“Can you help me plan my cross-country drive?”

“Can you help me plan my cross-country drive?”

Our family has been traveling a lot for a while now.  Long before we started our family travel blog the questions were already coming from friends, family, and random people in our life.

  • How long does it take to drive 500 miles with two little kids? (10 hours)
  • Do airlines charge a fee for checking my baby’s stroller? (In most cases no, but some airlines are beginning to charge for “non-basic” strollers.)
  • What’s the best place to search for flights? (Kayak.com, Travelocity.com, and Expedia.com all have different advantages.  But I like to use these as search engines and then book my flights directly on the airline’s website if the price is the same or almost the same.  When flights are oversold the first people to be bumped are those who booked through discount websites. AND please don’t book multiple carriers. You will regret it, no matter how much money you save!)
Today the question comes from my brother-in-law who is flying to Maine to drive to Santa Barbara with his girlfriend.  “Can you help me plan my cross-country drive?”
Sure.  And now I’m on a mental escape.
Here are the parameters, either told to me directly by my brother-in-law (Matt) or based upon what I know about him.
  • Matt doesn’t like cities.  He’s far more comfortable in open spaces.
  • Matt hates the heat.  So my plan is to keep them north for the majority of their trip.
  • Matt specifically requested camping “near a lake or river.”
  • Budget matters. (Budget always matters, but I think that in this case budget really matters!)  And so does time.  So there are going to be a few long days of driving.
Here’s the trip I created for them as shown in a Google Map.  The trip is missing some quintessential cities they could visit along the way. HELLO!  New York City!  I want to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep!  But we’re avoiding cities because Matt is not a city guy.  And I purposely pushed them up into Michigan to take the ferry into Wisconsin to avoid Chicago (which they visited anyway a few months ago when Matt drove from Santa Barbara to Maine with his girlfriend.
Ok, so first, the disclaimer from Google:

This route has tolls.

This route crosses through Canada.

This route includes a ferry.

This route has restricted usage or private roads.

View From Maine to Santa Barbara in a larger map

I’m not certain of the exact destination they’re leaving from in Maine so for the purpose of creating the map I started them off in Portland, Maine.

Their first day of driving they’ll be on the road for about 5 hours before stopping to explore the Adirondacks.  I’ve taken a mental escape in the past to the Adirondacks (Read that post HERE).  Their options here are endless in terms of accommodations.  They can camp if they want to camp or they could get a budget room somewhere (Hotels.com is the best!).

When they leave the Adirondacks they’re in for a long day of driving–about 13 hours–as I take them into Traverse City, Michigan.  I’ve been to Traverse City just once, and it was during college, and the occasion was not a happy one–I was attending the funeral of my friend’s mother.  But this I do remember: Traverse City is beautiful.  I’d love to rent a house there someday with my family.  Matt and his girlfriend I know would both love the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Their next day of driving I have them on the road for 7-8 hours, depending on where they stop.  My map pinpoint is in Madison, Wisconsin–but I envision them camping near a lake or river somewhere in Wisconsin.  There are lots of options and WisconsinCampgrounds.com is a great site for searching the different campgrounds by amenities.

Packing up from Wisconsin they have another l-o-n-g of driving.  13 hours.  But the payoff is a visit to Mount Rushmore.  I’ve longed in the past to see this amazing spectacle–we were on a cross-country trip a few years ago and I watched it slip from my grasp due to limitations on both time and budget.  It’s not just Mount Rushmore that draws me in.  It’s the Black Hills which Mount Rushmore is carved out of that are described as an island of trees in a sea of grass.

Mount Rushmore

I’d find it hard to leave those Black Hills were it not for what’s next.  8 hours of driving later they’re entering Yellowstone National Park.  I don’t think I need to do any convincing that this is a place worth visiting.

At this point they’ve driven a lot of miles and they’ve only gone west.  At some point they’re going to have to go south.  That point is now.  Another 12 hour stretch will lead them into Zion National Park.  Why Zion.  Check out Monica’s mental escape to Zion National Park HERE.

There have been some long days in the car but the next day of driving is “just” about 5 hours.  Ever heard of Grand Canyon?  This is starting to sound like my dream trip.  After all, would you believe I’ve taken a mental escape to the Grand Canyon? (HERE).

They’re almost home.  Drive over the Hoover Dam.  Spend a night in Vegas.  And then the drive from Vegas to Santa Barbara is nothing.

It’s just a 4,227 mile trip.  It’s just 3 days and 3 hours of sheer drive time.

Maybe they’ll let me fly out so I can make the trip with them.

Today it’s my mental escape.

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