For years, Paul and I have been wanting to do a cross country trip. We’ve talked about it but never acted on it. It’s a daunting mission but I thought that if we didn’t do it now, we may never do it. So once we decided on the days and reserved a rental car, we were set.
Easy answer: I’ve never been to Maine and in my wildest imaginations always wanted to drive to Maine. Never did I think it would be roundtrip like this one. One look at the map shows that Maine is an almost exact diagonal across the U.S. from San Diego.
Since I’m still unemployed, the budget was our major concern. But we didn’t want to shortchange this amazing trip with budget constraints. So after much discussion, we decided to spend $200 a day. The $200 included lodging, food and gas. Some days we spent well over our amount but other days — thanks to friends along the way who fed us and/or let us stay for the night — we spent much less. We kept all our receipts and actually spent less than the money we allotted. We also didn’t buy a lot of souvenirs but the memories we have of the trip are priceless.
Traveling in the Fall
We initially were talking about traveling in the spring, and summer was never an option. With a dog, we wanted to make sure that if we had to leave him in the car for a while that he wouldn’t overheat.
The trip was eventually pushed to October and coincided with the changing leaves. The autumn scenery during the drive one of my favorite memories. We had planned the trip just in time; we only experienced a bit of snow in Pennsylvania and Cleveland on our return leg.
Twelve Days for the Road Trip
Due to Paul’s freelance deadlines, we only had 12 days to travel. I would have like to add a few more days but in reality three more days means a bigger budget. But toward the last leg of the trip, I was so homesick that I wasn’t sure I could’ve spent one more day away from home.
Traveling with a Dog
There was no doubt in our minds that Doctor was coming with us on the trip. Putting him up in dog care if we left him in San Diego would’ve taken a huge chunk out of our budget, and we wanted him to meet his canine cousin, Honda, in Cleveland.
Prior to the road trip, we tested how Doctor would handle car rides with shorter car rides to L.A., Phoenix and Reno/Lake Tahoe. Doctor never barfed or soiled the car or freaked out and would immediately fall asleep once we hit the open road.
Of course he would get bored and put his head between us (hogging the arm rest) but that was the extent of him trying to get into the front seat. There was one instance in Michigan where he urgently needed to pee and he let us know before there was an accident in the car.
Bringing the dog also reminded us to take frequent breaks and to stretch our legs. It also opened up our social circles on the road. People, both adults and children, would come to us just to pet Doctor. There was no problem finding dog-friendly hotels, sometimes free of charge. Doctor made a great guard dog too, letting us know if there was someone lingering outside of our hotel room.
The Rental Car
We decided first and foremost to rent a car. Both our cars are over 10 years old and we didn’t want the additional wear-and-tear or to risk a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. But prior to placing a reservation, we had to do research on geographical restrictions. Some car rentals have unlimited miles but won’t allow the car to travel beyond adjacent states (Nevada, Arizona, etc.).
We called around and finally found a place that had both unlimited miles and we could drive it anywhere including Mexico and Canada. I hesitate to name the rental company just in case they decide to change their policies. Or add us to a watch list.
Our rental car was a brand-new Ford Focus with only 400 miles. When we returned it, the odometer had an extra 8,000+ miles. Eyebrows were raised but we didn’t get charged extra fees.
It handled the different driving climates with no problems, and could handle more than 12-20(!) hours of driving per day.
- Elevations over 10,000 ft (Colo.) and below sea level in Imperial County, Calif.
- Sleet in Erie, Penn. and the upper peninsula in Mich.
- Snow in Cleveland, Ohio
- Rain in Wisconsin
It was nice to have a brand new car with no funky smells and knowing we were one of the first to drive it. Since we had a dog tagging along, I invested in a back seat cover which paid for itself in the end. It was covered in hair by the end of the trip, even with a quick wash in Indiana.
Up next: San Diego to Cleveland!