Driving across the USA on your bucket list?

A travel article in the Los Angeles Times today seems to be filled with mixed messages. The title “Many Americans dream of driving across the country, survey showssays 25% of men and 33% of women surveyed “always wanted to drive across the country” and have not yet achieved this adventure. 41% of Americans said they had already driven across the country in the Expedia sponsored survey conducted by Harris Interactive of 2,262 adults.

According to the survey, only 23% of Americans expect to travel internationally in the next year (and that includes Canada and Mexico).

I am an American who has made several cross country road trips across the USA. As a child I traveled across the country from California to the east coast and back with my parents – a couple of times. As an adult I have driven California to Maine a couple of times including from Eureka, California to Ellsworth, Maine which is about as far as a person can drive in the USA cross-country point-to-point. 


Eureka, California – Ellsworth, Maine = 3,491 road miles.

What I would like to know from the survey is whether people who had made cross country road trips were traveling for fun or what I think are more likely reasons for employment or family issue? My coast to coast cross country trips were all motivated by some other reason than a travel vacation.

The only people I recall taking cross country road trips for fun were young adults or retired adults with no employment commitments and school teachers who have six to eight weeks in summer to travel for an extended period.

Last summer I met a couple at a Holiday Inn Express in Salt Lake City from Nova Scotia who had driven across Canada to Vancouver, down the west coast to San Francisco and they were driving back across the USA via Interstate 80. The husband was retired and his wife was a school teacher.

My point is cross country driving is a relatively expensive way to travel since the time on the road requires lodging, unless you plan to couch surf or you are driving a vehicle you can sleep in which means your gas total is likely much higher. Road travel takes time. Six hours of driving a day gets you about 300 to 400 miles for the same amount of seated time as it takes to fly cross country coast to coast.

Not Enough Time or Money or Both

The statement by Joe Megibow, VP of Expedia, that tough economic times have forced Americans to cheaper vacation alternatives by driving instead of flying and taking shorter, more frequent trips does not match up with the objective of making a cross country road trip and the time needed to travel the USA by road rather than air travel.

That statement kind of knocks out cross country driving from coast to coast in the USA.

7,000 miles / 25mpg = 280 gallons of gas. At $4/gallon = $1,120. Our California gas prices right now are $4.20 to $4.35 on average.

Figure about $1,000 in gas more or less to travel from New York to California and back.

Last summer I took two extended road trips from Monterey, California to Vancouver, Canada and back. Then I traveled Monterey to Denver, Colorado and back. This was about 6,000 miles in road travel. I took over four weeks for these trips and I felt rushed most of the time with not enough time to stop and sight see around the places I was driving through in the western states.

I spent three nights in hotels each way driving the 1,200 miles to Denver when there is a nonstop United Airlines flight to Denver that requires 2.5 hours each way. My wife says she doesn’t want to do the desert drive again this year when I travel to Colorado for Travel Blogger Exchange 2012 (TBEX12). Five hours of flight time compared to 40 hours of drive time is preferable to her.

I am still debating whether to fly or drive. I really want to work in a whitewater rafting excursion in Utah.

Breaking News March 5: BlogWorld, the leading blogger convention in the USA just bought TBEX.

One thing I am sure of for true travelers on the road is the value of Wyndham, Best Western and Choice hotel points when roadtripping. There are many locations where Hyatt Diamond and SPG Platinum are meaningless and even Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels are far apart.


Brokeass Mountain Road Trip, July 2011

Monterey, California – Denver, Colorado


  • Kevy March 5, 2012

    Been there, done that. Just this past summer, I relocated from Connecticut to Washington via NYC, across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and across the state of Washington all the way to Seattle.

    5 nights, 4 days, 2 people, 5 chinchillas in two pet carriers, 3 speeding warnings later, we made it in one piece.


  • Mike March 5, 2012

    Not worth it. Thought pf it but theres nothing to do or see during the drive to the other side.

  • mrredskin March 5, 2012

    i would think it would get pretty lame between the mississippi and the rockies. definitely not the year to be doing it, either. wait til/if gas goes down to below $3 again.

  • Million Mile Secrets March 5, 2012

    I’d love to drive from coast to coast in the US, but don’t have the time to do it right.

  • New Girl in the Air March 5, 2012

    A cross-country roadtrip is #2 on my bucket list, but I don’t yet have the time…I’d need 30+ days and would put an emphasis on doing/seeing things along the way rather than simply driving as a way to get from A to B.

    I agree with mrredskin; there’s a huge chunk of the midwest I wouldn’t mind skipping, but I think taking a southern route (routing through Texas rather than Nebraska, for example) would hold my interest.

    Guess it’s time to switch my career to teaching so I have an 8-week chunk of time available.

  • Rob March 5, 2012

    …got the t-shirt…after getting out of the Corps in 89, I picked up my CJ-7 in Long Beach and took a little over three weeks driving, eating, sleeping, drinking (not all at the same time) back to SC…one of those things you should do when you are young, have plenty of time and people to see along the way…

  • Hubert savelberg March 5, 2012

    Did it as a holiday trip , being 23, during oil crisis 1973/74: flew from belgium to chicago, visited friends in illinois and indiana and ohio, and stayed over christmas in chicago. Got a car from friends who ran a car leasing company, Started january 2nd to niagara falls, avoided new york and washington that trip (oil crisis), went via charleston to tallahassee, orlando, miami, new orleans, fort worth, dallas, flagstaff, phoenix, needles, san francisco, reno, salt lake city, denver, omaha and back to chicago. About 10000 miles in 6 weeks
    Remember i had about 6000 deutschmark (dollar rate something like 3.60 dm, approx 2000 usd) used 1000 for the flight, 1000 for the petrol, 1000 for super 8 film incl developing, the rest was for food and staying in 8$inn hotels with my girlfriend.
    Now, about 40 years later, i am leaving this weekend to cruise around australia with princess dawn and visiting friends in melbourne, adelaide and alice springs. 8 weeks journey, of course a different budget now! It will be the third trip of my lifetime after an alaska cruise some years ago. Tx to apple stocks i bought in time. Last thing on my bucket list!

  • Alan March 5, 2012

    did one trip in 2008 when the gas price was hoghest. i had no place to live, but had to stay in USA. so i figure driving across the country would be a walk to make the best out of the situation. the entire trip took over 50 days. learned to sleep in my corolla, eat at walmart, shower in national park or truck stop or cheap hotel. it was before i was in miles game, so didnt able to explore obtaining points from lodging. and it was one thing that i always want to do, so i did it. as a result of the road trip and back, i also visited all lower 48 states, and subsquently all 50 states. so it was a great trip serving many purposes.

  • Jordan March 5, 2012

    I drove from Boston to Los Angeles during the summer of 2009. My dad was relocating for his job and I had time to kill, so I figured free cross country road trip, why not! It was a lot of fun and a great experience for the both of us. In the end I even ended up making money: I won about $5 at a penny slot machine in Oklahoma!

  • Scottrick March 5, 2012

    I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but I’ve also thought that maybe it would make more sense to just fly to a region and travel in a few nearby states. For example, drive from Seattle to Salt Lake City and back, stopping at a few National Parks. Then on a separate trip fly to Atlanta and drive around the rural south.

  • Charles Clarke March 6, 2012

    Driving can make sense with more people sharing the car and hotel rooms.

    Why don’t you go whitewater rafting in Colorado? We have it on a variety of rivers. Probably closest to Keystone is the Arkansas river.

  • john March 6, 2012

    Haha. Great post; simple answer. You do it because you want to! If you take a job on the other side of the country, ya make the trip not for any other reason than ya want that job and that makes the trip worthwhile.
    I’ve already done the historic Route 66 thing, so I have checked that on my bucket list; but I’ll probably do it again, because I want to.
    One thing I have realized is that because America is so farflung, sometimes it makes some sense to fly to the region just to save a little of the time to spend actually seeing the place. I’ve seen Albuquerque; but only feel like I’ve driven through New Mexico.

  • Harriet March 6, 2012

    Have done this several times … At all ages and with kids and without. The problem with most folks is that they stick to the interstates…boring! Taking time and taking in local things like church dinners and rodeos and Czech festivals (Nebraska) provides insight into who we are as Americans. I will do this again in a New York second!

  • Ric Garrido March 6, 2012

    @Harriet – The graphic in this post is actually misleading on my across country drive. The drive where I took the most time traveling off the interstate was in June 1992 from Eureka to Amherst, Massachusetts for graduate school.

    We drove Eureka to Seattle and through Idaho and Montana. Stopped at a number of microbrewery pubs and lakes along the way.

    Visited Little Bighorn park in Montana and visualized the 19th century battles over the grasslands. Thought we were going to die in Wyoming as we watched the tornado passing by us in the desert and no place to drive for shelter. Some people did die that day from the tornadoes in Wyoming.

    Hung out in Denver for days and visited water parks, breweries, and Golden, Colorado for Coors.

    Dodged more tornadoes in Kansas as we saw the fiery destruction along our interstate 70 path.

    Attended a German festival in some small town in Missouri.

    Met friends in Lexington, Kentucky and went to the racetrack and sat in some horse owners box drinking mint julep. The horse farm white fences seemed to go on for miles.

    Rode horses in the Appalachian mountains of western Virginia hanging out with my uncle and aunt and cousins. Saw family that I hadn’t seen for more than ten years.

    Attended a conference in Washington D.C. where I experienced the hardest rain storm I ever recall. The lightning was blinding. Tasted Ethiopian food and saw the Ruby Red Slippers from Wizard of Oz.

    I have slept in an apple tree on a Pennsylvania farm.

    I have lived in a tent for months on the coast of rural Maine.

    I love traveling the USA.

    People everywhere are interesting. Some more than others, but most everyone is worth a try to spend some time socializing with for insight to our people.

    Socializing is all possible as a flyer, but there just seems to be a more relaxed environment when your feet are on the ground and you have the choice to stick around or get in your car and leave at any time.

  • Lyssa March 7, 2012

    Living in Chicago, I probably won’t ever drive from one coast to another. I have driven from Chicago to Florida and Chicago to Texas multiple times. Also, once from Chicago to Boise and back. That was brutal.

    If the trip is 10+ hours driving, I would much rather fly. Chicago to Kansas seems to be about the break even point, half the time we seem to fly, the other half to drive.

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