Heading West Across America — By Car

Once again, I had stunned fellow frequent fliers and FlyerTalk members — many of whom already thought I was quirky as they were perplexed and felt compelled to ask quizzically: “Wait a minute…you mean you drove from Atlanta to Las Vegas?!?”

Heading West Across America — By Car

For a number of reasons, I decided to drive to Las Vegas to attend a meeting instead of fly as a passenger aboard an airplane — one of those reasons being that I was fed up with finding not-so-low airfares which turned out to be Basic Economy fares; or finding low airfares which with ancillary fees became not so much of a bargain after all.

Being based in Atlanta, I could have taken advantage of an $81.00 airfare offered by Spirit Airlines round trip — if I wanted to stay in Las Vegas for a week and carry only a small personal item with me so that I do not have to pay any extra.

I then thought of the lines; the airport security checkpoints; the delays and other potential pitfalls which might have awaited me — not to mention that although there are still some airlines I prefer more than others with which to travel, I am no longer fiercely loyal to a specific frequent flier loyalty program an airline.

Figuring that I could stop along the way for both business and leisure reasons, I decided to embark on the first major road trip in the United States which I have taken in years. I will never forget driving from the Seattle area to San Antonio by driving along the entire west coast of the United States — including Vancouver and Tijuana — before heading east. That was two weeks which I truly enjoyed.

I originally meant to take two weeks this time around as well; but other plans came up which shortened my trip by a day or two at both the beginning and end of the trip. Still, I rented a car for two weeks for $309.00 total — not bad at all — and ventured west.

Articles which include details of this trip will be written — likely not in order — but as I drove, I realized how much I missed being on the open road. Thankfully, places still exist where you can safely pass a slower car on a two-lane road; where highways wrapped along rolling hills like ribbons only to disappear towards the horizon of the vast expanse of land; where children attend school in small rural towns and play with their friends in playgrounds; where dozens of miles separate one town from another; where people will still hold a door open for you while smiling and wishing you a good day.

Summary

I had forgotten how driving alone on major road trips cleared my mind. “Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels”, Jackson Browne bellows out in Running On Empty from the 1977 album of the same name, which is one of my favorite songs of all time and is the quintessential highway song, in my opinion. That is one of 529 songs I have on an older .mp3 player which is otherwise considered obsolete.

Most refreshingly of all, only some elements of the trip were planned. I had to be in Las Vegas on one certain day; and Colorado Springs on another certain day. Some hotel properties were booked in advance; others were booked at the last minute if I decided to take a different route. If something caught my eye, I simply decided to stop. I was able to visit places and do things I had not yet done up until that point. This type of spontaneity is virtually impossible to experience with air travel — not to mention how much we miss when we are 35,000 feet above the ground hurtling through the sky at 500 miles per hour.

While nothing that I did on the road trip was anything I would consider incredibly extraordinary, I was still fascinating by the most mundane of things — I drove on plenty of back roads as well as Interstate highways — and I did throw in a few quirks into the trip as well…

Moulton, Iowa is one of the places through which I drove. Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “Heading West Across America — By Car”

  1. EJ says:

    Brian, why are you so against paying some ancillary fees such as buying up from basic economy (assuming it’s not a ridiculous premium)? I know that the idea of them isn’t pleasant, but there are times where I just tell myself “well that’s just the way it is” and move on. I know in this case you listed some personal reasons for wanting to drive, but I cannot imagine that most people would consider that a reasonable alternative to flying when traveling such a long distance.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am not sure I would consider myself so against paying ancillary fees, EJ.

      Please allow me to give a fictitious example of the issue I have with those fees:

      Let us say that an airline charged $500.00 for a flight in the past — including baggage, meals and other items.

      Now those items are unbundled — sold as giving choice to the consumer and not paying for what he or she will not use. The flight should then therefore be $400.00. Pay $25.00 for a meal. Pay $35.00 for extra baggage. That makes sense to me.

      In the case of Atlanta to Las Vegas when I was looking, Basic Economy fares were more expensive than regular airfares used to be — but because there are so many variables which determine airfare pricing, comparisons of airfares and fees are nearly impossible.

      I also do not like when customers are charged for something which is almost impossible to not pay — like a bag on a long trip on some ultra-low-cost carriers. While I am sure there are a few people who can travel across the ocean with only a personal sized bag, advertising low airfares is misleading if some of what has been unbundled is almost impossible to circumvent.

      1. Matthew says:

        I don’t blame you for taking the road trip, especially since you had to head to Colorado Springs where airfare is higher.

        But surely we’ve never seen airfare as low as the $81 r/t you quoted for Atlanta to Las Vegas (at least in 2017 dollars). That’s a steal and paying the extra $120 for r/t for a carry-on bag and drink is annoying, but still…$200 r/t. How much was gas?

        Road trips are amazing and I’m sure you had a great time. I look forward to reading about it. But it wasn’t really because the Las Vegas airfare, was it? It was because you also had to go to COS and because road trips are just fun…

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          Funny you should say that, Matthew, as that example was part of the germination of the idea of a road trip.

          Remember that I said that the $81.00 round trip airfare would have meant me staying in Las Vegas for almost a week; and hotels can be rather expensive there — especially for the weekend when I was there, as a lot of hotels were sold out. I then thought to myself that I could travel outside of Las Vegas during the week and that I could probably stay in hotels for significantly less money per night — but then I would have to rent a car.

          My brain started working on its own — dangerous, I know — and before I knew it, the road trip was born.

          Gasoline is between $20.00 and $25.00 per fill up every 350 to 400 miles. I have been using GasBuddy, which has saved me a lot of money while helping me plan my fuel station stops.

          Visiting Colorado Springs was my idea because I could not be there due to the conflict in Las Vegas; and I wanted to see the current version of the House of Miles before it was either sold or leased. The team there was gracious enough to accommodate me despite being busy planning that mini-BAcon.

          Best of all, I have a lot of stories about which to write — along with photographs, of course — but they will likely be more personal to me and perhaps silly to others. For example, Utah was the only state in the United States in which I had not yet driven a vehicle — until this trip.

          You are correct about the airfare to Colorado Springs being more expensive. Denver is a good alternative at a lower cost — but then, the rental car or some other mode of transportation comes into play there.

          Otherwise, you can bet on the last paragraph of your comment being exactly how I feel…

  2. Scott says:

    I would like to hear more about this road trip. I love road trips – wish I had time take more.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I have learned from this road trip that you have to somehow take the time, Scott — and because practically everyone is connected virtually just about everywhere we go, it is more possible than ever to do so.

      I hope that you get to do one soon…

  3. Ralf Krippner says:

    Brian, very refreshing story – definitely like to read more. And wish you a safe trip home! I hope I’ll find the time to do some long roadtrip too again in the future. Fond memories of a highway 101 trip from BC to SFO for 10 days including olympic NP and the oregon coast… Hope you’ve got your AAA card with you (and don’t need it – and don’t you go running on empty…)

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You were sorely missed in Las Vegas, Ralf Krippner — especially by me. I am so glad to hear from you.

      Ah, the Oregon coast…I drove down Highway 101 and then California Highway 1 during the trip years ago which I mentioned in the article. I stopped off at a little seaside motel on the coast in Florence in Oregon. The woman at the front desk — I believe that she was the owner of the place as well — was surprised and delighted that I originated from New York. I will never forget that small memory — nor those huge rocks out in the Pacific Ocean which were a part of the incredible view driving down that coast.

      Here is a little trivia just for you: did you know that Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg in Germany?

  4. Ric Garrido says:

    Seeing America is a lot more personal with wheels on the ground you can stop at anytime to walk around and absorb the beauty of each local place and meet people.

    I love a road trip. 2017 is the first year in years I have not driven interstate in the USA, while staying off interstate highways wherever feasible.

    Might be time for me to search for drive-to-Arizona special car rental rates for some time alone on the road – just me and music. Road trips across America are great when you have time.

    I am in Colorado Springs flying back to California today. Randy Petersen asked me why I did not drive?
    $96 on Frontier and I only packed a free carry on backpack for under the seat travel. Good thing it is 30 degrees here today. I can wear that extra t-shirt from Mini-Bacon. No space in my bag for more stuff to take home.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You might want to blame me as the possible reason why Randy Petersen asked you why you did not drive, Ric Garrido, as he seemed fascinated by the road trip I had taken.

      “Seeing America is a lot more personal with wheels on the ground you can stop at anytime to walk around and absorb the beauty of each local place and meet people.” Amen. I could not have said it myself.

      As for not driving interstate in the United States in 2017 — well, you are just going to have to make that up by doubling down on road trips in a future year…

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