lost, for a little while

travel advice: michelle
September 15, 2010, 12:15 am
Filed under: advice, ideas, inspiration
Standing bow in Moab, Utah

Standing bow in Moab, UT

I met Michelle about three years ago when I was living in D.C. for the summer, working as an intern at National Geographic Traveler. To cut costs (we’re talking unpaid internship here), I was crashing with my brother, Matt, and as a result, was introduced to his delightful crew of friends which, thankfully, includes Michelle.

Michelle is awesome for many reasons, but here’s three: she has a fabulous sense of humor, deeply-rooted in sarcasm; she has gorgeous curly hair; she manages to have a good balance of silliness and responsibility–something my brother has yet to achieve.

Now we can add one more reason to the list: two days after finishing her master’s program (congrats!), she went on a 12-day road trip with a friend from California to D.C., and she told me all about the experience.

Where all did you go? (cities, major landmarks or parks)

  • Santa Barbara, CA: My friend, Roger (who did the trip with me), was at UC Santa Barbara. UCSB it is totally unlike any school on the East Coast or Midwest–the campus is literally on the beach, and so gorgeous.
  • Los Angeles, CA: Eh, I’m over it. We did go to The Stinking Rose (a restaurant totally based around garlic) for dinner, though, so that was good. But in general, I like to avoid places with a high ratio of actor/singer/model/plastic types.
  • Las Vegas, NV: This was a necessary stop in order to break up the drive through the dessert, but I strongly dislike this place as it’s all about excess and makes me depressed.
  • Zion National Park, Zion, UT: Beautiful waterfalls and red earth.
  • Arches National Park, Moab, UT: It’s just like the pictures you see in National Geographic; beautiful rock formations and like nothing I’d ever seen before.
  • Fish Creek Falls, Steamboat, CO: While here, we took a 10-mile hike up to a natural lake, which was so pretty and made hiking at a 7,440-mile elevation worthwhile. (Bring good shoes, lots of water, and food.  We made the mistake of going sans nourishment and while still a little hungover. Poor choice.)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, CO: Drove through and got out at various viewing areas; simply amazing scenery. While you’re there, it’s almost hard to wrap your head around the fact that you’re in the Rockies and your eyes are actually seeing it all.
  • Nederland, CO: Where my parents met, a small hippie town on the way to Denver from RMNP.  If you go, make sure to go to the Sundance Café, which has a beautiful view and decent, reasonably-priced food. According to my parents, it hasn’t changed a bit since the mid 1980s, except for a new TV.
  • Boulder, CO: Great college town, big on vegetarian fare and fresh food.
  • Denver, CO: Everything we did in Denver was awesome.  The city is very walkable, the food is really fresh/cheap/yummy, REI’s flagship is there, and there are fountains and pianos all over the city (check out 16th street). Go to Crepes ‘n’ Crepes and Illegal Pete’s for cheap, delicious food. Try the Colorado green chile.
  • Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO: If you love music, you know about this historic venue.  A red rock formation that created a natural amphitheatre and someone thought it would be a great place for a concert venue. They were right–the day we were there, Sheryl Crow was warming up for a concert that night, so we got to listen. Really beautiful place overall, and there is an Alpaca farm at the base of the park!
  • Golden, CO: Home of the Coors Brewery. We were too late to take a tour, but I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun. We walked around the little town and got a feel for the “wild west.”  It’s kind of a hokey place (Buffalo Bill is buried there), but it was fun to walk around for a couple hours and watch people in cowboy attire (think Canadian tuxedos) cruising the strip.
  • Kansas: There is nowhere I would recommend stopping in this state. We went to the Wizard of Oz Museum out of complete boredom and it was pretty much a waste of time. There is a Prairie Dog Town we heard about, but choose to forgo. There are a lot of pretty entertaining politically-charged conservative signs along Rt. 70.  I’m not sure what was worse–the grammar or the fact that 99% of them claimed false information (“Obama is a Muslim,” “If you have an abortion the devil will find you,” etc.).  My suggestion is to do this state at night if you have to drive through.
  • Kansas City, MO: Excellent BBQ, fountains all over the city, and great jazz clubs. Go on a weekend; we passed through mid-week, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on. Check out Arthur Bryant’s BBQ; it’s world-famous and was delicious.
  • St. Louis, MO: We didn’t give this place enough time. We stopped in the Soulard area of St. Louis to eat, and it had pretty decent bars with food and local beer. Then, we took pictures of the Arch and were on our way.  I’m sure there are more fun things to do there, but we just didn’t have time on our trip so this blurb probably isn’t doing it justice.
  • Louisville/St. Matthews, KY: Roger’s cousins live in St. Matthews so we stayed there for the long weekend. Louisville has a neat little downtown area: there’s a baseball museum and numerous art galleries. We also toured Churchill Downs and the University of Louisville. About an hour and a half away is the Maker’s Mark Distillery. We went and did the tour and it was definitely worth it. You can do the rest of the Kentucky Bourbon trail if you like, but one was enough for us as we had a lot of driving to do the next day and it was College Game Day. The people here are really nice and we had a great time just kind of walking around.  It helped to have locals with us, obviously.
  • Morgantown, WV: Home to WVU, pretty rough & tumble. We stopped because we were starving. There’s not much going on here, but a couple hours away is the Gauley River–go there instead. The whitewater rafting is fantastic and you can camp.
  • Washington, DC: I live here, so this was the last stop for me. There are obviously a million things to do here. My favorites are hitting the trails in Rock Creek Park, going to Dumbarton Oaks, and doing one of the many hikes available just outside the city. Kayaking on the Potomac out of Georgetown is also a good one. If you’re more of a museum/art gallery person, you’re in the right place.
  • NYC, NY: No explanation necessary.
  • Rhode Island: Where we grew up. If you have a chance, check out the historic mansions and beaches in Newport, and walk around Brown University and downtown Providence. You can easily spend a day in both cities, but don’t try and do them on the same day–it’s too much.
  • Boston, MA: My comrade’s last destination.  Boston is awesome. Do everything!

How long was the trip?
12 days

What prompted the idea for this trip?
Roger’s advisor transferred schools and asked him to follow. I’ve always wanted to drive across the country, but never had the time or money to do it until now.

How long did you plan for?
Honestly, only about a month-ish. We did a lot of planning while we were on the road as we stayed with friends who suggested things to do, and were able to pull out our laptops at Starbucks and other stops to consult the internet for ideas. We had our general route mapped out (Route 70 across the country) but as for landmarks and what to do in different cities, we kind of played it by ear. I know–not the most practical advice, but the days where I planned things I always had more than half a dozen things for us to do and I would get really discouraged when we couldn’t do everything.  My advice would be to pace yourself and not plan too much because there’s no way to do it all. The other way we planned was to check the web sites for TV shows on the Food Network and see where they visited. Don’t judge.

What was your previous travel experience? Anything like this?
I’ve done a couple of “mini” road trips, but never anything that entailed more than a day’s worth of driving.  If I’m going somewhere further, I tend to fly because I get antsy in the car.

What was your method of transportation?
We drove a little 4-door Saab, which worked for only 2 people and a lot of stuff (Roger was moving), but any more than the two of us would have felt really crowded.

Where did you stay? (hotels, friends, resorts, hostels, camp, etc.)
We stayed with friends and family, and at hotels (Priceline rocks!).

What sort of tools or sources of information did you consult beforehand?
Google maps, Yelp, Fodors, friends and relatives who have been to/lived in the city.  We also did a lot of just Google searches for the places we wanted to go.  The National Park Service website was really helpful, as well.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but we consulted Wikipedia quite frequently throughout the trip.

How did you budget for the trip?
Our hotels and gas were paid for (courtesy of Roger’s advisor), so we really just had to worry about food and attractions. I’m on a recent-graduate budget, so I gave myself $250 for the entire trip (which worked out to about $20/day). We bought peanut butter & jelly and bread for the trip and ate that for lunch just about every day. We’d get super cheap breakfasts and spend most of our money on dinner. Luckily, the middle of the country is the place to be if you only have $20 to spend per day! There were a couple of days where we didn’t spend anything because we were staying with friends or family, or just ate PB&J. If I had to do it again, I’d give myself a little more leeway in my budget–maybe $30 a day–and I’d eat less so I could use more money for attractions and such. Going to see state parks is not as cheap as it sounds; they’re usually $20 a pop.

What do you wish you had packed?
More “outdoorsy” clothing (i.e. wicking fabrics), fleece, socks, closed-toe shoes other than sneakers, and one or two somewhat acceptable outfits for walking around cities.  Though it was totally okay to walk around Colorado in yoga pants and a tee shirt, the Midwest was not as accepting of my scrubbiness.

What could you have left behind?
This was actually the first trip where I think I wore everything I brought. I probably could have left some of my toiletries at home, as well as the three books I brought. I was so busy seeing the sights that I didn’t have much time for reading or making myself look pretty.

What were some highlights of the trip?
Arches National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Also, all of Colorado–I could probably spend years there and never get sick of it.

What would you have done differently?
Given myself a bigger budget and stayed longer. Also maybe skipped Missouri.  Another thing would have been to do cities where I didn’t know anyone during the weekend because there were more people out and about and available to ask questions.

Any mishaps?
We just missed getting a $200 speeding ticket in a state park, but somehow got off with just a verbal warning. We almost hit numerous deer. Our windshield was like a bug battlefield and we didn’t have good wipers, so it was hard to see, sometimes. All in all, a pretty smooth trip!

What’s next? (in life, in travel)
Good question!  I finished my masters program two days before I left for my trip so I’m just looking for a job right now. I will absolutely be going back to Colorado once I can afford it–I’m officially obsessed with that state! I have one job offer in Baltimore and one in Africa, so I guess I just need to decide which one I want. If I take the one in Africa, I will be starting my own travel blog.


    If you’ve done a major road trip and would like to share your experience, let me know!

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