Cross-Country Vacation Part 1

Last month, Kyle and I moved from Durham, NC to Seattle, WA. We shipped all our stuff using a pod, and we moved ourselves and our car via a cross-country trip. I already shared with you the total cost of our trip, both the move and vacation portions, but this post with give you the breakdown of what we did each day, complete with cost and pictures. 🙂


Something important to note is that we barely did any planning for this trip before we left. We were so focused on preparing for the move that we had no time or energy preparing for the vacation. This lack of planning had three results:


1) We were a bit stressed out during the trip. We basically booked our lodging for each night the morning of. Starting when in South Dakota, we also had only roaming cell service (no data). It worked out okay but we definitely would have preferred to be able to look up lodging and restaurants and such from the road or done the planning in advance.


2) We were able to play things by ear and changed our loose plans from before the trip on the fly based on changes in weather and friends we were able to see.


3) This trip was definitely not the frugal triumph that our road trip to Chicago was. We spent quite freely, for us, as this was basically our only vacation in the last couple years aside from visiting family.


Our general plan for this vacation was to alternate long days of driving with days of activities and to take about 1.5 weeks to cross the country.


July 15, 2015


Our first day was a long driving day. We drove from Durham, NC to southern IN, where some members of my extended family live. The noteworthy thing about this day was that it was my one success in working from the road (two calls with potential clients, sending lots of emails). We also found out that Kyle is way better at taking photos of “Welcome to _____” state signs.


Indiana welcome sign

one of Kyle’s sign pictures



We stopped for lunch at Hardees/Carl’s Jr. We made it to our destination in time for a late dinner and a lovely evening with my family.



lunch at Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr.



Gas: $55.70

Tolls: $6

Food: $14.07

Lodging: none

Driving time: 8.5 hours


July 16, 2015


We spent the morning and early afternoon hanging out with my family. I’m so glad we had time with them, as I haven’t seen them in over a decade.



beautiful garden at my family’s house



Kyle’s phone stopped charging on July 14, so we swung through the Apple store in Louisville to see if we could get it looked at (we couldn’t). Then, we realized that if we were running errands, we might as well get our hair cut, which we had intended to do before we left Durham.



fresh haircuts



We had originally planned to spend Friday at Cedar Point, but because of predicted thunderstorms, we rerouted to Six Flags in Gurnee, IL, buying our tickets from the road. We stopped for a great dinner in Crown Point, IN before checking into our hotel across the street from Six Flags.



about to enjoy a Fat Burrito



Gas: $25.78

Tolls: $6.40

Food: $23

Lodging: $115.85

Driving time: 5.5 hours


July 17, 2015


We spent the day at Six Flags! We haven’t been to an amusement park since college. We went all out with this park visit. Not only did we pay for admission but we also bought fast passes for the day, which allowed us to skip lines and ride most of the thrill rides twice in a row. We spent $103.73 on admission, $220 on the fast pass upgrade, and $1 on an arcade game.



extravagant fast passes!



Kyle and I like roller coasters, but the fast passes ended up being over the top. First, we probably wouldn’t have waited in worst-case-scenario lines that day because the park didn’t seem very full (Friday, thunderstorms). Second, we are not 21 any longer. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs with respect to our roller-coastering capacity. We had a great day, but yeah, we probably overbought here (not that we could have known in advance).



hot and sweaty, waiting in line for a coaster



Our meals for the day were the complementary hotel breakfast, hot dogs when we took a rain break from the park, and Chicago-style pizza at the end of the day.


Gas: none

Tolls: none

Food: $31.73

Lodging: $115.85

Driving time: none


July 18, 2015


This was a mostly activity but a little driving day. After eating breakfast at our hotel in Gurnee, IL, we drove to Port Washington, WI, where we went to an outdoor fish fry. It was basically a festival at a park on Lake Michigan. We wandered around, listened to music, admired the lake, checked out classic cars, and ate fried fish and roasted cashews. (This was a last-minute decision, and another positive result of flying by the seat of our pants.)



beautiful Lake Michigan



After rain moved in to Port Washington, we drove to Madison, WI. We met some friends for dinner and then walked down State Street with them. We then met another friend on the Terrace to hang out and eat ice cream. (Hanging out on the Terrace was one of our favorite parts of our last trip to Madison, so we were eager to return.) It was wonderful for us to spend a few hours with these friends on the trip. The friends we had dinner with hosted us in their home for the night.



on the University of Wisconsin Terrace



Gas: $22.60

Tolls: $2.80

Food: $16.10

Lodging: none

Driving time: 3 hours


July 19, 2015


This was one of our terribly long driving days. We started in Madison, WI and drove clear across Minnesota and most of the way across South Dakota, stopping near Badlands National Park. The most surreal part of the whole trip for me was waking up just after Kyle entered Badlands National Park (our motel was in the Interior) and my brain could not process what I was seeing. The landscape is just that weird, especially after watching lightening storms move across the sky all evening.


SD sunset

South Dakota sunset



We shared an awesome brunch with our hosts before we left Madison. We then stopped at another Apple store and failed to have Kyle’s phone looked at. We finally bought a few groceries and toiletries in the morning and started making sandwiches and packing snacks for our hikes in the second half of the trip. Kyle bought an Icee at a gas station and we stopped for dinner at a BBQ place.


Gas: $77.25

Tolls: none

Food: $60.06

Lodging: $95.05

Driving time: 10 hours


July 20, 2015


Our schedule was to spend most of the day in Badlands National Park and then visit Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. We ended up spending so much time at the first two that we skipped Crazy Horse and still didn’t get to our lodging until 11:00 PM.


We did a few small hikes in the Badlands and also the scenic drive. The landscape there is very unusual and interesting, and it was a beautiful day to hike. The longer hike we did while in the Badlands was my favorite of the trip. Admission to the park was $15.


badlands hike

at the end of a hike in the Badlands



We got to Mount Rushmore near sunset, which probably isn’t the ideal time but worked out fine. We admired the monument from the terrace, spent a bit of time in the museum, did a small hike closer to the monument, and enjoyed some ice cream made from a recipe written by Thomas Jefferson. Going into this, I thought we would just kind of look at the mountain for a few minutes and be done with it, but I was surprised that I found learning about the creation of the monument to be totally fascinating, both the choice of the people for it and the planning and creation of it. I walked away feeling very patriotic! Parking at the monument was $11.


feeding Jefferson his ice cream

feeding Jefferson his ice cream


Our food for the day was pancakes and sausage at the motel, snacks on our hikes, Philly cheesesteaks for lunch in Rapid City (random but excellent), and ice cream.


Because of a comedy of errors, we ended up paying for two separate motels for our lodging that night. It’s enough of a story that I’ll write a whole other post about it.


Gas: $13.71

Tolls: none

Food: $43.25

Lodging: $213.84

Driving time: 3 hours


That’s the first half of our trip! Stay tune for details about Yellowstone on Wednesday!


Have you ever been to Badlands National Park or Mount Rushmore? Do you prefer to plan driving vacations out in advance or play it by ear?


Written by

Filed under: travel · Tags:

13 Responses to "Cross-Country Vacation Part 1"

  1. Michelle says:

    Great pictures! We were just at Yellowstone and loved it. Looking forward to your recap 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      That’s awesome! We were only there a couple days but I’m sure we could have enjoyed it for at least a week. How long were you there for?

  2. Despite all the stress you and kyle dealt with, it seemed like you still had a blast though. I am sure the next time you have a trip, you’ll definitely plan for it. I am so excited to know your trip to Yellowstone.

    1. Emily says:

      We did have a great time! The stress wasn’t too much, just a bit each morning and evening when we had to change locations. 🙂 For most of the day we were simply enjoying ourselves.

      I think it’s good that we had this one fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants trip to know that in the future we would prefer to plan more thoroughly!

  3. Nicole says:

    Hey Emily – we met earlier this year at ___’s birthday party while you were in town for your fellowship. Just wanted to stop in and say that this is a great post! I’m going to be going through the Badlands, Mt Rushmore, and Yellowstone in September, so it’s fun to get a sneak peak of what is to come.

    1. Emily says:

      Hi Nicole! Thanks for leaving a comment! Are you driving the whole way there or flying out? I think you are going to have a GREAT TRIP though I do recommend a bit of planning. It’s such an amazing and unique area.

  4. Money Beagle says:

    I was humming ‘Holiday Road’ in my head the entire time I read the post 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      I had to look up the song… I haven’t watched the National Lampoon movies in full. But I think it’s an appropriate soundtrack for this post!

  5. […] will detail the second half of our cross-country road trip, including the cost and pictures. In the first half, we drove from Durham, NC to Sundance, WY, with many stops along the way. In the second half, we […]

  6. […] church. We met up near Pike Place again for lunch. In the afternoon, we showed them pictures from our cross-country trip. We tried to see the lunar eclipse near our house but were unable (Seattle is hilly!), so we drove […]

  7. […] the weeks clicked down to our cross-country move in July, we waited to receive my car title. I thought that I needed the car title to sell the car […]

  8. […] on a Mother’s Day gift from Kyle to me (framed photographs from our cross-country […]

Leave a Reply


CommentLuv badge