Luxury Travel Blog

Our 12,000 mile USA road trip!

Once upon a time there was a princess… Oh wait, this isn’t a fairy tale. But it does involve a princess (of sorts), her hubby and a three month USA road trip in something not much bigger than a cardboard box.

Yes, this is the story of how I voluntarily (yes that’s right, I was a willing participant of sound mind) lived in the back of a very small van with my husband so we could explore the States the best way possible – The ultimate USA road trip.

You must be asking yourself what drives a woman (and not just any woman, a princess to boot – and I don’t mean the royal kind) to these lengths? It was an idea that came to us many years before on a trip we took to California. At that time we did a bus tour for 5 weeks and had a blast. Of course the difference was, we were staying in hotels with the tour and this time we decided morph our transport and accommodation into one.

Here is Gracie. Our beloved Ford Windstar we spent 90 days sleeping in!

 

Our 12,000 mile USA road trip - GRACIE 600px

 

Before this road trip, my idea of ‘roughing it’ was to stay at a hotel with no room service. Oh how times have changed! Now my idea is roughing it… well, it’s a permanent fixture in my life and I love it!

But back then, it was all new to me, but I was willing to give it a go.

Our road trip also signified the start of our nomadic life (and what better way to start such a life by living in a cardboard box, umm I mean, back of van). We truly were homeless for 90 days.

We didn’t have any set plans before we took off. We knew we would start in LA, we would drive across the southern states (for the warmer weather), and then come back to LA via the northern states (it was getting a little warmer up there by then). But that’s as far as we planned. We wanted to have an open itinerary in case we stumbled across somewhere we wanted to extend our stay in… And on the other hand, we wanted to be able to leave at a seconds notice if needed!

So on March 7th 2012 we left LA for our most exhilarating adventure yet.

This would be a very long post if I went in to details about every stop we made, so I wont do that. Instead here are the states we visited in the order we went there:

 

California – Nevada – Arizona – New Mexico – Texas – Louisiana – Mississippi – Tennessee  Alabama – Florida – Georgia – South Carolina – North Carolina – Virginia – West Virginia – Ohio  Indiana – Michigan – Illinois – Iowa – Nebraska – Colorado – Wyoming – Idaho – Utah

 

Our 12,000 mile USA road trip - OUR MAP 600px

(You may notice we missed the north east corner – Washington, New York, Boston, Vermont, Maine – We were running out of time so we missed this section but are planning on another road trip just for that corner)

 

So as you can see we saw quite a lot of this beautiful country.

We saw amazing sights (natural, man made and umm some of the human kind) and had the most memorable time of our lives (so far).

But do you know what our family and friends asked us the most about our trip? “How did you not kill each other living in such a small space for so long?” Valid question I think!

I can give you the soppy (but true) answer about how much we love each other and how we are always on the same page and how we are best friends and after 14 years together we can get through anything!

Or I can give you the real answer “When things got tough, we stayed in a motel for some space”.

 

Our 12,000 mile USA road trip - motel

 

Yes, we spent roughly 1 night a week in a motel (not a hotel like this princess was used to, but a cheap run down, look for roaches in your bed kind of motel).

This helped save our sanity. Not to mention gave Michael his TV fix and me, my soak in the bath fix (after I thoroughly cleaned it – I guess there was still a little bit of princess in me).

And speaking of bathing, I am sure you are wondering how we showered if we lived in a van? Lets just say, it was better to stay at a safe distance and up wind of us during those 90 days.

So this princess relinquished her crown and had the most amazing time of her life. And while the crown is currently away in its vault, I know that I no longer need it. The princess in me has left the building.. for the greater good. I realized, I don’t need ‘fancy’ to be happy. The things that make me happy are freedom, discovering the world, Michael (I ‘spose I should mention him), and our new nomadic life.

 

Have you been on a USA road trip?  Where did you go?  We would love inspiration for our next road trip!

 

43 comments

  1. This made me laugh. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Drew and I when we make our road trip through the US together. Luckily, we have friends to stay with along the way.
    Kimmy recently posted…Sell Your Stuff to Get Out of DebtMy Profile

  2. This is so cool, and very similar to what we did for our honeymoon 🙂 We road tripped about the same mileage, but in a volvo and sleeping in hotels/with friends 🙂 We also started in NC, our hometown, took 40, then went up to seattle before coming back again. It was so amazing to learn so much about our own backyard. We often forget how big the US is! I can’t believe that you guys slept in the van for the majority of your trip-kudos!!
    Casey recently posted…Photo Friday | You Can’t Spell Gorgeous without Gorge | Taroko Gorge, TaiwanMy Profile

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hey Casey 🙂 We have the BEST time! Yes, sleeping in a van for almost 90 days was a challenge but I am never one to shy away from a challenge 🙂 It as awesome, Id do it again in a heartbeat!
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Wildlife From Around The World Photo EssayMy Profile

  3. Having grown up in New England, I’m sad you missed the Northeast, but glad you have it in your sights for a future visit. We travel in the US by road for work, so we are fortunate enough to have visited 48 of the 50 states. Each is different, as I’m sure you noticed! Our longest road trip here was 27,000 miles in three months, but we also did a year-long contract for Coca Cola that took us 40,000 miles overall, though mostly out west! We’d love to do some more road-tripping in Australia. The time we spent there wasn’t nearly enough! Safe travels.
    Tamara recently posted…Surviving the Overnight Hard Seat: Xi’an to PingyaoMy Profile

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Wow, you would have seen a lot of the States! Unfortunately with ‘only’ 12,000 miles we couldn’t see everything. We could easy do another 12,000 miles and still not see it all. We hope to make it back to the North East corner next year 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…A Healer in Ubud BaliMy Profile

  4. Alanna /

    Hello Nicole, great article! I bet you had a blast! I’m actually preparing for a similar experience myself, except with 3 other friends in a van. I leave on Saturday, and I was wondering… how did you pack for the trip clothing-wise? What are some things you used the most? I’m getting a little nervous that I, as a native Floridian, won’t be able to bear the fall/winter! If you have any tips, please let me know!

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Have a look at our travel tips at the top of the page for some advice. One tip is that don’t worry if you forget something. Everything can be bought (particularly in the USA).

      One advantage of doing a road trip is you don’t need to pack as light as you leave everything in the car and don’t have to carry it on your back 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…Packing Tips for Long Term TravelersMy Profile

  5. We are currently on a 2-month road trip, but we’re driving our Honda Hybrid Civic and staying in hotels (no bugs). A road trip is my most favorite method of travel. You can see and do so much and there’s just so much freedom to stop when you feel the need to stop and buy a doughnut – or 12! We drove from Oregon to Washington, D.C. in 16 nights, spending 2 weeks in D.C. and 1 month on the return trip. Happy New Year!
    Patti recently posted…When Harry Met Sally & Auld Lang Syne ~My Profile

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      The freedoms you have from a road trip are amazing. You don’t get stuck in only the areas where public transport is available. This is particularly important in the USA, where the public transport system is very restrictive in a lot of areas.

      Hope you enjoy your road trip 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…Top Things to do in Antwerp BelgiumMy Profile

  6. Lauren /

    Hey, just wondering what was your budget for this trip? My boyfriend and I are planning a 3 month trip starting this june/july that is every similar to your route 🙂 so excited but still have a lot to do.

  7. Hi there !
    I’ve been looking for some tips for a USA road trip and found your funny and refreshing post.
    This is interesting for me since your husband and yourself travelled along a route that looks like my plans in a way.

    I was wondering if you’d be able to help me regarding the budget ?
    I’m sorry, really don’t mean to be nosy but I’ve triés to plan a budget on my own but it is quite hard when you don’t really know the cost of things “on the field”.
    My bestie and I are leaving for a 3-months roda trip from May to July. We plan to rent a car (she is 23 so we know we will pas a lot but for our plans, this is oue best shot) from Philadelphia to San Francisco, drop-off on end of July. We will first go along the East Coast down to Florida and then back up through the MidWest, Chicago, Iowa, Vegas and end up with the West Coast.
    I don’t want to annoy you but could you tell me (approximatively) the cost per day for 2persons including good and gas ? Do you have an idea for a night in an affordable.motel ? We are trying to find cheap places to stay, or stay with some people we know, to save money in order to enjoy the test of our trip. We are not looking for fancy stuff ans eating in a restaurant fir each meal, every day.

    Thanks for your help, would be really appreciated 🙂 !
    Best regards

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Working out costs is definitely difficult, particularly because everyone has such different styles!

      I’m not sure how you are traveling (e.g. just in a hire car or in a van/RV), so I’ll just give you some tips on how to work out your total travel / accommodation costs.

      The hire price should be pretty easy to work out as you can get a quote for that (don’t forget to include insurance!). You need to work out what your total distance traveled will be. You can work it out by using google maps and plotting your course around the USA. Add some for driving around towns etc (maybe an extra 20% or so), or you could just use our 12,000 miles as an estimate. If you know what car you are using then a quick google search should get you how many miles per gallon the car will get. Fuel prices vary (a lot!) from location to location, so if you use about $4/Gal, you should be pretty close. From there you should be able to work out the fuel costs.

      Accommodation prices vary a lot. We could generally find accommodation for about $50/night in areas outside major cities and about $100/night inside cities.

      We were pretty tight with our food budget (well we thought so!) and went to Walmart a lot and made our own breakfast and lunch (and even some dinners!) to save on costs. We spent about $40 a day between us.

      Then there were other costs (touristy stuff, toiletries, toll roads, parking etc), which cost us $30/day, but for you it will depend exactly what you want to do.

      I hope this gives you some sort of idea. Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Most importantly have a good time!
      Michael Wright recently posted…Top Things to do in Antwerp BelgiumMy Profile

  8. lauren /

    Hey! thanks for your help Michael.

    Where would you park to sleep the night in small towns, cities and on the road? Do you ever have to worry about getting caught sleeping in a car? (I’m Australian so I’m unsure about american laws).

    Did you try to find places to shower except for hotels? My bf and I are thinking of trying to find public pools to swim n shower, maybe a gym, or beaches…

    Cheers 🙂

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Walmart car parks were a popular spot for sleeping. They allow you to do it in a lot of their stores, particularly through the middle sections of the country (less often in the big cities). It’s very popular with the big RV vehicles. We used an app to tell us which ones we could use.

      Showering was generally in hotels. Yes, we went days without showering 😛 Pools and beaches would work too.
      Michael Wright recently posted…A walk through Seven Dials LondonMy Profile

  9. What a great trip!
    Hitch-Hikers Handbook recently posted…Hitch-hiking in Georgia: advantages and disadvantagesMy Profile

  10. Yes, I did in fact go on a 10,400 mile trip to 37 of the US states in August-September 2012, almost entirely by myself (at least on the road). 39 days of mostly bliss!

    I definitely didn’t rough it like y’all did, although sleeping in the back seat of an Infiniti sedan probably wouldn’t be too terribly bad.

    The website I listed is a link to the introductory post of the blog I’ve been working on ever since; each day of the trip is a post, and I’m about 23 days in so far. Any feedback would be appreciated if you do end up reading it, and please let me know how easy/hard it is to locate the RSS/atom feed on the page, I’d like to end up in more people’s feeds.
    Matt McKinney recently posted…My Kind of TownMy Profile

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Our road trip was definitely one of our highlights of our adventures to date.

      And the USA is so big that we could easily do another 12,000 miles and not see the same place we did on our first road trip!
      Michael Wright recently posted…A Self Guided Walking Tour of Kyoto – SouthMy Profile

  11. Emerson /

    Sounds like an amazing experience! I have just started on some rough research about an american road trip, hoping to go next year. Can you please tell me on your map the locations where you have written ‘big hole, aliens, cowboys, vampires, elvis, jazz, spring break, rock and roll, tornados? I feel like i should know these but being an Australian with a very limited sense of geography (yes this will improve by the time i hit the road ha ha) I am puzzled!! Many thanks

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      You won’t be disappointed if you decide to do it 🙂

      As for the locations…

      Big hole – Location of the Grand Canyon
      Cowboys – Texas
      Aliens – Roswell – famous for an alleged alien crash site. The town is funny with pictures of aliens in all the shop windows!
      Vampires – Shreveport is the home town of the show “True Blood” on HBO. Nicole is a big fan.
      Elvis – Memphis – home of Elvis Presley
      Spring Break – We were in Florida during College Holidays. Lots of college students everywhere on their spring break. Big thing in the USA.
      Rock and Roll – The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland
      Tornadoes – During the time of year we were there there are lots of tornadoes through the middle part of the USA. One day we where within about 10 miles of one. All the tornado warning sirens were going off!

      Hope this helps!
      Michael Wright recently posted…Cherry Blossoms, Tea Ceremonies and Chinzanso – Tokyo at its BestMy Profile

      • Emerson /

        Oh my goodness I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on the Grand Canyon…I went there last December…duh haha! Great thank you!!

  12. I love it! Me and my husband went on our very first road trip this summer! We packed our car with a tent and sleeping bags and drove from AThens, GA to Moorhead, MN in the most roundabout way. We visited New Orleans and crossed Texas, drove the length of California and stopped in Portland, visited a friend in Montana and spend some great days in Yellowstone before ending up in Minnesota where my husband had just gotten a new job 🙂 Our trip “only” took 6 weeks, but I think that was enough for us this first time. We mainly just got really tired of packing up our tent in the morning 😛

    I am currently writing about our trip on our blog, if you want to take a look.
    TrineMarie recently posted…Day 10 and 11 – Las VegasMy Profile

  13. Missing the shower for almost 90 days, just to explore the adventure of not staying at hotel and moving in a car? Man! You’re awesome. I am sure you had a blast. With tones of body sprays…!

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      haha – we did shower! Just not every day. We stayed at parks and such that had showers. We also spent the odd night in a motel (typically in the bigger cities where it was hard to park and sleep).

      We also wouldn’t change it for the world, even if we did get a bit smelly!
      Michael Wright recently posted…Three Days in Auckland, New ZealandMy Profile

  14. Kristy Neal /

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for sharing your story! I am doing a 9 week trip around the US and a lot of advice that we’ve been given includes “cut it shorter” “add more days” and comments include “it can’t be done” “you won’t be able to do it!”

    We’re from Australia and we absolutely love road trips so we’ve planned our trip around our love for seeing the ‘in between’ places – rather than flying from city to city and missing all the perfection and imperfections in between.

    You are a great writer too – I certainly had a chuckle to myself.

    We cannot wait to go to America and start our adventure which is about 8000mi in 9 weeks (VERY DO-ABLE IF YOU ASK ME!)

    Thanks again for sharing your story! 🙂

  15. Love your stories! We are currently doing a massive road trip ourselves!

  16. Pamela K /

    I simply loved your candid and positive vibes about A1A. I am heading out soon from Atlanta, GA, and road-tripping A1A down to *The Keys* then back up the other side of the FL coast to Alabama and then back to Atlanta. I have planned about 60 gallons of gasoline (plus any for getting lost along the way). I, will be traveling and staying in my Conversion Van the entire trip. Plenty of fresh foods in the YETI 65 cooler thanks to Walmart stops and cooking in the local city and county parks each morning. As a Solo tripper, I can be free to pick and choose my times and locations without a set schedule. 45-60 days for this trip should be slow going and restful enjoyment 🙂 And I’m proof that you are never too old at 60+ to get out and travel Solo road-trippin’! Life’s an ADVENTURE if you get out there and don’t sleepwalk through it 🙂
    Safe Travels To You and Yours Always!

  17. Hi! My family and I are planning to do a roadtrip in the US. But as tourists. Do you think it is advisable and what are the commuting options we have from California to Alabama. We are from the Philippines. Thanks!

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      We completed the road trip as tourists. We just hired the van and went for it! We didn’t have any issues with the rental (just needed a drivers license). As we were hiring long term we booked well in advance.

      In regards to California to Alabama, I’d advise a road trip. You can hire a car (and stay in hotels), or hire a van/RV and stay at camp sites. There is lots to see between the two and depending on how fast you want to get there, you could spread it out over a couple of weeks or a month. Don’t miss Colorado on the way. It’s one of our favorite states 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…Interview with a Traveler @JustOneSuitcaseMy Profile

  18. Hi Michael,

    Thinking of doing a similar thing next year but for a slightly shorter length of time. Could you give me a bit more info on how you lived – where you parked / slept (especially in the big cities), how much you paid to park etc.

    Also what was the app you used to find the Walmart car parks?

    Cheers,
    Oli

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      We generally slept in Walmart’s car parks on our trip. It was a while ago, so don’t quote me on the exact numbers, but the split was something like…

      Total – 90 days
      Walmart – 70 days
      Other car parks – 5 days
      Hotels/Motels/Caravan Parks – 15 days

      Walmart has some locations where you are allowed to stay and some locations where you can’t. Generally speaking the places you can’t were large cities. I assume they do this so people just don’t live in their carparks forever. Hence we tried to coincide our hotel/motel stays to the bigger cities. We use to use an app on my Samsung that helped us find Walmarts we could stay at. Unfortunately this was a few years ago and I no longer have the Samsung so I can’t tell you the exact name of the App (I think it had “RV” in it?).

      We did stay at a few Walmarts we weren’t meant to. I think we got away with it because we were a small van rather than a RV. We also only stayed one night each time and didn’t make it look obvious we were camping there, so I think the security guy just turned a blind eye to it. We would turn up at about sunset and leave in the morning.

      The parking was free.

      Hope this helped. Feel free to ask any more questions you have 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…Lose Yourself in Los Angeles – and Love Every Minute!My Profile

  19. Anna /

    Hi,
    My husband and I planning a 90 day road trip next month.
    Do you mind me asking roughly how much you spent in total? I know it was a few years ago but we’re just after a rough estimate.
    We’ll be on our honeymoon! Crazy!

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Sorry for the late reply! Unfortunately we don’t have the records anymore of what we spend on the road trip. So sorry!!!

      I do remember it was cheaper than what we spent in our normal life back in Australia.

      If you decide to do it, have fun 🙂
      Michael Wright recently posted…We’re going on another Road Trip! San Diego to TorontoMy Profile

  20. Cindy /

    Nice to read this and all the comments. Thinking of a 6 week road trip next May Seattle Florida keys return if I can get it all in . Solo traveller

  21. Hi, quick question from a like minded fellow.

    Can you put the car everywhere at night, no camping spots or anything? I thought there were some places in the US where it’s not allowed to park overnight?

    Great trip tho, making my own next year!

    • Michael
      Michael Wright /

      Hi Tyson,

      Yes, you are right, there are a lot of places in the USA that have no camping overnight. Good news is there are some places that do. You just need to do a little research before hand otherwise you might end up spending all night trying to find a place to stay :p
      Michael Wright recently posted…The Best Ways to Enjoy a Luxury Dive VacationMy Profile

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