I need advice for a cross-country road trip

My Wolverines will presumably be playing in the Rose Bowl this year (I seriously doubt UCLA will dispatch of USC on Saturday, and even then…), and my roommates and I have decided to make the trip by horseless carriage. This brings me to you in search of advice on these aspects:

  1. What cities should we rest in, and what should we do once we’re there?

We’re leaving from Chicago on the 27th or 28th and arriving in Pasadena on the 30th or 31st. That means three overnight stops. To give you an idea of what kind of cities we want to stay in, we’re considering Vegas, Denver and Lincoln right now. Ideally each of these cities would have a vibrant nightlife, and hopefully a few other sites to see if we arrive early enough.

  1. What sites should we stop and see?

For some reason the only thing that is coming to mind right now is the Grand Canyon. I’m certain there’s plenty more, so let’s have 'em. Oh, and where do we find things like the world’s biggest ball of twine? We are not afraid of tourist traps.

  1. Can we rent a van for this trip?

There are six of us planning on going, and we’d prefer to ride in the same vehicle. Problem is, nobody has a van, and I’m pretty sure none of us are old enough to rent one. Can we get a parent to help us out perhaps? Do rental companies even allow customers to drive their cars thousands of miles?

  1. What about crossing the Rockies in the winter?

What should we expect? Are there safer passages we should take?

  1. Any other miscellaneous advice?

I’m sure plenty of you have taken similar trips. Any general words of wisdom? Ways to find cheap hotels/motels on the way? States with bad drivers? Known glory hole rest stops to avoid?

As a matter of sociological interest, when I’ve done the Chicago to LA run, it’s only two stops. Lincoln/Omaha was a bit early for the first night (I think I made it nearly to the border), and I think St. George was the second (yes, I am a party animal!). You really ought to decide if you just want to push through (which would be my preference), or meander. The only problem is that, in my opinion, there isn’t a lot to be seen if you take the most efficient route (the interstate) and if you take the less efficient route, you may find too much to be seen.

My guess is that you’re all pretty young; you can call around and see if anyone will rent to you. My experience is that there’s always someone who will, but you’ll pay for that privilege.

Set your rules ahead of time. If you’re all going to be stuck in the van, have rules about who drives, who controls the music, when/how often you stop, who pays for gas and stuff, who can call a detour, etc.

Yes, I’m anal, but I find that talking out the road trip rules ahead of time means fewer (or no) fights on the road.

Good luck! And when you’re getting closer, I’m happy to give you Pasadena recommendations. (Whatever you do, though, don’t ask Stranger On A Train; he’ll just tell you to avoid Old Town. Listen to your Aunt Campion and if she wanders by, anu-la1979. We’ll steer you right.) :wink:

If there is anything in the car that you would prefer not come to the attention of law enforcement, don’t consume it in the vehicle. Not sure if your group will be of drinking age or not, but many states have open container laws that apply to everyone in the vehicle, even if the driver hasn’t touched a drop. Other things have noticiable odors that may constitute probable cause for a search of the vehicle.

Also, take the time to make sure the car is up to the trip…tires, fluid levels, lights, turn signals, insurance, tag…all that stuff.

You may want to check out bonus club type deals at hotel chains. Some of them will give you a free night if you spend 3-4 nights with them in a set time period. It might get to be more trouble than it’s worth to look for a particular chain when you want to stop for the day, but if money is tight…

Take extra money, and make sure there’s at least one person with a credit card with some room for emergencies on it. It would suck to miss the game because the car broke down in timbucktoo and you had to wait for somebody to wire money for repairs.

We definitely want to meander a bit. Maybe mix some interstate with some non-intersate.

Calling around for a van sounds like a good idea. There’s gotta be somebody…

I drove from Denver to Decatur in a Chevette once. Took a while, but we did it without stopping overnight. 18 hours in a Chevette… Yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that.

  1. I can’t think of a single thing between Denver and Illinois that’s worth stopping for, but I took I-70 to St. Louis so maybe Iowa and Nebraska are more exciting than Kansas and Missouri .

  2. The roads are paved and often plowed over the Rockies, so don’t worry too much about it. If the weather is that bad, I-80 could be closed just as easily as Vail or Loveland. Just try to get over during the week, weekend skiers screw up traffic flow.

  3. Don’t start drinking first thing! Beer for breakfast is bad, especially when you have 18 hours of driving ahead of you.

Oh, and as for states with bad drivers? Colorado drivers suck. Worse in Denver, but our roads are terrible from border to border.

Hehe…I’ve done Denver to St. Louis on I-70. Thing thing that sticks out in my memory was a roadsign in Nebraska that said “Tree: 20 Miles”. Damn sure wasn;t anyting else to see, so I was looking forward to this tree. I was expecting something impressive. What I got was a glorified bush. :frowning:

Rental car companies, depending on the company, do have things that allow you to drive several thousand miles, but you have to pay extra. You will also most likely have to have someone else rent it for you, and you better not screw it up or that person is going to be mad.

When I went through the Rockies I went during September. I was on 80 but I cut down to 76 and then caught 70 in Denver, and it went relatively smoothly, especially considering the brakes on that car didn’t work too well. I definitely suggest acquiring a car with the low gear settings if it’s an automatic (my mom’s old Dodge Caravan that I learned to drive on DIDN’T have that, so I’m not sure if it’s a standard thing for automatics nowadays), or a stick shift, which is better for driving in the snow.

I’ve made several long road trips in my short time. This is my little bits of knowledge.

Get an atlas. They sell them at Wal-Mart for about seven bucks apiece, and the Wal-Mart ones also have a list of EVERY WAL-MART IN THE COUNTRY. This comes in handy, often.

Bring a pillow. Each of you. You’ll want one. Trust me.

I’m assuming you’ll be able to find a place to shower every night. If you think you might be getting grungy at any point, invest in a cheap box of baby wipes when you pick up your atlas. In fact, they’re good to have around for other things.

Also, keep a small supply of toilet paper in the car. Searching for a restroom in the middle of nowhere isn’t fun when you can just pull over by the woods somewhere.

The obvious suggestion is to get a cooler for drinks and some chilled snacks. The less obvious suggestion is to keep a supply of things like twinkies and energy bars and such in a console for the driver. Also, if the driver smokes, keep their cigarettes and lighter in easy reach.

My dad made me keep an emergency kit in my car which I still have to this day. Small rachet set, screwdrivers (both kinds), jumper cables, chains, wire cutters (for the chains, I think - never had to use them), flashlight, flares, a blanket, canned food and a can opener, forks and spoons, saltines, rags, a couple quarts of oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, paper towels, a cheap prepaid long distance card, and pretty much anything else you might need in an emergency. Since six of you are going, I also suggest making photocopies of all of your ID’s and keeping them in a ziploc or something in there, as well as a list of emergency phone numbers, in case the worst happens and you all become incapacitated, or next of kin need to be reached (it’s a horrible thought, but you do need to prepare for it - just in case).

If you rent a vehicle, make sure you know where all of the fluids go, and how to properly jump start a car, before you leave.

Plan the route ahead of time and let every person’s family know where you expect to be each night. It sounds stupid, since you are all probably adults, but check in with them, at least every night, if not several times a day - if something happens and you guys go missing, get kidnapped, or break down in a place with no cell signal (it’s happened to me, and it’s not fun), then people will know something is up.

Consider investing in an AAA membership. They give out free maps and tour guides, and they will save your ass if you get stranded. It’s $50 a year and it’s worth it. Plus, some hotels give you discounts with them.

Check your tires and brakes before leaving. I’m serious - if I’d done that I wouldn’t have had a tire blow out at 95 miles an hour in the middle of nowhere in Colorado.

Make sure, incidentally, that someone you’re traveling with knows how to change a tire.

Get lots of batteries. Walkmans, discmans, and portable games chew them up like you wouldn’t believe. If someone has a Costco membership, buy them there - you’ll need them.

Make sure you bring all of your charging equipment with you - for your cell phones or laptops or portable gaming systems. That should be item one on your list.

That’s all I’ve got now but it’s a lot. I’m sorry. I just think back to all of the times I’ve driven long distances (I drove from eastern Pennsylvania to western Nevada and that sucked) and remember all of the times I’d said “Shit, I wish I had _____.” or “Wow, thank God I brought _____.”

Good luck, and have a safe trip. :smiley:


All of the advice is great so far…definitely will NOT be drinking on or before hitting the road. I can’t imagine being drunk and stuck in a car for half a day.

Does anyone have any advice for cities to stop in? Come on, some of you have to live between Chicago and Pasadena. Bobtheoptimist and tashabot, you guys live in states that we’ll most certainly be travelling through. Anything we should be sure to stop and see? Campion, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to access the Dope on the road, so I can take any advice about Pasadena now. Any reasonably priced hotels to check out? Areas of town to see? Nice spots to catch the Rose Parade? Quality restaurants and bars? Any places where I’d be likely to run into other Michiganders on New Year’s Eve?

If anyone I ever went on a road trip with showed up with baby wipes, a well-planned snacking schedule, a “no drinking in the vehicle” policy, or a pillow we wouldn’t have let him in the car.

You’re college kids, going cross country to a college football game.

Close your eyes, and gun it!

Drive to Vegas on the first day. Spend two days there. Place an assload of bets on Michigan and then go to the game.

Cawker City, Kansas - World’s Largest Ball of Twine - or so claims the website for Roadside America. Admission is free but it doesn’t look like it’s worth a detour, though.

I’ve lived here too long, only thing I think is worth seeing is the scenery in the mountains.
Glenwood Springs is a nice little town - stop and soak in the hot springs for a couple of hours to relax a bit, there’s a nice cave outside of the town (glenwoodcaverns.com) & a historic hotel. It’s 3 hours west of Denver, which might not work out so well. Or maybe it will, I don’t know.

Around Denver there’s Buffalo Bills grave & Coors. Just west of town in Idaho Springs, the Buffalo Bar has killed many a brain cell.

Are you guys 21 yet? I may have some different recommendations if you are. And if you’re not 21, please bear in mind that I’m likely at least twice your age, so view my recommendations appropriately. :wink:

Rose Parade tip: the night before the parade, floats line up. There is little to no security, because the crowd is respectful. Starting around 10 or 11, you can wander through the floats on Orange Grove and Colorado, and get right up next to them. I suspect that you and your friends will be camping out overnight to see the parade; if so, make your friends hold your spot, and walk through the floats. The smell is incredible.

Barney’s, on Colorado, has good bar food and is family friendly, so even though it’s a bar, if you’re under 21 it’s okay to go in.

I don’t have suggestions on cheap places in Pasadena to stay; but consider some of the nearby towns as well (Alhambra and Arcadia mostly would be where I suspect you’d find a hotel). While you’re in LA, go to Venice Beach. It’s the “movie” version of LA, and you’ll likely recognize parts of it from TV shows and movies. I suspect Rodeo Drive would leave you cold if you’re not shoppers. Griffith Observatory is apparently open again, but you need reservations, so if that’s something you think you’ll want to do, reserve early.

If you’re over 21 and plan to do some clubbing, let me know. I can hit up my significantly younger and hipper brother for suggestions.

You mentioned the Grand Canyon–that’s a fairly major detour. For similar scenery, I would suggest a sidetrip to Moab via UT128. The road takes you along the Colorado, with sandstone cliffs hundreds of feet tall on either side. I don’t know if I’d call Moab a party town, but there is a brewery and some good spots to eat. Head back to the I-70 via US191, where you’ll drive right past Arches National Park. It’s worth the price of admission just to drive up into the park even for an hour or so.

The most impressive part of this story, though, is that Oakminster could see a tree in Nebraska while driving across Kansas on I-70. :smiley:

I think you should seriously consider having a more southerly option - I-57 from Chicago to S. Louis, I-44 to Oklahoma City, and then across I-40 from there to Barstow CA where you then drop down I-15 to the LA area. You would easily be able to do Grand Canyon and Las Vegs from that route, and you could avoid the potential for really serious mountain hangups in Colorado or Wyoming (both of which being places I’ve lived). Although, yes, the roads do eventually get plowed, there are lots of times when either/both I-80 and I-70 are either closed completely or you are required to utilize tire chains to get over the passes. Not fun.

I second this route, though isn’t it I-55 from Chicago to St. Louis? It parallels Rte. 66 much of the way. Y’all can sing “I get my kicks…” the entire way.

I’ll add that if you do take the northern route, you’re as likely to get stuck on the Nebraska/Colorado plains as in the mountains. It only takes a little wind during a snowstorm to make the roads impassable.

Maybe go south going there, while you have a deadline; then come back through Colorado?

Have you considered buying a van intead of renting one? You could sell it afterwards, of course.


Indeed. After having lived in Laramie, I’ve had to explain to Easterners what a ground blizzard is… it can be completely sunny when you look up, but the wind is whipping the dry powdery snow around so much that there’s no visibility at ground level.

Agreed, unless (as noted previous) you think you’ll be heading east out of the mountains toward Denver on a Sunday. And there’s really no reason to take I-80 across Wyoming in the winter in any case - there’s nothing to see. … you’d be better off returning on the 40/44/55/80/94 route.

Looks like the Rose Bowl trip may be off, but it’s a shorter drive to Phoenix anyway. Turn left at Albuquerque. :smiley:

Flagstaff, actually.

Wow, what a surprise. I was dead set on going to Pasadena, but now I gotta wait to see what the BCS has in store for us tomorrow.

I need to go drink.

I couldn’t agree more. I think going through the Rockies in winter in the area west of Denver/Colorado Springs exposes you to the possibility of road closures.

If you insist on driving and not flying Southwest to either Ontario, CA, or Phoenix and renting a car, I sure would go across the southern route. That’s old Route 66. However, Flagstaff, AZ is at nearly 7000’ elevation and snow can be a problem. It is in a generally drier climate and certainly won’t be any worse than the Rockies and will probably be a lot better. You can check weather along the way and if things look chancy you can drop down I-25 from Albuqurque to Las Cruses, NM and go across on I-10 to Phoenix (you’re there if your game is in Phoenix) and on into Pasadena. It sounds out of the way and it is a little, but you have to get from Barstow south to Pasadena anyway and the alternate route is only a little longer. Coming in on I-10 you can take the 57 freeway, in Pomona, north to I-210 which takes you right into Pasadena.