign saying “no gas for 100 miles”, so I guessed I was going in the right direction. Eventually, you get to an opera house, where you turn left. After 50 or 60 miles, you drop down into Death Valley itself. You’ve seen what it’s slike on Discovery, so I won’t bother with a escription. It’s better in real life, though :cool: . Assuming you and your car don’t melt or catch fire on the 5000 ft drive up out of the canyon, it’s off towards Mono Lake. From there you can head on up through Sonora Pass at 9624ft.

That was a long day :smiley:

You can camp anywhere in national forest land for free as long as no signs specifically banning camping. In general, if setting up a a tent, you need to be out of sight from the road. Granted you won’t be in an actual campsite so there will be no bathrooms, tables, water, exc. but it is free and is something I take advantage of regularly.

I echo the suggestion for books on tape, for every truly awe inspiring place across the U.S. (and there are many) there is miles and miles of truly boring driving.