Driving across the United States


Rob, Marilyn with sign saying we were moving east by traveling westward

We didn’t have the dates or journey set in stone but we had a sign!

Dinky at the gym, getting buff for his westward trip round the world.

Dinky went to the gym with us while in Albany area.

Hogan's Alley Restaurant (LeRoy, NY)
Hogan’s Hideaway, Rochester
Jell-O Museum (LeRoy, NY) -- the first of many museums along our westward drive across the U.S.
Dinky poses as a Jell-O deliveryman.
Ying's Wings, Things & Bar hosted our last family dinner before we headed out of New York for our westward journey across the United States.
WNY family goodbye bash at Ying’s Wings, Things & Bar.

Harrah's Casino (Joliet, IL) was our first paid for hotel room of our westward drive across the United States
Harrah’s Casino in Joliet, IL

Just as every journey needs a start date, every journey needs direction. Ours will be west for a couple of reasons. First, west is the preferred direction for long-distance air travel. Changing time zones in the air westward is a lot less tiring that going east. We know this is fact because we have traveled from New York to England a number of times.

Second, for driving across the United States, west is great. You get on the road in the morning. The sun is behind you, to the east. In the afternoons, somewhere around 4:00 p.m., you start looking for a motel along the interstate. Rooms will be plentiful. You can relax, check out your emails and have a nice dinner. All while avoiding the setting sun in your eyes.

Plus, driving in one primary direction is easy. Every time you exit for food, gas or lodging, there is no problem getting lost. All we do is follow the signs for West and we are back on track. Go West was our mantra.

An inauspicious beginning to a grand world tour

Bands would play and twirlers march if our lives were a movie. This is no work of fiction: Rob quit his job and we sold our home (and nearly everything we owned) to do this crazy thing people told us they only dreamed of doing. Alas, there was no band or even someone waving.

Our magnificent journey began when we got in the car as if we were going to the grocery store. Our friends and colleagues say we are being adventurous but the reality is a quiet departure sans fanfare.

With New Hampshire behind us, we stop in Vermont for lunch, and an hour or so later we are back home. Well, home as in the Albany area, by dinnertime. My mother was happy to give us a bed for four nights. Savvy travelers and frugal to the bone, we will bank the cost of lodging for some future stay when we need to exceed our budget.

Primary checklist for long-term travel

There is no giant last minute to-do list. We are decidedly carefree and lackadaisical. Especially when compared to people who cannot leave home without knowing exactly where they will eat and sleep every day. All we know for sure is that we must be in California by the end of September; want to be in Sydney, Australia, for their Christmas and New Year celebrations; and need to be in Stuttgart, Germany, on April 26, 2006.

I joke that all we need are valid passports and a couple of credit cards and we will be good to go anywhere. That may be true for a week or so, but there are some issues to consider when you are planning to be gone for a year. For instance, it turned out that being certifiably healthy is an actual requirement for passage on a container ship.

Freighter passengers do need to be healthy and nimble

Freighters are working ships, after all. They are not in the business of catering to the whims of passengers. The captain will not accept us until he sees proof that we are healthy. We must be nimble enough to climb up and down stairs to get to food three times a day. And those stairwells are not like the ones on ocean liners. There will be no doctor onboard so we must be prepared for any emergency.

For instance, I was traveling with a week’s worth of prescription antibiotics because of drug allergies. We thought that if I were to get an infection in some remote location, a week’s worth of antibiotics would be enough to get us to a more populated spot with a hospital. We also purchased medical evacuation insurance for the freighter. Our insurance policy would cover us for a year.

Getting out of the state of New York is not fast

Leaving Albany and Marilyn’s Mom, we headed straight west to Hamlin, a small town by Lake Ontario. This time we would spend a few days with Rob’s Mom, Jean. This mooching food and lodging from Moms is helping our daily budget!

The three of us decided to take in some touristy sites as a sort of exercise to get Rob and me into the traveling mood. First, we went to nearby Rochester to catch a show at the Planetarium; always a fun thing to do. After seeing the show — along with a contingent from a local middle school — we opted for an adult lunch at Hogan’s Hideaway. Good choice. This is feeling like a vacation.

Dinky does the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, New York

Have I told you about our traveling companion? Dinky was a gift and a faithful travel companion. He fit nicely in a side pocket of my bag. Dinky was happy to accept the role of stand-in for all the people who said they wished they could stow away in our luggage. Dinky is a lot lighter and he’s happy to go where we go!

Jean mentioned over breakfast that the nearby town of LeRoy was home to a Jell-O museum.  We had no idea. In all the years of visiting Western New York, we never knew about the world beyond the exit sign for LeRoy. Dinky seemed interested, so it was an easy decision. The Jell-O became the first museum of this journey.

LeRoy is a very pretty little town, with big old houses on tree-lined streets. The official name is the Jell-O Gallery Museum and it is an oddly interesting place. We never knew that Jell-O had such an extensive history. Or that there are so many molds — there are LOTS of jello molds!! Check out their website for recipes. This is a fun and inexpensive place to bring the family, too: adult tickets are only $5.00; children 6-11, $1.50; and children under 6 are free. We didn’t take one of those — a free child, that is.

Aunt Rose’s 80th Birthday Dinner

Timing is everything and our Sunday morning drive west took us toward Buffalo.  The entire Paluszak clan gathered for Great Aunt Rose’s 80th birthday at the Polish Villa.  Their dinner menu is printed in Polish but that is no problem. It features fresh and smoked sausage, pierogi and sauerkraut, browned with bits of bacon and seasonings.  Yummy, hearty, home cooked food this crowd grew up eating.

The Paluszak Family never lets an occasion go by without a celebration. Aunt Joan and Uncle Rick are moving and we are traveling around the world. Still reeling from the Polish dinner of the night before, the next day the party moved to “Yings Wings, Things & Bar.” This is the product of a wise Chinese restaurant owner who expanded his menu to include cheap beer, pizza and the now famous Buffalo Wings. It was a great place for the extended clan to meet, greet and say farewell to the travelers among us.

Long day’s drive westward into the night

Celebrations and parties aside, Tuesday we didn’t stop for the night until we were 600 miles further west.  This is our first long day of driving and we finally felt like we were heading toward California. As the sun began to set in our eyes, we opted to jump off the interstate and follow Route 6 looking for lodging on a calmer road.

One of our travel “rules” is that wherever we sleep is referred to as “home.” It took being on the road for a day to really let it sink in that we were — for all practical purposes — going to be homeless. Ours will be a white privilege type of homeless since we have the money to pay for food and lodging. It felt odd, though, to consider being without the anchor of our bed in a room with walls.

…wherever we sleep will be referred to as home.”

The countryside got darker and more desolate as we moved further from the busy Interstate traffic. Visions of the Bates Motel were floating through my mind. Just as we thought we’d have to call the car “home,” we drove into a small city. 

We had no idea where we were because there was no welcome sign or post office in sight. None of the shops on Main Street were open. Great. Our first night away from New York family and we are lost already.

I joked with Rob to speed so we could rout out a police car. The words barely left my mouth as Rob pulled to the side of the street to make a U-turn and — you guessed it — a police car drove by. We both laughed out loud, but at least we knew then that we were in Joliet, Illinois. We were discrete and waited for the police to disappear around a corner before we carefully made the U-turn.

The car would not be “home” tonight. We found a Harrah’s Casino overlooking the Illinois River. The first “we’ll pay for it” bed, the casino-hotel became home as we bunked down for the night.

This post is one in a series that document our 400-day trip round the world (2005-2006). Each segment will be linked in at RTW.

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