American Road Trip 2012 – Part I


It was summer 2012. I had just gotten home from a whirlwind trip to Africa and Europe so naturally I just wanted to up and go somewhere else asap. Problem was I was taped out of money. Since I have a Prius and friends all over the country I figured “why not just do another road trip! They never cost too much as long as you don’t pay for lodging!” then my friend Marina told me she was coming back to the US (she’s from Germany) to visit for a few months in the fall and wanted to know if I felt like doing a road trip with her. Perfect timing. Our barely planned out fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants no-budget roadtrip and experiment in just how much you can do and see with absolutely no money started on September 10, 2012 and lasted until October 21, 2012. This is the account of that adventure. Here’s what the itinerary ended up being. There were a lot of changes from our initial rough plan.

Sept 10 – LA > Vegas  / Sept 11 – Vegas > Arches Nat’l Park / Sep 12 – All day Arches / Sep 13 – Arches > Denver (Ft. Collins) / Sep 14 – Ft Collins > Chicago / Sep 15 – Chicago / Sep 16 – Chicago > London, ON / Sep 17 – London > Toronto / Sep 18 – Toronto > Niagara > Syracuse, NY / Sep 19 – Syracuse, NY > Portsmouth, ME > Boston / Sep 20 – Boston / Sep 21 – Boston > NYC / Sep 22 – 28 – NYC / Sep 29 – NYC > Philly > DC / Sep 30 – DC / Oct 1 – DC > Nashville / Oct 7 – Nashville > Atlanta / Oct 10 – Atlanta > Clearwater, FL / Oct 12 – Miami, Key West / Oct 14 – Key West > Orlando / Oct 20 – Orlando > Los Angeles

I promise I don’t only go to Vegas – I just tend to drive through it a lot. I like the city enough, but to me it’s a one day destination. We made great time driving in, passing death valley which was a balmy 99 degrees and then a few thunderstorms. It was sunny and nice all afternoon and night with some beautiful storms off in the distance. I spent the drive trying to mentally prepare myself for the next month and a half of living out of my car. In Vegas we were hosted by my friend Adam’s dad and roommate. Sadly Adam had to be out of town on business. They made us a tasty spagetti dinner and then we went out on the strip!


We parked at the lovely Aria hotel, did the Chihuly gallery which I can’t pass up when I’m here, and then walked through the Aria, City Center, and the Cosmopolitan (only took iPhone pics, see my previous blog post and you’ll know why!), then I got to watch the Bellagio fountains up close for the first time.

We continuted up the strip to Treasure Island which is a much longer walk than it looks. We watched the pirate show which was quite an experience. I felt like I was watching an adult version of a disney theme park musical/play. We then returned to the Bellagio to see the world’s largest chocolate fountain at Jean Philippe Patisserie and I got a scoop of rocky road ice cream that was heavenly. Marina and I then admired their beautifully decorated cakes for a few minutes before heading out to the casino floor. We wanted some complimentarly water so we each played $2 in the slot machines. I walked away with $6 and a free bottled water – score! Thanks Bellagio! It’s a goal in my life to never, ever loose money at a casino and I’m doing pretty good so far, the record is 3 – 0.

We called it a night after that as we had another solid drive to Arches National Park in Utah the next day. The drive briefly took us through Arizona, making it the third state of the trip before passing into Utah – the first of many states on this roadtrip that I had never been too! Utah was breathtaking. Despite being desert all the way through, the landscape couldn’t have been more diverse. There were rocks that looked like enormous battleships and some landscapes that looked like we could have easily been on Mars.





When we got into Canyonlands National Park we saw an impressive canyon (imagine that) that looked pretty much exactly like the Grand Canyon.


We drove all the way through to the campgrounds which were full. Plan B was driving another 1/2 hour back towards the town of Moab to see what the lodging looked like there. We ended up finding a campground that looked promising – only to find out it was $25 a night – just to pull your car into a space. No thanks. Remember our lodging budget was $0. Actually our whole trip budget was $0. We pulled into the nearest gas station and asked the attendant where the cheapest place to camp for the night would be. She told us to follow a dark, practically unmarked road down the street a few miles, turn left, and follow that down along a river to the trees where there would be campsites. She said it was very dark and to be careful since it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We drove and drove and finally found some campgrounds that were completely dark. I pulled into a spot and didn’t even want to leave my headlights on since it looked like the kind of place where a serial killer might find us and swing an axe into my car window. We quickly got situated in the car to sleep – which involved us re-arranging our bags in the backseat, putting the seats back, getting our night clothes out of our bags, getting our blankets and pillows and putting those out, and finding the best position we could despite being two very tall girls trying to sleep in a Prius. I was able to find a fairly comfortable position and sleep for a few hours at a time but poor Marina never got any sleep when we had to camp in the car. It didn’t help that we had to keep the windows slightly open for air which let in mosquitoes that were eating us alive.


In the morning we were pleasantly surprised to find that our surroundings were quite beautiful, which we couldn’t tell driving in the pitch black the night before. We ate dry cereal and bananas, used the camp facilities and set off to Arches National Park to hike to Delicate Arch – you know, the one that’s on all the postcards and license plates for Utah!



Continue the road trip here… Arches National Park