Planning a road trip (move) from St Petersburg, FL to Portland, OR

Marti and I have been wanting to move to Portland for many years now and in the recent past, all of the stars aligned and we’ll be picking up and leaving FL early next year. I’ll be moving our belongings and vehicles across the country, so with many months to plan, I want to make sure that if I’m going to travel 3,500 miles, I’m going to make it the most enjoyable and beautiful road trip that I possibly can.

It has been our dream to move to Portland, OR for many years now. We’ve been waiting for the right time when my company was able to accommodate me in our Portland office so that I could stay with my company (whom I enjoy working for) and so that I would have a job waiting for me at the other end.

Sadly in my case, my company isn’t going to pay for the move because it is my preference to move there: they’re not requesting that I move for work reasons, so the financial burden is on me which I understand and accept. It’s just the price that we have to pay to realise our dream of moving out west.

So with that in mind, I now find myself in a position of trying to figure out how to achieve this. It’s quite a logistical operation, especially when you have a wife, two children and four cats.

Moving cross-country with pets

First of all, we thought about how we’d get the cats out there. Marti was understandably apprehensive of (read “prohibiting”) the cats to go on the plane. There are numerous stories about how it can be dangerous for them, most notably when they’re in the hold. So initially, we thought that I’d take them with me in the car or truck. However, the more we thought about it, the more we realised that this would be really stressful for them.

Between being cooped up in carriers for 8-10 hours per day for a week, needing to find specialist accommodation that would accept pets, dealing with litter boxes and not being able to stop anywhere because we can’t leave the cats in the car/truck while we eat/explore, we decided that them travelling by road was not an option.

We looked into specialist air transportation for pets, which essentially involves chartering a private plane to accommodate your pets. The cost is exorbitant (think $10,000+). That was the end of that.

So, we looked a little more closely at them flying with us. You can take pets onto airplanes (in the cabin as opposed to the hold, which is notably more dangerous). They allow up to four pets in the cabin on most flights. A little caveat is that you can only have one pet per passenger because the pet needs to be under the seat in front of you and of course there’s an extra fee, but that’s to be expected. To us, this meant paying for another three bodies to fly with Marti just to get the pets across the country. It has the added benefit of having extra hands at the other hand to help prepare our new house and paint, but it’s an expensive component of our move (~$400 per person for a round-trip flight and $150 per pet for the flight, so an additional $1800).

It’ll be a stressful flight for them, especially since there are no direct flights, but it’s the lesser of four or five evils.

Getting the kids there

We have two young children and leaving them behind is generally frowned upon. For reasons similar to the pets, taking them on the road was not an option. However, Marti can get a lot more done at the other end without having to babysit. Being that we have the fortune of Marti’s mom living nearby, our plan is to leave the kids with her for a few days and then she can follow behind Marti a couple of days later with the kids. It will help everything go as smoothly as possible, but that’s another round trip flight to pay for (~$400).

The road trip

Now on to the fun bit. Growing up in the UK, I never had to drive far, so the concept of a road trip is a bit foreign to me. The only thing that came close to spending more than about 3 hours in the car was when my friends and I took a trip down to central France after we finished college when we were 18. That amounted to about 10-12 hours of driving, so while it had an element of long driving, there were no overnight stays and we didn’t do any sightseeing either.

Initial planning for this trip showed that, assuming 8 hours of driving a day (which is plenty for someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy driving, especially Interstate driving), the trip would take about 6 days. That’s far more than I have ever even come close to doing.

With the prospect of spending a week in a truck driving across the country, I sought to make sure that I saw a lot of the country while I was doing it, especially since I haven’t seen much of the country at all, but particularly the western half of the country.

Road trip planning tools

I found an excellent website which is fantastic for planning road trips. If you ever find yourself needing to plan a long trip, look no further than Furkot.

It has literally everything you need. Just a few things that you can do:

  • Indicate how long you want to be on the road each day.
  • Specify what kind of accommodation you’re willing to stay in and where on the scale of low price to high quality you want to be.
  • Mark places that you want to visit and how long for. For example, tell Furkot that you want to spend 2 hours in BFE to visit your long-lost uncle but do an overnight stay in Chicago so that you can see a bit more of the city. You can put in all the places that you’re interested in and then see how adding them or skipping them modifies your route and the length of your trip.
  • Get seasonal guidance. For example, many roads in the more mountainous areas of the country close for several months in winter, which may greatly alter your route: Furkot does this for you.
  • Let Furkot help you get gas or find EV charging stations.
  • Find places to eat along the way, depending on what you’re in the mood for (sit-down dinner, fast food, snacks).
  • Tell Furkot your driving style so that it can best estimate how long it might take you to get from A to B.
  • Save your plan offline on your smartphone for when you’re out of cell phone service (very possible if you’re crossing the country).
  • Share and export your trip in myriad ways.

Another tool I’m using is Google Sheets, to create an estimate of my cost.

The cost

I’ve started drafting up some rough costs of what I think it will cost to complete the move. As it stands, it comes to about $8,000.

During the planning process, I’ve looked at how others have made their cross-country moves and learned some things which will help to make the trip easier and cheaper:

  • Avoid U-Haul: being the market leader, their prices are, at least in my case, as much as 100% more than others. I’ve been leaning towards using Penske.
  • PODS, van lines and moving companies are worth a look, depending on your budget and needs. They weren’t for me, not least because unless you’re behind the wheel, you can’t guarantee when your belongings will arrive. With some of these providers, it might take a week or two while they fill up all the space in their truck to make it profitable for them to get on the road.
  • A AAA membership will cost you ~$50 but can save you a ton on a trip like this. For instance, you get a 12% discount with Penske: when you’re spending $2,000, the membership instantly pays for itself.
  • Food and lodging can quickly add up. Make a decision early on to be frugal. Take cash if need be and alot yourself a daily budget so that you don’t go over.

I’ll be curious to see how my estimate and the actual costs compare. More on that after the move.

Which route to take

The midwestern route

When I first punched in my starting point and ending point, the route that Furkot churned out was the shortest route, which involves going up I-75 through Florida and Georgia, through Tennessee and Kentucky to St. Louis via I-24, I-57 and I-64, heading west to Kansas City on I-70, continuing west to Salt Lake City through Nebraska and Wyoming via I-29 and I-80 before getting on I-84 to go northwest through Utah and Idaho to head towards Portland from eastern Oregon.

shortest-route

At 3,100 miles, it’s definitely the shortest way to get there. However, while there are some interesting places along the way, like the mountains in Tennessee and the beauty of Wyoming and Utah, none of which I’ve seen before, the idea of trucking through the midwest via Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho doesn’t exactly scream excitement to me.

I’ve spoken with a couple of people since planning this trip out who have said that there are some nice things to see along the way and I don’t doubt that: there’ll be some beautiful places and interesting things to see no matter which way you go, but the important thing is to take the route that is most appealing. The bulk of this route does not interest me.

Furthermore, while it will be March and the worst of winter should have passed, this more northerly route could pose some issues with bad weather.

So, I set about thinking about the places that I’ve always wanted to see or that I’ve been curious about. I also did some Google searches for “most beautiful cross-country drives“, “most beautiful places in US” and “best road trips across america” to get some ideas of what other people have done and what they liked.

Having always been intrigued and desirous of the southwest, those images jumped out at me during my initial research. I decided that I definitely wanted to see the bold, sharp and craggy landscape of the southwestern United States.

The southern route

As I looked around the southwest to see where I might want to visit, I had always thought that Arizona and New Mexico had the landscape that I was dying to see. The landscape I’m talking about is the red, yellow, orange and green banded layers of rock jutting out of the landscape.

While there’s definitely some of that in AZ and NM, I soon learned that UT actually has a good deal more of this, particularly in their national parks like Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park. When I saw pictures of these places, I instantly knew that I wanted to see them.

I also decided that I probably would never make a special trip to see the Grand Canyon, but if I happened to be driving past it, I’d be foolish to skip past it, so I added that to the list. Las Vegas also falls into that category: I have no particular desire to go to Vegas, but if I’m driving past the door, I should stop in and say hi, so that I can at least say that I’ve seen it.

When I started putting in these waypoints, Furkot recalculated my route. The route now generally went up I-75, then west along I-10 through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, continuing west along I-20 through Louisiana and Texas to Dallas, before jogging north to I-40 for the drive through New Mexico and Arizona, then north along some back roads to go north through Nevada before taking I-80, US-95, US-20 and US-26 the rest of the way north through Oregon to Portland.

road-trip-fl-to-or

While there are some mountainous stretches on the western part of the journey, in general – with the route being more southerly – it should be less prone to any weather-related issues.

As I browsed the route, I saw that it went fairly close to New Orleans, which I’ve always fancied visiting. I love how vibrant and eclectic the city is, so I’ve always wanted to see it for myself. Furthermore, the city is well known for its incredible cuisine, something which I won’t be able to indulge in as much as I’d like since I’m vegan, but something that I’d like to partake in nonetheless.

I’ve seen all there is to see along the west coast of Florida, so I’ll be getting out of Florida as quickly as possible. Not much on the Gulf Coast until New Orleans interests me either. That continues to be the story through Texas as well. The only place in Texas that vaguely interests me is Austin, which I’ve already seen. Western Texas in particular is just flat desert from what I’ve heard, so I’ll be blowing through there.

In short, my strategy is to get to AZ, NM and UT as quickly as possible so that I can proceed at a more leisurely pace and enjoy the panoramas of the southwest. Even after Vegas as I head north through NV and OR, it’s going to be an incredibly beautiful drive.

Input and suggestions

I’m currently at a very high level of planning. I’ve decided on:

  • the general route I want to take,
  • the places that I want to get through as quickly as possible,
  • the general areas that I want to see more of.

Other than that though, it’s a fairly blank canvas.

Currently on my list of places to see and roads to drive are:

This is all based on rudimentary knowledge and scanning people’s suggestions online though. I’m very keen to hear people’s own opinions of where they’d drive and what they’d see if they were to make this drive. Please comment below and tell me where you’ve been or where you’ve always wanted to go, from big picture ideas of national parks and cities, to intricate details of specific restaurants or quirky places that you know about.

A partner for the ride

The route, as it stands, is about 4,000 miles long. Driving for about 8 hours a day, it will take 6-8 days. I’m not particularly fond of driving as I’ve already mentioned, so I’m asking friends and family if they’d be interested in joining me for the ride.

Since we need to move two vehicles across the country, one will be towed on the truck but I need the other one driven. So, I’m looking for someone who is willing to drive my car for 8 hours a day and who is interested in seeing some of these sights with me (of course, if you really want to see something else when we stop for the day, we can always go our separate ways in the evenings).

I’ll be paying for all of the gas and our lodging: you’d just be responsible for your food, flight home and spending money. If it sounds like something you’re interested in, let me know.

It’s going to be quite an adventure. I must admit that all this planning is kind of fun: I love to plan and I’m excited about the places that I’ll get to visit. However, I’m sure things are going to get more tense as we get closer to moving day with just how much there is to do. Any advice, suggestions and offers of help (however large or small) are greatly appreciated.

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Author: Dave

Dave is many things. Most importantly, he’s a husband and a father to Ellie and Jack. Almost as important, he’s British (though he lives in Florida). Following on from there, he’s a WordPress developer and civil engineer, has an unhealthy love of hummus, is vegan, likes cider, wants to travel to Iceland and Japan, loves solving puzzles and is a realist.

2 thoughts on “Planning a road trip (move) from St Petersburg, FL to Portland, OR”

  1. Hi Dave! I’ve done a few 3,200 mile drives, although not this particular one. (FL to AZ and back, AZ to MD and back, FL to PA to IL to FL…) anyway, I mostly chimed in to say absolutely see the Grand Canyon. Other notes: the drive through Texas will very nearly rob you of your sanity. It seemingly never ends. Mentally prepare for this; I am not even kidding. The silver lining is that it makes New Mexico seems tiny. Do not stop for a night anywhere in New Mexico, if you can avoid it. Missouri has some of the worst roads I’ve ever driven, although the scenery compensates for a lot. Congrats on the realization of this dream and safe, memorable travels!

    1. Thanks for your input Brianna. Yeah, I’ve heard about the Texas drive: I can’t imagine the boredom of driving hundreds of miles with no changes in scenery or even direction. I’ll need to come up with some creative ways to keep me entertained for that portion of the drive. What’s your reasoning behind “don’t stop in NM for the night”?

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