My life is currently split between different parts of the country. I live in the south, but travel frequently to visit family and friends in the northeast. I generally fly since it’s quick and easy, but when I have the time, I do sometimes drive. Driving is actually cheaper and I’m able to bring the things I want rather than be limited to a carry-on bag and I have the freedom of having a vehicle when I arrive so there are definitely benefits to driving. The drive is generally about 16-18 hours. Most people cringe when they hear that, but I’ve been doing it my entire life since I was a child so it’s pretty normal to me. I wake up super early, drive all day, and arrive late at night. I’ve got it down to a science (and I’ve done the drive so often, I often end up revisiting the same gas stations over and over along the way which always seems crazy to me… of all the exits to get off on a highway during a 16-hour drive, I apparently pick the same ones time after time without realizing it). This most recent road trip, however, was just the worst – it was the road trip from hell.
Some backstory: a couple weeks ago I drove up north to spend some time with friends and loved ones and do some traveling. The drive up there took about 18 hours – a little longer than I’d hoped to do (my goal is generally 16 hours) but no big deal. I made it on time for what I needed to do and it was a petty enjoyable drive for the most part. Fast forward to my return trip and that’s when things turn totally south.
I woke up at 3:30am to get ready and load up my car to head home . By the time I was actually on the road it was about 4:30am. The roads were car-free for the first few hours of the early morning and it was glorious. But by around 9am, I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic that would last for EIGHTEEN MORE HOURS.
When you drive open highway across the country, you’re bound to hit traffic. It’s expected and I’m used to it. But when it ended up lasting well beyond what I expected, my road trip quickly became an agonizing quest of trying to simply get home.
My biggest pet peeve when driving? Rubbernecking. It is the worst. It causes backups for miles and is 100% avoidable. When a few cars suddenly slow down, it creates not just a domino effect, but a snowball effect, essentially slowing down cars more and more until they are stopped completely. This was pretty much my life on this fateful day. Because of the high volume of people on the road, I ended up passing by a number of fender-benders that apparently necessitated an entire interstate stop moving as people slowed down to see it. These backups were dozens of miles long. It was painstakingly slow going. And when your trip is already about 16-18 hours to begin with, any lost time really starts to add up.
After I had been on the road for TWELVE HOURS and realized I wasn’t even halfway home yet, I began to worry. I’ve gotten pretty good at calculating how long it takes me to get through each state and estimating arrival times hours and hours in advance. By my calculations, my 18-hour drive was quickly turning into a 21 hour drive. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never sat in a car (or even on an airplane for that matter) for 21 hours. Most people don’t even stay awake that long in a given day.
Why didn’t you just pull over for the evening? you may ask.
I had important obligations the following day that required me to be up and going in the morning. So stopping for the night wasn’t an option. I had to keep going and make it home in time.
To add to my stress of sitting in endless traffic for hours as I tried to traverse the interstates of the east coast, I lost additional time at a gas station for about 20 minutes after I thought I had misplaced my credit card (it fell between my seat). I lost about 20 more minutes at another gas station waiting in line for a restroom (insane!) and in line to buy water and trail mix to keep me energized. That’s almost another hour lost.
Eventually, at around 10pm (18 hours AFTER I started), traffic cleared up and it was pretty smooth sailing. I was supposed to be home by then but still had about two states and five hours to go. I forced myself to drive the final couple hours and finally made it home. I promptly fell asleep and had to wake up just two hours later for the event I had to attend. Talk about crazy.
So, here’s my road trip from hell in numbers.
Start time: 4:30am
End time: 3:00am
Total time driving: 22.5 hours
Needless to say, I never want to spend that much time driving in a car ever again. It’s one thing if you can trade off with another person, but when it’s just you, it’s terrible. Although I’ve done the drive countless times without issue, I’ve now decided to never leave myself so little room in my schedule that I can’t stop and pull over for the night. Always leave room in your schedule in case things go awry!
No matter the case, as always, I wish you happy adventures and travels!