We were two women on our first cross-country road trip. We did it — we logged nearly 3,000 miles, just my daughter Gabi and me. The whole adventure felt so wildly American, spontaneous and independent. So here I am, with a blog post on how to drive from NY to LA in 5 days.
Gabi mapped out a simple, direct route for our journey, which we made in July. We stuck to major highways, surrounded by big rigs hauling all kinds of stuff from one end of America to the other.
Tractor trailers loomed over our 12-year-old Toyota. All of us chugged past fields filled with cows, corn and electricity-generating wind turbines. We saw mountains, sandy landscapes and every type of highway rest stop — including some with washer/dryers and showers.
We also learned that driving fast is legal, with speed limits ranging up to 80 mph. The whole trip cost us a little over $1,000, including gas, lodgings and meals.
Our itinerary from New York took us to Interstate-80 in New Jersey. I-80 is the country’s second-longest interstate highway, running coast-to-coast. That’s why it’s so popular with commercial truckers. We traveled with them through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah.
Once we hit Salt Lake City, we exited onto Interstate-15 for Nevada and Arizona. The last part of the journey was the toughest. I actually got a little scared in the blistering, 107-degree heat of California’s windy, endless Mojave desert. Never seen anything like it. Wow.
How to drive from NY to LA in 5 days
According to Google Maps, it’s possible to make this entire trek in 41 hours straight. But we wanted our sanity and sleep. We made the first and last day our longest drives, 10 hours straight per day; adrenalin kept us going.
Here’s where we stopped overnight, including our miles, hours and lodging expenses:
New York –> Ann Arbor, MI. — 10 hours, 630 miles
Ann Arbor –> Des Moines, Iowa — 8 hours, 557 miles
Des Moines –> Cheyenne, WY. — 9 hours, 629 miles
Cheyenne –> Salt Lake City, Utah. — 7 hours, 441 miles
Salt Lake City –> Los Angeles, CA. — 10 hours, 688 miles
Breakout of our costs
As for our expenses:
- $265.07 for gas
- $346.43 for three one-night Airbnb stays* + one night at a hotel (Marriott Courtyard, $123.43)
- $385.55 for meals
- miscellaneous tolls**
** Airbnb per-night charges were $73 in Iowaa, $89 in Wyoming and $56 in Utah).
*I have no idea about our tools. All we know is that our EZ Pass worked in many states. We never paid any tolls with coins or bills.
Our tips for newbies
Car care is critical. If you’re driving your own car, have it thoroughly check-out and serviced before heading out. This leads to a few more tips:
- Thank goodness we had the car manual handy. When unfamiliar icons lit up the dashboard, we looked them up to assess if we were in trouble. (We weren’t.)
- Many parts of the country do not have gas stations with mechanics. Out west, it seems that gas stations only sell gas and junk food. When we needed an oil change in Salt Lake City, we realized we needed to go to a Jiffy Lube.
Bring a GPS. Unless you like reading paper maps or have unlimited cellular data, a GPS is a must. We bought a $119 Garmin for at Best Buy that served us well. When we passed through stretches of farm country with no cell service, we were really happy to have our GPS.
Gas is the top priority. Prices for regular unleaded were all over the map, from $2.05 in Idaho to $3.79 in California. For most of our highway driving, rest stops were plentiful — except in the Mojave Desert. Here’s what to do if you drive through that relentless sandscape:
- Always have at least a quarter tank of gas. Rest stations can be scarce.
- At least twice, we passed signs saying “rest stop ahead.” But they lied. The stops were either demolished or closed.
- Stay on the highway. Once, when we googled for gas stations, the search took us off the highway onto a dirt road to nowhere.
Rest stops vary widely. Pennsylvania rest stops are small and dull and only worth visiting if you’re desperate for a toilet. On the other hand, Ohio’s modern rest stops look like space ships packed with gift shops, fast food options and even Panera Bread. In between, was everything else — from dank and dirty, to trucker-friendly places with couches, washer/dryers and free showers.
Eat good food. Given the unpredictable nature of rest stops, I was glad we packed our own snacks — nuts, chips, crackers, water, etc. For meals, Gabi searched for restaurants on Google Maps and TripAdvisor.com, while I checked out Yelp.com. We ate well. Favorite meals included home-made pretzels, artisanal sandwiches, pho and vegan avocado toast.
Audio books make good company. I wasn’t sure my daughter would enjoy listening to a book. But even though we found “The Help” annoying, it’s a long novel that passed the time and gave us much to talk about. Our second book was “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” It was only two CDs-long. We played it a couple of times when we were bored and found it inspiring.
I’m so proud that we know how to drive from NY to LA in 5 days. Personally, the trip took me to the next level as an independent woman and explorer. Road trips are fun. I can’t wait to do another one. (P.S. — If you want to know how to make this overland journey in 3.5, 7 or 14 days, check out this July 2017 post on Thrillest.com.)
Any questions, memories or advice on road trips? Would love to hear from you.