A Car, An EZ Pass, and Two Weeks to Spare

The Decision

I’ve always loved travel. I love making a packing list, getting out my suitcase and playing Tetris til I can’t fit anymore in it. I love planning stops, researching restaurants and even planning not to plan and to be spontaneous. I love planes, trains and automobiles. Everything about being on the road (or in the air or on the rails) invigorates me.

That’s why, when I suggested we go to Seattle this year to visit my West Coast family and my boyfriend frowned at the thought of another cross country flight, we started concepting an epic road trip.

We didn’t know if it would be feasible, but in March, we made our choice. I rented a car and reserved a yurt at a Washington state park for Memorial Day weekend, and we were on our way.

The Prep

You’d think planning a 2 week trip would take a lot of work. Well, when it comes down to it, if you don’t care too much about the whole “planning” aspect…it’s really not that much work at all.

You pick destinations, you make sure there’s a reasonable amount of time to get there, and you arrange it all on a calendar. Boom, trip planned.

We were making two big planned stops, we decided: Chicago and Seattle. We knew when we wanted to get to Seattle, and figured out how many days it would take to get there from Chicago, so we just worked backwards from there. And then forwards again to see how long it would take us to get home.

We told our friends when we’d be in town, arranged a couple of dinners and happy hours with other folks, and there it was. Our itinerary. Our stops to get from place to place were barely planned. We had general ideas of where we’d be each night, but in no way did we set those places in stone.

The final thing I did to prepare was create a skeleton budget. I wanted to get an idea of what the trip COULD cost, so that I could be prepared to pay off my credit card at the end without a small heart attack. I created a spreadsheet with dates down the left side and categories along the top, sum totals at the end of each row and column. And thus, our trip money bible was born.

Before, long the date of our departure was nearly there. I cleaned, made lists, did ALL of our laundry and called to confirm the car. Then, the date arrived. I got an early morning pedicure and then packed and packed and packed. We picked up our little white Ford Focus (we named her Elise) and we were on our way.

The Journey - Chicago

We took our time getting to Chicago. Or rather, we took our time leaving, and gave ourselves two days to get there. Since we did have lunch plans the following day, we wanted to leave about 3 hours to drive on Sunday morning. So that meant 9 hours in the car on Saturday. Hitting traffic on the way out of Philadelphia, that turned into 10.5 hours in the car, and we rolled into a small town off of the highway, Montpelier, OH at just after midnight. Boy did it feel good to get into bed that night. And we’d only been on the road for 1 day!

The next day was smooth sailing, until, that is, we got to the construction coming into Chicago. After making numerous detours, we found our way to Dylan’s friends’ house in Wicker Park. We enjoyed a lovely meal of BBQ at Lillie’s Q (best mac and cheese…ever?) and then made our way to Stan’s Donuts for a treat. We ate our donuts and people watched in the park as we chatted, enjoying the skaters, basketball players, acrobatic yogis, and everyone in between. We bid those friends farewell and made our way to Bucktown, and our beautiful home for the next couple of days. 

We spent our time with friends cooking, chatting, drinking craft beer, eating amazing food from around Chicago, trying out the El, doing an architectural boat tour of the city and meandering the streets, shopping and sipping and snacking along the way. We topped off the trip with margaritas and tacos at Big Star, one of our favorite places. The next day, it was back in the car, heading west!

The Journey - Seattle

The trip to Seattle - or rather, to Enumclaw, WA - took about 4 days. Our three nights were spent in Fargo, ND, Billings, MT and Kalispell, MT. We were so taken by the beauty along the way, both in the Badlands in North Dakota and pretty much along every road we took in Montana, including our amazing detour to Glacier National Park. The moutains, the valleys, the trees, the streams and rivers, the herds of cattle, chomping on long grasses in expansive fields, the massive, majestic wind turbines that spun high in the sky. We were taken by all of it. And along the way, we had some good meals as well. The Montana Brewing Company and Dude Rancher Lodge in Billings were great stops. And in Kalispell, we were so happy we stayed at the Kalispell Grand Hotel downtown. In the “off season”, restaurants mostly close by 9pm, though, but we were lucky to find Brannigan’s open and got a fantastic pot pie and a couple of strong West Coast brews.

We arrived in Seattle and were greeted by my family. My uncle and aunt own a small farm - 2 steers, 9 pigs, 5 or 6 chickens and lots of fruits and veggies in the garden. We met the animals and then had a long, relaxing homemade dinner around the table, laughing and telling stories until the wee hours.

The next day, we hit up Pike Place Market and the waterfront in downtown Seattle. Best stops were Piroshky Piroshky and a little Chinese food mart where we indulged in a  giant smoked sausage on a stick. Also, I fell in love with the many fresh flower stalls, ample fruits and vegetables and the impressive seafood selection. We headed to West Seattle next, and sipped beers and sampled food at Marination at Alki Beach. Next up we set up shop at Beer Junction and drank our way until our dinner reservation at Salty’s. We had a five course meal and watched the sun set and the skyline light up across the sound.

Sunday was drizzly, but we had a lovely brunch and drinks with friends before heading to Naches for massive burgers and Moose Drool beer. Monday was Memorial Day and we celebrated by taking off to the coast at Grayland Beach State Park and camping for the night in yurts! We spend the afternoon walking on the beach, playing frisbee, drinking, eating and telling stories. We even sang every verse of American Pie around the fire.

After waking up to the sounds of the ocean and the birds chirping, we packed up the car and made the call to head east…back to Philly! Though, being that we were right next to the Pacific Ocean, it was going to take some time.

The Journey - Back to Philly

We knew we had to budget a few days to get back home. We thought we might make it in 4 if we pushed it, but could stretch it to 5 and be much more relaxed. So off we went.

The first night was spent in Pendleton, OR, as we had made our way south and east. We ate at Hamley Steakhouse and had one of the best buffalo chicken salads we’ve ever tried. The next day, we made it to Utah…Ogden, UT to be exact. We ended up loving our hotel - just a typical Comfort Suites, but worlds better than some of the lower star hotels we’d found along the way. We scoured Yelp for a meal to match our awesome room and found Tona, a 4.5 star rated sushi restaurant downtown. The meal lived up to the rating, and there were dishes we ate that we were convinced needed to be brought back to Philly. Like bacon bubble gum (better than it sounds), grilled king crab, and the Sunburn roll with eel and mango sauce.

After our incredible night in Utah, we kept driving west and arranged to meet one last friend along the way in Iowa City on Friday night. Our Thursday trip felt long and we collapsed onto our bed in North Platte, NE at a little after 8pm and decided to order a pizza instead of venturing back out. Sometimes a pizza in bed just makes you feel a little bit like you’re home.

We made it to Iowa City and cracked a tasty Red Rambler with a dear friend before trotting into town for a 10+ course tapas meal at Devotay. We picked up some more beers at John’s Grocery on our way back home, and sipped the night away.

Reunion for some, epic first meeting for others.

Saturday morning, we putzed. It took us until 12:30 to even get on the road that day (important things like shopping at our friend’s store had to happen.) We had just under 15 hours ahead of us. Like every other day, we drove in spurts of 2-3 hours a piece. As night fell, the roads cleared even more and we ticked off the states as we knocked them out. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. 

Finally, we reached Pennsylvania a bit after midnight. We had our first fight of the trip when Dylan neglected to grab both our drinks from the counter at a rest stop. Our nerves were shot, and we just wanted to be home. We weren’t going to give up just because we’d been driving for 12 hours. We persevered and made a new playlist and then it was homeward bound.

The moon that guided us home. (The GPS helped too.)

We sailed into Philly at about 4:20am, singing at the top of our lungs to Macklemore and taking pictures of the skyline to let our family and friends know we’d returned. It felt so good to walk in our front door, pet the cats, put our toothbrushes in their rightful spots and sink into bed.

It's amazing how easy it is to get into the city at 4am on a Sunday.

The Outcome

We kept track of lots of information on our trip, and in the end, we had lots of numbers!

  • 14 days
  • 15 states visited
  • 102 total hours in the car
  • 6,375 miles driven
  • Amanda drove 45 hours, 40 minutes and 2,878 miles
  • Dylan drove 55 hours, 49 minutes and 3,607 miles
  • 29044 steps taken
  • 369 photos taken
  • 0 Accidents in the rental car
  • 1 speeding ticket
  • 9 burgers
  • 13 salads
  • 24 bottles of water
  • Best sushi: Tona in Ogden, UT
  • Best shopping: The Boring Store in Chicago, IL
  • Best lunch: Piroshky Piroshky in Seattle, WA
  • Favorite Pig: Stumpy
  • 36 miles per gallon in a Ford Focus
  • 177 gallons of gas
  • An average of $3.64 a gallon

We know this kind of trip is once in a lifetime, but it doesn’t have to be! We want to plan a new route and do another two weeks next year, before we have houses and weddings and kids to think about. Next up, south and west to Georgia and Arizona! We can’t wait.