Traveling Alone: My Solo Cross-Country Road Trip

Adrenaline started rushing through my body as I looked behind me to see the city of Baltimore. I was on highway I-95 and could see the skyline that painted Baltimore in front of overcast skies; Raven’s stadium stole the spotlight and I could see the busy morning streets that usually fill Charm City. Wow, I’m really doing this. I connected my aux cord to my phone and hit play on Spotify to shuffle my road trip playlist. Leon Bridges’ “River” played and I started to feel at ease. I got this. I planned this trip pretty well

…right?

To be honest, my decision to drive across the country was a bit spontaneous. I was contemplating between that or flying – but then that meant having to sell my car and deal with that whole process. I honestly didn’t want to give up my Honda Civic as it has been so good to me. But…I have never driven more than 6 hours on a road trip by myself. However, driving was far more intriguing to me because I liked the challenge of completing a cross-country drive all on my own. After I decided I was going to drive from Baltimore, MD to Boise, ID I set out to build my itinerary.

The planning process

After researching many road trip planners and sites, I found the almost perfect website that helped me start my solo venture: My Scenic Drives – the ultimate road trip planning website.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 3.08.35 PM.png

I call it almost perfect because it seems a bit outdated with its graphics, and you have to do a bit of navigating before you realize the awesome features the website offers. Not only can you plan different stops along the way, but you can also:

  • choose how many hours you want to drive each day (and what time you want to start and end)
  • add the car you’re driving and estimate mileage and gas costs
  • plan your stays at hotels if you decide to go that route; you can even book the hotels and see the ratings on their site
  • download the trip onto your GPS
  • share your trip with family and friends
  • and my favorite feature: you can completely avoid tolls (I know GPS allows you to do this but sometimes it reroutes you and it’s just a mess)

I was planning to have to pay for tolls and set cash aside because I didn’t think I could possibly avoid all of the tolls. To my surprise, I managed to drive the entire way without having to pay a single cent on toll roads. It was incredible! Also, this was crazy timing, but I got out of the east coast right before hurricane Florence hit. I wasn’t aware of the storm until I was in Indiana.

Excitement aside, there were many factors and a lot of anxiety that went into planning this road trip.

Tips to consider before starting your driving adventure:

  • get your car serviced (oil change, check tires, filters, battery, etc) and make sure you have a spare tire.
  • check with your insurance or credit card company to see if they offer roadside assistance, if not get AAA for the time you’ll be on the road
  • share your itinerary with family and friends (download your trip offline on GPS)
  • iPhone users, turn on your “sharing location” feature under Find My Friends. The people you share this with will be able to see where you are at all times. I shared this with my sister and a few friends. Android users, I’m useless here – sorry.
  • purchase a car phone charger (especially if you’re directionally challenged like I am – you’ll need it).
  • buy an old-school map – it will come in handy if for some reason your phone dies and you can’t access GPS. Can you believe this is how people got around back in the day?!
  • download your favorite podcasts and audiobooks – I listened to My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark for the majority of my trip. Great choice when you’re driving by yourself and you start suspecting everyone is a murderer.
  • stock up on all the snacks you love

I planned all the above within 3 days, but if you want to actually plan like a normal person, plan your trip at least a week in advance. I let my friends and family know about my trip, however, I did not tell my mom. Not only did I want to surprise her, but I knew if I told her she would freak out and make me wait for her to fly out to Baltimore to help me drive. Even if I didn’t wait, I know she would call me 100 times a day and that would just add to my anxiety. Mom, if you’re reading this I know you mean well and I love you!

Let’s get this show on the road

I started my trip with an open mind and a cautious heart. I didn’t expect everything to go as planned; I wanted to spark up conversations with strangers but also keep my guard up. As a solo female traveling alone on the road, I knew I should take extra precautions: I only drove during the day; I minimized my hotel stays (thankfully only had to stay in one); I made sure not to mention I was traveling alone; when I stayed at the hotel I said I was there with family; and I made sure to have my phone charged at all times. Staying at an Airbnb might have been cheaper, but I wanted to have the option to change my plans at the last minute.

Break down of my trip

I drove through 11 states: Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho.

Stop #1: Richmond, Indiana; Hotel: Holiday Inn

I didn’t explore much here, unfortunately, but I did have a meal with a stranger that shared her life story with me, which was pretty cool. If you ever read this, hi Diane!

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Stop #2: Rochester, Minnesota; stayed at my friend’s place and explored Rochester a bit

a field in Rochester overlooking a lake.

Stop #3: South Dakota; this was a spontaneous decision…originally, I was planning on driving through Nebraska, but I went to go see Mount Rushmore instead, and it was wonderful! I continued my drive afterward.

monument of Mount Rushmore - faces of U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Stop #4: Wyoming; so this is where I was a bit reckless…I was supposed to stop in Laramie, WY but instead, kept driving because I had energy and I’m impatient. Before I knew it, the skies grew dark and I got reeaallly tired. So I stopped outside a gas station for a bit and fell asleep in my car. Mind you, this was a very busy and well-lit gas station. Still, do not recommend doing this. Oops?

sunset photo taken from the driver's side of my Honda Civic

Stop #5: Idaho! 35 hours, 11 states, and 2,432 miles later I made it home! I FaceTimed my mom at the Welcome to Idaho sign and she started bawling her eyes out and yelling at me. They were happy tears, but she was so mad at me for not telling her I was driving across the country and on my own – *nervous laughter.*

Sarahi standing in front of the "Welcome to Idaho" sign

Cost of the road trip

  • Car Service: $19.77
  • Gas: $185.96
  • Hotel: $140.00
  • Food: $45.00 (meals and snacks)
  • Tourism: $10 (Mt. Rushmore)

Total cost: $400.73

Not bad, right?! If there was anything I planned right, it was my budget, the “meal prepping,” and the snacks. I made breakfast burritos and turkey & avocado sandwiches that lasted me 3 days. I didn’t stop at any fast food place, and I made sure to pack enough snacks and plenty of water.

Lessons learned

  • September is the BEST month to go on a road trip; kids are going back to school, no one is really going on vacation (not on the road at least), and there isn’t a lot of traffic. I am grateful I had such a smooth drive through the country.
  • Early morning drives are the best; I started each morning around 5am or 6am.
  • Don’t drive during an intense rainstorm and don’t rely on the driver in front of you to lead you (this actually happened and I’m not sure how I’m still alive). I literally could not see anything except the dim tail lights of the car in front of me.
  • Don’t turn on the “avoid tolls” feature for Wyoming. The drive through Wyoming was SO long. I took a lot of back roads and lost service for a good two hours.
  • Don’t fall asleep outside a gas station

This was my first solo cross-country road trip. It was challenging in the best way possible; I had a meal with a stranger, drove through an intense rainstorm, stopped by to see friends in Rochester, saw Mount Rushmore for the first time, and surprised my mom. Just me, my Honda, and the open road – what an amazing and freeing adventure!

Hopefully, my tips and lessons learned will help you when you plan your next road trip.

How do you feel about traveling alone? What trips do you plan on taking in 2019? 

Featured image by Dino Reichmuth

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