As I turned 18 I realized that I (“The US City Traveler!”) had only visited two cities west of the Mississippi – Las Vegas and Anaheim. So when I got the opportunity to travel for three straight weeks with a good friend, I decided to go for it. It really seems like a once in a life time opportunity, especially as I start taking summer courses next summer and heading into the workforce – when I may be lucky to get one week off. These are the highlights of the trip – here’s how our schedule went:
St. Louis -2 nights- The Gateway Arch is a true American landmark. It’s height is equivalent to a building of over 50 stories, making it the tallest structure in town. We got to ride a pod (which seats five) up to the top for just $10. At the top you can look out over the city and river with a panoramic view. The City Museum is a must for parents bringing young kids.
Chicago -2 nights- The windy city is a must see for any traveler. I nearly felt like I was in New York City with and tall buildings, high end shopping and millions of busy people. Chicago’s Magnificent Mile features shopping dining, hotels, and attractions such as the John Hancock Center where you can head to the 94th floor to look out over the city. But the tallest building in town is actually the 110 story Willis Tower (formerly called the Sears Tower). Be sure to see the Field Museum and the adjacent Shedd Aquarium.
Minneapolis/St Paul -1 night- While the twin cities are decently sized, they really don’t have many true must see attractions. Although the Mall of America was very cool (it’s located about 20 minutes outside of either city), being one of the largest malls in the world and being home to the world’s only all Nickelodeon themed theme park, it’s one of the nations only indoor theme parks. The three story mall is structured in a square layout that wraps around the indoor theme park. Department stores include Bloomingdales, Sears, Nordstrom, and Macys. They have a number of fabulous dining option, my favorite is the CRAVE Restaurant, which I first discovered in Orlando and finally got the chance to eat there again five years later at a different location.
Mount Rushmore –1 night– Located in Keystone, South Dakota, this national park is truly one of a kind and unlike any thing I’ve ever seen before. Every American should visit it at least once, as it is one of our most famous landmarks. While here be sure to visit the nearby Crazy Horse Monument, which is still under construction but open to the public.
Yellowstone National Park –1 night– Located out in “timbuktu” Wyoming, this national park was definitely a highlight of the trip and is well worth going out of your way to see. The multicolored guessers were definitely the highlight of the trip. Not to mention seeing a few wild buffalos hold up traffic in the roads of Yellowstone and having two very close encounters with them, on the freeway. Drive carefully and slowly when you are in this part of the country to avoid these or other large, wild creatures that are not afraid to run right out in front of you when you are driving 80 MPH!
Seattle -2 nights- While the “rainy city” was our only stop that was consistently flooded with rain, we still loved it! Anyone visiting this city must ride the elevator up to the top of the Space Needle to get a panoramic view of the city skyline. Seattle is also the place where Starbucks Coffee was founded (try Seattle’s Best Coffee and tell me whose coffee is really the best!) so be sure to get some coffee while here. You can’t come to Seattle without visiting the world renowned Public Market Center, which is surprisingly just like your local market – with produce, and handmade and homemade items that the whole family will enjoy.
Denver –1 night– We stopped here to see a relative and take in the scenery. While here, you should consider visiting the Denver Zoo, Children’s Museum of Denver, Elitch Gardens amusement park (one of the only amusement parks in the nation that is located inside a large city), Denver Art Museum, the Downtown Aquarium, Denver Botanic Gardens, or one of the Colorado State Parks.
Memphis -1 night- We had just enough time to visit the marching ducks at the Peabody Hotel and stop by Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Graceland allows you to actually tour the home where Elvis once lived, see the planes Elvis once owned, cars he once drove, and you can even pay your respects to the king himself at his graveside.
This was the best trip I have ever been on and I look forward to sharing more about it here on the Urban Blog. 🙂 If you haven’t already, be sure to watch my video of the highlights of the entire 3 week trip:
Here’s Some Of My Best Tips For Road Trippers
- Accommodation – We like to start by using sites such as: Hotels.com, Expedia, Hotwire, Hostel Zoo (hostels), Stayz (apartments) and Last Minute.
- Fuel – You will need to work out mileage getting there and back and also factor in driving when at your travel destination. The AAA Fuel Cost Calculator estimates fuel costs for various distances.
- Food – Will you be cooking in an apartment or campsite? Will you be eating out? You will need to factor in costs for every meal including snacks. If you are cooking at home think in terms of your usual shopping budget, if eating out factor in $10-$20 per person per meal. $5-$10 for kids.
- Activities – Decide what you want to do and what the cost will be for each activity at your chosen destination. Try to fit in as many free things as you can. Cater to all interests.
- Equipment – Consider any extra costs you may have in providing equipment for your trip. You may have to buy camping equipment, clothes etc. Factor in the cost of a vehicle service and possible maintenance.
Now you have your rough costs you are in a better position on deciding where to go and for how long.
You can then answer these questions:
- How much money will you need for your desired destination?
- How much do you have in savings now?
- How much do you need to put away each week?
- Where is that money going to come from?
Choosing the Right Destination
Depending on your budget and the type of experiences you want to have, consider this:
- Make a list of places you want to go and why?
- What type of holiday will it provide?
- What activities can you do?
- Types of accommodation options?
Go through the list with whoever you are road tripping with, discuss pros and cons of each destination and vote.
Number them in preference. (Don’t completely cancel a destination out because you may have to change when you consider factors such as budget and availability).
How about a trip to the mountains? Dorrigo National Park, Australia
Preparing Your Car
Safety, like insurance, is probably one of the most boring travel topics. But, it is truly the most important.
Unless our car is brand new, we always make sure we have put it in for a service before we go on a road trip. It’s a hassle and may cost money, but it is better to pay for the prevention rather than the cure.
Here are some pre-road trip safety tips if you want to perform them yourself:
- Check brake pads, break lights, headlights and blinkers.
- Check car tires (check the tread and pressure to be safe and improve gas mileage).
- Check your windscreen wiper blades.
- Top up the water level.
- Check your engine coolant level and top up.
- Fill the windscreen washer fluid.
- Check your oil level and change if needed.
- Get some sort of roadside assistance (in Australia we have NRMA). I cannot tell you how many times we have used them in the past. It’s good peace of mind.
- Check that your insurance and registration is up to date, as well as your drivers license.
Always good to have in the car for peace of mind:
- A spare tire and tools to change it with
- A torch
- Warm blankets
- A fully charged phone
- Hazard triangle
It’s a good idea to have your basic route planned on maps / navigation system. It’s fun for everyone to follow along and have a general understanding of the places you’ll be visiting.
- Plan for your stops along the way and organize any accommodation
- Book your accommodation.
- Have your vehicle serviced and check for safety.
- Buy all needed equipment
- Create road trip rules to ensure everyone gets along
- Have your toll road e-tickets / coins ready
- Have a last minute checklist of things that need to be done the day before or day of departure (this has saved me many times from forgetting important things)
- Double check your maps or navigation system is ready to go.
Preparing Your Home
There are obvious and not so obvious things to take care of before leaving your home.
- Schedule payment of all your bills
- Stop your mail or have a trusted source collect it for you.
- Clean out your fridge and cupboard of anything that may go off.
- Arrange for the care of any pets.
- Put your phone on soft ring so it can’t be heard ringing out.
- Leave a set of keys with someone trusted. You just never know what might happen while you are gone and who might need to access your house to help you.
- Let your bank know that you will be on a road trip and for how long. This may help prevent them from shutting down your credit card if they see charges coming through from different places.
Try not to stress too much in regards to packing. Remember, you can almost certainly buy anything later on the road.
Once packed go through it again and cut it down by a third. Keep doing that until you really do have just the essentials. Take less and wash more.
- Know the weather of the destination you are visiting as this will help reduce over-packing. Planning your travel through one season or climate always works best.
- Know the activities you will be doing so you can pack appropriately. You don’t want to turn up to your abseiling adventure without your sneakers.
- Know the types of accommodation you will be staying at. If you are camping you are going to need to pack a lot more equipment. If you are staying in hotels you won’t need to take things like towels, hair dryers or linen.
- Pack so that the items you may need are easily accessible while on the road.
Pack Children’s Entertainment
- Favourite toys
- Favourite teddy for sleeping
- Colouring books / pencils / markers
- Reading books
- iPods / iPads / other elctronics
- DVD player/iPad/iPod/laptop
- Spare batteries
- Chargers for all electronics
Food and Drink Supplies
- Have separate containers for cold food, dry food
- Water bottles
- Non-gooey, non-sticky snacks
- Trail mix, fruit, crackers, sandwiches in zip lock bags
- Spare containers / zip lock bags for leftover food
Smart Clothing Choices
- Slip on / off shoes
- Spare change of clothes handy for the car especially for kiddies
- Comfortable, loose-fitting clothes to wear
- swim wear
- Rain gear
Baby Supplies at the Ready
- Nappy bag full of nappies (diapers), formula, prepared bottles, food.
- Baby wipes
- Plenty of dummies (pacifire) close at hand (they’ll throw them).
- Paper towels
- Hand sanitizer
- Garbage bags
- Vomit bag
- Spare toilet paper
First Aid Kit
A list of items to consider:
- adhesive dressings
- sterile gauze bandages
- topical antiseptic
- wound cleanser
- a thermometer
- eye drops
- insect repellent
- insect bite treatment
- safety pins
- basic painkillers
- calamine lotion
- antihistamine tablets
- band aids
- cotton swabs
- latex gloves
- Any other personal medications
- rehydration solutions
If you are travelling overseas you may also want to include:
- water purification tablet
- doctor’s letter / certificate for personal medication
Remember – Pack light.
How to Cut Costs on the Road
Improve the Efficiency of Your Car
An easy way to save costs of fuel on your road trip is to ensure your car is fully serviced and is optimised for efficiency.
- Check the pressure of your car tires
- Drive slower
- Use the right oil to increase mile usage
- Watch your luggage – the heavier the car the more fuel you’ll use
- Pack inside your car not on top
- Use Google maps / in-car GPS to stay out of traffic jams
Thanks for reading and let me know what your ideal road trip was, or what you would like it to be. Happy travels!