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Planning a Cross Country Trip

“You want me to go where with you? Driving what?” I replied when my best friend asked me to join her on a cross country road trip years ago after we both graduated from college. Even 15 years ago at such a young age I knew that cross country travel with even your best friend was asking for trouble. A cross country trip can be a long, grueling journey even for the most well prepared, experienced travelers. For the rest of us it quite possibly is a death sentence. But when you are young you are always up for adventure.

“Oh yeah, cool, I’d love to go! But we’ll take my car.” There was no way I was going to travel across country in her 20 year old Toyota Corolla. That trip was the trip of a lifetime (meaning I would only do it once and never again) but we learned so much along the way; insider tips or rather tips that you can only learn from someone who has done it before. And some things we just learned on our own that we could have only learned through the experience. Here are some of the most important lessons that we learned:

1. “I’m sorry, where did you say you were?” Is what I heard on the other end of the line when I first called my dad to tell him we were on such a trip. After that I heard a string of profanities and finally calm. I first thought to call my parents and advise them of our trip only after traveling across the state line. Spending 40 minutes on the phone with my dad long distance I realized that a cross country road trip requires more planning than calling home when you are over 400 miles into your journey. It is very important when you are enjoying a cross country road trip to check in daily with friends or family members at home not only to let them know how much fun you are having but to assure them of your safety. Unfortunately, the world is a little more dangerous than it was 15 years ago. One of the most dangerous places, especially for women, is rest areas. Never go into a rest area bathroom alone especially late at night. It is also NEVER a good idea to pull over at a rest area or on the side of the freeway for a nap. Talk to a loved one daily and report where you are on your journey. Let them know where you will be staying overnight and how far you will be traveling the next day.
2. “Where are we?” My friend asked queerly as we pulled into the parking lot of what seemed to be the world’s largest hubcap house. Thousands of shiny discs caught the morning sun blinding me as a slammed the car door in a rage. “I don’t know!” I said with angry tears streaming down my face. Looking around it seemed as if we were remaking that famous movie where four now famous actors were canoeing down a river. You know the one I am referring to. We had driven around aimlessly it seemed since dawn never getting more than 30 miles from last night’s motel. We learned quickly that we should have had a route mapped out. This was years before a GPS became a driver’s best friend. But even a GPS can’t rescue you completely when planning a cross country road trip. Planning such a large trip is an ordeal and requires careful planning. By not mapping out a route and “just winging it” you and your friends will miss a lot of historical sites, tacky Americana and not to mention you will waste a lot of time and a lot of money buying gas.
3. “OK. You are really working on my nerves now! How many times are going to play the same cassette tape?” My best friend ejected my Stone Temple Pilots cassette from the tape deck so fast the entire tape projected out of the tape deck like a massive tape worm. “Well it’s not like we didn’t listen to Soundgarden a million times when you were driving, which by the way, hasn’t been very much!” After three days in the car I learned that the third piece of advice that I can give you before embarking on a cross country road trip with a friend is to expect bumps in the road. Traveling with anyone for such a long period of time is bound to cause tension. If travelers realize that there will indeed be periods where you are going to be annoyed with each other you can simply learn to overlook it and consider it part of the adventure.
4. “You’re out of money? We haven’t even driven half way yet! You spent it all on that miniature train village at Roadside America, didn’t you?” I screamed as my best friend announced that she was going to have to call her parents to wire her money. “And if they don’t wire you money how are we going to get home?” I could envision us running out of gas in the Arizona desert.
“Well I thought maybe you could float me some cash or call your parents to wire money.”

“Call my parents to wire you money? Oh that’s something!” I slammed on the brakes, popped the hatch open and threw the miniature train village out into the Midwestern prairie. As I stomped on the gas and peeled away I could see the village’s Christmas lights blinking in the evening sky like festive fireflies.

And that brings me to my last and most important piece of advice. On a road trip with friends it is always important to have a community pot from the start. Estimating expenses is important. Collect money for these expenses upfront so that everyone is assured a nice trip and money isn’t a source of tension or worry. Overestimating expenses is a good idea as well. Road trips always cost more than planned.

And there you have it. I have learned from experience that these four things are the most important things to remember when planning a road trip with friends. By planning ahead and estimating expenses you can survive a few disagreements along the way. And as long as you realize that you will work on one another’s nerves you may be able to overlook that in order to have one another’s backs along the way and secure a safe return home after enjoying much of what this country has to offer.