Road Trip Tips


I bought my car at the end of last May and I find that I don’t use it that often (one tank of gas from Labor Day to Thanksgiving), but when I do use it, it’s on long road trips (yesterday: 15 hours, thanks to the traffic trap that is Chicago). In having 15 hours to myself in the car, I’ve come up with the following tips that others may find useful in their travels.

  • Gas: Prices are going to fluctuate from exit to exit and town to town, but the biggest fluctuations will come across state borders, due to differing state gas taxes. In the midwest, Minnesota is generally the cheapest, with Ohio and Indiana being only slightly more expensive. Wisconsin and Illinois are the most expensive, especially the closer you get to Chicago. Try to avoid filling up near Chicago at all costs.
  • Food: Avoid McDonald’s. If you’re travelling across wide distances, don’t be afraid to get off the freeway and try the local favorites. (Josh will argue with me on that — it does slow down your forward momentum.) If you see a sign that says “Voted Best Pies in the Country,” pull off and you may just have a slice of the best pecan fudge pie you’ve ever had (Norske Nook in Osseo, WI). Listen to friends who have lived in the area — if someone tells you that the Courier Cafe in Urbana, IL has the best potato skins ever, he’s probably not lying and he may even be leaving out the fact that they have delicious chocolate phosphates as well. If you must go for fast food, go for the local chains. In Ohio, this means Skyline (have a three-way) and in Wisconsin and surrounding states, this means Culvers (have a butter burger and a cement shake). If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends that live along your route who might be up for making you some delicious soup.
  • Audio entertainment: Books on CD/tape are your friends. Try to find ones that are approximately the same length as your trip (or shorter), and will hold your interest. Yesterday I listened to The Stupidest Angel and it turned out to be too short. If and when that runs out, pick music that’s got a good driving beat. I love A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it’s not the best stuff for keeping me awake. And if you have a friend who likes to make mix CDs, make sure they know your travel plans.
  • Chicago: If Chicago is on your way, reroute your trip, especially if you’re going to be driving on one of the busiest driving days of the year (like the Sunday after Thanksgiving). If you can’t, because there is no bridge over Lake Michigan, re-think the road trip and fly instead. Stop-and-go traffic starting in Wisconsin is not enjoyable.

5 responses »

  1. Ah, it took us almost 4 hours to get through Chicago on Tuesday… may be important to note that if you are 5 hours away from Chicago, it is best not to leave at 12 noon…..

  2. Re: Chicago, from a Chicagoan
    I would recommend taking I80 west (when I80 and I90 split in Western Indiana) to I294 North until it intersects I90 West again in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. This should take you completely around the city, and I think its the shortest route. You definitely do NOT want to take I90/I94 through the city, especially during rush hour or on holidays. I coulda told you that, Erin!! 🙂

  3. Oh, I knew all that. I never intended to go through Chicago proper.
    I-90E (because I was going east) was stop and go traffic starting just outside of Madison, WI. I actually got off at Beloit and took Highway 51 down to I-39, got a traffic report from another native Illinoisian (Anand), and decided to take I-88 East over to 294. There was still traffic on 294, so I got out my map and explored some side streets of the western suburbs, getting back on 294 right as it merged up with I-94.

  4. As a former Champaign-Urbana resident, I can definitely vouch for the Courier Cafe. It’s pretty much one of the only things I miss about that sordid little burg. The potato skins are called “Skinny Dippers” and there’s a mexican variation called “Desert Dippers” IIRC. Also their milkshakes are to die for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s