What I Learned on My 12000 Mile Cross Country Drive for Charity
Last month, I embarked on a cross country drive trying to raise some money for charity. I raised about $300 from trips and donations, and anther $200 from the GoFundMe page. You can read more about my trip and also about the GoFundMe Page.
- Read more about my trip across 65 Lyft cities here:
- How you can support or donate:
I received a few tips from before I left Boston and then learned a bunch more things when driving for about 16 straight days, logging an average of 800 miles a day. Here is what I learned:
Bugs and Car Care
- Bugs and more bugs – bugs can be difficult to remove from your windshield and hood of your car. You don’t need the strong bug remover solutions (too harsh if it gets onto the body panels) but it takes a bit of water and light scrubbing to get them off your car. Remember to try to soak the stains and they should come off within a few minutes. I normally wash my windshield with the gas station supplied brush at every fill-up and I totally regret it when I miss a cleaning.
- Use the gas station squeegee – it doesn’t really matter if the gas station has dirty water with the squeegee since you are going to be removing all of it with the squeegee anyway. I wouldn’t recommend using it on the body of your car since that dirty water can scratch the paint. I did use it on the hood of the car since I knew the car wash wouldn’t get rid of all of it.
- Touchless Car Washes are useless – there is a time and place for touchless car washes, but when going on a long road trip, use the normal car washes. I haven’t had major problems with it, but its easier and faster than doing it on your own, especially on a long road trip. The only alternative is to find a wash booth, and bring your own cleaning brushes to prevent scratches. Don’t ever use the giant brush at the car wash booths. They are often worst than the car wash brushes since the car wash brushes spin at a fast rate, removing much of the dirt from the previous car.
- Oil changes – my warranty requires me to get regular oil changes, which by their book is 3k miles. I usually push it to 4-5k when I have to and during this road trip I pushed it to about 5k because the dealership were closed on Sunday and also 4th of July. I put in about 1500 miles those two days so I blew right past the 4k mark. I did it at the dealership since Hyundai dealerships usually have cheap oil changes (not here in Seattle though). They can also inspect your car for you while you’re there to warn you of problems ahead of time but take those recommendations with a grain of salt. The most common rip-off are the cabin and air filters. You can get them for less than half at a local auto parts store. I would recommend going to a national chain like Firestone Auto Care or Goodyear for oil changes
Bathrooms and Showers
- Once you are outside major cities, most gas stations (and of course rest stops) have bathrooms that are free to use. You don’t necessarily need to buy anything, but most times I often either got gas or bought some snacks or food. I never wanted to stop twice for bathroom AND food so I often got food there.
- If you can find a truck stop, they often have showers. If you get an absurd amount of gas (about 40 gallons) then showers are free, but very few cars or SUVs if any can hold that much gas. Showers are around $15-$20 dollars and sometimes you can find a motel for around $40-$50. Unless you are on a month long roadtrip, consider just booking a motel every few days.
Car Performance and Maintenance
- Car performance degrades at higher elevation – The higher the altitude, the less power your car has. I drove an Elantra and had to rev up the engine to maintain speed going uphill. On some hills I couldn’t accelerate. Driving a more powerful car will help on the mountain areas, but my Elantra was sufficient. I wouldn’t know how a smaller car will perform, though.
- Lower Octane Gas at higher elevation gas stations – The engine will be less prone to “knocking” (or early combustion) at higher altitude due to insufficient octane. It is common to find 85/87/93 at some gas stations in the mountains, whereas you would normally find 87/89/93 in many other places (91 octane appears in some states either alongside or instead of 93 octane). This doesn’t have to do with the earlier issue about performance though. Getting a higher octane will not make your car more powerful at higher elevations either. Octane boosters also won’t work unless you have a car that requires a higher octane, but all you can get is a lower octane.
During the 16 day road trip, I consumed about 22 12oz bottles of water (I believe I filled up my bottle full twice during my trip), making that about 26 12oz bottles over 12 days. Figure for at least 24-30 oz of water a day and I did not sweat much during the entire trip since I was in my car for most of the time. I bought a pack of 24 and had only 2 bottles left when I got to Seattle. It was often faster/easier to fill up on water from the small bottles when I was filling up on gas.
Other snacks/food to consider: granola bars, clif bars, nutrition shakes like Boost, Ensure or protein shakes. Beef Jerky was a healthy way to get in protein and easily available at any gas station or rest stop stores. Protein shakes were often every expensive and refrigerate only, so they wouldn’t last too long in the car. Beef jerky will last a long time.
You will lose reception in some areas of the country but now cell coverage has gotten a lot better since even a few years ago. The only time I didn’t have service was in the mountains getting in/out of Mount Rushmore. Otherwise, I didn’t have much trouble with reception. However, plan for not having reception at some point in your road trip if you are driving over the Rocky Mountains.
My parents fear was that I would lose reception and then not have GPS directions. I brought along my old TomTom from like 7 years ago just in case and had it charged up, but I never needed to use it. Google Maps downloads the direction so it never needs a signal, unless you deviate from your original course or want to change your trip. When my phone went in and out of service, Google GPS still worked. Of course it would not get traffic updates, but it still worked fine as a GPS.
I was thinking about getting XM radio (my car has it built in), but I opted not to and to tough it out with only regular radio. On the East coast, it was easy to get a radio station I liked (Top 40) and I would often find NPR in most cities. After spending hours listening to the radio, you can quickly spot which one is NPR and which one is not. The Top 40 stations were a bit harder to find when they had their commercials. Eventually I got tired of changing radio stations, so I turned on the Game of Thrones Audio Book (A Song of Fire and Ice). I got to Book #4 by the time I got to Seattle.
Some of my friends got the deal for 5 months of Sirius/XM radio for about $50. Either threaten to cancel or call for their best offer. If you don’t get this offer, hang up and try again. You will need to do this every 5 months.
I am not sure if this works for everyone, but eating a small snack while driving really keeps me awake. Typically, nothing else works. I’ve tried coffee multiple times and only works for a little while. Red Bull would really work but its costly and has a lot of caffeine. At first it was potato chips but eventually I changed to eating Pretzels (maybe healthier?). I would go through a large bag every two days or so and on some days, it was my only food for the day (I had some Boost for breakfast and dinner). I also bought some beef jerky, which is surprisingly a healthy way to get your protein. Protein shakes were often way too expensive at many gas stations and some of the supermarkets and pharmacies I went to didn’t have them.
Depending on which direction you are driving, you will be exposing your skin to the sun. If you drive East to West, your left arm will be sitting in the sun most of the time, bringing about a possibly uneven tan after a week. My friend got sun-burnt driving across the country. If you drive South, the sun will be in your face/body/arms most of the day so wear some sunscreen if you burn easily. The sun even penetrated my shirt near my shoulders and gave a very mild burn after 10 days. Sunburns can happen under clothes, but it just takes a lot longer.
I have seen some people put a dark tint only on the driver window or put up a newspaper on the window (use the window to hold it in place). This is something you may consider when going on a very long road trip.
Photos and Time Lapse
Time Lapse photography is a great way to capture everything during your roadtrip. For a cheap solution, use your smart phone! I set it for every minute. 30s if you really want to capture everything. The video looks smoother at 30 second intervals though but requires a lot more storage on your phone. My 16gb iPhone was full after 16 days, and it would take up about 1GB for every day (16 hours) of driving.
If you want to take pictures of what you see, I recommend getting a DSLR or a camera with a very quick shutter. When you are driving at 60mph, a point and shoot will take only blurry photos, unless your passenger is taking the pictures. Even a budget DSLR will be able to take some good pictures. Some people have set up their DSLR to do time lapse. I may consider this for next time.
Many people use a GoPro and plug the camera via mini USB into a usb charger and do time lapse that way. I have the Hero4 Silver, but haven’t used it to do timelapse yet. My brother sticks his GoPro on the hood of his car with a suction cup and he goes racing with it. If it works for him, a roadtrip would be pretty easy. Make sure to take the camera out when you leave the car.
Sleeping in your car:
Most of the time, it was cool enough to sleep in my car without turning on the car, but there were times that it was too hot. I left the car running all night with the AC on but make sure to fill up on gas. It didn’t use up much gas at all (1 gallon for 8 hours) but it is best to be prepared. Turning on the heat in the winter would be a good idea as well and can prevent the engine from freezing up if it is much colder than -30F.
I recommend using a sleeping bag and having blankets in case it got too cold without the car on. I almost froze when I slept near Chicago. It dropped to about 55F, but it was too cold for me to sleep in with only shorts on. It took me a hot meal and some hot coffee to warm up.
The road trip was during the summer, so I didn’t have to deal with snow or much rain for that matter. Here are a few observations I had when driving through the mountains:
- Snow Chains: They are required on some stretches of road because of heavy snow on the roads. Having AWD doesn’t do much when there is a solid foot of snow underneath you. There are locations where you can put them on along the highway. If you intend to travel over a mountain, you can invest in your own chains or buy a set on the highway (they have designated stop areas for this). There should be a company there to help you put them on, but I have never done it before so I can’t say for sure. I have seen a few snow chain installation areas on the side of the highway.
- Despite snow chains, highways can close. I have seen numerous gates along the highway and they are used to close the highway.
- Ice Scrapper and shovel – these are must have if you have to deal with snow. You just never know what situations you need to dig out of. The ice scrapper would be used more often, when frost forms on your windshield overnight.
- Kitty Litter – some people in the north keep this in their car in case they get stuck. When they do, they put some kitty litter under their tires for added traction. Remember to put it in front of the wheel(s) in question, instead of behind.