I am new to the US and am planning on driving from San Jose (CA) to Chicago (IL) this December'05.
I do not mind the 48 hour journey, but I have no clue about the driving conditions. This is perfectly do-able in summer, but how bad do the driving conditions get in Winters?
Given that I have a Honda Civic, do you think I can make the journey.
Any, "been-there-done-that" kind of advise will be helpful.
Well, driving cross country in the US is really one of the simplest things you could ever do.....you only have to fight the boredom of a long Interstate highway view...
You can take the small State highways, even in winter, though in snowy areas, they are not plowed as quickly as the Interstates, so you might have to wait and leave a little later in the morning (after the snow plows have done their job). A good map is essential if you want to see out-of-the-way sights. I use the big Rand McNally road atlas (Wal-Mart has a version too---identical) and it has tons of info on driving conditions in each State (and State driving laws as well---yes, they vary from State to State).
The only potential problem you may have, weather-wise, is a major snowstorm. But, like hurricanes, they don't sneak up on you---you have time to plan your route accordingly. Most of these problems will be in the Rockies and Plains States. When you stop for gas or food or sleep, talk to the locals at the gas station (I recommend truck stops--they know the roads well and the food is sometimes very good) about what's up ahead. Most folks are pretty friendly when you ask them for help.
Honda Civic. Hmm. I have a Neon, and I wouldn't hesitate to go most anywhere with it, except possibly the Pacific Northwest in winter, where tire chains are often required. And I don't have tire chains..... Don't worry. The Civic will take you anywhere you want to go. But again, find out ahead of time what the weather conditions are ahead, and plan accordingly. This link to the Weather Channel website driving section should help out in planning.
Weather Channel Driving Advisory
You could take Interstate 80 right from San Francisco straight through to Chicago. By the time you get to Nebraska, though.....I joke, but Nebraska is so flat, and there is one tree in the entire State.... Iowa too...very flat. Then suddenly, the skyscrapers of Chicago will appear as an island of wonder in the middle of nowhere.....just watch out for crazy Chicago highway drivers. And keep some change in your pocket---there are tolls once you get into Illinois...usually $0.80/toll, though some are higher.
Have fun and take lots of pictures!!!
[ Edit: Fixed Link ]
You can take the small State highways, even in winter, though in snowy areas, they are not plowed as quickly as the Interstates, so you might have to wait and leave a little later in the morning (after the snow plows have done their job).
Through the Rocky Mountains some of the smaller highway mountain passes will be closed in the winter. Some are scheduled to be closed, and some are just closed when the weather is bad. (I learnt this the hard way driving from Denver to Aspen - thought I would get off the interstate and take the scenic route!)
Check the state department of transportation sites for details on what is open and closed.
You'll be on interstate highways the whole way, and it is quite unlikely you'll have a significant challenge doing that drive.
The only two places where you have to worry about major blizzards on this drive (I-80) are east of Sacramento, California near the Donner Pass, and just east of Salt Lake City, Utah as you go up the grade to Park City, Utah. Other than that it should be completely clear (though still snowy).
P.S. When planning any trips around the US in the winter, just plan on taking an interstate highway (they are marked with an I--like in I-80). These are the ones that are cleared from snow before any others.