How to Tackle a Cross-Country Road Trip (Plus, 13 Restaurant Recommendations)

 (Image:  Pixabay )

(Image: Pixabay)

With the largest road atlas money can buy (thanks, grandma) laid out on the kitchen counter and some fancy new highlighters in hand, I began marking points. I marked places where I knew people, drew lines connecting the dots, checked the mileage with Google Maps to make sure I wasn’t planning ridiculously long drives (I max out at about 14 hours), and started feeling giddy. That’s because, after all the planning was done, I would set off on a road trip spanning the entire U.S. from coast to coast.

Driving from Michigan to Montana and back during my college years had prepared me well for such a journey, but I knew it would be important to plan a timeline with flexibility on both ends. This was going to be an adventure after all, and I wanted it to embody every sense of the word. After I’d marked up my atlas, I made phone calls to family and friends to give them a heads up: I was coming! If there was any place along the way I wanted to stop that I didn’t know someone, Hotels.com and Airbnb would have to do the trick. I always trust their reviews — and the prices don’t hurt either.

My trip was not perfect by any means, but it was perfect for me. I packed my car full of way too many things, including a large suitcase for winter clothes, a small suitcase filled with clothing for the warmer stops, and snacks galore. Knowing I would be on the road for two months, I packed with the plan to do laundry along the way — mostly because it would be crazy not to. Along with the suitcases full of clothes and all the stuff I’d brought to munch on, I had my podcasts, my songs, and my audiobooks downloaded, my atlas opened on the passenger seat, and “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates fired up on Spotify. All that was left to do was hit play and take off.

Possibly the best part of the American melting pot — that wide variety of cultures blended together to make something even more beautiful — is that this country has a whole lot of amazing food that can be found in every nook and cranny. I was determined to experience life as a local everywhere I went, and an essential part of that experience is to eat where the locals eat. I relied on TripAdvisor, official city websites, the Netflix series “Chef’s Table”, and the obvious resource, the locals themselves, in deciding which places to stop and grab a bite to eat.

 All smiles in Nashville

All smiles in Nashville

After visiting 22 states over two months, I’ve got these recommendations for you:

Flying is always easier and faster, but driving across the country gives you so much time to enjoy things along the way. There will be boring times — it’s not all picturesque, I admit — but just turn up your tune of choice and jam through those lulls. And don’t be afraid to stray away from your plans a little bit. I generally stuck to the plan I laid out, but there were some states I added along the way. I even booked a last minute trip to Las Vegas after having breakfast with a friend in Seattle (shout out to Tyler and Isaac, I owe you big there).

It was amazing traveling around the country I call home, as there are so many awesome spots right here in our own backyard. It was only right that I take time to see some of them.

-Mel