Rules of the US road trip

23:27, Jul 22 2012

Following last week's bus experience, Nathan and I decided it would be sensible to hire a car to drive from Boston to Washington DC. Comfort was the main issue in mind, but we also managed to convince ourselves it was the cheaper option - an impressively blind-to-the-facts assessment given that bus tickets were $45 each and the car was $350 all up.

Anyway, the point is, we were on the road again (Goin' places that I've never been. Seein' things that I may never see again ...), which meant games, music, bizarre towns and more unfortunate sleeping photos.

Our final long-distance drive got off to a rough start. We cruised through a toll booth without paying the $1.25 fee ($50 fine, I'm told), then we somehow ended up on a northbound highway. For anyone geographically challenged like me, that is not the way from Boston to DC.

We haven't completely mastered the road trip, but we have put together a list of things we've learnt. Please feel free to add your own helpful road trip hints - a lot of readers have said they are planning trips to America and our advice is in no way complete.

1. McDonald's car parks are a fantastic option for free wifi when you need it - particularly useful if you get stuck without a GPS.

2. Four-way stop/All-way stop = first-in first serve.

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3. A little obvious, but a musical option that serves both parties is crucial for eight-hour drives; apparently the Glee soundtrack isn't for everyone.

4. You can buy those polystyrene chilly bins at Walmart for about $1.50, and fill them with ice at your hotel. Very useful for cold drinks, and pouring the melted ice on your travelling companion later in the day.

5. Follow the speed of the cars around you, rather than the road signs (that is our observation, not legal advice. Don't try to sue me when you get a speeding ticket).

6. Spotting the out-of-state number plates is an awesome game, though you do want to avoid overly competitive behaviour. Nathan's good vision helped him a lot with this game, and once the score was 20-2 to him I had had just about enough. When I saw a car with a new plate in front of us, but couldn't read what the plate was, I threw my hands over Nathan's eyes to stop him seeing what it was before me. The problem was he was driving and that was not necessarily the safest move.

7. Don't cover the driver's eyes.

8. US signposting can be weird. Often there's one saying the destination is straight ahead, then there'll be no sign of said destination for the next three signs. Just keep going in the direction of the first sign, even if its long past when you expect another sign, and eventually there'll be more instructions.

9. If you're the passenger and you keep falling asleep, you deserve to have hideous photos taken, apparently.

10. Plan excessive travel time between destinations because there are so many places you'll want to stop.

Discovering random places has been the best part of our road trips, and one of the funniest stops we've made was in Utah, at this town called Mexican Hat. And when I say town, I mean village with a population of 88 people. When we walked into a small cafe for dinner, there was an echoing silence and a lot of turned heads. I think they knew we weren't local.

This photo shows the rock that the place was named after.

In Colorado, we abandoned the GPS directions when we saw a sign on the road pointing to a ghost town.

That's a hard sign to ignore, and I'd had a phase of looking up these abandoned towns on the internet so was keen to get a look at one. So, after an hour's drive off the main highway, we ended up in St Elmo, a town that was founded in the 1880s and abandoned about 20 years later when mining in the area went down the drain. Despite several fires there, many of the buildings have been preserved, so it turned out to be an interesting stop.

Another overnight stop that was only possible with a car was at Estes Park at the entrance to the Rocky Mountains - where we added The Stanley Hotel, the place that inspired Stephen King's The Shining, to our movie location photo collection.

One further note: Remember in that movie The Mexican, Brad Pitt wants a Mexican car? Well, in the same way, Nathan and I wanted an American car for our US drives, so were disappointed when we got a Toyota, and then a Mitsubishi, and then a Toyota again.

When we hired a car in Michigan and saw Chevrolet written on the rental sheet we were quite excited ... until we saw the car, which may have been the most unattractive beast ever made.

Lesson learnt. Unoriginal cars are fine.

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