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Drive the Americas Journal – Day 1: Get Out of Florida FAIL

This is the story of how my year began.  And little did I know it’d be THIS busy.  After I decided to quit my job,  I went on a crazy road trip to Patagonia, got married, and basically turned my life into a hands-on lifestyle design experiment.  Since I had never found the right time to tell the full story of how my trip began, I figured “end-of-the-year” was a good place as any to tell it.


My trip started January 31st, 2012.  I made it to Guatemala, in one piece, two crazy weeks later.


The ordeal was so stressful that my body literally broke down from adrenal fatigue.  I was so exhausted, mentally and physically, that after I arrived to Guatemala my body allowed itself to collapse to the point I could only get up from bed for short half-hour stretches at a time.  Took me two full weeks of rest and a visit to the doctor to regain my strength.


All of this could’ve been avoided if I had just relaxed  and enjoyed the trip.  That much is obvious looking back on the whole experience a bit.


When you live in the US, the perception of the vast majority is that the world is a big, dangerous place that is best viewed from the deck of a humongous cruise ship.  Or at least the perception from everyone I talked to:  friends, family, and even the Mexican teen at the local Wal-Mart that installed the new tires I had just bought for my Jeep.


When I excitedly mentioned my upcoming trip to the teen, his advice was:


“Whatever you do, DON’T STOP anywhere on the road.  Don’t go if you can help it.  Ship your car so you don’t have to drive through Mexico.”


A friend-of-a-friend, who had just completed a military tour-of-duty in Afghanistan, told me upon hearing of my plans:


“Dude… I went to Afghanistan and even I wouldn’t dare drive through  Mexico.  That’s insane.”


So much for encouragement and well-wishes.


Despite the advice of well-meaning friends and family, I took off.  So far, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything in the world.


I’ll tell you the whole experience and what I thought at the time, as it happened.  I’ll also add footnotes in blue  to highlight travel tips and footnotes in red to warn you what not to do to avoid problems.


On with the journal.


Day 1 (Jan 31st) – Tampa to Pensacola (Florida)


Before my trip, I spent a few days at my parents’ house getting organized, preparing the vehicle and gathering supplies.  Even after paring down to what I thought was “essential”, I still ended up stuffing almost every inch of the Jeep with junk:


Overland to Patagonia


Tip:  Seriously, you DON’T have to bring everything down with you.  You’ll end up wearing whatever is most comfortable, most of the time.  Leave the three-piece suit at home.

Tip:  If you’re serous about using your electronics during the trip (laptop, cameras, etc), bring them with you.  Much cheaper prices in the USA.


Overland Trip America


At last!  Departure day!  The long awaited day was finally here.  Hula Girl and I were ready to roll (you didn’t think I’d make the trip alone, now did you?)


After stalling for three days, I was ready to go.  I kept delaying my departure for one reason or another.  At one point, I lost my passport after the Jeep was already packed up.  Had to unpack the Jeep to search for my passport among all the bags.  Turns out the passport had fallen between the sofa cushions and was just lying underneath the sofa the whole time.  That should give you some confidence, because if I can manage to make the trip, anyone can.


After saying my goodbyes to the folks, it was time to hit the road.


The plan was simple.  Drive as far as I could stand it and find a place to sleep wherever nightfall caught me.  This plan is easily doable in the US because there are motels near every major highway exit and roads are mostly well-lit and in good shape.  I learned the hard way this is a stupid plan anywhere south of the US.  More on that later.


After over 7 hours of driving, I was ready to call it a day, so I looked for a place to stop in Pensacola, if only because it’s touristy and reportedly pretty.


I was disappointed to say the least.  I’d done a full day of driving and I still had not managed to leave the state of Florida.  In Europe, you drive that for as long as I did that day and you’re bound to cross at least two countries, maybe three or four.  I’d be truly acquainted with the vastness of the USA later on my trip, as I crossed the deserted landscape of Southwestern USA.


The first day was also a disappointment in that I’d not seen anything worth taking a picture of yet, at least to me.  Nothing but tree-lined highways.  Even the food was boring, as I’d stopped to eat junk food (McDonald’s), in order to make better driving time.


That night, after arriving at a motel that was a little too close to some train tracks, I did a some plotting and decided I was going to go out of my way to see some of the sights and sample the local food, even if the trip took a little longer.


Best decision I ever made.


From there on out, the trip got a whole lot more interesting, only I didn’t know it yet.


TIP:  Stop to smell the roses and see the sights.  You may never, ever, drive through that remote town again.  And stay away from McDonald’s, if you can help it.


Tomorrow, I would make sure to have a good lunch.  I was heading to New Orleans.

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.


  1. Wow, good thing you allowed yourself the rest eventually, and then made a change to have travel support your health too. I knew the US is huge, yet you really feel just how huge when you travel through it. I felt it mostly in the southwest, as you indicated you later did. If you drove through Israel for 7 hours straight, you’ll cross at least most of the country if not all of it.

    • Rich Polanco says:

      I guess China and Russia are the only comparable places. But the US has such an excellent road system that it’s easy to travel great distances in a short time.

      Lot of accidents in the US happen because of “get-home-itis”. People keep pushing to drive farther and farther in one shot, but because the roads are so smooth, it lulls tired drivers to sleep, causing accidents. If one is going to go on a road-trip, it’s better to take it slow and enjoy it.


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