Sarah and I have done two US road trips. Two years ago, in 2014, we set out from Chicago along Route 66 to Los Angeles, approximately 2,300 miles plus a few detours (some intentional and some not). Blogging this on Facebook day by day, we prompted an enthusiastic interest amongst our friends/followers. The blog even inspired some to already be planning their very own journey along the iconic Mother Road. So when we embarked on our second road adventure, a trip around South Florida, we decided to go one further and blog it on both Facebook and Twitter. Someone told me that it was as if they were with us, sitting in the back seat. What all this has led me to believe is that there are many potential road tripper’s out there who are perhaps afraid of giving it a go, not yet got round to it or simply didn’t realise that they wanted to do it until they had read our blogs. So I have been thinking about what qualities Sarah and I have that make it easy for us.
Sometimes, people imagine going on exciting adventures around the world, but never have the motivational push to make them take the leap into the unknown. And maybe nothing radical enough happens in their lives to urge them to change their general focus, do something spectacular and live for the moment. In 2009 I suffered a brain haemorrhage, survived (of course) after slipping into a coma and almost into oblivion. I had brain surgery twice (the first one didn’t work and we really didn’t know if I’d get out of hospital alive) before luckily making a more or less full recovery. Four years later, in 2013, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the prognosis was good, before she started her chemotherapy I told her that once it was over we would do Route 66 – whether we could afford to or not. A year later, that is exactly what we did. We hadn’t ridden in the back seat of someone else’s blogs to make us realise that we really could do it, we just took the plunge with both feet and hoped for the best.
The following year, we took a package holiday in the Dominican Republic. The bar had already been set very high, and the holiday fell abysmally short of our road trip adventure from the previous year. So this year, we decided to do another road trip – a tour of South Florida. Flying in to Miami Beach, we drove north to Orlando, west to Sarasota, down to Naples, through the Everglades to Florida City, down through the Florida Keys to Key West and back to Miami. Right now, as I am writing this, we are flying back from Miami Beach to Manchester Airport. It is a subject that I couldn’t wait to put down on iPad (can’t say “paper” these days) to encourage all of the would-be-but-weren’t-sure-about-it road trippers out there to be able to work out their own personal list of dos and don’ts and pros and cons. So here is our “take” on some important things that are required to do a US road trip by car the way we have done. This information is based on the assumption that you are using a car and not a camper van or motorcycle.
1. We have no dependants. All our children have grown up and flown the nest. I would imagine that our type of road trip could normally only be done in couples. Nobody would want to be in the back seat, and it would be less enjoyable for most people to do it solo (and harder because it helps to have a co-driver/navigator). Could you imagine the kids in the back with their the cries of, “Are we we there yet?” just after setting out on your first day? So do it either before you have kids or after they’ve grown up. I’m sorry that this is frustrating if you have young children and have to wait for what may seem like a lifetime before you could possibly do it, but I guess you’d probably figured that out before you started reading this, anyway.
2. We rarely argue. You must be able to get along with your fellow road tripper without arguing or falling out. Some situations can become stressful, especially where wrong turnings are taken or if you get lost. These situations are 100% inevitable and you have to both be able to adopt a “what the hell” attitude. The US is a wonderful place, and for me I couldn’t think of a better place to be lost. Each time you take a wrong turn, at least one of you has probably made a mistake. Once you start blaming each other, you are being unfair and selfish (it’s not easy to get around a foreign country, and no one took that wrong turn on purpose), you will make more mistakes because of the stress of arguing and you will, quite simply, ruin your holiday. If you think you can stay calm and live with each other’s inevitable mistakes, road tripping may be for you.
3. We both enjoy the same things. Ok there are some interests that we don’t share, but we have enough common ground to be able to find plenty to do for both of us. Occasionally a bit of compromise is needed, but that is a part of normal life anyway. It helps if you can appreciate spectacular scenery and enjoy looking for a variety of wildlife – there is plenty of both in America. If you have enough common ground, the levels of compromise won’t be sufficient to cause much friction or boredom.
4. I love driving and Sarah loves being a passenger. If the driving isn’t shared, both of you must be happy in your role as one or the other. I could enjoy driving all day, as long as I don’t get too tired. Sarah can sit and watch the world go by out of a car window without getting bored. Neither of us suffer from travel sickness. If you are a travel sickness sufferer, the distances involved would make it very unpleasant for you as a passenger. Drivers tend not to suffer travel sickness, so if one of you does, that person would need to be driver.
5. Sarah and I have allocated tasks which we adhere to quite strictly. That isn’t to say that we aren’t flexible where necessary, but this works for us. As you’ve probably guessed from point number 4, I do ALL of the driving when on an overseas road trip. Sarah likes to proudly boast that she’s “on clothes”. Being on clothes is more than just that. She does anything that involves packing or unpacking the suitcase. Clothes, toiletries, electronic gadgets, you name it – if it goes in the cases, she’s on it. That way, we are less likely to lose things as we don’t get a situation where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I am also very disorganised, while she isn’t. So it all makes sense for us to do it is way. I plan anything to do with times and distances (she doesn’t have a clue where it comes to maps, directions and working out anything to do with how long it will take or how far it is). However, she is very good at setting the sat nav and relaying any information from it that I need to know. We really do work as a great team on the road. She also likes to point out speed limits, traffic lights and STOP signs! I make all the teas and coffees and sort out anything to do with breakfast. She scours the Internet and books our forthcoming hotels as we are going along (we only ever book a few in advance of the holiday). I do money control and currency conversions. Our jobs list is well defined and it works perfectly for us. Each of our skills and strengths compliment the others’ weaknesses – it works like a charm.
Sarah’s on clothes!
6. When you arrive at the car rental pick-up area, you will have the option to pay extra for a sat nav (they call it GPS and they won’t know what you’re talking about if you ask for a sat nav). Take our advice and don’t question it. GET ONE. Ours cost $99 for our two-week Florida trip. Some of the US roads and signage are confusing and seemingly vague if you’re not used to them. Even WITH a sat nav, major cities can be really complicated and require FULL concentration from both driver and co-driver. Don’t doubt this.
7. My job (my real day job, that is) is related to driver education and testing in the UK. This stands me in good stead for understanding my own limitations and how much I need to adapt when I have to drive on the “wrong” side of the road in a foreign country. I also need to adapt to driving a car with automatic transmission, which I never drive at home. As soon as you are faced with such drastic changes, your driving capabilities become significantly diminished. You suddenly become, effectively, a learner driver in a strange country to a very large extent. When I pick up the rental car, I spend about 20 to 30 minutes familiarising myself with the controls of the car, and drive around on quiet roads for a while (the car park where you pick it up may be your only option) to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road. The lack of familiarity with the car and roads will handicap you. You need to be prepared for this and to have the confidence that you can overcome it.
8. Both of our US road trips were done during summer months. When we reached the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and California, we were experiencing temperatures of +40C. On our detour to Las Vegas we recorded 51C on one occasion. During our Florida road trip, the temperature was around 40C much of the time. Sarah and I like heat. Our bodies demand it (although the 51C heat was unbearable even for us). Not everyone is the same, and I know that for some people, such high temperatures would be detrimental to their holiday.
9. When you live in small country like the UK, to look at a map of a country the size of America is meaningless unless you use a comparable means of measuring distance. For example, when we did Route 66, I drew a line along the road from Chicago to Los Angeles, then marked 150 mile intervals all the way along it. 150 miles is the distance from my home to London, and I can complete that journey comfortably in three hours. You need to work out a similar means of measuring distance before you start planning your US road trip, or you may find yourself overloading your holiday with too much driving.
10. Cost. Our flights for Route 66 cost us around £1,000 each return using American Airlines. This year, we managed to get them for £650 each using Thomas Cook. Hotels and motels will accurately reflect the price you pay. If you look for something cheap, you will get poor quality. I’d recommend $80 or more per night. Fuel is cheap and won’t be a big expense. Car hire is about $50 per day for a decent vehicle, although we get ours paid for by collecting Avios through Tesco Clubcard points using Tesco credit cards. Route 66 cost us £6,000 for a three week trip. That covered everything including spending money. Our recent Florida trip cost £4,000 for two weeks all in.
11. Make sure you remember to pack your driving licence. Without it, your road trip will be cancelled!
There is, of course, much more to road tripping in America than the points I have made above. But hopefully, this will give you some idea as to whether or not it’s for you. If it is for you, you’ll find it one of the best experiences of your life. We are addicted now. I’m already working out a plan for our next trip. There will come a time in your life when you will no longer be able to embark on these types of adventures. Serious illness afflicts many at some stage and old age gets to all of us if we live long enough. We both nearly lost it all in our late forties. We’re not going to put it off only to find out in a few years time that we missed our chance.
If you’d like to know more about our story or read our book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:
The paperback is £7.99 UK and the e-book is £1.99 UK. It is available from Amazon in all major currencies and has mostly FIVE STAR REVIEWS.
The more book sales we get, the more road trips we can do!