How to Drive Cross Country

You've decided to drive cross country, whether in a rental vehicle or your own. Here are some things to know about the actual drive.


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    Hit grocery stores along your route. Pick up a loaf of bread, some sliced lunch meat and/or sliced cheese, or go really traditional with some simple PB&J. Be sure to throw in some easy to eat fruits and veggies like bananas, baggies of carrots, apples, etc.; maybe some nice healthier munchies like some dry cereal or nuts; less healthy crackers or chips; maybe even a small carton of milk or juice to help round out a cheap but pretty healthy road trip meal.
    • You can make sandwiches as you are hungry or if you are doing a drive as far as you can without stops trip. Just make up the entire loaf of bread into sandwiches and then store the prepared sandwiches in the bread sack. That way you are recycling the very functional bread sack and not having to carry around or dispose of a bunch of baggies (or have them sliding around in your car for thousands of miles). This method can get boring on a long trip but if you mix it up with occasional drive-thru dollar menus, it is not quite so boring but still pretty dirt cheap eating.
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    If you have a larger budget,stop at a local restaurant. It is more fun to try to pick local places, absorb the atmosphere of the place and maybe even sample local food favorites. If there is time maybe even visit with some of the other diners and learn a little about the area while you are enjoying your meal.
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    Be careful about drinking water in a different area. It can cause everything from a little upset stomach to severe cramping and diarrhea that can last for several days (think Montezuma's revenge), which will ruin your driving experience. If it is severe or lasts too long please seek medical assistance.
    • Be careful when in restaurants. Unless the water is filtered ask for soda without ice (although in a lot of places the water for their ice is filtered—you can ask and see if you feel it's okay or not). Also if you are in a really questionable area, watch out for all uncooked foods, like salads that would be washed with the water but not heat treated to kill off the bad bugs.
    • All of this can be more or less of a problem based on your location in the USA and the city's, restaurant's or hotel's water quality/treatment. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
    • Some desert places, including some spots in Arizona, have little roadside pit-stop water machines, where you can just pull to the side of the road and refill your jugs with filtered drinking water. Never use one that says non-potable: this is never safe to drink.
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    If you are in a real hurry or very very broke, you can sleep in your car at rest stops or rural pull offs, or maybe splurge on a campground.
    • Be very careful at rest stops. Some criminals view them as prime picking of easy targets.
    • Even if you are tight on time or funds, do everything you can to keep yourself and your travel mates safe. This includes being aware of your surroundings and watching out for any "unsavory characters," traveling with a group of people including going to the bathroom in a group, flashlights for dark night bathroom trips or checking the bushes if you are suspicious, carrying something for self defense whether as simple as a whistle to draw attention and assistance or pepper spray or knowing some self-defense moves. If you have a weapon be sure it is legal to possess it in every location you are going to be, or else the law will see you as the criminal and put an unhappy twist to your cross-country trip.
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    If you have more time and a bigger budget, you can choose a motel. Do not base it only on price, but also on safety. Some of the cheapest places are not any safer than the rest stops, plus your vehicle can be vandalized or stolen while you are inside your room. There are some very decent places that don't cost a fortune, but try to overlook dated and old décor and fixtures. Look instead for nicer locations, nice safety features (like lots of lights in the parking area and pathways, security cameras, visible staff, etc.), clean, well-kept rooms, friendly and observant staff, etc. These will usually be what would be considered mid priced. For instance, decent chains with pretty consistent quality like Super 8 or Motel 6 are not the cheapest but certainly on the lower end.
    • It's great if you can find a hotel/motel chain you like, because then you will most likely be able to stay in one of their hotel/motels all along your trip.
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    • If you are more adventurous try some of the novelty hotels and motels on your trip. They can really add to some interesting trip highlights, like the motel where the rooms look like Teepees.
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    Don't forget camping! We have some very nice natural areas that would make really beautiful camping locations. It doesn't have to just be with a motor home or trailer. Tent camping can be a lot of fun too (don't forget safety though, with people or animals - snakes, lizards, spiders, mosquito, etc., just be aware and be as prepared as possible).
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    Call your home safety person at your scheduled check-in time. That way if you end up lost or stranded it will be less than 24 hours since someone knew where you were, and they knew where you were planning on going.
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    Plan ahead and watch your gas so you don't get caught off guard with the "last chance for gas" situations and end up stranded, out of fuel, in the middle of nowhere.
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    To prevent cramping, soreness, and thrombosis, stop the car approximately every 45 minutes (you can set a timer if you have trouble remembering) to 1 hour at most and have everyone get out and walk (nothing extreme, just a stroll to have a chance to stretch the legs, work the muscles and get the blood circulating) for approx 5-10 minutes. You could walk around the car or take the opportunity to use it as a pit stop for bathroom or food or to take in a little of the view.
    • Yes, on a long trip these stops can make it take even longer to get where you are headed, but it makes the drive so much nicer and is a tiny bit of health insurance for everyone in the vehicle. It is amazing the difference it makes to everyone. You won't be as stiff and sore by the end of a long day of driving or riding, and the driver will find it helps to keep them from getting so tired and road weary (staying alert while driving is a good thing).
    • Frequent stops also allow for plenty of bathroom break opportunities, which is good for your bladder and kidneys too.
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    • Especially with children, breaks are so important. Use them as an opportunity so see local sites, learn a little local history or visit a roadside stand, anything to get out for a minute or two. # A lot of people suggest setting goals of so many miles or so many hours in a day of driving If you are in a huge hurry that is okay, trying to make a challenge more manageable. However, if you have a bit more flexibility in your schedule, try not to get so tied up in that competitive "I MUST make X miles before I can stop." It can make the driver push themselves past exhausted, and can lead to sleepy drivers and more accidents. It also can make an exhausting day for the passengers too. Just watching the miles go by is boring, and being stuck in a car you are very limited on what you can do, and if you are traveling with children....this is a recipe for lots of whining and crying and complaining, etc.
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    • If you must make a certain number of hours in a day while having children along, try to break it up. If you say you want to drive for 8 hours, try driving for a max of 4 hours, then take a "mini-vacation" and stop for a couple of hours, then get back in the car and go for another max of 4 hours.
    • Always listen to your body if you are driving. Some days you might only be able to handle 5 or 6 hours of driving, while on others you could plow on for 10-11 hours fairly easily, so don't stress about it too much or feel bad if you don't meet your "daily quota".
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    Enjoy your drive. There is a freedom in traveling the open road, and an excitement at the possibility of what may be coming around the next corner. All the senses can become engaged in the new sights and sounds and smells. The flowers in the spring, the stars in the middle of nowhere, the great sights (monuments and natural wonders), and so much more. Enjoy the ride; after all, life is a journey.


  • If at all possible, take some time. It's not often a person has the opportunity to drive across our great nation. It is full of visual beauty and a rich and interesting history. Take advantage of this and stop to look and listen all along the journey, take pictures, and make memories.


  • Safety must be first in your mind at all times. People are vulnerable while traveling and unfortunately there are some sad, sick and/or desperate people out there who are just looking for the next victim, so do all you can to avoid becoming that victim.

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Categories: Driving Techniques