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Our 2001 Toyota Camry, which shook when you drove above 80 and flashed the "check engine" light every few weeks, was making a weird sound. It was faint at first, and then we heard a loud screech. We quickly pulled over to the side of the road.
Our cell-phone reception was barely working, there wasn't an exit for miles, and the hot desert wind was strong. We were in the heartland of Nowhere, Texas, and we had a flat tire.
My boyfriend Danny and I had packed up all of our belongings from our tiny Brooklyn apartment just weeks ago and set off for St. Cloud, Florida, with our two dogs in the backseat. Our final destination was Los Angeles, but Danny had a theory that going from NYC to LA would be too depressing. We needed a buffer period, a time when we could chill out in a small town, live on a lake for a few weeks, eat microwave meals from the local grocery store (a Super-Walmart) and fall asleep before midnight to the sweet sounds of Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.
After our brief stay in the Sunshine State, we gave ourselves five days to get to LA. Danny had an upcoming gig, and we didn't have money to dilly-dally around the U.S. At that point, Danny and I had been together for two years, but we weren't exactly prepared for how difficult it would be to spend 120 hours straight together, most of it in a car.
We fought, we got anxious, and we flipped out not only on each other, but internally as well. Between the flat tire in Texas, our dog puking all over our backseat in Arizona, and seeing a live bear run across the highway on the country roads of Florida, we were faced with our fair share of challenges. However, at the end of it, we came out stronger than ever, having survived a momentous trip and a big change in our lives. Now, four years later, we're happily married in LA and have expanded our family to include a tortoise (from St. Cloud) and four darling chickens.
If you're planning on moving cross-country or taking a long road trip with your partner via your car, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Don't stay in fleabag hotels
At one point on our trip, I was sure that we were going to get murdered at a Rodeway Inn in San Antonio. We arrived at three in the morning, exhausted, at this motel in a very deserted area of town. Maybe it was just because it was so late in the night — that definitely didn't help in terms of the creepiness factor. The room looked like it hadn't been deep-cleaned in years, and I was even hesitant to give my dog a shower because the bath tub was so dirty.
When we got to New Mexico, our hotel was literally a fleabag. We got bitten up after sleeping there for a full six hours, but at least we got back $10 from our stay and that sweet, sweet continental breakfast. Those were some delicious generic Corn Flakes.
The lesson? Don't go for the cheapest hotel; spring for the third or forth cheapest. It isn't worth it to get a crappy night sleep or, even worse, bed bug bites.
Give yourself time to get there
It wasn't a great experience to have to drive at least 10 hours a day, every day, going 80 miles per hour, and looking in my mirror every few seconds to ensure that a cop wasn't on our tail. This was in the Dark Ages, before Waze.
If time allows, take at least one week to drive from one coast to another. You're probably never going to have the chance to see the same places again, and it can be fun to bask in the quiet and emptiness in some of our less-populated states. If you live in big city, you can take a few days off from the crowds and the noise. Enjoy the sound of nothing for a change.
AAA is only $100 or so per year, and it saves you a lot of headache. Who knows what kind of mechanics there are out there who will rip you off because you're vulnerable? Though AAA can take forever to get to you when you're stuck, they eventually do, and ta-da! You've already paid for your flat tire with your yearly dues.
A bonus is that before you go on your trip, the kind folks at AAA will make you a "trip ticker" and help you predict how many miles you need to drive everyday to get to your destination on time. They give you a good old-fashioned road map, and you get to feel like a Real Adult for once. There are AAA discounts everywhere, so make sure you milk it for everything you can get.
Set up your recovery period before you arrive
Driving a ton is tiring. Transitioning from one time zone to another takes a long period of adjustment. Make sure you have good accommodations before you arrive at where you need to go. Rent out a well-reviewed AirBnB, stay with friends who will give you your own private space, or get a decent hotel. You can't just bounce back from a trip like that. You're probably going to sleep too much for the first few days, but you'll be happy you did.
If your story is similar to mine, you'll wake up from your daze in a North Hollywood apartment, in an AirBnB with three "up-and-coming" actors whose headshots may or may not have been taken at CVS Pharmacy. They'll tell you about how they're from Sagawitchataw, Mississippi, and you'll say you've heard of it. Hey, actually you were just there! And then you think back to that little Popeyes in Sagawitchawhatever and that man on the side of the road selling bags of pecans and all the fried food, and you'll smile. And you'll think: Thank God, I have arrived.