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Cross country drive

We have a challenge. Our son is relocating to the East Coast and due to the location of his employer, he will need a car. We will be driving from Sacramento to Maryland probably around December 1. Leaving the day after Thanksgiving. None of us has done this trip and we are looking at routes, probably southern routes would be better. Thanks for any wisdom.

Posted by
715 posts

have you tried typing the two addresses into google maps and asking for the directions. Google will usually give u a couple of choices.

Posted by
339 posts

Yes. I have done that. I was wondering if anybody has done this trip and had positive or negative comments. I know there are routes that are more interesting. Since it is December probably more southern routes.

Posted by
288 posts

I can at least say November/beginning of December tends to be our rainy season here in Ohio, but given the strange weather pattern as of late, it could be snowing or it could be 80 degrees.

Personally I would pick up 70 in Denver. I know it is a booooring route until you get east of Columbus, where you will get into the foothills. I don't know which southern route you are looking at though.

If you go the northern route through Chicago, you will pick up a toll road through Indiana and Ohio. Which isn't overly expensive, but there are a ton of trucks.

If you need suggestions for pit stops in Indiana or Ohio, let me know:)

Posted by
1268 posts

I 80 east till intersects w I 39 south, which occurs in north central Illinois, then I 74 east to Indianapolis where you pick up I 70 east. Past Wheeling, WV head SE to I 68 east which then connects back to I 70 and takes you into Baltimore.
I have not made this as one continuous trip, but have covered all these highways in segments.
This is all superslab and weather can be impactful, but to me winter driving is more about the shorter daylight hours.
I strongly advocate resisting the urge to "make haste" and identify some points of interest you consider worthy of stopping, or even detouring to, for an hour visit. This way memories will be created an opprtunities seized for territory you may never again visit. Yes, everyone wants to get from point a to b, but stopping on journeys is good for safety, your health and memories.
Tip: don't keep the system on recirculating air on all the time. Bring fresh air into the car to reduce headaches and energize the brain. In vast open areas try driving in total silence to give the ears a rest.
On a clear night in a wide open non light polutioned area pull off the road and stare at the stars.
Much of this route mirrors the original path of the first transcontinental railroad of which many sections still exist. Do some web research to identify area to stop and see these places of history.
Also use tripadvisor to find great places to eat. Avoid the hotel and fast food joints as there are great places to eat wonderful food.

Posted by
1268 posts

Also, strange as it may sound, at night try the AM radio to take a step back in time and gain a sense for how your parents heard the stations on their car trips. I always gaina sense of nostalgia in doing so and usually find a quirky station to maintain my interest.

Posted by
339 posts

Thank you so much. This is exactly what i am looking for. I haven't done a trip like this since childhood.

Posted by
8405 posts

When we moved from Berkeley to Indiana, we dipped south down I-5, into the desert at Barstow, across Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, up through OKLA, Missouri and across Illinois. I'd suggest this southern route at that time of year, but stay south in Oklahoma and go across from there. I'm not looking at a map, but if you have to go north to catch I-70, there's a very good interstate you get to going south at Washington, PA. that goes through Wheeling, WVA. (as mentioned before). We've driven to DC and MD from here several times and find this route beautiful. There is yet another just south of this one that heads to Richmond, VA. but you have to got north from there. As others have said, it's a wonderful trip.

Posted by
3685 posts

This is all based on personal experience for the TX and OK and west part of your trip

Have a basic route in mind, but weather will be key, so be prepared to take alternate routes. Unless you go very far south (I10), you could have snow or ice in AZ or NM or OK or TX. No snow? How about some heavy rain? With a cross country trip you are bound to have some weather issues somewhere.

Daylight will be short. Plan to drive no more than 6 hours a day. Potty, gas and meal stops will add to that.

It will take longer, but tuck into a motel before dark if at all possible. The later you arrive, the less likely you are to get a room where you want one. You'll be amazed at how many people are on the road even in early December.

Have a nice dinner, get some good rest and hit it the next day.

Our last trip from Seattle to Tucson (about 1550 miles) we did in 3 long days and 2 motel nights. Never again. It was too exhausting.

Posted by
339 posts

Thanks so much for the great responses. This very helpful.

Posted by
3685 posts

JG, you must be a super driver.

With just my husband and I alone, any gas/potty/snack stop takes at least 30-45 minutes. Add a real meal and we're talking at least an hour.

We could never do 8 solid hours of driving with only 1 hour total for gas, breaks and food and still be driving safely, especially in winter.

Perhaps someone from east of the Mississippi knows better, but I'd expect the weather to get worse the closer to the right coast the OP gets.

Posted by
9717 posts

Just a couple of things to add:

www.sunrisesunset.com to get your daylight times as you head across the country.

Load up each state's Department of Transportation websites and check road conditions each evening for the next day's route and again in the morning before you leave.

Carefully check weather for the next day the evening before and in the AM as well.

I am guessing I don't need to say this, but have paper maps with you in case weather intervenes and you need to detour. Do not depend on the GPS in winter conditions. Do not follow it if it wants you to go off a paved road when conditions are deteriorating. Do build in time in case you need to hole up in a hotel while a bad weather system passes over you.

At least in the Western portion of your trip, keep your gas tank topped up. At 1/2 start planning where you are going to fill and don't go before 1/4.

Posted by
339 posts

Thanks again for all the excellent responses. This is exactly what I was looking for.

Posted by
8405 posts

Pam's so right to tell you about the tank of gas since you're from Sacramento. People there usually don't do winter! We had to learn it when we moved from CA. Maybe someone has a list of winter driving tips on line to show you.

Posted by
724 posts

I love driving trips! You didn't say how many days you'll have. The interstates are fine for when you have to get somewhere fast, but I really prefer to get off the interstate whenever I can. Us Highways can be very scenic and much more interesting than the interstate. In the west, the towns are few and far between and you can make good time. Route 50 in Nevada is known by the tourist folks as the "loneliest road." It wasn't all that lonely when we drove it in the summer, but it is certainly very beautiful! I would not drive this road in a snow storm! You could drive Route 50 all the way to Maryland if you wanted!

You'll just have to keep your eye on the weather as others have said. We were driving in west Texas after Christmas last year and a cold front came through and the weather was a little dicey -- about 33 or 34 degrees, foggy, misty, and it stayed this way for hours. We saw a lot, I mean a lot, of tumbleweed. I was never so happy to so the thermometer go up a few degrees and we could stop worrying about ice.

There are many beautiful routes. It's a beautiful country and there is so much to see! How long will you be traveling? How direct do you want to go? What do you want to see?

Posted by
1958 posts

How many days have you planned for this trip. You mention leaving the day after Thanksgiving which is 11/28 and then you mention 12/1. Are you planning to leave that date and arrive 12/1? We have driven from Dallas to Philadelphia every year when my son was in college and found winter driving the worst due to the shorter days. In spring/summer we could take a two hour break to sightsee but in the winter we didn't as that cut down too much on drive time as towards the end of the day and in the dark we did not find driving safe. As others said, be sure to keep gas tank half full. We never had a problem with getting rooms anywhere we stopped as we usually traveled turnpikes or interstates. Keep an eye on the weather even if using southern route as some storms coming up the coast during the winter can be bad. If you do take the southern route and should find snow coming, don't wait to get hotel, those storms can come fast. We always took the northern route across Pa,Ohio, etc.and luckily never had snow.

Posted by
339 posts

There is not an exact date for his job to start. He is able to work from here at the present time. Sometime in the first 1 1/2 weeks of December so we won't have to tear across the country especially if the weather is bad.

All these replies are so helpful.

Posted by
137 posts

Claire,
We have driven across country and around the country many times.
We find driving I-80 across Nevada the most boring part of the trip.
Hwy 50 from Fallon to Utah is a little better but don't know what it's like in Nov/Dec.
We've always enjoyed Hwy 40 through Arizona, Flagstaff and the Painted Desert.
Hwy 180 across Texas was a little more scenic than I-20 (another boring State to drive in).
Hwy 98 from Jackson MS to New Orleans LA is a very beautiful drive along the Natchez Trace. Natchez is a very beautiful city.
I-10 along the Gulf is great through to Savannah (Ft. Pulaski) Charleston SC (Battery Park and Rainbow Row).
Then your only a day away from Maryland with a lifetime of sightseeing on that last day!

Enjoy the ride and safe driving!

Posted by
14917 posts

I'm with Steven. I-80 is the worst. I'd head down I-5 (or 99) and then 40 through New Mexico - lots to see along the way if you have the time and it's not raining. That's as far as I've gone, though. I wouldn't think about a northerly route because of the possibilty of snow in the mountains - or driving through the Great Plains (Kansas, etc), which is probably worse than I-80 because it's just as flat and boring but longer.

Posted by
137 posts

Claire, remember to update your readers when your trip is complete. Thanks

Posted by
339 posts

I will definitely update everybody and again thanks for all the input. As it stands now, I will not be going on the trip. My husband and son will be driving a station wagon and the backseat doesn't sound like much fun to me (I have the shortest legs). And there will be more room to haul his stuff.

They are leaning toward taking Hwy 50 weather permitting. But they will be looking at forecasts and making decisions closer to the date. Maybe it is the sign in Sacramento that says 3077 miles to Maryland, not sure if that's the exact mileage. An adventure for the guys.

Posted by
137 posts

Claire,
Sounds like a great road trip for the guys. There are lots of bar-b-que joints between California and Maryland.
Your husband "owes" you a trip for the two of you after he gets home. He can take you to all of the places he didn't get to see on this trip.

Posted by
339 posts

I think the barbecue joints are one reason my son wants to do this rather than shipping the car. And I have been thinking about a road trip maybe next summer.

In 1960, our family moved from Pennsylvania to California. One station wagon pulling a trailer, 5 kids, 2 parents, one grandmother, 2 dogs, no AC. I was 11 at the time and I still remember it. Our first night in California was Needles and it was over 115 degrees.

But a national park tour sounds like fun.

Posted by
339 posts

I'm updating you on the cross country trip by my son and husband. They did not get off to a real early start on Friday--1030 AM and made it as far as Ely, Nevada on Hwy 50. The next day (Saturday) they were able to make it to Gunnison, Colorado. Yesterday was their longes day--about 13 hours but they landed in Kansas City in time for some KC Barbecue. Today they are hoping for Cininnati. The weather has been clear and cold most of the way. They switched from Hwy 50 to 70 in Kansas, I believe, so they could go a more direct and faster route yesterday, their longest day. They did see some snow on the ground through Colorado but the weather has cooperated well. They had hoped to end up in Maryland by Tuesday and I think they are right on schedule.

Again, thanks for all your advice.

Posted by
339 posts

A further trip report. After spending the night (and eating some brisket) in Kansas City, they drove to Indianapolis. Upon leaving Indianapolis, there was ice on the road and cars were spinning out. They stopped and had a second breakfast waiting for the roads to thaw. Back on the road, they made it to Silver Spring Maryland. After shopping for some furniture, and spending a couple more days eating crab cakes and burritos at the local Shell station (authentic and good), my husband flew home a week after leaving California. A good trip for them.

So 5 days and 4 nights driving from Sacramento to Maryland. No snow storms and a little bit of ice and COLD!

Again, thanks for all your help

Posted by
9717 posts

They made great time...and safely too! I am glad they hit the seam of clear-ish weather for their trek and hope you son enjoys exploring a new part of the country as well.