How to Pack for a Cross Country Road Trip

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I haven’t seen much of the United States. Sure, my family and I drove up to southern Maine many summers and I've have had a few road trips to Florida over the years, but leaving the East Coast by car has been rare. Usually my domestic travel has been business travel where I’d stay no more than three days with the majority of my time in office buildings or hotel conference rooms.

Karl’s dad passed away unexpectedly at the end of 2008. When I first met him, I found him pretty gruff and intimidating. Karl and I had mutual friends but never met until senior year of high school. I knew everyone called his dad Chief, and considering his demeanor, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was because he was a chief of police or a fire department. But no, Chief and another dad in Karl’s childhood neighborhood received that nickname because while the boys on the street ran around playing ball and wrestling in front yards, these two dads would sit on their front porch and oversee all activity, making sure nothing got out of hand. Chief in fact, was a bit shy, extremely intelligent, and passionate about music, travel, Civil War history, and photography. He wasn’t a police officer, but instead a freelance photographer. When Karl was a teen, the two of them took a road trip to Minnesota and took the long way home to see more of the United States. And a few years before his passing, Chief took a solo cross-country road trip. He photographed the whole experience, stood at Four Corners, visited Sun Studio, and was thrilled to call us admit, “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.”

Chief was so excited that we were having a baby; Emerson was due in a few short weeks and he had already bought some baby items for her. My mom is Emerson’s only living grandparent; we make sure she has a strong relationship with her and they get to spend regular time together. We also make sure that Emerson knows what kinds of great people Chief, Karl’s mom, and my dad were. We always said we wanted to recreate Chief’s solo cross-country trip and take his ashes with us. This summer, Emerson is 7. She’s at an age where she’s curious, she’s aware, she’ll remember her experiences. She’s still young enough where she enjoys our company and old enough to make decisions and be an active part of an adventure.

We decided this summer for the three of us to recreate Karl’s dad’s cross-country road trip. We will be visiting Columbus (again, we fell in love with the city), St. Louis, Durango, Winslow, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Memphis, and Nashville for sure and likely some other stops along the way.

At first we considered taking an RV, but it took a while for me to secure so much leave off work. By time I had, pickings for RVs were EXTREMELY slim (“Sure, I have a 1986 travel trailer available in working order, though it has a bit of a mildew smell. It’s $5,000/week.”). We decided to pack our tent and do a combo of hotels, motels, and campsites.

I’ve traveled to other countries, experienced other cultures, but I have experienced so little here in my own country. Having this blog and getting to know so many of you across the country has made me even more eager to see other parts of the US. When I speak to friends and neighbors about this trip, they too admit they haven’t experienced much of this country outside of the neighboring states and the occasional flight for a wedding or family reunion. I think that’s a shame. We live in a vast country with so many different cultures, communities, topography, and climates. I want to experience more of it, and I plan to take you along for the ride.

We’ll be documenting our trip and sharing it on social media. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat for exclusive real-time content (and follow the hashtag #WO2crosscountry) but I will also recap each destination on the blog. I’m lucky to be married to a photographer, so we’ll be sure to capture great photos of where we go, what we see, what we do, and of course… what I wear! I’ll also be sure to share what I packed, what we were glad to have taken, what I wish we brought, and what we could have left at home. For those who couldn’t care less about my travels, don’t worry. There will be plenty of fashion-related content interspersed between these posts!

Since we wish to cover so much distance in only two weeks, I’m unable to set up any meet and greets while on the road. However, if our schedule changes I’ll be sure to let folks know on Facebook and Snapchat! And if you have any suggestions on what to see or do for any of the cities above (or the roads between) I’d love to hear them!

And yeah, this title is totally clickbait but I will be sure to write a post about this very subject after I have spent two weeks living out of a Kia Soul!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I see Amarillo on the itinerary. This is my neck of the woods. Roasters is the older local coffee shop, my favorite over Starbucks. There is an interesting old burger place called the Coyote Bluff and great Tex-Mexican at La Frontera. I am hoping your Amarillo stop will include a swing south from I-40 to Palo Duro Canyon, the most notable landmark and worth staying and camping there. There is a quaint town square and other stops in the town Canyon with some cute shops and some junk stops. Good coffee at Palace Coffee on the square. Along I 40, outside of and west of Amarillo, is a great cafe called the Windy Cow: all homemade fresh! They are open at 11 daily (no Sunday’s) and only evenings Thursday-Saturday. Good food in Vega at The Hickory Inn or Roosters or in Adrian at Rt 66 Midpoint Cafe (officially mid point of Old Hiway 66) Any of the restaurants on I40 west of Amarillo to the state line will likely put you in contact with locals (aka farmers and real cowboys, my people, ha! If you are heading west to ABQ, I highly, highly recommend and encourage a swing up to Santa Fe (turn north at Clines Corners and its 45 minutes) and a stop in the heart of Santa Fe for a glimpse at the Plaza and a blend of native culture, Spanish influence and the old west. I would highly encourage at least an afternoon there and preferably an overnight stay at a downtown hotel with easy access to all (or the ELRey which is outside the square but a hold out of a “motor court” type hotel with beautiful grounds.) The food is authentic in Santa Fe, oh soooo good. Then motor on to ABQ. 🙂 Santa Fe is where we head when we need “to get out of town”!

    1. I just had a chat with the Amarillo Tourism board about our plans while there and he said you had a great list! 🙂 We’ll be visiting Palo Duro Canyon for sure, and have a couple other things on the list depending on where we end up staying. Thank you SO MUCH for these recommendations!

  2. Forest Park in St Louis. Imo’s for pizza and I like Gooey Louie for gooey butter cake (both gluteny, though). The Arch!

    I called my mom standing on a corner in Winslow when I was moving to St Louis but she didn’t get it. Not a huge Eagles fan (or Tori Amos).

  3. I live in Albuquerque and could share 2 week’s worth of recommendations of things to do! Definitely do not miss riding the Tram or Old Town. My favorite place for authentic New Mexican food is Cocina Azul; make sure to try their queso. When you’re asked “red or green?” – it refers to chile. You can get both, that’s called “christmas.”

    If you watched Breaking Bad, there are filming sites around town worth checking out, let me know and I can send you addresses. Also day trips to Santa Fe or Taos are great – but my favorite, lesser known day trip is to Acoma. It’s actually west of Abq off I-40 on the way to WInslow. So you should consider stopping. The views are amazing.

    Finally if you guys are beer drinkers, we have a thriving microbrewery scene here. I think the two best are Marble Brewery and La Cumbre. If you like IPAs, La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA is supposed to be amazing (I’m not a fan). Marble’s Wildflower Wheat is my favorite.

    I love my adopted home, so if you need any other information do not hesitate to ask!

  4. In St. Louis, you must do the City Museum. It is amazing. The Magic House is good. If the Cardinals are playing, that is a wonderful baseball venue. We do a two week camping trip in tents every summer with our three boys and the memories are so precious! Enjoy!

  5. Hope you have a great time!
    I do enjoy some snacks on the road so I always stack up on healthy options.
    Good travels

  6. That will be fun.

    It’s not great loss that you won’t be in an RV. It’s not bad to camp and when you get tired of that you’ll enjoy a motel.

  7. Nashville has a lovely zoo (go early, will be hot!)
    …and make sure to stop for popsicles at Las Paletas!

  8. What a wonderful tip. St Louis food recommendations, PI, Ted Drewes, and Imo’s Pizza. Our Zoo is free. Have fun road tripping

  9. you could be speaking my same words. we just got back from europe, which is my primary vacation interest. the hubs is much more interested in cross country usa, or even flat out more exploring at home here. b/c i like the idea of the freedom of a car, we would maybe rent a pop up camper or go your route of hotel, motels, and not quite basic camping. i will be following along your journey. enjoy!

  10. One word, Dr. Bronner’s. (I guess that’s two words!) Everyone can use it as a body wash, you can wash picnic dishes with it, you can do some light laundry with it, cleans surfaces, and is bio-degradable and environmentally friendly, so you can use it if you find yourself washing up in a lake or creek.

  11. STL recommendations from a former resident: the city museum, the muny, forest park (the zoo and museums are free!), the magic house, the a-b tour (if only for the Clydesdales!), frozen custard at Ted Drewes, toasted raviolis on the Hill, Soulard Market, South Grand for shopping and delicious food, all the microbreweries (with a special shout out for my fav Urban Chestnut in the Grove), pretzels at Gus’s, the sculpture park, and so much more. I hope you have a wonderful time and enjoy seeing so much of our country!

    1. oh, and also the Arch, of course 😉 but there’s lots of construction going on currently, and I do NOT recommend riding up in it. The view isn’t *that* good, and it’s super claustrophobic!

  12. Hi Ali,
    I have been reading you for quite a while but just now decided to comment–go figure! My dad always got 4 weeks of vacation a year and we usually took a road trip. We had a truck and camper and then a motorhome. We visited almost every state (or at least drove thru, haha). They are some of the best memories we all have!! Enjoy the trip and the long lasting memories you will be making.

  13. Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m glad you won’t have time for meet n greets since I’m still recovering from two return trip drives from NE FL to our new home in Mid NM and I’d be tempted to trek up to Albuquerque to meet you, and Bugs Bunny. Have fun!

  14. You’re going to love Memphis! There is an awesome local brewery called High Cotton that is within walking distance of Sun Studios. Make sure to visit areas outside of the Beale Street tourist trap, which, by the way, is not very kid friendly after dark. Overton Square and Cooper-Young are musts. Be sure to check out the I Love Memphis blog for things to do while you are here.

    If you decide to camp while in Memphis, Meeman-Shelby Forest has a really nice campground. It is about a 25 minute drive to downtown though.

    Lastly, It is insanely hot and humid here in the summer. You’ve been warned!

  15. If you are traveling on I-70 though MO/ KS, you might consider stopping in Lawrence, KS. It’s a pretty awesome place.

  16. If you are stopping in southern Colorado, you should consider going to Sands Dunes National Park. It was one of the best family camping trips we’ve taken. The campsite is called Pinon Flats. Half are spots to reserve ahead and half are first come. The reserved spots usually get reserved very quickly, but you might find something.

    The area there is so beautiful. Even if you can’t camp there, a stop to do some sand sledding is so worth it!

    Have a great trip!

  17. I had a brief moment of hope that you’d be making a northern loop! Maybe you guys will be hit by the travel bug and check out MT another year 🙂

  18. i just started reading your blog (someone gave you a shout out on another fashion blog i read!) and i LOVE your style, honesty, etc. etc. I just fell in love even more when I saw that you, too, love Columbus. I live outside of Boston now and REALLY miss all the things you love about Columbus. It’s such gem! I am so grateful to have lived there and thrilled you love it as well. If you need a sweet treat, try Jenni’s Ice Cream. And, check out the Scioto Mile Fountains with your daughter as a fun way to cool off in the summer heat. (The restaurant nearby is yummy, too!)

  19. We took our kids , then ages 1,4 and 7 from PA. to NewMexico, then back via Texas/LA and up east coast like a giant circle. It was the best 2 weeks! Our big thing is roadside attractions, so I would def. recommend them for getting out for some fun when you have long stretches in the car with a 7 year old. Good luck!

  20. How fun! We drove from Pennsylvania to Washington when I was 9. My dad built a “bed” in the back of our pick-up truck – luggage fit below and my brother and I camped on sleeping bags on top. It’s one of my best childhood memories. I recently found a journal that I kept for the trip with my 9-year-old artist rendering of Mt. Rushmore. What a hoot! Emerson will love it!

  21. Ali, have a great time! I live in Columbus and am sure you heard about German Village when you visited last time, but it doesn’t look like you made it there. A couple of fantastic restaurants to check out are Thurman’s (huge burgers) and Schmidt’s (amazing German food). The area itself is very cute too with cool eclectic shops, beautiful old houses, and cute parks. Enjoy your trip!

    1. I second the rec for Schmidt’s. It’s in a great neighborhood, too. Your trip sounds so exciting – I love road trips!

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