15 Things I’ve Learned From Driving Across The US Seven Times

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After my first road trip to the Southwest US, I’ve picked up the hobby of driving thousands of miles at a time.  As of now, I’ve driven across the US seven times in various directions and taken who knows how many smaller trips around wherever I’ve been living.  I’ve learned a thing or two and made a few observations in the hundreds of hours I’ve now spent in the car.  And today I’d like to share those things with you.

Everything counts

Six of the seven trips have been to move to a new job or visiting home between jobs.  This means I’ve had a lot of stuff with me and I’ve learned that the less I have the better.  If you work seasonally it’s so much easier to have less things, especially since you’re probably moving every six months or so.

It’s a pain to pack it up and unpack it so often.  I keep telling myself I’m going to get rid of stuff, and slowly I am, but I’m getting new stuff too and it’s just sort of evening out.  There are a few things though that are definitely helpful to have with.

Car matters

Driving from Utah to Florida in a Smart Car is not comfortable.  They may be adorable, but they are not good to spend 40 hours in.  It did do surprisingly well in the Wyoming snow though, and trust me, we got plenty of it.  Now I have a Ford Escape which is much more comfortable and is the perfect size for moving two peoples minimal stuff across the country.  You don’t need something super big and luxurious, but comfy seats that you can recline are pretty much necessary if you’re doing this much cross country driving.

Texas stinks

Literally.  It stinks.  We passed so many big farms and it smelled so bad.  I don’t know if they were dairy or for the meat, but it was not pleasant to drive past and stunk for miles around it.  I remember driving through the first time and thinking it was stinky, too.  Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to the cities, but it definitely has some stinky places along the Interstate.

I can’t always read in the car

I always prided myself on being able to read in the car and then all of a sudden I couldn’t.  But only sometimes.  It’s weird and I’m not sure why I can’t all the time.  Sometimes if I take Dramamine then read it makes me a little dizzy, but if I don’t take it I’m fine.  I don’t get it.  It’s always a gamble, but I always give it a shot anyways.  I still haven’t gotten into audiobooks, but I’ll keep trying to read.

Headlamps are perfect for reading at night

I always used my headlamp in hostels to navigate dorm rooms in the dark, but from Denver to Salt Lake one night, I was reading and it got dark, but I wanted to keep reading my actual book, so I whipped out my headlamp to keep reading.  It was perfect!  I love my Kindle, especially since I can read in the sun or dark, but I still like reading regular books, too.  A headlamp makes it super easy to do in the dark, just make sure you don’t blind the driver.

Music isn’t always necessary

Sometimes it’s just nice to not have music playing.  I always used to need music in the car, and then I spent hours and hours in the car and realized it’s actually nice to not have music on.  Or to not have to worry about what I want to listen to.  But when I do listen to music, Spotify premium is the best!  I caved before I went to Taiwan and was like ok, I’ll just get it for this trip and, well, I still have it.  I love the offline listening, especially since we don’t have service a lot in Utah.

I actually like podcasts

I never thought I would like podcasts.  I’ve also never really known how to find good ones (and still have a hard time with this) but now that I have found some I like, I’ve learned that I really like them.  I can listen, but don’t have to worry about watching something.  It’s perfect!  Also, if you have any you really like, I’d like to hear them!  So far I like Switchback Kids, The Balanced Blonde, Nourish + Flourish, Not Too Deep, Casefile, and Elise Gets Crafty.

Ice buckets are great for trapping cockroaches

I recently, like, last week, stayed in a hotel and found a cockroach.  This wasn’t the first time it’s happened, but it was the first time it landed on my arm and scared me, plus it was GIANT.  I looked down looked at it before I realized what it was and screamed a little and flailed my arm around.  Then I was determined to trap the thing.  I wasn’t going to squish it because it was giant, so I waited and grabbed the ice bucket because a cup was too small (I’d have to get too close) and trapped it under there.  Then set the garbage on it to be safe.  So, sorry to whoever had to move that.

Definitely read hotel reviews

But take them with a grain of salt.  We had a terrible hotel experience in Roswell, New Mexico.  I’m talking a smokey,fly-filledd room with chainsaws going in the middle of the night.  I’m a little surprised I didn’t get sliced up there.  That would be one place we should have read reviews on because it was so cheap, but that’s why we booked it.  It was cheap.  Oh well, live and learn.  Now I read reviews, but take them with that grain of salt because, well, if you’ve ever read Internet reviews, you’ll know.

Colorado is the best for the license plate game

Like, the best.  I even got Hawaii there.  Twice!  Garden of The Gods was, surprisingly, the best place.  Just there I probably got at least half the states.  I figured Yellowstone would be the best for this game, but it really wasn’t that great.  Oh, and if you don’t know the license plate game, it’s just trying to find all 50 states.  At least that’s my objective in it.

Always get gas

This is especially good to do out west and in the remote desert.  Gas can be surprisingly far apart, so even if you have half a tank, get gas anyways!  You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank of gas.  I haven’t and don’t plan to.  Some places have a sign telling you it’s 100 miles to the next gas station, usually along interstates, but if you take an exit that number could be very different.  Better to get gas too often than to run out.

Utah is the prettiest

I may be biased since I’ve lived there for about a year now, but I think Utah is the prettiest.  It has everything!  Mountains, desert, a lake in the middle of the desert, and you can still see fall leaves!  It’s an outdoor lovers paradise and has one of the prettiest big cities around.  I mean, I haven’t been to all the states yet, so I can’t make this my official final decision, but as of now, it’s definitely the prettiest.  And this is just my opinion, don’t forget that.

Louisiana has terrible roads

Like, the worst.  They aren’t all bad, but it’s definitely some of the worst interstate sections I’ve been on and I’ve been on a lot of interstates.  I’ve only driven through it twice, so I can’t really speak for all of the state, but what I’ve seen has all been a rough drive.

South Dakota is extremely windy

The drive from Eau Claire across southern Minnesota and South Dakota was so windy my arms were actually sore.  But, I was driving the Smart Car then, so I had to fight against the wind to stay on the road, but holy cow it was windy!  I also learned that South Dakota isn’t completely horrible to visit, it’s actually really pretty, mostly on the west side.  Utah definitely rivals South Dakota in the wind department in the Spring and fall, though.

I will always get excited to see bison

I always used to see them at the zoo back home, and then in South Dakota last year I just kept hoping to see them.  Then, I went to Yellowstone and got to experience a classic bison road block and loved it!  THEN I got to see them a few times in Gros Ventre in the winter and again at Wind Cave in South Dakota!  And let me tell you, I’ve gotten super excited every time and will probably continue to get excited about them.

So, that’s what I’ve learned so far, or at least some of the things, but I’m sure as I continue to travel around the US and work seasonally, I’ll have a lot more things that I’ve learned and I’ll definitely be sharing them.

Have you ever driven across the US or gone on a long road trip?  Is there anything you learned from that?  Do you have a favorite state?

34 thoughts on “15 Things I’ve Learned From Driving Across The US Seven Times

  1. I love to read, but like you, I get dizzy when I read in the car. Which is frustrating because I LOVE to read. Its worse when I haven’t eaten,

    And podcasts get me through every legthy trip I’ve taken.

    1. Yes! I’ve looked at it a couple times, but don’t get up north much (I’m in the middle of nowhere southeast Utah) but would love to see more of the Antelope Island/Salt Lake area

  2. Great observations! I can’t believe you have done in 7 times! You are right in that you have to have a comfortable car. I always read Trip Advisor reviews before booking anything! Utah is high on my list to visit. It does look amazing. Funny about Texas and the cockroach!

    1. Yup! I’m from Wisconsin, my boyfriend is from Florida, and we work in Utah in the summer and somewhere else in the winter, so it’s a lot of back and forth between jobs and visiting home.

    1. Thank you! I live in Bullfrog on Lake Powell over the summer, but right now I’m in Florida until March, then I’ll be back in Utah! I go up to SLC a couple times a summer usually!

  3. Roadtrips are just so much fun in the U.S., especially with the different environments you encounter from state to state!

  4. I’m not a huge road trip fan, but I found this post really useful. Just got back from CO now, and I’m disappointed I didn’t play the license plates game, lol. But I agree – seeing bison on the road always feels really special! Also, I’ve never been to Texas, so I was surprised to hear that it was smelly!

    1. I was so surprised Colorado was the best for the game and that I found Hawaii there twice haha. Texas wasn’t all stinky, but it definitely had its moments haha

  5. I haven’t driven all over the US per say but I have driven up and down the east coast a few times and these are some good tips. And if you think Texas stinks try the backwoods in NC. It is aweful haha. I also play the license plate game or the ABC game with different topics

  6. Thank you for the great tips! I have always dreamed of driving cross country on different routes!!!

  7. I love this post. We experienced the driving on fumes in Utah. Nerve wracking. I can relate to a few of these.

    1. I was a little worried about missing a gas station in Wyoming a couple years ago! Thankfully we haven’t had that issue haha

  8. Nice site Megan. Our hobby is two-lane road trips around the U.S.–no interstates and no chain restaurants. If you guys ever get to Tucson, look us up. It would be fun to chat, and we have plenty of room if you need a place to stay. Cheers!

    1. Thank you! I would love to do more road trips like that! And would definitely love to visit Tuscon!

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