You just can’t beat that big open road. The landscape stretched out for as far as your eyes can see. There aren’t many life experiences that a good old American road trip can’t trump!
You’ll pass through shanty towns, fuel up in crookedy old gas stations, and you’ll get to experience life on the road. It’s one of those holidays that we should all experience at least once in our lives.
I mean it’s pretty straight forward; pick up your car, drive it somewhere, and hey presto…your road trip has begun! I mean really it doesn’t take a whole load of guidance.
However, here are just a few little tips that I wanted to share with you from my time driving around the states back in 2013. Most of them are more what not to do, than anything else. I like to think that as helpful as it is to pass on useful information about how to go about doing something or to give advice on where to go or what to do, it’s also just as handy to hear about where people have, (for lack of a better phrase) fucked up! I love when I read how others overcome their errors or doubts or fears. So much more relatable than reading about how everyone always gets things right all the time! Who the hell can relate to that eh. Haha.
So enjoy, and try not to think of me too much like a nitwit for some of my errors of judgement…
So here we go, in no particular order….
Choose time of year carefully; November daylight was lost by 5pm!
There are just some things that you wouldn’t even think to think about. For example; how many hours of daylight there’s going to be at any particular time of year. I was umming and ahhing about whether or not to take my trip in November. The decision was always based around the weather. Was it still going to be warm enough? I completely didn’t even think to question “actually hey, is this time of year going to cut into my hours of daylight each day!”
I mean it makes total sense now. I’m from England, the difference of daylight hours at different times of the year is huge! It shouldn’t be too different across the pond right. Alas, it was an oversight of mine and it did cut into our days. Overall it’s not, and wasn’t, a major issue. Obviously there are worse things. It was, however, just a bit of a pain. Especially when you’re on a full days drive and you’re not really sure where you’re driving to. Everything seems more confusing in the dark don’t ya think? One particular day we were driving across Arizona, we had no definite destination for this particular day so it was pretty much drive until we find some random town to stay in. Not sure if you know this… but Arizona is big! And it’s also empty! You can drive for miles and miles and see nothing. Which is exactly what was happening to us on this particular day just as the sky was starting to darken. Now these vast empty lands once the lights go out can feel a little bit….intimidating, I guess would be the diplomatic term to use. ‘Scary as shit’ being the actual phrase a person might use! We were doing everything we could not to think about all those old slasher horror movies, which of course created the complete opposite effect and became the only thing we could think about!
I mean, the story ends well. Instead of being hunted by a crazed chainsaw serial killer with another persons skin for a mask, we did finally make it to a random little town and booked ourselves into a random little motel, and went out for some drinks in a random little bar. But, ya know….that last hours drive would have been a hell of a lot more comfortable had the lights not gone out.
Research a little into the cities you’re headed to for any conventions! (Don’t get stranded without a place to stay)
City conventions!! Who the hell knew about these things!
Turns out, there are zillions of them, with just as many people who attend! I had no clue that they were ever really even a thing before this trip.
But alas. A thing they are. And what a pain in the arse thing they turned out to be.
Well as you know I like to face my travels with a fairly ‘we’ll figure it out when we’re there’ kind of attitude. For the most part this really works out well for me and I’m able to keep things flexible. I like this place a lot more than I thought, great we’ll stay here instead of going there. Advised of somewhere “you absolutely need to visit.” Fab, let’s add on another night and head there then. Hate a place, great let’s move on. Ya know, that kinda thing. But every now and then something happens and that whole carefree spirit just kinda blows up in your face!
For example; you rock up into a city or town and it turns out that this particular city or town is currently holding a massive conference and now there are slim to zero rooms available anywhere within said city or town. Except, perhaps, for the dregs.
So yeah this happened to us a couple of times, and each time it was a close shave as to whether we would actually get a bed for the night. Fortunately we always did manage to find a bed, but it wasn’t without its stresses. In San Diego we must have driven to every hotel and motel in the city, and by this time it was getting late. Eventually it was looking like we were going to have to fork out for a room in a hotel way above our budget, until right at the end we stumbled across an independent little guest house that still had some rooms available. Still a little pricier than we would have usually paid, but nothing that was going to break the bank. Phew!
New Orleans, now this one was a bit more of a ‘potential situation’ than San Diego. Geez! We had driven everywhere trying to find a place to stay. We were told of one motel that had availability. Went to check it out. Looked a bit grim. We had one final push for an alternative and eventually settled on a Knights Inn. They’re a chain of motels which installed that extra bit of trust in us over the other. Or so we thought.
We checked into our room. It was grim. But we were nearing midnight by this point.
“Let’s just get into bed and then as soon as we wake up we’ll leave.” We agreed.
Into bed, lights out.
Then the noises began from next door (don’t make me spell out the kind of noises I’m referring to, you know what I’m talking about). Then they got louder, and louder, and….well I mean it didn’t sound like a romantic couple in love let’s just put it that way!
Something was weird about this.
“What the bleep is going on in there!”
We both sat up. Half laughing half wondering what the hell we’re meant to do right now. We peered outside our room to see a couple of big guys walking around nearby. They looked both like they were staying at the motel, but also like they were monitoring a situation. It was definitely odd.
Long story short we decided to get our money back and leave and chance it at the other motel. As we walked to our car in the middle of the night we walked past the men we’d seen, desperately trying not to make eye contact whilst trying to remain confident and in control. We also saw a car pull up, a man and young woman got out. The man went to pick up the key whilst the woman waited before they then both proceeded into a room. Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this story haha.
We got in our car and we got the hell outa there!
So yes. If you’re headed to a city, and if you’re on a bit of a budget cruise around the states, then check for hotel/motel availability or any conferences happening before you get there. Don’t end up in a somewhat vulnerable situation like we did.
Learn road signs better (Santa Barbara Next 9 Exits):
Oh god. How ridiculous can I get. (Install embarrassed looking monkey emoji here).
Now, although I am sure you all out there are mostly a lot smarter than I am with a higher degree of common sense, but for the few that possibly sit down here at my levels of competency, you’re really going to appreciate this one!
Whilst you’re driving along the highways of the States you’ll hopefully be using the road signs to assist your navigation from place to place. Occasionally, within these road signs, you’ll see signs saying things like ‘such and such a place next x amount of exits’. For example, in particular an example taken from my experience and is what I base this entire piece of advice from, “Santa Barbara Next 9 Exits.”
I mean, now that I know what this road sign is actually telling us, it seems so simple. So clear. So obvious. But, a healthy little reminder that I like to fall back on in any embarrassing moment in life (and trust me it sure helps to feel better about these little blunders I have from time to time), it’s very simple really…. “we don’t know until we know!”
Well now that I do know, let me share it with you…
So as we were driving along this particular bit of highway, eager to get to Santa Barbara to enjoy the afternoons sun, I started to get excited when I began seeing signs for it’s exit. With each exit the number would reduce; “Santa Barbara Next 8 Exits,” “Santa Barbara Next 7 Exits,” and so on and so on. You see we were convinced that what these road signs were telling us was that the exit for Santa Barbara was after these certain amounts of exits. So while we were whipping past said exits, hell bent on making sure we didn’t miss the count and in doing so our exit. Eventually, after the exits whittled down, suddenly all signs for Santa Barbara seemed to have vanished! Where the hell are we meant to get off…where’s our exit?! We just kept driving, nothing indicating anymore that we were anywhere near Santa Barbara. Until eventually we were driving along the shores and hills of Malibu.
Well that was weird!
Anyway, this stuck with me. How could we have missed it. Did we miscount? Did Santa Barbara fall into the abyss of a flyby black hole?
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m sat telling this story to a cousin of mine in Florida, trying to seek some kind of explanation as to why “your highway signs are giving incorrect information!”. To which he just began laughing, looking not so subtly bemused.
So folks, did you know that actually when a sign is saying something along the lines of “Santa Barbara Next 9 Exits” what this is actually telling us is that you can use any of these next 9 exits to take you to Santa Barbara (or however many exits for wherever it is you’re going).
Huzzah! Who the hell would’ve guessed eh.
(You don’t know until you know guys…and I’m sticking to it!)
So don’t do as we did and desperately try to keep count of the exits you’re driving past before it’s supposedly your exit. Know that any of these exits will work absolutely fine. To this day I still haven’t quite made it to Santa Barbara.
I would love to hear if anyone else has made this mistake along any of your great road trips? Come on guys, help me to feel better about myself again, share your story with me please?
Take a smaller bag to take to and from your hotel/motel room and car:
This is one I’m sure you’ll pick up on pretty quickly, but if you want to avoid the whole ‘learning as you go’ factor and then potential absence of a smaller bag once you have figured it out, let me help you… This will save you a whole load of unecessary hauling of some heavy arsed luggage!
So you’ve got your everyday essentials; toiletries, make-up, undies…all the normal stuff. Bung all that in the smaller bag. My question is this…are you guna need every other item that you’ve packed for your two week, three week, month long, however long journey you’ve packed for? Probably not.
What’s the answer?
Take a quick gander inside your case, choose what you’re guna wear tonight and tomorrow morning. Take anything else that you think you might need for this particular stop. For instance; bathing suit, hiking bits n bobs, those special pair of shoes you chose to bring with you for that one special evening you were saving them for. Whack them all in your small bag and glide your way with comfortable ease up those steps towards your room 😉 Bish, Bash, Bosh.
Learn what sunny side up means!
It basically means the snot will still be on your fried egg! Don’t do it. Never order it. It’s disgusting!
Don’t leave keys in the car (automatic lock):
I just want it to be known that I never actually did this. However, my lovely best friend Lisa managed to do this on three separate occassions. Locking us out of the car on three separate occassions. Having to call the lock smith and pay the $50 fee for the call out, on three separate occassions. The look on her face on the third time, the ultimate of all “BOLLOCKS!!!!” faces. Four years on and still to this day it makes me laugh. She looked up at me from the car to where I stood on the balcony overlooking her… “I’ve done it again!!!!” – to which I did the only thing that anyone could have done in that moment. I laughed and I mocked.
So basically yeah, your car hire will more than likely have an automatic lock to it whenever the doors are closed. Great for safety, not so great if you accidentally leave the keys inside.
How might one accidentally leave their keys inside? You ask.
Well let me tell you… putting them down in the boot while you’re getting out your luggage, or putting them on the car seat while you’re emptying out the rubbish. Ya know, silly things like that. Silly but easily done.
So do yourselves a favour and try to keep your keys to your body at all times 😉
Screw the SatNav!
“Would you like to add satellite navigation to your car hire ma’am” – We were asked at the pick up desk.
“Erm…how much extra will that be please?”
The answer was something around the $9 a day mark.
….“eh, no you’re good thanks.”
I mean, what did people use before satnav existed anyway.
We were feeling confident. We decided we would embrace it the old fashioned way, with maps and road signs.
…and you know what, we only went and survived it! I know right!
We had larger maps for the specific part of the country we were in, this helped us with figuring out the highways we needed to aim for and the general directions we were heading in; north, east, south, west etc. Then we would take smaller town maps from the motels we were staying in to help navigate us around the… well the towns! The smaller streets and landmark attractions that perhaps won’t get featured in the larger maps. This along with using the road signs did us fine. Not forgetting, of course, the old thinker, ya know the brain! Don’t forget to use that. Initiative, instinct, intuition, all that jazz, throw some of all that into the mix as well 😉 You’ll be fine.
I know I like to paint a pretty picture…but let me be truthful here and tell you that actually there were a few times where control could be lost from lack of navigational skills. The map would be getting turned upside down, turned left, turned right, where the navigator of us that day was desperately trying to figure out which bloody way the turning was! The driver screaming “WHICH WAY???”….
The reply usually always “I DON’T KNOW!!!”
But this only happened every now and then, and actually it only added to the comedy value of the trip. We also stumbled across some random and interesting places on some of our ‘accidental misdirections.’
So go on…live a little…leave that SatNav at the pick up desk like we did. I assure you, they’ll never be a dull moment 😉
So there we go guys, 7 little tips based around some of my blunders and some of my happier moments driving around the states. It’s not your average do’s and don’t’s I’m sure, but hey…ya never know when one of them might just help you out 😉
And just because I’m feeling generous, here is a my final little tip on how to approach your American road trip…
Brucey Bonus…. Go with the flow!
We all enjoy different things, and that can stem all the way back to how we like to plan our trips. If you’re someone who likes to have everything pre-organised and if that makes you relax and have a good time, then just do that. If you’re someone who lives from a wing and a prayer, well then you know what you have to do. My point here is just do your thing the way you like to do it…don’t put any unecessary stresses onto yourselves just because of expectations or whatever. This is YOUR holiday, you got this 😉
Just go with the flow, everything always works out one way or another anyway. You’ll find the trip will unfold organically whilst you’re out there living it.
Have fun folks 😉
Some of my memories: