There is something inherently “cool” about the idea of the Great American Road Trip. Tearing down an unknown highway in the middle of nowhere, music blasting, windows down as the miles slip by.
The fact is the U.S. is BIG! There are countless things to do and see and chances are, even if you traveled your entire life, you would never experience it all. From mountains to deserts, to exceptionally flat plains, the remainder of the country is so unique and diverse that taking a road trip is the absolute best way to get to know what it offers and why it’s so amazing.
There are several ways to road trip – a traditional passenger vehicle, RV, van – anything with wheels. However, during your travels, there are a few dos and don’ts you have to keep in mind.
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USA Road Trip Tips
Have a Rough Itinerary in Mind
There is no need to have anything rigid or strictly planned out if you do not want it, but it is a good idea to have a rough itinerary of some sort. This is going to prove to be helpful in the long run. You need to have a good idea of what you want to do and see along the way, along with the stops you want to make. For example, if you are traveling by RV knowing where you are going to stay during your ventures can be helpful.
Not only will this help you budget for your trip, but it will also help you figure out how much time you need. It is easy to forget how large the U.S. is, and you may wind up misjudging how long it is going to take you to travel from point A to point B.
Try to Avoid Getting to Caught Up in Your Itinerary
If you plan too much and feel stuck to the itinerary you have created, you won’t be able to stop randomly or make detours to parks, roadside attractions, or unique souvenir shops you see along the way. Regardless of the itinerary, you develop before your trip, make sure you factor in a bit of flexibility so you can be spontaneous.
Research Your Route Early
If you hate planning, it’s a good idea to read this bit of advice carefully – by doing some research ahead of time you will be prepared for whatever comes your way. Even if you are not a “research” type of person, it’s going to pay off.
This is especially important if you plan to road trip during the summer months. There are several attractions and national parks that are extremely busy in the summer, which means large crowds and long lines. If you do want to visit these areas, make sure to book things early, to help avoid a long wait when you get there.
For example, if you have plans to stay at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you should book several months ahead of time. Also, if you are traveling during the winter, it will be smart to know when the Rockies are closed because of snow.
Invest in Quality Maps
It is crucial that you have access to more in the way of maps than just what Google Maps on your smart device offers. You need real, old school, fold-out maps. Trust us, when you are trying to find your way at night, in your dark RV, you’ll be thankful for two things – fold-out maps and Boogey Lights to help you read them.
Yes, cell coverage is good in the U.S.; however, you may still discover there are times and in areas where you will not be able to get a signal at all. In these situations, having a real, paper map on hand is helpful.
Plan to Stop a Quirky and Unique Roadside Attractions
When you are road tripping across the U.S. it is the perfect time to be a tourist. Most people would agree – this is something that is encouraged. This is especially the case if your ventures will take you along old Route 66. You will find all sorts of quirky roadside attractions. These are what will make your trip memorable and fun.
Avoid Driving During Rush Hour
This is especially important if you are arriving in or leaving a major city. It will be in your best interest to avoid driving during rush hour traffic. Not only will driving in heavy traffic increase your time on the road, it will probably lead to unnecessary frustration and stress, as well.
Visit the National Parks
Chances are you have heard about the amazing national park system in the U.S. For decades, these parks have been preserved and protected, ensuring that visitors from all over the world can see all the beauty these natural areas offer.
While the most popular parks, such as Zion National Park, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon are busy, they are quite popular – and there is a good reason for this. If you are worried about the huge crowds at some of these locations, make sure you visit earlier in the morning or later in the evening. You can also consider some alternative locations. For example, it is estimated that just 10 percent of visitors go to the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Only Travel with People You Like and Want to be Around
There is no escape from the people you are traveling with. Remember, if you are going to be on the road for days or even weeks at a time, you want to make sure that you choose a travel buddy that you can get along with. You get bonus points if the person or people you are traveling with have similar music preferences and are good at small talk.
Research the Basic Costs before You Depart
You will know some of the costs you will encounter upfront. For example, if you have decided to rent a car or pre-book your accommodations, it is easy to get a price estimate. It is also pretty easy to estimate the costs of gas, look up prices for campsites, motels, and hotels, and more. P
Plan on Spending More Than What You Budgeted
There is a hard truth to face – it is not cheap to travel across the U.S. While it is usually going to be more affordable to travel by car rather than plane, road-tripping often goes against the grain because accommodations, food, and gas are all quite expensive.
While it is a good idea to set a budget, it is also a good idea to bring a bit of extra money along. This will ensure you can cover any unexpected or additional expenses as they occur.
Decide How You Will Divide Costs Ahead of Time
If you plan to travel with your friends, you should agree on all types of money related manners before you depart. Are you going to take turns covering gas costs? Are you going to pool all your money together to pay for everything out of that? How do you plan to split the costs for meals? It is a good idea to figure all this out before you head out. This is going to help save you stress and headaches when on the road.
Try Not to be Cheap
While you don’t want to go crazy, you should not skip out on a great experience just because it costs too much. Remember, life is short. After all, you may never have the opportunity to visit some of the places in the future.
If you want to get in a hot air balloon in Monument Valley or visit Colorado to go whitewater rafting or visit every museum or amusement park you pass, then you should do it. Chances are you do not want your road trip to end in regrets.
Consider Buying a Pass to the National Parks
Do you have plans to visit as many of the national parks in the U.S. as possible during your trip? If so, it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase a pass to visit all the national parks. Usually, you can get this pass for around $80. It is also going to be good for an entire carload of visitors, for an entire year. With this pass, you can visit as many national parks as you want during the course of the year and avoid having to pay the entrance fees.
While the cost of $80 may seem like a lot upfront, when you see that the entrance fee to each park is around $25 up to $35 per car to get in, it will add up and cost more – but all this depends on how many parks you want to go to.
Sign Up for a AAA Membership
If you live in the U.S., it is a good idea to sign up to become an AAA member. This is an auto club that is going to come to your rescue if you happen to get a flat or break down. However, you also get quite a few discounts by being a member of this club. You can find coupons and savings on everything from restaurants to hotels and more. If you are not from the U.S. it is smart to purchase travel insurance before your adventure begins.
Choose Alternatives to Expensive Hotels
Even though the U.S. is not exactly hostel-friendly (like Australia and Europe) there is still an array of budget-friendly accommodation options for you to think about. The most affordable option would be to take along a tent and find places where you can camp. You can also travel in an RV and stay at one of the thousands of RV parks across the country.
Another option to consider (that your budget will appreciate) is to stay at budget hotels or motels. This will let you stay for a much lower rate than the name brand, bigger chain hotels.
Do Not Leave Finding a Room to the Last Minute
This is something you do not want to ignore. It is essential that you never drive into a town and assume that you will be able to find a room. Even though most of the cities that you are going to visit will be large enough to ensure there is a vacancy on any night, there are others that will not.
If you have plans to visit smaller cities that are also tourist hot spots for the time of the year that you are going to be visiting, then it is a good idea to book ahead. If you wait too long, you may find that it is impossible to get a room or you will have to overpay for a low-quality room.
Take Along a Cooler
Having a cooler with you on your road trip is going to help ensure that you have enough water to stay hydrated. However, taking along a cooler will also help you reduce your total food costs. You can always keep food to make sandwiches or snacks with you. This is going to reduce the number of meals that you have to buy.
It Probably Won’t be Possible to Eat Healthy
Even if you have a cooler in your trunk, you will still have to eat out often. You should never assume that you will be able to eat a healthy diet while you are road tripping.
Are You Ready to Start Your Road Trip Adventure?
As you can see, going on a road trip is one of the best ways to ensure that you have the amazing road trip across the U.S. that you have always dreamed of. By using the tips and information here, you will be on your way to planning the perfect trip and enjoying every second of it.
When you prepare and know what to expect, you can feel confident that your road trip will be everything that you dreamed up – regardless of where you go.
Some USA Road Trip Ideas
If you are still looking for ideas on a great USA road trip check out our collection of USA road trip articles and podcasts, especially the following:
- Road Trip down the Florida Keys
- Deep South, America Road Trip – Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana
- Road Trip to South Dakota and South Dakota National Parks
- Texas Road Trip – What to see in the Lone Star State
- Route 66 Road Trip – Amateur Traveler Episode 648
- Scenic Route 100: The Perfect Vermont Road Trip Itinerary
- Colorado Road Trip
- Central Coast of California Road Trip