Moving Cross Country & The Ultimate Road Trip Adventure That Came From It
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What do you call a family with a service dog, two cats, and a plant who take a cross country journey over the winter holiday? Crazy.
But that’s exactly what we did.
When my partner and I moved from California to Texas, we needed a way to safely and securely transport a ton of things. We decided to ship most of our belongings and take our precious cargo – the cats, dog, and my favorite plant, a rose given to me by my college mentor – along for a ride.
Instead of driving straight through and taking three days to make the drive, we decided to amble around the Western United States. Across six days, we drove through California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.
It was a process. But I do not regret a thing.
The Preparation for the Journey
In order for us to have a stress free journey, I put a lot of woman hours into making sure that all our ducks were in a row. It took four months to plan the trip out in its totality – but also I allowed for flexibility to account for unexpected circumstances like the two storms we ended up avoiding.
Gathering the supplies
When you’re moving with that many creatures, making sure you’ve got everything you need is essential.
We needed the following things:
- Dog food (and portable dog food containers)
- Cat food (and portable cat food containers)
- Wet cat food
- Cat harnesses / leashes
- Dog leash / harness
- Dog baggies
- Extra litter
- Litter liners
- Collapsible cat carriers
- Collapsible water and food bowls
- Sleeping bags
- Foam Mattress
- Cooler full of food for us
- Winter chains
- Road map
It was a lot. Thankfully, we’re avid travellers, and we only spent about $150 prepping to make sure we had all the supplies we needed that we didn’t already have on hand.
We bought the cat harnesses a few weeks in advance and acclimated them to the new equipment. They’re helpful on long road trips to let the cats stretch their legs outside.
But not all cats are created equal and Ernest hated his, so we decided not to keep his on. Pratchett, on the other hand, loved his, so we walked him a lot during that week.
Organizing the car for our cross country roadtrip
We also needed to create a good system to make sure everything fit into the car. A few weeks out from our trip when our house was mostly packed, I mapped the dimensions of our 2002 Honda Element (A GREAT! Road trip car if you’re into car camping) and created a pretend cargo hold in our living room to explore different configurations.
I needed to make sure that the cat’s kennel (which was actually the dog’s kennel), their litter box, the plant, our two backpacks, and a cozy corner for the dog fit well. It took awhile, but I finally found a configuration that worked well.
As you can see, it was a tight fit.
We ended up ditching the cats in the kennel idea to give everyone a bit more space. They were stressed inside it and refused to stop meowing. Instad, we let them roam around the back of the car, which isn’t the safest, but it was the quietest. Mostly, they just curled up among the blankets (and occasionally my lap) to sleep.
Be prepared for your best laid road trip with pets plans to fail.
In the spirit of preparedness, and since we moved during Christmas time, I already knew we needed to prepare for weather warnings. I created several different itineraries depending on what routes we took. Ironically, one of the storms blocked all but one exit out of California that I hadn’t accounted for – so even the best laid plans aren’t foolproof.
Thankfully, though nothing majorly bad happened on the trip. The worst thing that happened was that we lost signal on our phone and had to use an honest to Pete road map to navigate through most of Utah.
The Actual Road Trip With Pets Was A Blast
Our animals travel really well. Our cats especially given the circumstances. The only thing I didn’t account for was that our dog didn’t want to eat her dry food. We stopped at a gas station the second day and bought her some.
Not everyone is as lucky as we were to have pets who travel well. But the road trip ended up being a blast.
DAY ONE – Will we ever get on the road?
The first day threw our plans for a loop. There were some issues with our moving storage container, and we didn’t get on the road until after sundown. But sometimes the hardest part of a road trip is just starting it. And leaving in the evening was better than losing an entire day of travel, so with our bags packed and our headlights on, we left California.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t smooth sailing after that either.
We were supposed to drive down Highway 1 to say goodbye to the sea and stop in SoCal to visit my best friend. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Several key roads were closed or had closure warnings due to snow. We didn’t want to get stuck in the snow and the hours and hours of traffic also didn’t seem appealing. We headed east on Highway 80 instead.
This contingency hadn’t been accounted for in any of my alternate plans, so it put us a bit in a bind. We didn’t have a stop to set up camp for the night.
However, we’re a bit adventurous and just drove until we found a campground. It was tucked into the middle of nowhere, and I couldn’t tell you it’s name, but it was beautiful.
One thing that I didn’t anticipate in our planning, and that might have been a good idea to pack for, is that moving across the country in the middle of winter means spending the nights in sub freezing weather. Our coldest night was -2*F and our warmest was 10*F.
Our plan had been to put some of the larger items (plant / kennels / box of books) outside, but with weather that cold, and no heater, we didn’t open any of the doors.
Instead, we shoved everything we owned into the passenger seat, unrolled the foam mattress topper we brought and cuddled up into a million blankets.
I woke up with Ernest pressed to my side, and my partner woke up with Pratchett smooshed to his. Apparently, the cats had been as cold as we were.
We bought hats and gloves at the next rest stop. Best impulse purchase I’ve ever made.
DAY TWO – Mostly Driving
Nevada is not the most exciting state to drive through – no offense Nevadians. But we made the most of it.
Enter, my favorite road trip game. Try to find a local station on the radio. Mostly, we failed and could only find static. But we stumbled on the weirdest Indie Rock station EVER. It was an entire hour of the same girl singing these terrible, semi-crooner songs with a pitchy voice and then the radio DJ going into serious discussion about the depth and meaning of each one. It was like reading a teenager’s diary, and I loved it.
We also played the license plate game. However, we found it only works for some states because of the way their license plates are coded. But the gist of it is that you look at the last three digits of a license plate and count up from 000. We made it to 054 before we couldn’t play anymore because the license plates changed.
At the end of the day, we drove over the Hoover Dam. It was incredible. We didn’t stay long, and it was almost closed when we got there. But we definitely want to go back to walk through the museum and spend some more time walking it. But I’m just happy that we got to see it at all. We parked and spent the night in a random parking lot about two hours outside of the Grand Canyon.
DAY THREE – Grand Canyon
We woke up to lots and lots of snow!
Snow is my absolute favorite thing; it was such a lovely surprise. I played around a little bit with Doggo to help get her morning wiggles out. And then we drove to a local grocery for breakfast.
Food can be very expensive on road trips. But we tried to keep expenses fairly low. breakfast and lunch were spent munching on snacks and sandwiches we bought at grocery stores and gas stations along the way. Buying fruit and yogurt for breakfast is delicious and comes out to about $2 a person. And honestly, while breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s not the most exciting. It doesn’t have to ve extravagant by any means. Same with things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.We definitely ate out for dinner at some wonderful little joints.
Our dinners were more elaborate. And we ate out at some crazy little hole in the wall joints. Some were better than others. But I enjoy that part of traveling. The dinner food, if you let it, can be very adventurous.
Food devoured and the pets fed and watered, we started off. The drive from our campsite to the Grand Canyon took about an hour and a half. It was pleasant and easy. I didn’t know this, but the week between Christmas and New Years is one of the busiest times of the year for the Grand Canyon. Thankfully, we got there fairly early, and found a parking spot near the front.
After hiking around, we spent a little time in their symposium watching videos about the Grand Canyon. Those displays are always amazing, and I don’t think the park curators get enough credit for the work that goes into them. I love them so much. And highly recommend taking a few minutes on your trip to spend time learning as well as absorbing.
We had originally planned to stay the whole day and check out other parts of the park. But as crowds showed up, I decided that we should start driving. And I’m glad we did. It took us 10 minutes just to pull out of our parking spot because there were so many cars circling around trying to look for a space.
And it gave us time to stop and tour other places. We ended up making a random detour to look at dinosaur bones fossilized into the ground somewhere in Arizona. My partner is a huge nerd, and he got a kick out of the excursion.
We stopped at the last decent town before the Four Corners to bed down for the night, Kayenta, AZ. Their burger king doubles as a Navajo Code Talkers exhibit that we loved exploring.
DAY FOUR – Four Corners and Arches National Park
By this point in the trip, we settled into a morning routine. A slow wake up, finding a grocery store for breakfast and lunch, taking the dog on a walk, and starting on our way.
We made it to the Four Corners by 10. It’s not actually a national park, but owned and operated by the Navajo Indian Tribe. Thankfully, that means it’s a bit cheaper to come in. There was hardly a line, us and one other tourist family, so we took each other’s pictures and I ran around the four corners. Because, why not?
While 10a.m. is the perfect time to visit the monument because there are very few tourists at the attractions, it’s a bit too early for their famous food trucks to be open sadly. But I’ve heard their food is amazing. If you get the chance to try them, do so!
We didn’t stay super long – about thirty minutes or so – because the wind ripped through us and I thought I was going to freeze to death, even with my coat and gloves. Thankfully, the car was a lot warmer. Had we moved in the summertime, I might have been much more worried about the cats staying cool enough, but December in Arizona we didn’t have that issue. But the sun warmed the car just enough in the day time, and at night, we all huddled together and shared body heat under every blanket we owned.
After we finished mulling around the Four Corners, we started up through Utah towards the Arches National Park. And then our phone lost service.
Which brings me to a salient point about travel. Always carry a paper map as well.
We would have been out of luck if we hadn’t. But thankfully, even without the gift that is GPS, we were able to navigate (without any wrong turns miraculously enough) the three hours from The Four Corners up to The Arches National Park.
The Arches National Park will forever be one of my favorite national parks. It’s magical. And in the snow, it’s even prettier. We walked a few of the easier trails. And then drove along the inside of the park until Sunset, where we watched the sunset into one of the Arches.
If you have the chance to experience sitting on top of the roof of your car having a picnic while the sun is setting at one of the most beautiful places on earth, do it.
After the sunset, we drove along to Colorado, where we both had family.
Our last few days were centered around family. We stopped by my partner’s Uncle’s property, where we had lunch and let the dog run. And boy did she run. I laughed so hard watching her frolic around in the snow like that.
And then we went to my aunt’s house to stay the night. And it was marvelous. Sleeping in our car was fun – for a few days – but by the time we were coming back into civilization, it was good to sleep on a bed.
We even let the cats out of the car. They stayed in my aunt’s guest bedroom the duration of our time there, but they sure were happy to spread out.
The final day was a 12 hour drive from their house to my mom’s. Not very exciting. But filled with love and laughter.
Journeying like this works for us. Starting with a fast paced adventure and ending with some down time spent with family. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, though.
We love to travel. And while the cats made it interesting, and the dog could be a pain sometimes, I loved how much of the United States we saw.
We could have been better prepared. I made some pretty large planning errors. But hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.
Let me know in the comments what road trips you’ve been dreaming about!
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Moriah Chace is the founder of personal finance website Our Table For Two. She started the site as a way to explore her own journey through the student loan process and now uses the platform to educate young professionals about money management and social impact. She lives in Texas with her two cats, dog, and loving partner where they spend their days biking around town and bickering over whether or not Wirt and Greg died in Over the Garden Wall.