Posted by: Cross Country Couple | February 18, 2011

The Interrogation of a Roadtripper

Five months ago, my boyfriend and I set out on a road trip across America. We are a couple of travel enthusiasts and couldn’t resist the opportunity to hit the open road and make memories to last a lifetime. As we shared our plans with our family and friends, we could tell everyone had their doubts. And their questions. Now that we are getting settled in our new home in Hawaii, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the trip and answer some of the common and the not-so-common questions about going on such an adventure.
 Before I get into some of the deeper questions, I will share with you some basic information:
  • Who: Danielle (25) and Matt (27)
  • What: A road trip across the US for over 4 months
  • Where: From Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Haiku, Hawaii
  • When: Depart Cape Cod, MA on September 14, 2010. Fly out of San Jose, California to Hawaii on January 29, 2011. Moving from Kahului, HI to Haiku, HI to settled into our new home on March 1, 2011.
  • Why: Because the people, sights, sounds, adventures and memories made along the way are Priceless.
  • How: Via a 1994 Ford Escort station wagon, NCL cruise ship, and eventually an Alaska Airlines flight. 
And now, on to the commonly asked (or just pondered) questions – 

1. Are you rich? Don’t you have Jobs?

In one word, nope. We over estimated our possible expenses and saved up over a year. After we had ample savings, we respectfully left our jobs. For us, this was necessary as we would not be returning home at the end of our trip. With a fixed amount of money available, we found ourselves doing whatever we could to limit our expenses. Having an open and creative mind, you can find options for every element of road tripping where you can save money as long as you are willing to sacrifice modern conveniences.

2. Where do you sleep?

Depending on your budget and comfort level, you have an array of options for sleeping. Anything from a hotel to a hostel, campground to casino, or even sleeping in your vehicle at the local Wal-Mart. Yes, I said sleeping at Wal-Mart. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty common occurence among travelers. On your next visit to this nationwide retailer, give a good look around the parking lot. By 8:00 PM, a section of the parking lot usually begins to fill with RVs, hippie vans, 18-wheelers, and the occasional station wagon. There are even a number of forums and websites dedicated to keeping an updated list of the Wal-Marts that allow overnight parking. It is best to check these lists and ask a security guard or manager before you park as many counties and towns have overnight parking bans which take precedence (especially in California). These stores are a great option because of their convenient and numerous locations across the country. My personal favorites are the 24 hour Wal-Mart Supercenters where there are often security guards patrolling the parking lot, use of a restroom at all hours of the night, and easy access to pick up any supplies we might need.

What’s that? Spending the night at a Wal-Mart is out of your comfort zone? Never fear, there are other options. If you are comfortable sleeping in your car, rest areas and casinos can be a good place to rest your head because they have bathroom facilities and are typically just off the highway. However, some rest areas or casinos do not allow overnight parking and you may risk the chance of being woken up in the middle of the night and asked to leave. (This happened to us on occasion, and as long as you comply in a timely manner, it’s not so bad). Other options are of course a campground, hostel or hotel. While this can get quite expensive, they typically provide a safe place to sleep, restrooms, and even a shower. Which leads me to our next, and possibly, most taboo question …

3. What about going to the bathroom and showers?

Every traveler will probably have a different solution and a different level of comfort when dealing with these daily challenges. For us, we made peace with using public restrooms whenever we were on the road. The local gas station, Wal-Mart, supermarket, or rest area would typically suffice. When in more remote areas, the primal methods of digging a hole in the woods was necessary. For this and many other reasons, I suggest keeping a roll of TP in the car.

Showers are without a doubt more difficult to find. If we were lucky, we would stumble across a state beach or park with showers. Or, we have on occasion slipped into a campground and used their facilities in certain circumstances. In preparation for the trip, we did buy a solar camping shower for under $10 at (you guessed it!) Wal-Mart. However, we soon learned that the water never got hot enough when we were in the northern states, and we rarely stayed put enough elsewhere to use it. Not to say it didn’t come in handy at points. In Utah, we strapped the pouch to the roof to heat the water while driving through the desert. A few hours later, we hung the bag from a sign post, got into our bathing suits, and showered on the side of the road. There were many times when we would have to go a few days (even up to a week) without a shower. Gross, I know. We would use a soapy wash cloth to freshen up or slap on another layer of deodorant to get us by for an extra day. I have even washed my hair in the sink of rest area. But in the end, if it saved us a few bucks it was well worth it to explore the country for another day or two.

4. What do you eat? How do you cook?

Traveling on a tight budget, we chose to keep a large cooler in the car and stop at grocery stores to pick up food. We would try to stick to non-perishables and buy extra sharp cheddar cheese to avoid having to stock up on ice. For milk, we used the evaporated powdered version and would mix it with cold water whenever it was needed. A real cost effective, quick, and easy snack for us would often be a Cup-o-Noodles made with a free cup of hot water from the local convenience store (just be sure to ask first!). Matt also had a great Coleman 2 burner gas camping stove we used to cook up hot meals when we had time. And if we were lucky, we’d find a Farmers Market where we could pick up fresh produce and delicious fruits.

As expected, we did indulge on a little fast food here and there. (In-n-Out, anyone?) And of course, we splurged to try the regional specialities (Salt Lick BBQ near Austin, TX and The Habit in Santa Barbara, CA come highly recommended!). Overall, food is going to be a sizeable expense no matter how you go about it. As long as you budget for it and spend wisely, you won’t go hungry.

5. Aren’t you concerned for your safety?

Thorton Wilder once said, “When you’re safe at home, you wish you were having an adventure. When you’re having an adventure, you wish you were safe at home.” Of course, one’s safety and security becomes the number one priority when you find yourself far from home. We did our best to be aware of our surroundings at all times. If you have a good head on your shoulders and a bit of common sense, you should be fine. As a precaution, Matt always slept with a giant Maglight by his side, we locked our doors habitually, and always kept an eye out for trouble.

6. Where’s your next stop?

Having a rough idea of your route is great and often necessary for the sake of time. In our case, we were only limited by our budget and had no set dates or schedule to stick to. We knew we wanted to stop in certain areas to visit friends and family, and we understood that the most affordable airfare to Hawaii (our final destination) would be from the west coast, but that’s about it. This allowed us to travel anywhere and everywhere we wanted. One of our essential items was certainly our GPS. Not only was it great to have in terms of directions, it also had options to look up local parks, beaches, attractions, and more. As we met fellow travelers along the way, we would share stories and tips. Often times, this would lead us to check out an area we may have otherwise missed. When asked, “Where’s your next stop?” or “What’s your next destination?” We’d typically have a very general answer like “east”, “south”, or “along the coast,” keeping our options open.

Keeping an open mind and thinking creatively about your next stop can often result in amazing experiences. For example, a random conversation about a cruise we had taken earlier in the year sparked the idea that we might find a last minute cruise deal since we were flexible on the departure port and time. With a little research and a leap of faith, we ended up on a 7 day/8 night cruise to Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, and Costa Maya, Mexico for $299 per person!

7. What do you do about internet?

A very practical question seeing as the world wide web is today’s information highway. What a useful tool! To have restaurant reviews, a directory of national parks, and infinite more tidbits of information at our fingertips. In our case, both Matt and I have newer cell phones that provide internet access as long as we are in an area with good service. This was handy for looking up good places to eat, traveler reviews and suggestions for attractions, or the location of nearest Wal-Mart (we found the GPS didn’t always have the right address and we were better off looking at the store locator website). For the times when we needed full internet access, there was the occasional McDonald’s, Panera Bread, or Starbucks nearby.

8. Don’t you get sick of each other?

Of Course! We are humans after all. Spending all hours of every day, never more than a mile apart for over 4 months, there are bound to be arguments. Luckily, we have known each other for nearly 10 years and get along pretty well (for the most part). In times of stress, you can always turn up the radio, go for a short walk, or sit quietly appreciating the surrounding beauty to help defuse the situation and clear your head.

Choosing the right travel buddy is important. You will end up in tight spaces and tough situations, but also miraculous places that you will remember always. Some people like to travel on their own while others prefer big groups. Take some time to seriously consider your personal preferences.

As a reference for anyone thinking of hitting the open road, below is a list (in no particular order) of some of our must have road trip items:

  • GPS – this probably saved us from countless arguments and stress from getting lost
  • National Park Pass – for $80 (and only $10 for seniors) this pass will give you almost unlimited access to all the US National Parks
  • Multiple outlet car adapter – great for charging a laptop, cell, and GPS all at once
  • Laptop – good for watching movies, getting online and looking up information
  • Good Transportation – For us the key to our ultimate road trip mobile was (a.) a vehicle that we could comfortably sleep in, (b.) fuel efficiency – we were getting upwards of 35 MPG with our manual Ford Escort wagon, (c.) tinted windows, (d.) a roof rack, (e.) wind visors – so we can crack the windows on hot nights without anyone knowing
  • Cargo Carrier – great for extra storage space, we found one we could fit in the back for better gas mileage on longer highway drives
  • Camping stove – key for hot meals on the road
  • Cell phone with internet access (and games to help pass the time) 
  • Cooler
  • Road map/Travel guide – great for finding your next destination 
These questions were some of the common questions that people would ask, but if you have any others, please feel free to leave them in the comments!




  1. […] The Taboo Interrogation of a Roadtripper « Cross Country Roadtripping […]

  2. I am so very proud of the both of you, to find YOUR way, to find your own way, to cut all connection and be who you are, to learn each other and figure out how you want to move forward in your life. Cutting all of the ideas of what is normal, make your own normal and in the process making your own happiness. You both have been in our hearts and not more than a cell phone or a skype call away. I think I speak for everyone you know, young and old that wishes they could be in your shoes, No strings attached! And yes the memories you created will last and last. I am very happy for you. Enjoy Hawaii and all it has to offer. Danielle you are a go getter, I am sure there is a company that would bend over backwards to have you part of their team. Matt you are a smart guy and from the first time I met you I saw a confidence in you. A steadfastness that you were going to be your own person. You have a great read on people in general no matter what skills you apply finding your career your best skill is reading people. We look forward to see you soon! Love Dad

    • Awww thanks Dad! Couldn’t have/wouldn’t have done it without your support and encouragement. You and mom are the best! Can’t wait til you come visit!

  3. this sounds such fun! hope you have a great time

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