“In-N-Out, Lubec, Getting Drunk with the Mouse, and a Heart filled with Wanderlust”- A Wayward Wanderer’s Tips for a Road Trip Across the U.S.
Despite what you see in the news: corrupt politicians, greedy and cold corporations, extreme ideologies, and the Kardashians; we still live in a beautiful country which was built by dreamers. It’s hard today to stay positive about your neighbors and the stranger on the street during these times. But, I have faith in our home and our people. I believe the best of us will shine through the bleak-mongers and we will innovate not only our tech but ourselves. I know this because I have road tripped across the U.S. by myself three times in my life, with each trip grew my appreciation of our home and its people.
The list below is my meandering tips on a road trip across the U.S. So, in no particular order:
1. Do it When Your Broke, Lost, and Now
Each time I made my trek across the U.S. came after a defining moment in my life. The first was after college when I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. The second was when I was heartbroken over quitting a job I loved because it was hurting me. The third was splendid because I was on my way to Burning Man.
Each time, I did it was when I was broke and lost, but I never regretted any of the trips. I never regretted it because one day I will die and I don’t want my last moments filled with regrets, but memories well earned. To be blunt, we only live once, and nobody knows what’s on the other side. Time is a precious commodity, and you should spend it on what you believe in.
If you have a job and a family, then plan a year ahead for it. If you’re young or young at heart with minimum responsibilities, then go now. Yes, your job is important, but a career won’t always define you, and your boss likely sees you as easily replaceable. So, jump in that car and find something worth living for, while you’re on your way to a destination you haven’t seen, yet. The World is begging to be explored.
2. Do it Alone, with a Friend or Someone You Know You Want to Spend the Rest of Your Life With
If you do it alone, then it will force you out of your comfort zone which is essential to grow into something much more than who you are.
If you do it with a Friend, then you’ll have someone to share the experiences with. The problems and the joys with. Which only makes the road trip even sweeter.
Doing it with someone you love could be the worst idea or the best idea. I met a great guy in a hostel in San Francisco who was on his way back to Thailand to teach English. He met his girlfriend in Thailand, and she came back with him to the States to meet his family and to go on a road trip. They drove across the U.S. for a month before she flew back a few days before we met. With glee and certainty, he said that the road trip with her was the best experience of his life and he decided he was going to marry her. They had good times and bad times on the trip. But each day they’ve gotten closer to each other and decided they never want to be apart.
Single, with a friend or going with someone you love; either way it’s going to create a memory you’ll never forget. My only caution is to do it with someone you do care about and absolutely enjoy being around. Unsure if you should bring this person on a trip? Here is a mental exercise: If you’re stuck in the car with this person for 8 hours, and then the car breaks down, would you want this person with you? If you have to think about it, then go alone.
3. The Car
Your noble steed on this adventure. My first car across the country was a crappy Daewoo Leganza. The second was a 2010 Ford Mustang and third was a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Each one had its flaws and strengths, but all was a bonding experience. There is nothing more personable than an adventurer and his vehicle. It doesn’t matter what brand or style of car you drive. Just make sure you take it to get it serviced before you leave.
4. Swim in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans
5. Rest Stops
My hat’s off to the person who thought of this. Long hours on the road can tire you out and you may need a nap. Rest stops are great if you are feeling tired and need to rest or freshen up. If you stop at night then park under a street light or in a group of other cars and semi-trucks who are also stopping for some sleep. There is added protection in numbers. Most stops are patrolled and are cleaned daily. The only weird experience I had was a guy was jacking-off in the stall next to meet. When you gotta go, then you gotta go.
6. Sometimes You Just Have to Wing-It
Keep a general plan of your trip but make room for spontaneity because the best adventures come at the spur of a moment. Be flexible in your plans and if somebody talks you into visiting a town that wasn’t on your route, do it. It’s an adventure either way you look at it.
A word of caution, be vigilant and do your due diligence before you explore like this. We live in 2018 so you can easily look up the place you want to see. Don’t get yourself hurt is all I’m trying to say.
7. Go See a Baseball Game
Even if you don’t like baseball you should go see an MLB game in the city you’re visiting. The ballparks are a great way to take part of the cities culture. Unless you’re the Yankees, a good portion of the teams still play in their original ball parks. My two favorites are Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. The history and the awe those two parks hold can only be felt with your happy-ass in a seat holding a hot dog in one hand and a cold drink in the other. There is something truly magical about being in the cheap seats, getting drunk with the fans and rooting for the home team.
8. In-N-Out Burger
For the uninitiated and those of us unfortunate to live east of the Mississippi River, this is the fundamental American burger joint. It is a god among the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the world. I don’t care if you’re on a diet, vegan or blacked out drunk from the friends you made at the baseball game, you WILL eat at In-N-Out Burger. No road trip shall be declared successful unless you eat there.
The first time I visited one was with my fraternity brother in college, who was ironically nicknamed Grimace from the McDonald’s characters. I was visiting him in Scottsdale; AZ and I didn’t get why he was taking me to a fast food place when I wanted to eat local. All he said was to trust him. The second I bit into that bad mother fucker, I knew that I may never eat something more spectacular again in my life. What was even better is that I only picked from the normal menu. I learned later that they have a “Secret Menu” which you can order some insane tasting burgers such as the Flying Dutchman. The last time I ate at one was on my way back from Burning Man. I went in and ordered, then out of embarrassment I went through the drive through to order another meal so I didn’t look like a fat-ass. Speaking of Burning Man…
9. Go Burn
Everyone should go to Burning Man at least once in their life.
In 2016, I heard Duncan Trussell go on an epic rant on the Joe Rogan Experience about Burning Man, which led me to buying the expensive ticket, which led me to driving across the country for the 3rd time in the Summer of 2017. One of the top ten best things I’ve did in my life and I want to go back in the future. I won’t go into detail here because I might write 20 pages on why it was amazing but I will ask for you to research it and look at YouTube videos.
It truly was something I have never seen or experienced before. The people I met, the elaborate structures which were built in the desert and the Thunderdome are just a few minuscule examples that made my trip out to Black Rock Desert, NV. Despite the insanity of it, all the pot I smoked and the fun I had; the best night I had was the last night I was there.
I brought my inflatable bed out of my tent and slept on the desert ground underneath the bright stars of the fantastic black night sky. When I awoke, the air was crisp and my view was engulfed by a fog which gave an otherworldly feel to the desert. Through the white fog was the beautiful glare of the morning sun peaking over the mountains, with it’s rays becoming white against the playa. I never awoke in such splendor in my life. If I had a choice of where and how I want to die, it would be in a moment like that.
Three big suggestions: Bring more water and electrolytes then you think you’ll need. Bring gifts with you to hand out to people (small candies, hand sanitizer, rolling papers, condoms…) And, check your ego at the gate. You’re in for one hell of an experience. My only regret, I didn’t go in the Orgy Dome.
10. Flagstaff, AZ and the Hotel Monte Vista
Arizona is beautiful to drive through in general. Deserts in the South, Mountains in the North, with forests and canyons spread throughout. Arizona is one place I wouldn’t say no to moving to. But, Flagstaff will always be special to me. A small mountain town with the historic Route 66 crossing through it and two hours south of the Grand Canyon, this place is truly the embodiment of the American mountain town. Great people, great food and great bars; I would move there in a second.
Out of all the hotels I’ve stayed in, the Hotel Monte Vista is my favorite in the entire world. It’s kept its classic 1920’s look and it is the archetypical roadside hotel. It has a fantastic bar next to the lobby which serves excellent mix drinks and beers on tap; and there is always someone to talk to. It’s hard not to fall in love with it. My biggest suggestion is to get a room over looking the streets. It’s a gorgeous thing to open your window in the morning and take in the cold mountain air and the bright morning sun.
11. Hike into the Grand Canyon and Resist the Urge to Take a Selfie
You are hiking into a work of art which was sculpted by time. Bask and drink of the splendor of the Grand Canyon and just enjoy it in the moment.
12. Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, WA
Science Fiction, Rock and Roll and Jimmy Hendrix. Even if you don’t like Museums, this place will have something that will peak your interest. I’m a nerd so I loved seeing the Battlestar Galactica props when they had it.
13. Napa Valley
Ah, Napa Valley. Ciao Bella! The vast vineyards, the gorgeous buildings and the wine! Take your time and go on the vineyard tours. You’ll get educated on the different wines and how they’re made. You also get free samples and discounts on some good wine.
The most interesting thing I learned about life was at a Beringer vineyard tour. The tour guy taught us that the grapes used in wine needs to grow in difficult soil because it creates a better wine. Sounds like life, huh? You need the difficult times to grow into a better person.
14. Do Not Drive Through Kansas, Unless You Want to Die of Boredom
15. Learn How to Do Simple Maintenance on Your Car
Know how to change a flat tire and change your oil. A serpentine belt is easy to fix. Know how to jerry rig a patch for your radiator hose. Though intimidating, they are simple once learned and the knowledge will come in handy if your car breaks down. Plus, you won’t get scammed by a mechanic if you know how your car works.
My first car, a Daewoo Leganza, broke down in L.A. The nut which held the break housing for the front wheel came off. I was stuck for a few hours until I miraculous found the bolt underneath a street lamp at the gas station I broke down in. I was even more fortunate because I was driving through Death Valley that morning. I had tools in my car and I was able to get it fixed and running the next day.
That’s another tip, keep some tools in your trunk such as wrenches, an extra serpentine belt and screw drivers.
16. Drinking around the World with the Mouse
Disney World, what a magical place; I lost my virginity there.
More than likely you’ve been to Disney World as a kid but it’s not too late to do it as an adult if you haven’t. I even believe you can enjoy Disney better as an adult because you have the freedom to go on any ride and have the ability to actually appreciate the attention to detail Walt Disney and his Imaginers put in the parks. Yes, spend the money and see all the parks but leave Epcot for last. I thought Epcot sucked as a kid but it’s so much fun when you’re a legal man-child.
Epcot has the World Showcase representing 11 different countries with restaurants, attractions and of course, bars! Start in the afternoon with Mexico and work you’re away around until you get to Great Britain. Yeah, Canada is technically the last country but that one is boring; no offense to Canada but Disney screwed you guys over. Get some scotched eggs, a gin and tonic and watch the amazing Illuminations firework show while your pissed out of your mind.
Just try not to fuck Jasmine, she gave me the Disney Itch.
17. Watch Cold Mountain then go to Asheville, NC
One of my favorite movies and one of my favorite mountain towns. Go for a hike during the day and take in the sight of the Appalachian Mountains. Then go explore the surprisingly lively downtown area of Asheville where they have amazing concerts, restaurants and bars. If you plan it right, try to catch a folk music concert.
This tip is important, especially for the ladies. Make sure you stay safe throughout your trip. Put your luggage and valuables in the trunk or somewhere where no thief can see it through the windows of your car.
Have a plan of what to do if somebody tries to harm or steal from you. I would keep a hidden credit card and cash somewhere in your car where it’s hard to find. That way you have money in case of an emergency.
Have a plan on how you will defend yourself. Bring pepper spray, a knife and/or a taser. If you have one, a good portion of states reciprocate gun permits. So, make sure your gun is easy to get to for you but somewhere hidden and legal. I always carry a knife with me and I keep a Glock in my car. I never had any issues traveling across the states but I was prepared to defend myself if something did occur.
Also, use a fucking condom! You’re going to want to have some fantastic road trip sex with some amazing person that you met. Condoms are still the best form of protection against STD’s and unwanted pregnancies. Don’t ruin your road trip or your future plans over a one-night stand.
This one is also important for the ladies: be mindful of where you’re at and watch your drinks. Most men are good and well intentioned, even if you’re not attracted to them. Then there are some who are scumbags in sheep’s clothing. Be mindful of who gives you a drink and where you place your drink.
19. Go See a Show at The Second City in Chicago
Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus got there start with this comedy improv theatre. I never laughed so hard at a Doctor Who joke in my life before. If you love comedy then you have to see a show here.
20. Honky Tonks, Johnny Cash and the Grand Ole Opry
Even if you hate country music, Nashville is a beautiful city and the true jewel of the south. Go to take a tour or better yet, see a show at the Grande Ole Opry. Get drunk at a honky tonk and flirt with a girl wearing daisy dukes and cowboy boots. Go visit the Johnny Cash museum, a true American badass. And make sure you plan ahead for the long line at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. You’ll thank me once you eat into the juicy, spicy chicken.
21. Go to a Brothel in Nevada
When in Sin City...No shame in going to one. It’s legal and I had a great time.
22. Came Back Haunted
I love anything that has to do with the supernatural. Most cities have their history and skeleton in the closets with the tours to show them off. Take a ghost tour or better yet, stay a night in a haunted hotel. Try to get a scary story out of it so you can tell your future grandkids.
23. Stand in the Middle of the Desert
This advice came from the Spike Lee movie The 25th Hour. Drive through a desert and stop in the middle of nowhere to take it in. It’s worth it.
24. Go Drink a Hand Grenade and Eat a Beignet
Laissez les bon temps rouler. New Orleans is a mysterious woman who enchants you with her looks, her cooking and her sultry Creole accent. Hand Grenades, beignets, craw daddies and po-boys; not good for your figure but great for your soul. Take the tours, listen to the bands and get wasted on Bourbon Street.
25. Take I-10 through Texas
Stop at Austin for a few days and enjoy that badass city. Then drive west and enjoy how the scenery changes into the desert. It’s truly a beautiful drive to watch the sunset on the vast desert road ahead of you.
26. Emergency Kits
Worth the investment! Buy a small road site kit which comes with reflective signs, jumper cable and a first aid kit. I would also keep 2 gallons of water per person, a military M.R.E. and a survival guide book in the trunk of your car. A good portion of roads in America are secluded and emergencies happen in the most inconvenient places. You’ll may never need them but its good to have it in the trunk if you do.
Also, invest in a road atlas. Yes, every phone now has a GPS but technology has a way of failing when you need it the most. For $20 you get a massive book with all the major roads of the U.S. It's also fun to write on the maps and actually see your route.
27. Getting High at a Mile Above Sea Level
Thank God for those hippies. Denver, Colorado is an extremely beautiful city with fun stuff to do. But if you’ve been on the road for a long time then this is the perfect city to mellow out in. Smoke a bowl and think of me.
28. Hostels and Hotels
Hostels are a great way to get meet new friends who are traveling as well and they're cheap. But, if you’re like me, you enjoy sleeping in privacy and not waking up to an old man ogling you while you are asleep (this happened). Hotel or Hostel, pay the extra money to stay at once in the middle of the city or close to it. And, make sure there is a bar nearby. That’s a great way to meet people.
Music is for setting the mood for your soul. Make sure you create a playlist, burn a CD or make a mix tape of travel music that’s memorable for you.
Also, look up if there are any local bands playing in the cities you’re visiting. What a fantastic way to see the full spectrum of American culture by seeing artists playing for the love of the art. My favorite was a blues band in Chicago and folk-rock concert in Asheville.
30. Midnight in the City of Savannah
Beautiful architecture, great history and a fun night life. I lived here for 3 years and it’s a beautiful city to see. Take a stroll through Forsyth Park, shop on River Street and have a picnic in Bonaventure Cemetery. Two of my favorite places I recommend people to check out is Churchills Pub and Mata Hari. Churchills is my favorite restaurant to eat in and have fun with friends. Mata Hari is an awesome prohibition style bar where you’re taken back to the days of drinking in a speakeasy.
31. A History Lesson in Boston
I truly was surprised how I quickly I fell in love with Boston. I love the people with their accents, the Lobster Rolls and the history. I love learning about Colonial/American Revolution history and Boston is the perfect place for it. Take a paid history tour and walk the Freedom Trail so you can see the places where the legend of America began.
32. Independence Hall and Gettysburg
Philadelphia has tons to offer such as the Eagles, Philly Cheesesteaks and the really pretty campus of University of Pennsylvania. Go check out where the Constitution was created and then drive 3 hours west and see somber battlefield of Gettysburg.
33. Key West and Miami
Make sure you have money and don’t you fucking dare eat at any chain restaurants in Miami. Cuban, Jamaican, and Puerto Rican restaurants up the wazoo with any pick being an orgy of flavor in your mouth. Then there are the Art Deco designs of the buildings, the dance clubs and the Cuban women, of course.
Key West, go see Papa’s house and have a drink for him.
34. A Dance with a Kiss
One of the best things about any adventure is the possibility of meeting someone special. The romantic notion that you'll meet the love of your life at a bar with the band playing some great folk rock. You're in the moment, enjoying how far you've come and then you look over and see her smiling. Her smile, tangible proof that the adventure isn't over. Hours go by as you talk the night away and the band announces last call. The band performs their rendition of No Hard Feelings by the Avett Brothers. You bring her into your arms as you slowly dance the last few precious moments. She looks into your eyes and you can't look away from hers. You pull her closer and feel her soft lips for the first time and you beg God to never let her out of your life. That this adventure was just the beginning to something bigger.
This hasn't happen to me, yet. But, it could happen to you. Take the chance and kiss the girl.
35. Lubec, MN
Last one the list but a very special place to me. Go to Lubec if you need your soul rejuvenated. I rented a car from Boston and drove 6 hours to get to the easternmost town of the United States. I stayed at an inn and pub, got drunk and enjoyed the small quaint town as I watched the bright stars over both Lubec and Canada, which was across the channel. I awoke before dawn and drove straight to the West Quoddy Lighthouse. I stood on the grassy shore in the cold, crisp morning air and watched the sun rise over the U.S.
I wish I can write in detail of the overwhelming beauty and wonder I felt in that moment. I never in my life felt so much joy. Joy which compelled me to danced by myself and praise whatever god that created something so enchanting. I drove back to the Inn, got some sleep and then had breakfast in Canada.
I’ll end this simply. Please, do this once in your life. You won’t remember the bills you had to pay or what was going on in the office when you’re older. You will remember embracing wonder and adventure wholeheartedly, a type of love which will always be with you. Drive on, my friend.