How to Plan a Cross-Country Move: The Route

Story submitted by Kirsten

I once saw a post in a military Facebook group where a spouse asked how to go about planning a cross-country route. The snarky response she got was “ask Google.” The asker was obviously upset by this response. Friends, please be kind. If your answer is unnecessary, please don’t say it. 

I knew what she meant. “Where do I get started?” or perhaps “Is there an app for that?

She removed her post before I got around to answering her. I always regretted not reaching out immediately. Sadly, no there isn’t an app to easily plan out a cross-country move, maybe someday. As for “Where do I get started?” Hopefully I can help with that.

How many people dream of traveling cross-country but never do? Being a submarine spouse means that we are sometimes forced into having an adventure. It can be a stressful, overwhelming task, but you have the opportunity for a wonderful memory.

If you’re preparing for your first cross-country move, you likely have a lot of questions: Where you are leaving from? Where are you going? What would you like to see along the way? How many hours are you comfortable traveling in a day? Are you bringing pets? What time of year is it?

Where are you leaving from and where are you going?

Plug in your starting destination and your ending destination into your map website of choice. I opt for Google Maps. Think about if you will actually be starting your journey from home. Do you need to make some last minute goodbyes? This can change your starting point by several hours. When making our cross-country trip from Groton to Bangor last year, I chose to say goodbye to my brother on Cape Cod. It changed the distance of our trip and actually affected my route for the first day.

Plug in your ending destination. This gives you a baseline of travel. This is an important number to keep in mind when you’re planning what you would like to see along your journey. Also, once you have an ending destination make a reservation at a hotel at that destination. It will probably be a military affiliated hotel. Learn from my mistake! Several boats were ported in Bangor the day we arrived. Not only could we not get into the Navy Lodge, we couldn’t get into any lodge, hotel, motel or otherwise. Do yourself a favor and make the reservation. 

What would you like to see along the way? 

This is where your base line comes in handy. How many hours are you willing to deviate from your baseline? If you’re going from Groton to Bangor and you would like to see the Grand Canyon you’re adding 14 hours to your trip. If that works for you great! If not you should probably pick a different place to visit. Make sure you plan ahead with accommodations, rest stops and other necessities.

Newborn baby bison in Yellowstone National Park

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How many hours a day are you comfortable traveling?

Sometimes this question is better phrased: how long until the Navy needs you at your new destination? But hopefully you have some time to make your trip enjoyable. You can now start to break up your route into manageable days. 

My max total driving time was eight hours, but I much preferred between six and seven hours. This gave me enough time to travel a good distance and venture out at our destination to see some sights. Our major stops from Groton (or really Cape Cod) to Bangor included Niagara Falls, Chicago, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone. It was only in Yellowstone we stayed an extra night to sight see. Once I had a good sense how far away each place was from the next, I could decide where I needed to make extra stops to spend the night. I ended up needing a stop between Niagara and Chicago, Chicago and Mount Rushmore, and then between Yellowstone and Bangor for me to be comfortable. 

Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota

This is where your route planning can get tedious. Look for towns shown on Google Maps. In general you can find at least a small hotel to stop at. Add the town to your route. Check the distance. If it doesn’t look good try a new town then recheck the distance. Fiddle until you get something you feel comfortable with. Sometimes you can find fun gems planning this way. Between Chicago and Mount Rushmore we stopped at a little town called Blue Earth, Minnesota. There we found a giant statue of the Jolly Green Giant and did a treasure hunt for little Jolly Green Giants. We learned that this was the place where the east and west halves of 1-90 met in 1978.

Are you bringing pets? 

We learned (fortunately not the hard way) that a pet-friendly hotel does not mean pet-friendly. It means dog-friendly. Dogs-of-a-certain-size-friendly. Less friendly and more tolerant. Be very careful and check that the hotel you intend to stay at will accept your cat, bird, fish or tarantula. Bringing pets will limit your selection of hotels and increase costs but with a little planning is not difficult to deal with. Another fantastic option are AirBnb rentals.. These can provide more options if you need to bring a cat or a large dog. 

What time of year will you be traveling?

The time of year will affect the route you can take. Travelling through Montana and northern states in the winter will make travel more difficult. For example, drivers are required to carry tire chains in their vehicles while driving through the Snoqualmie Pass on I90 November 1st through March 31st. You can find more information about that specific law here. Even traveling in late April we traveled through a snowstorm in South Dakota. Had our trip been any earlier in the year we would have chosen a more southern route. 

A sudden snow storm in South Dakota, end of April

Many national parks in the Midwest and the Northeast have closed routes during the winter. Google Maps will not allow you to plot a route on those roads while the roads are closed. Refer to national park websites for the most up to date information.

Our trip across the country proved to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. Some of the days felt long but we found something interesting to do either during the day or at the end to make for some wonderful memories. Are you looking forward to a trip soon?

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