We took our van on a cross-country trip across America. Since we have lived on the West Coast our entire lives and visited beaches, Malibu, Huntington, and Newport, we wanted to head to the East Coast and dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean as well. and so our goal was to travel across America in our Ford Transit van conversion.
Our secondary goal was to visit several friends and family along the way and make our way over to Willington, North Carolina, and then onto Virginia Beach. It is at this beach we actually put our feet into the water but we wanted to travel along Interstate I-40. You see, where we live here in Southern California, there is a sign in Barstow where the I-40 starts and it states that Willington, NC is 2554 miles away. So off we go..
Five things we learned along the way that we want to share with you.
The trip by far exceeded our expectations. We had a wonderful time. We had very few issues with the van itself, but they were small and having built the van from scratch I knew how to fix them. But there were five things we learned along the way that we want to share with you. The first lesson we learned was about time! We’re not sure how time works while you’re traveling. You can say that you’re going to be in a place at a certain time but there are so many variables: weather, routes, meals, and attractions.
We ran into a lot of rain and we will explain the other further in the article. But let’s say you want to do some sightseeing. You may want to stop and have lunch or dinner. What we learned about traveling is really that you have to give yourself the day if you want to travel 400 miles or more.
Now, depending on what you are driving, this distance could be more but so whatever that mileage looks like is up to you, and how many hours you want to spend in the vehicle? But honestly, you’ve got to plan the day for traveling. It allows you just to have a little bit more time to stop and smell the roses and look around; many times we would just stop and hike a waterfall in Colorado or visit a trinket shop like Ozarkland. This was one of our favorites to go through and we liked the nuts that they have for sale there. Leave them on the dash to keep them warm! So time was the first thing we learned. You can’t say, hey, this is only going to be a four-hour trip; it could actually run you six or more hours.
The second lesson we learned was to make sure you have toll roads turned on with Google Maps. Here in Southern California, we have toll roads that are just an extra lane. Maybe they will save you some time because there might be fewer cars in these lanes, but we’re already paying an extreme price for gas, so why pay extra on that? So, we have our toll roads turned off while we travel here in Southern California. Well, guess what! They were turned off while we were trying to cross America, meaning we took many, many side roads. Was this a bad thing? I don’t know. We saw some beautiful Amish country. We saw a lot more of the backcountry of Arkansas that was just beautiful while traveling into Branson Missouri. We really thought there would be highways that would take us to these places and instead, we were on mostly two-lane roads with no traffic, nobody on them, and the speed limit was 55. Honestly, we were able to do 55 and just roll right on through. Would it have been faster on the highway? Possibly. You may be able to travel at higher speeds, but with these van conversions, it’s kind of nice to stay at a steady speed and we found we got much better gas mileage. We got to see a lot more of America traveling along these side roads and staying off the highway, so pros and cons again, took a lot longer, but we saw a lot more. So, if you want to, use the toll road and this becomes a must once you travel up into Pittsburgh and Ohio. Everything is a toll road while traveling across those northern states into Illinois, you need to have a pass and we will put a link here so that you can see where to get that pass. So next year we will have the pass as we’re heading up to Michigan. We want to have the ability to just jump on and off the turnpikes.
The third lesson, I sort of mentioned this one earlier, but the third thing that we learned about traveling was to watch the weather. We use several different weather apps to watch our travel weather. As we were moving across America we were trailing Hurricane Irma, which was a large storm that caused some damage, and had some spin-off tornadoes; one tornado hit a Campground in Georgia, totaling a few trailers. The last thing you want to do is be too close to a large storm. So we actually had to spend an extra day which was actually a blessing as we spent some time with our friends in Athens, Georgia. By the time we made it to North Carolina and then back up into Virginia Beach, the storm had moved away and we had just beautiful weather. Once a hurricane left the humidity was gone, and it was just a really good time there.
But you have to watch the weather. We used Google weather but also an app called Weather & Radar. This was helpful as it shows the direction of the wind and guest speeds. Having a tall van, high winds can make travel quite unpleasant. While we did not have any warnings on our trip we did hear from the locals that if there is a storm your phone will notify you of the direction, county, and roads in order to stay away from that area. We did have one night outside of Pittsburg where we were in the van and we heard the sirens going off and expecting the sirens to be a tornado (it kept us up most of the night) only to find out the next morning that the siren was for lightning.
The fourth lesson we learned was gas prices. As we moved across America, we noticed that gas prices in most cases actually went down the further East we traveled. But the shock was that we were getting better gas mileage. Once we crossed over the Mississippi, we traveled quite a bit in Tennessee, Missouri, and that direction. And we were getting two to three miles to the gallon better gas mileage there than we do here in California. Now the argument is, is that California has a lot of regulations and a lot of detergents and a lot of stuff in their gas. There also is no point A to point B without some pass to cross in Southern California.
This trip was before the big gas Hike in 2022. But again, we were paying a dollar less and getting up to three miles more to the gallon. So as we moved across, we really enjoyed that. And it’s something to kind of take in, if you think gas prices are too high for your trip. You may be able to offset that a little as you leave California and the prices go down.
The final lesson we learned about crossing America was making sure you check in with your old friends. This trip for us was a friends and family tour.
We caught up with friends we hadn’t seen in 20 years in Branson Missouri, and met up with a friend in North Carolina that I hadn’t seen in probably 40 years. We hung out with family in Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia, and Colorado. We also stayed a few days with friends in Indiana where we are now looking to buy a small home on a lake.
Sometimes as people move away whether, for business, family, or career, it’s good to be able to connect with them and let them know that they still matter, they still are in your life, and that you think about them. Once we called these people, not a single one turned us down.
They all welcomed us with wonderful meals. Our goal was to actually meet up with them and take them to dinner but most of them wanted to cook us a meal which they did a fabulous job. We had some amazing food on this trip and we could talk about just how wonderful the food was traveling across America.
But make sure that while you’re traveling, check in on old friends and make sure you hit all the family. I know sometimes family can be tough but you know it could be just an hour drive out of your way and you get to see them or you know you can actually make a whole trip.
We actually went a few hours out of our way to see our niece and her kids down in the south of Georgia, but this stop ended up being a blessing. That’s what held us back from getting into that hurricane and then the tornadoes. Now, they moved on to Alaska which is going to be another trip of ours someday, but we were able to see them before they left which was so very cool. With all of this in mind, something I really encourage travelers to do is make sure that they check-in and meet up with friends and family.
Well, we hope to see you on the road someday. We attend a few Van Expos each year so keep an eye out for Van Haulen and we would love to hear your travel stories.