DOs and DON’Ts on a Great American Road Trip

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I think just about every American teenager (and probably plenty from abroad, as well) has dreamt about driving across the country in an epic Great American Road Trip. There's something just so inherently “cool” about the idea of tearing down a highway in the middle of nowhere, windows down, and music blasting as the miles slip by.

Plus, the U.S. is a really big place — there's no denying it. And even though I've lived here my whole life, 20+ years in Ohio really isn’t the best representation of everything that America has to offer. From deserts to mountains to incredibly flat plains, “the rest” of the country is so diverse that a road trip always seemed like the ideal way to get to know it better.

RELATED: 25 Awesome Photos of the United States

So, in the summer of 2011, my sister and I finally made the dream a reality, packing up a car and hitting the road in what would become a 6,500-mile journey from Ohio to Las Vegas and back again.

Along with seeing and experiencing a ton of what the U.S. has to offer, we also learned a lot along the way about road tripping. If you’re considering your own Great American Road Trip in the future, here are some of the DOs and DON’Ts we picked up along the way.

US road trip tips

Planning

The average road trip dream probably consists of just throwing a few things into the trunk of a car and hitting the road. But the reality is that a good deal of planning is necessary if you want to have a successful, stress-free journey.

DO have a rough itinerary. I’m by no means suggesting that you should plot out anything strict or rigid, but rough itinerary of some sort will definitely help. You should have a good idea of what you’d like to do/see along the way, and perhaps even what stops you’d like to make. Not only will this help you figure out how much time you’ll need, but it will also help you budget accordingly. My sister and I figured out which city we’d spend each night in on our 20-day trip, but left most of the days relatively open to use as we wished.

RELATED: Road Trip '11: My 10 Favorite Road Trip Stops

DON'T get too caught up in said itinerary. Plan too much, and you won't be able to make detours or stop randomly at roadside attractions, parks, or Native American-themed souvenir shops that you see advertised on the side of the highway along the way. Whatever itinerary you come up with before your road trip, be sure to factor in some flexibility to allow for spontaneity, too.

Santa Claus, Indiana
We had planned to drive through Indiana, but never planned on make a stop in Santa Claus!

DON'T wait until the last minute to do your research. For those who hate planning, listen up. Especially if you’re going to be road tripping in the summer months, doing a bit of homework before you leave is essential whether you like it or not. During the summer, many popular national parks and attractions are very busy and crowded, and you may need to book things ahead of time. For example, if you want to camp or take a mule ride at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you’ll have to make bookings months in advance. Similarly, if you’re traveling in the winter, it will be useful to know which roads through the Rockies usually close due to snow.

DO invest in maps. I’m not just talking about a Google Maps or MapQuest app on your iPhone — I’m talking about physical, fold-out maps. Old school. Even though cell coverage is generally good within the U.S., you may still find yourself at times in areas where you won’t get signal at all. In these instances, having real maps on hand is smart. My sister and I bought a Rand McNally road atlas that includes every state in the U.S., which was fantastic to have in the passenger seat, just in case.


DON'T forget your smartphone. Not only will a phone keep you occupied on those long, boring stretches of road (because yes, there are plenty of them), but there are also some fantastic apps you can download that are great for road trippers. Some my sister and I used frequently included Google Maps, GasBuddy, and Urban Spoon.

DO stop at quirky roadside attractions. When you’re roadtripping across America, it's okay to be a tourist. In fact, I’d say it should be encouraged! Especially if you’ll be driving along old Route 66 at some point, there will be no shortage of quirky roadside attractions on offer. These are often what makes the journey fun. Some of my favorites included the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and random “Indian trading posts” in Oklahoma.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
The Cadillac Ranch, where vandalism is encouraged!

DON'T drive during rush-hour if you can help it. Especially when you're arriving in/leaving major cities, do your best to avoid rush-hour traffic at all costs. Not only will it increase your drive time exponentially, but it will likely cause you some unecessary stress and frustration, too. My sister and I made the mistake of leaving Chicago during rush hour, and subsequently spent nearly 2 hours traversing less than 30 miles on I-90.

DO visit national parks. The U.S. national park system is fantastic, and has worked for decades to preserve some of the best and most unique landscapes America has to offer. Yes, places like the Grand Canyon are often crowded, but they are popular for a very, very good reason. If you’re worried about crowds at some of these sites, plan to go early in the morning or late in the evening, or research some alternatives (for example, only 10% of visitors go to the secluded North Rim of the Grand Canyon).

DON'T travel with someone you can't stand to be with 24/7. There's no escape when you're in a car together for days or weeks on end, so make sure your travel buddy is one you can get along with. Bonus points if you share a similar taste in music and can make small-talk easily.

Moustaches
Thank goodness we have a similar sense of humor.

Budgeting

Budgeting goes hand-in-hand with planning, really, but I figured it warranted its own section here, as the budget is probably the most important part of any road trip.

DO plan to spend more than you budgeted. I won’t lie to you — the U.S. is definitely not a cheap place to travel. While it IS usually cheaper to travel via car than plane in America, road tripping can go against this grain, since gas, food, and accommodation can all be expensive. Set a budget for yourself, and then bring a little extra. My sister and I decided we would each leave Ohio with $1,500 (a total of $3,000 between us for our 3-week trip), but I made sure to bring about $500 extra, and we did end up tapping into that near the end of our trip. Even if personal finance isn't your thing, work out a budget — and then add to it.

DO decide beforehand how you will divide up costs. Will you take turns paying for gas? Will you just pool all your money together and pay for everything out of that? How will you split meals? Figuring all of this out before you leave will save you headaches on the road.

DON'T be too cheap. Even though you don’t want to go crazy, don’t skip out on great experiences just because of a price tag. Life is too short for that. After all, you may never get the chance to visit some of these places again. If you want to go whitewater rafting in Colorado, on a hot air balloon ride in Monument Valley, or to every museum you pass, do it. I’m sure your roadtripping dreams never included ending your adventure with regrets.

White Water Rafting
Worth. Every. Penny.

DO buy a National Parks Pass. If you plan to visit a lot of America’s national parks on your trip, definitely pick up a National Parks Pass. This pass costs $80, and then is good for a carload of people for a year. You can visit as many national parks as you want in that year without paying the entrance fees. $80 may seem like a lot, but when you realize that many popular parks charge as much as $25-30 per car to enter, it can all add up quickly.

DO sign up for AAA. If you’re an American, signing up for AAA may be a good idea. Not only will this auto club come to your rescue if you break down or get a flat, but being a AAA member can also score you discounts on everything from hotels to restaurants.

Accommodation

Speaking of hotels, here are some tips on finding accommodation on the road.

DO consider alternatives to pricey hotels. While the U.S. is not as hostel-friendly as Europe and Australia, there are still plenty of budget-friendly accommodation options to be found here. The cheapest would be to bring a tent with you and plan to camp along the way (and pick up this guide to affordable campsites). However, you can’t simply pitch a tent on the side of any road in most U.S. states — you still have to pay for campsites. Another alternative is to consider motels and budget hotels, which is what my sister and I did. We tried to stick to the Choice Hotels brand as much as possible, and paid about $80 per night on average for a decent place to stay (which is about $40 per person per night, which really isn’t much more than you’d pay at a hostel here in the U.S.). You can also check out apartment rental sites like Airbnb, which are increasingly popular options.

Some of our favorite (budget-friendly) hotels on this trip included:

  • Aloft in Tulsa, Oklahoma — A clean, modern new hotel chain that's easy on the budget.
  • Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe, New Mexico — Quirky and delightfully tacky is how I would describe this throw-back motel.
  • Best Western View of Lake Powell in Page, Arizona — A great base in Page with a cool pool view.
  • Stratosphere Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada — It's on the Strip, but way down at the end; we paid $45 a night (TOTAL) for a very nice, newly refurbished room.
  • River Run Condos in Keystone, Colorado — Not the cheapest place we stayed, but it was great value for what we got for staying at a popular ski resort during the summer.
Keystone, Colorado
The nicest place we stayed? This condo in Keystone, Colorado.

DON’T assume you can just drive into town and find a room. This goes along with the “don’t wait until the last minute” tip in the planning section. While most cities you’ll visit will be large enough to have vacancies on any given night, others will not. If you’re planning to visit a small city that’s a big tourist hot-spot at the time of year you’ll be visiting, definitely book ahead. My sister and I made the mistake of waiting too long to book a motel room in Page, Arizona (which is close to both Antelope Canyon and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area), and ended up paying more than $160 per night for a dingy room at a Rodeway Inn. I was NOT happy about that.

Food

DO take a cooler with you. Not only will a cooler ensure that you always have enough water to keep yourself hydrated, but having a cooler can also be a great way to cut down on food costs — keep snacks or sandwich-making materials inside, and you won’t have to pay for as many meals.

DON'T expect to eat healthy. Even with a cooler in the trunk, chances are you’ll still be eating out a lot. If you travel like my sister and I did, with never more than 2 nights in one city, cooking for yourself will probably be the last thing you’ll want to do after a long day of driving. Plus, it’s often difficult to say no to the delicious regional foods you’ll find along the way, regardless of how fattening they are.

Navajo Taco
Navajo Taco in Monument Valley

Safety

Staying safe on the road is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when considering a road trip, but it’s so important. Here are a few essential safety tips.

DO get your car checked out beforehand. This might be trickier if you’re renting a car, but if you’re taking your own or borrowing one from someone you know, do yourself a favor and get a tune-up before you leave. Get your tires, oil, and fluids checked, and make sure everything is running as it should. This of course doesn’t guarantee that you won’t break down, but it helps. Also, be sure to keep an eye on things like tire pressure as you’re traveling, as it can help you get better gas mileage.

DO learn how to change a tire. You may not need the knowledge (and you may have AAA to bail you out), but it’s always a good idea to know how to change a tire if your only mode of transport for weeks is going to be a car.

DON'T forget your travel insurance. For any major trip (and especially one where you're going to be driving through unfamiliar territory), I always recommend purchasing travel insurance. If you rent a car (or drive your own), your car should be covered in case of an accident. But what about all the other things that could potentially happen to YOU? I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance – because you just never know!

Road Trip
Be nice to your ride!

DON'T forget the extra water. Dehydration is not a joke, and can be a very real threat if you’re traveling out West during the summer. Always have extra water (in that cooler!), because you never know when you might break down, or decide that you want to go on a long hike.

DO let someone know where you plan to be every night. This might be more applicable for females road tripping together, but is a good idea for everyone. If possible, let someone back home know your basic route, and check in with them whenever possible. This way, if something happens, the chances of you being featured on that “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” show will be much less!

DON'T pick up questionable hitchhikers. Hitchhiking isn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is in some other countries, but people do still do it. If you’re comfortable giving people a ride, fine, but just keep your wits about you. My sister and I were reminded of this when, while driving through Oklahoma, we kept seeing signs warning us not to stop for hitchers since the highway was very close to a correctional facility…

Miscellaneous

DO be aware of the impact you're having on the environment and the places you visit. Basically, don’t be a jerk. If you’re camping, clean up after yourself. If you’re visiting a site that asks you not to walk on something, respect that request. And bear in mind that, even though all Americans share the same citizenship, that doesn’t mean that we all share the same beliefs, values, or way of life.

And lastly…

DO have a blast! Road trips are one of the best ways to really get to know a country, and this is exceptionally true when it comes to America.

Monument Valley, Uath

What to Pack

The clothing and other odds and ends you pack for your road trip will of course depend on where you're going at at what time of year. But there are definitely a handful of things I highly recommend bringing:

  • Physical maps, like the Rand McNally Road Atlas – because there definitely will be times when your smartphone won't get any signal!
  • A book like The Next Exit, which shows you amenities (like gas, toilets, and food) available at every exit on every major highway in the US.
  • A cooler so you can stock up on cold water and snacks.
  • Something to use as a trash can to keep your car tidy.
  • A guide book (or two) that you can flip through along the way.
  • A guide to campgrounds across America.
  • An emergency kit to keep in your car – just in case.
  • A power bank so you can easily charge electronics while you're in the car.
  • A sun hat and other forms of sun protection, because you'll definitely need it!
  • Bug spray (or insect repellant wipes) for those humid parts of the country.
  • A quick-dry towel in case you decide on a quick swim or get caught in a rain storm.

Have you ever road tripped across America? If not, is it something you plan to do someday?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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183 Comments on “DOs and DON’Ts on a Great American Road Trip

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  1. Perfect timing!!! Really awesome post, Amanda–enjoyed this and definitely brought up a few things I hadn’t thought about 🙂

      I told you the other day that it was funny that you were asking me for road trip tips! Glad you found this helpful!

    Great post!!! All good points…look forward to using them. Thanks!

    I LOVE road tripping. A great way to see the scenery and interact with some of the more quirky elements! Some great tips here.

      I’m definitely in love with it now, too! I really feel like it’s the best way to travel America, without a doubt!

    First x-country road trip I took back in the 1970s in my Vega which I camped in. I know, I’m dating myself and you’ve probably never even heard of a Vega. It was still the most memorable journey of my life, right next to a South Africa road trip. Very good advice, especially about the North Rim–I am biased–and taking real paper maps and lots of water. Makes me want to pack the truck and hit the highway.

      I’m SO glad my sister and I made this trip happen. It’s definitely one of my favorite trips to date, and I’m so proud that we did it all completely on our own.

      (And never you fear — I do indeed know what a Chevy Vega is! 😉 )

    Super tips…agree with all of them! The cooler is a must…first thing I do on a road trip…hit the supermarket and get one of those cheap coolers! And maps…yes indeed…I hate using a GPS (and have a post coming out about it soon)…maps are the old school, best way to go….great pics, looks like you had a wild time on that huge road trip!

      We DID have a wild time — and it was fantastic. One of my favorite trips ever, I think!

      I love how the coolers and paper maps seem to be something that most road trippers agree on! I love paper maps, because you don’t have to rely on technology to read them. Plus, it’s fun to flip through an atlas and see what’s coming up!

    This is great and got me even more excited for our three month summer road trip (starting in May!)

    Great post! Very important tips, looks like an amazing trip!

      Thanks, Tash! And yes, it was definitely an amazing and unforgettable trip!

    Great list. The physical map tip is definitely a must – my cell phone lasts MAYBE a day when I’m not using it all day for navigation. I’m lucky if I get half a day out of it on road trips, so an in-car charger and hard copy maps are musts for my road trips.

      That’s a good point! I have an awesome MapQuest app on my phone that even does turn-by-turn directions aloud like a GPS does, but it drains the battery like crazy!! What my sister and I did was actually print out directions before we left home, then used the hard-copy maps and our phones as back-up. That, and I just liked to page through the atlas while my sister was driving… lol.

    Oh my god, that taco. Makes me want to plan a road trip just to find it!

      Haha, it was indeed delicious! You really can’t beat blue corn Navajo frybread! YUM!

    I love that line…. basically, don’t be a jerk! lol nice! Some really great tips and sound advice.

      Lol, now if only more people would heed that “don’t be a jerk” advice! Just the other day I saw someone throw fast food trash out their window while driving on a highway. It made me SO MAD!

    I’d also recommend using Yelp on a road trip – they have a solid app, and it helps you find great places to eat wherever you are. We discovered some of our fav restaurants and diners via Yelp, and in Seattle we even found a few great recommendations for where to get a view of the city/space needle for a cool photo. Yelp is awesome!!

      Good tip! I just happened to download Urban Spoon first, but you’re right — Yelp has great reviews for all sorts of things, not just restaurants!

    Great post, I agree with nearly every point. Especially having AAA! I had no idea there was a Santa Claus in Indiana – I’m definitely putting that on my list of weird attractions to check out!

      It’s not even just “a” Santa Claus — it’s a whole town!! Look up Santa Claus, Indiana on Wikipedia!! My sister and I were driving along and saw one of those signs that shows how many miles you have to go before you reach certain destinations. One sign said “Santa Claus 45” and we immediately knew we had to stop.

    Really good tips! We’ve done many weekend road trips and somehow I have never considered actually getting a cooler despite having to drink warm water way too many times. It’s on the list now 🙂

    These are great tips. I would mention, along with remembering to bring extra water, how important it is to drink it. I had a situation several years ago with a friend from Austria who had come to visit me in Phoenix. She was not accustomed to how dry the Southwest is, and I didn’t recognize she was not drinking nearly enough water. While we were driving to Las Vegas, she became acutely sick from dehydration. Some water brought her back to normal relatively quickly, but it was quite a scare. All the water in the world is no help if you’re not drinking it.

      Very good point, Curt! And it’s worth noting that you should drink even MORE water up in the higher elevations out West.

    Ah, the classic American road trip. I did one around California and I can safely say it was one of my all time favourite holidays. There’s just something so iconic about cruising past classic American sights, listening to some tunes on the radio, and pretending you’re reliving some classic road trip movie. Great post as always 😀

      I want California/the West Coast to be my next big road trip! PCH, here I come.

        Have you taken your pnw roadtrip yet? I’m curious to know how the la grande Or. Area is .

          I just did a road trip in Oregon, but I’m afraid I did not go as far east as La Grande!

    AAA is also a great place to pick up road maps. I know I always stock up there for more then I’ll need before any road trip. Check out your countries Auto Club before you leave. Lots of international clubs have agreements with AAA, so you are a member, no matter what country you are in. (I used my AAA for membership in New Zealand’s auto club and got a free 6 month membership the first time I used them.)
    Also, when picking a hotel, factor in places with free breakfasts! You’ll save a meal and stock up on items (a-hem, milk and bread) that might expire after a day, but you’ll save (in your cooler!) for the day. Like making sandwiches at lunch:-)

      Yes, finding a hotel with free breakfast is definitely smart!! That’s what we did most of the time — if it offered free breakfast and wifi, it was the place for us!

      And good call about AAA being a good place to get free maps. Also, if you’re a member, you can have them print out all sorts of directions for you, which they’ll put in a nice little booklet. I know my mom and grandma used to use that service all the time.

    Great tips, Amanda! Best advice you gave: DON’T expect to eat healthy. We went on a month-long road trip last summer and a three-week road trip the year before, and both times we found it really hard to find healthy food, especially in the South. The cooler is definitely a great idea – especially now that we’re planning another road trip through the Northwest this summer 🙂

    P.S. Referring to the comment above – we also thought that choosing hotels/motels with free breakfast would be a great way to save money but in the end we couldn’t stand the unhealthy breakfast with watery coffee and sugary juice in these places anymore and stopped taking advantage of it, unless we could find some fruit (mostly, however, we couldn’t). Will you be road tripping to Keystone in June?

      America certainly is not home to the healthiest food on earth… and trying to eat healthy while road tripping across the country and keeping an eye on your budget? GOOD LUCK! Glad we weren’t the only ones to take notice of this.

      And I won’t be road tripping to Keystone this summer — but I WILL be flying there. 🙂

    Great stuff here Amanda…I don’t take as many road trips as an adult as it seemed we did as a kid, but there is still something appealing about being out on the open road. We have tossed around renting a small motorhome and driving west, but I doubt that I could ever be trusted with a home on wheels:)

      Haha, I know I certainly wouldn’t trust myself driving anything much bigger than my little Civic! 😉 But that would be a great way to see the country.

    Very good points for anyone travelling to the US.
    All important things like Budget, Maps, etc are nicely covered.
    Have a lovely week ahead Amanda:)

      Thanks, Arti. I think a lot of these tips could be applied to road tripping elsewhere in the world, too!

    Great resource! I’m planning for a road trip in the USA on my own bike. I’ll ship it by boat and then go on a 3 month tour of the country. The rough itenary is there, now fill in the blanks and gather some $$$

      Awesome! By “bike,” I assume you mean motorcycle? Or will you actually be biking around the country? Either way, it sounds like an awesome adventure! Hopefully you can use some of these tips.

    Some good amusing advice in ere. Enjoyed that. Deffo learn’t the plan ahead lesson in Yosemite in our Van. 😀

      Sorry you had to learn it the hard way! You wouldn’t be the first, though. I think most people assume they don’t need to plan ahead to visit national parks, but of course the reality is often the exact opposite!

        well we knew we should have, an it was the height of summer, so no campsite for us. It ended up well enough as we did the same again when heading to the coast, but this ended well as because I stayed with an Old school friend in Palo Alto.

    Great tips, Amanda. I love road trips, but it’s been since I was a kid that I took one as long as you did last summer. I really enjoyed following along on that trip.

      I had never been on a “real” road trip before the one last summer, so it was both a great adventure AND learning experience! I’d definitely like to do more road trips in the future though.

    Camping is a great way to save on the budget. I always alternate a few days of camping with a hotel to clean up. I suggest driving into the little cities to find the budget hotels and skipping the chains that are located on the interstate. Try taking a highway and not the interstate – a little more stop and go but a great way to see the country.

      Great tips! I totally agree, though I’m not much of a camper myself. It’s all about whatever style works for you!

    This was really helpful! thanks for the great tips

    Nice list of do’s & don’ts…Yes, always research properly while planning a trip, it will really help a lot at the time of traveling..

      A lot of people like to just “wing it” when they travel, or at least not book too much ahead. Unfortunately, sometimes you really do need to do some planning beforehand!

    Great road trip advice! That Navajo taco looked absolutely scrumptious! When will you be taking your next big trip? Chris and I have been thinking about the Mongol Rally… I think you’d do SO well in it!

      Thanks, Tawny! And yes, that Navajo taco WAS scrumptious! Even after I was full I didn’t want to stop eating it…

      My next “big” trip (after Iceland) will be 6 or 7 weeks in Europe (Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the UK) this summer!

      The Mongol Rally certainly would be an adventure, but I think you guys might be overestimating my ability to live in a tent. 😉

    Wow! Some really comprehensive tips! I’ve taken a few short road trips in the US, but usually to get from point A to point B—never long enough where we could do much sight-seeing. Hope to do another one, soon, actually….

      You should definitely consider a full-blown road trip sometime! It’s a great way to see the country.

    Superb Do’s and Don’ts. I have crisscrossed the US several times and probably used different strategies each time.

    AAA and the National Parks pass are also two of my must haves. Entertainment book also works well. Visitor Centers often have better lodging rates than other sources–except often the Room Saver app, which is the same as those hotel coupon books.

      AAA membership and a National Parks pass seem like two of the most popular must-haves!

    Everything is a blur after seeing that Navajo taco.

    We did a huge USA road trip in 2008. Turned out to be one of our favorite adventures ever.

      Haha, that taco certainly was delicious!! I really want to do another (maybe even bigger!) U.S. road trip in the future. This one was so much fun.

    These are fantastic tips! I’m planning on taking a road trip across the States as well as Canada, and these tips will definitely come in handy. Such a detailed and clear post. Sounds like you had an excellent time. It’s great that you can do something like this with your sister too.

      That’s going to be one epic road trip!! Sounds awesome though. My sister and I had such a great time last summer that we’re already talking about doing another road trip next summer!

    thanks for sharing! just today I was talking to a friend about a road trip in the States so that was a perfect timing and a very interesting read!

      Glad you found it both timely and useful, Kami! Road tripping in the U.S. is definitely one of my favorite travel memories so far!

        I hope to be able to do that one day, that seems to be like a really cool idea for an unforgettable trip!

    Brilliant advice!
    My dad has spent many years wanting to do this, it’s his dream, he is in his 60’s and is starting to plan his road trip … Do you have any advice for a wonderful dad from England who has dreamt of driving across America since he was a boy?

      That is fantastic that your dad is planning a big US road trip! As for advice, the best I can give is already included in this post! If you or him have any questions about routes/things to see though, feel free to drop me an e-mail!

    i am so glad i found this taking notes, planning my trip as we speak wish me luck.

    This was so helpful! I’m starting to plan a road trip myself and this page had stuff I hadn’t thought about, thanks for sharing 🙂

      Sure thing! I’m glad this made you consider some aspects of road tripping that you hadn’t before!

    Thanks for taking time to write this, found it very helpful. Currently planning a trip from Los Angeles to Jacksonville Florida with three friends and being from England there is alot we need to think about before we do it.

    Great advice! How long did you take to do the trip?

      Thanks! We took 3 weeks for our trip. Could have easily taken MUCH longer, though! There’s so much to see in the U.S.

        Great,thanks! We are thinking about doing a trip from Nashville to New York (the long way!) and it’s about 3600 miles – do you think 12 days is enough to do it in? We are from Australia and it will be my first time in America, so I’m not really sure how long we will need.

          Well, to give you some perspective, the trip my sister and I did in 3 weeks was about 6,600 miles! So 12 days for 3,600 should be fine – though you may end up staying in a new city every night!

    This is so aMAZING!!! I am planning a trip for June 2015!!! This post helped out do much !!!!!!!

    Great do’s and dont’s list!

    I did pick up a hitchhiker, guilty of that one, but it turned out fine 🙂 He wasn’t coming from jail.

    Looks like you had a blast on your trip too!

      Haha it’s all good then!

      And yes, we had so much fun on our trip!

    Great tips, my daughter and I are planning a road trip from San Francisco to LA.
    These tips will come in handy.

    my best friend and i were planning on roatripping to Califonia from North Carolina soon. Not really to sight-see, but mainly to just make it to Cali. Do you have any estimates for that? We are not really opposed to sleeping in a car every so often, so hopefully rooming budgets will be small. We have a few months until we’re ready to leave, and need as much advice as we can get!!!!

      Well, if you really just want to make it to California, you could do it in a few days if you don’t mind a lot of driving.

    This is a pretty good list. I went on one in July of 2013 with two friends and it definitely was a trip of a lifetime. We started in Georgia and traveled the south to the Grand Canyon and Vegas, then up Cali to Portland, then over to Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore, then finally we travelled down through the fly over states back home! I came back with so many stories, memories, and this post just rekindled the flame!

      That sounds like a pretty epic road trip!!

    I went on my first real road trip, just about a year ago and I agree with all of your tips! Especially, plan to spend more than you planned, and to make unexpected fun stops. And of course, getting your car checked before you leave. May I also suggest that you get it checked, before you head back home?! I ended up having a radiator problem and I was able to get some work done that would allow me to get home and then get the rest of the work done.

      Bummer that you had some car trouble on the road! But good that you were able to get it mostly fixed. We always checked our tires and fluids, especially as we were driving through deserts.

    Enjoyed this article so much and so glad that others are road tripping. Some years ago I drove from Texas to Alaska and then across Canada. I was on the Road 70 days and drove over 10,000 miles. Single, not a camper, but camped, I had no problems. It was AWESOME! Have taken road trips in England, Ireland, Japan, Panama, Costa Rica and New Zealand. If people take your advice their road tripping will open their eyes to just how great this country is, not to mention the people you meet along the way. My goal, now that I am retired is to drive the circumference of the U.S.

      Wow, you are a SERIOUS road tripper! That’s so awesome.

    I’m taking a road trip at the beginning of July from NY to SD, Mount Rushmore to be exact. Totally forgot to take advantage of my AAA membership and get my free maps. I’m glad I stopped by thanks!

    Oh yeah, and the cooler is key to road tripping!

      The free AAA maps are great!

        Used them when I drove to Alaska. That was years ago, so will need to upgrade.

      Drove from Texas to Minneapolis last summer. Picked up a friend there and we then drove to Sturgis, for the motorcycle rally and Mt. Rushmore. Actually The Crazy Horse Monument is very impressive, though not complete. Proceeded down to Taos, N.M,, Then Roswell where we did not encounter any aliens to our disappointment. Returned home to Texas and my friend then flew back to Minn. Needed those AAA maps as we did get sidetracked a few times, but what fun.

    I think a very important DO when traveling is having a good car insurance, specially if your planning to go through the border, mu recommendation here is BestMex, I have a great experience with them, and they give me great rates everytime I used it.

    Good list! Rush hour is the worst – we got stuck through Houston en route to San Antonio and it literally added at least an hour to the trip. And paid wayy to much for a last minute motel in Boston.

    I recommend Carhireplanet for rentals; absolute best deals we could find on cars anywhere online.

      We were stuck in traffic in the loop around Chicago for like TWO HOURS. It was horrible.

    Great adventure!! Do you know about car isnurances when crossing the border, Do we need one? It’s mandatory? I would like to know more on that.

      I’m assuming you mean, like, if you’re crossing the border from Canada or Mexico and driving in the US? Yes, it’s mandatory to have car insurance here!

    After going on a 6-week US road trip this summer I agree with every single point you made! Especially the ones about national parks. Me and my husband bought the national park pass and visited Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen, and Yellowstone – we had a blast! The only thing I would add is to not over-pack! We had way too much stuff with us, especially clothes. If you are on the road for a long time it is better to find a place to wash you clothes every week or two than to pack your car so full that it’s always a complete mess 🙂

      Yes, that’s a great tip, too! It’s not as fun when you have way too much stuff with you.

    Hi Guys ,
    In the midst of planning a two week road trip from Las Vegas , taking in San Diego , L A , Monterey , Yosemite , San Francisco over a two week period. Have Hired a Mustang rag top from Alamo. End of August through to mid September , flights booked from the UK already. Read through your blog and found it very helpful so many thanks. Can’t wait , sooooooo excited.

      That sounds like an awesome trip, Karl! And that’s generally a good time of year, too – San Francisco tends to get some of its best weather in September!

    Very helpful article! My friend an I are planning a 21 day road trip next August! We’re really hoping to do the west coast – however, being from Michigan this means we’d have to fly and rent a car. Do you have any car rental tips for 22 year olds?

      I wish I had better advice, but it will probably be pretty pricey to rent a car for that long if you’re both under 25. 🙁 Do either of you have a car you could take? When my sister and I did a road trip a few years ago, we drove my car so we didn’t have to rent. Even if you wanted to hit up the West Coast, if you have 21 days and don’t mind a few long days of driving, you could drive to California in 4 days or so. (Plus, there are some awesome places to see between Michigan and the West Coast!)

    Just surfing around looking for tips and ideas on road tripping in the US and came across this. Thanks for the write up, the park pass info was definitely helpful. We will be starting in Victoria, BC(home), driving down the coast to LA, then to Vegas…but not sure where to head next. We have 11 days and i’m not that interested in driving through Montana.

      I would definitely suggest Arizona and/or Utah! The Grand Canyon is well worth seeing, and Utah is chock full of incredible landscapes and national parks.

    Hi guys. If anyone has some comments for me here would be awesome.I have a friend getting married on Vancouver Island in early June. I’m from New Zealand. Sooooo I thought if I’m going to make the trip I might as well make it a good one. Basically I want to go from Vancouver across to New York and then maybe down to florida. A short cruise around the Carribean maybe if time permits and maybe then fly back to LA and home to NZ from there.I know America is BIG. I need to try and plan this as well as I can but I’m not too sure about how much time I need to allow to drive these distances , see the sights worth seeing and getting where I need to when I need to. I will be ready to leave Vancouver on about the 7th or 8th of June and need to be back in New Zealand on about the 7th of July.I would love to drive something I could sleep in,i.e. saving money on accommodation. I would like to stay in New York for a couple of days and see some of the main sights ( especially Ground Zero world trades sight) as I am a Firefighter myself and have an affinity with the tragedy of 9/11.
    Apparently there is a possibility of relocating campers or cars for rental companies from one city back to their base city , so any hints on this would be great.any help would be much appreciated. I have approx 1 Month for my road trip so looking forward to it. cheers guys. Graeme

      Hey Graeme! I think you could definitely do that trip in a month, though you would have to pick and choose where you want to stop and spend some time. (Because yes, the US is HGUE!)

      As for relocating cars/campers, we unfortunately don’t have a lot of camper vans here like you do in NZ. Mostly because freedom camping isn’t a thing here, and because the US is so big. You COULD look into car relocations, but you likely wouldn’t be able to spend a month traveling with one (usually a relocation gives you a strict deadline for when you have to deliver the car).

      You might just have to bite the bullet and pay for a car! I would also consider staying in motels – they are always cheaper than hotels, and you’ll find them everywhere. (We don’t really have hostels here, either, except in major cities.)

    Hey these were some good tips for sure, cheers for putting them up. Me and a mate are planning to do about 2 months driving around the States in the summer. You mentioned the US doesn’t have too many hostels, do you think its better to rent a car and find motels/hotels to stay in each spot, or to get a camper van type vehicle and sleep in that. I suspect campground fees are required at most spots so I’m thinking the camper van might not end up any cheaper in the end?

    Any thoughts on this?

    Thanks in advance!

      I’ve never looked into campervans in the States, but my guess is that you might have a hard time finding a camper unless you want a full-on RV. And yes, you’d have to pay to stay in camp sites since we don’t do freedom camping here. I would suggest looking into the car/motels route. A car would be much cheaper to rent, and if the two of you split the cost of a motel you won’t be paying much more than you would in a hostel in Europe or Australia.

    “DON’T travel with someone you can’t stand to be with 24/7.” This reminds me of When Harry met Sally a lot. Anyways, I will put the budgeting section of your article to good use once I have the chance to travel again. Great post Amanda!

    Loved reading your blog, Amanda.
    I live in India and have done quite a few road trips in the US. My most enjoyable was the 10 day trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the PCH. Apart from this I have also done a 9 day trip through Yellowstone National Park from Bozeman to Jackson and the most recent being the one from LA to Sedona and back. I hope to do a New York – Los Angeles trip passing through the Southern states sometime next year.
    Just a few tips for non-US road trippers:
    1. Rent a car with all the insurance you can get. Makes it more expensive but gives you complete peace of mind. If the driver is less than 21 years old, Fox rentals usually rents to those above 19 with an extra charge. Make sure you have your passport, driving license and credit card with you for renting a car.
    2. I prefer a SUV, makes the whole ride a lot more comfortable plus one feels a lot safer in them when passing a 22-wheel truck!
    3. On the hotels, I found Best Western usually gave me what I was looking for – free breakfast, free parking, free wi-fi and well located. For longer stays I preferred Airbnb.
    4. If you don’t have a US phone, get one temporarily with a lot of data. You’ll need it for navigation, booking hotels and the like when you don’t have wifi.

    Thanks for all the tips. We’re hoping to do this “someday” as a family.

      I hope you get to, Lindsey! Road tripping really is the best way to see the US!

    Just got back from a 2 month trip from Savannah, Ga to San Diego and back. Lived in a self built camper van the whole time, saving a ton on hotels and rooms. Probably the single most life changing and influential thing I’ve done yet. Highly recommended!! Loved the article, good tips for a short stint on the road!! Check out my Instagram page @radicalnomads. Have a great day everyone!

    Thank you so very much for sharing these fabulous details. So kind of you. Makes it so much easier for the rest of us novices ! 🙂

    So appreciate you.

      My pleasure! Glad you found these useful!

    My husband and I made our road trip (8100 miles) this past summer. From SC to AL, New Orleans, Coldspring TX, San Antonio, Carlsbad, Las Cruces, Tombstone, Yuma, San Diego, Waikiki, San Diego (nephew’s wedding), Arroyo Grande, Yosemite (my very fav place on earth!!!), Sacramento, Elko, Jackson, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, Sheridan, Deadwood, Mt Rushmore, Rapid City, Sioux City, Paducah, Asheville and home. 5 ½ weeks, no fights, mostly nice hotels (all, but 1, reserved in advance…we had a route and plan) and WAY over budget! ????

      Sounds like a great trip! As for the budget, what’s that old adage? Pack half the clothes you think you need and twice the budget!

    Hi Amanda
    Your post is like a Godsend! I am going to be introducing my two children to “their” country – the USA – this summer. I say “their” because although they both have US citizenship, neither were born in the States nor have they ever lived there, or even visited every year. My daughter will be 17 and my son 11 when we make the trip this summer, and I am so excited. I think we will have a good six weeks on the road. I hope to start in Seattle and head down the coast to southernost California, but am so sad to skip Utah that I am actually considering doing some zigzagging. Do you think that is a bad idea?
    Am so happy to have found your blog!
    Kristin

      Sounds like an awesome trip, Kristin! And those ages are great to do it with, too. As far as doing some extra zig-zagging to include Utah… I would say go for it! Utah is one of the most beautiful states, and is filled with amazing national parks!

    Amanda, I am so glad I found your blog! It’s so well-written and informative. I am daydreaming about taking a road trip “out west” starting in Chicago and making stops in SD, WY, UT, CO, and KS. The theme of the trip will be national parks but I would also visit friends in SD and KS. I have a couple of questions that I hope you can answer! Coming from the flat midwest, I am worried about driving in the mountains. Is that something you had to deal with for the first time on your road trip? Do you have any tips about that? I’ll be taking the trip during the last 2 weeks of April, when I have time off from classes, which sounds doable based on some of your previous comments. However, I’m wondering what would be a realistic budget for this trip. I’m in grad school so I don’t want to be unrealistic about this, but I’m really hoping to make it happen. Thanks for taking the time to read all of your comments!!

      Hey Heidi! Yes, we did drive through the mountains on our trip, but we went in August – no chance of snow! You should be fine in April, but I would check the route you’ll be driving to see if you’ll need special tires or chains or anything since there could still be snow that time of year. Otherwise, I don’t have any specific tips about driving in the mountains. There are still normal roads. 🙂

      As for budget, it completely depends on where you’re going and how long you’ll be staying with friends. My sister and I each saved up about $1500 for our 3-week trip, but we were also paying for accommodation and food everywhere.

    “We had planned to drive through Indiana, but never planned on make a stop in Santa Claus!” – this sounds awesome! I am planning to go with my kids to Indiana, will definitely stop by this big Santa and will make a nice picture for grannies 😉 Thanks for sharing those tips, they are very useful.

      It’s a whole town! Santa Claus, Indiana – lots of cute little Christmas-themed things there. 🙂

    I’m so glad I found this page! I live in Brazil and my brother came back from a 3 month trip throughout Europe, and lately we’ve been thinking about roadtripping across the U.S. We’re super close and our family has lived in D.C. and NY for a couple of years, so we’ve had already some contact with the East Coast – and like you and your sister, we can stand each other 24/7 🙂 . Obviously, routes may change if/when we decide to do this, but we were planning having NYC as our start point and head down to the south until GA, crossing the west towards CA and up Washington state. Since we lived in Canada we want to take advantage and head up to British Columbia. Our plan after BC consists of returning to NYC crossing the Midwest. Sounds crazy right?? Do you think it’s doable in under 6 months? Maybe 4? Plus, my brother wants to do it in a low budget, so we’re seriously considering living in the car for this roadtrip. Too much? lol. Please let me know what you think! Last question – is it possible to find restrooms with showers in American routes?

      You could definitely do it in a couple months, but I’m not sure if you’d want to sleep in your car that whole time!! You can often find pretty affordable motels along the highways, and some bigger cities even have hostels. As for showers, you can often find them at very big gas stations or truck stops, but I don’t know much about the cost of using them since I’ve never done that!

    Great tips. I am sure those are very interesting. I have done a road trip from San Francisco to Portland ME with my two toddlers and my wife. 4000 something miles and it was very fun and interesting. I can’t tell you all the fun we had with our kids. Most tips you mention are great if you travel with an adult but it’s not obvious with toddlers. Anyhow, you have given some great tips. Thanks for the share.

      Very true, Marc! I don’t have any kids, so unfortunately my tips are not geared towards parents!

    When we did our epic two-month trip across the West, our itinerary seemed to change daily! It’s tough when traveling in high season (especially when camping as you campgrounds fill up) because you *want* to have reservations, but at the same time, maybe the weather fails you or maybe you show up in, say, South Dakota and hate it and want to move on…so I find the planning part to be a tricky balance of flexibility.

      Definitely! My sister and I got lucky that the weather was really good (if really hot) for most of our trip out West. We weren’t camping, though, so it was even MORE difficult, since you pretty much have to book hotels/motels ahead of time out that way in the summer!

    I would definitely recommend adding a blanket to your list. I’m partial to those picnic blankets with a waterproof underside. I’ve taken a few road trips and ended up at a local music festival or show where the blanket was really great to have.

      Great suggestion! I especially like the idea of one with a waterproof underside!

    Just found your travel blog and love the whole style! I launched my own culture and travel blog 10 days ago and there’s still so much to learn! You are a huge inspiration for me and I’m sure I can learn from you! 🙂
    Greetings from a German journalist, living in Connecticut!

      Hey Sarah! Glad you stumbled across my blog! The world of blogging is weird and wonderful, but I love it. Best of luck with your site!

    I just discovered this blog and I absolutely love it! A group of my friends and I are planning a big East Coast roadie this summer and you gave a lot of awesome tips that we didn’t even think of! I can’t wait to put them to use as we take off this summer. 🙂

      So glad you found this useful, Elizabeth! Road trips in the US are so fun – I hope you and your friends have an amazing time!

    Hello Amanda,
    How are you!? I’m from Brazil and planning to arrive on Miami on September and start a roadtrip from Florida to California. My main concern is to make it low budget and if it’s a good idea to take this trip alone.

    I’ve found, and you may already know, an amazing site/app called “roadtrippers.com”. According to the site, I should spend about 49 hours driving for 3k miles. Do you think it is possible to do it in 2 weeks and 1,5k of budget?!

    I know it’s hard to ask for some specific details, but is always good to get some experienced advices. As you may’ve noticed, my english is not very good, think I’ll struggle with the different accents on the way.

    Thanks in advance!

      I haven’t done that specific route, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you whether the time estimate is good or now. But it should be. My sister and I did a trip from Ohio to las Vegas and back (about 6600 miles) in 21 days, and with a budget of about $1500 each. So $1500 for just you might be a little low, but it depends where you’ll be staying.

    Your right its better to do research before you go in one place.

    Great post, thanks! My friend and I (2 females from Scotland!) are planning a road trip across America in Oct 2017. We plan to start off in NYC, then train down to Washington D.C., where we’ll pick up the hire car. We plan on finishing up in San Fransisco and definitely want to visit New Mexico, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas along the way.
    We’ve not quite figured out where to visit on the places in between, any tips?
    All suggestions will be gratefully received 🙂
    Best wishes,
    Laura and Sarah

      Oh man, there are so many amazing places to visit! A lot of it will depend on the route you take (north, south, or across the middle). Some of my favorite road trip stops are listed here: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2011/09/road-trip-11-my-10-favorite-road-trip-stops/

      Utah is possibly the most beautiful state out West, and I would definitely make time to visit at least a couple of the national parks there: https://www.dangerous-business.com/2016/04/mighty-5-utahs-top-national-parks/

    I love road side attractions like the big Santa Claus! They give you a chance to stretch your legs and your imagination as some of them are quite quirky! We seek them out nearby whenever we travel. A fun on in Austin, Texas is called the Cathedral of Junk. It is an artistic creation of 60-1oo (even the artist isn’t sure exactly how much) TONS of random stuff. It is crazy and cool and a must see if you are in the Austin area!!!

      I’ll definitely add that to my list for when I eventually make it to Austin!

    Hi,
    My sister and I are planning a road trip through America and Canada, spending 4 months. We are looking at possibly picking up an escape campervan in SF. We are planning to travel up the west coast (stopping in at Lake Tahoe for 4th July ) to Canada (as far out as Calgary) were we would spend 2 or 3 weeks before making our way back into America zigzagging the Midwest to KS over to AR, TN, WV, to ME. From ME we were thinking of driving down the East Coast stopping regularly until we reached Jacksonville FL, from there onto AL, LA, Dallas TX, Carlsbad Caverns NM, back to Amarillo TX, across to Santa Fe NM, then on to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, horseshoe bend, Las Vegas then Los Angeles CA, eventually to Yosemite and back to SF. We are not too big on seeing the cities, more of the country small towns and national/state Parks.
    Mostly I guess we are asking would you think that this is possible in that time frame?
    Thanks in advance!

      If you have 4 months to travel, I definitely think you can fit that all in. My sister and I drove to Las Vegas and back (from Ohio), and only took 3 weeks while still stopping to see everything we wanted.

    Hi Amanda,
    This is a great write up and very helpful. My wife and I are about to embark on our epic 3 week roadtrip accross America in February. What makes it even more interesting for us is that I am from Australia so we drive on the Right hand side of the car! Im sure it will be a challenge but we can’t wait! I have ordered the Rand McNally Atlas as suggested and invested in a GPS with a dash cam built in.. I’m sure it will be my new best friend whilst driving. We are driving from LA to Vegas, Show Low in Arizona, Albequerque, Oklahoma City, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Memphis, Nashville, Lexington in Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Washington DC. We hand the car back here and bus it to New York before flying back to LA then fly home.. We have friends in Show Low, Fort Leonard Wood and Kentucky! I have it all planned and all accomodation is booked and paid for and most sight seeing things are paid already aswell (Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Vegas Helicoptor flight, tour guide in LA, etc… We are excited.. Only 37 days to go.. Thanks again for a great helpful tip list!

    Cheers
    Tony & Rina

      Happy to be able to help, Tony. It sounds like a great trip (though make sure you bring warm clothes for the east coast!). Driving on the other side of the road will feel really strange at first, but I can say from experience that you get used to it really quickly!

    Do: Take extra

    This goes for food, money, and especially water. Plan how much you think you’ll need of everything, then take a little bit more, if you possibly can. Taking a few extra bags of crisps may prove to be a lifesaver – not literally, but you know what we mean. And water literally could be a lifesaver! (Sorry to mention it twice, but it really does bear repeating.)

    Don’t: Choose your driving partner(s) on a whim

    Just met someone who you think is awesome? That’s great – don’t go on a road trip with them. You need to know that you can handle being in your buddy’s company pretty much constantly, for a long period of time. Lifelong friend, or sibling? Yes. Guy you met in a bar last week? Maybe not. The experience may end your friendship before it’s begun.

    “Don’t pick up questionable hitch hikers” It’s usually the charismatic and clean cut ones who are the sociopaths. You don’t have to travel paranoid but its by far best not to pick up ANY hitch hikers. Great web site and info.

      There are some situations where I’d feel comfortable picking up hitchhikers, but it’s obviously something you have to trust your gut on!

    Thanks for all the great tips! How do I access your playlist though? Thanks 🙂

      I don’t have a playlist to share, I’m afraid!

    My wife and I are planning to drive to Phoenix AZ fro Toronto Ontario Canada. We would like to know what places (cities/towns) along the route is not recommended to stay to sleep. We are going thru Chicago, St Louis, Oklahoma, Albuquerque & Arizona.

      I haven’t driven that exact route, but I don’t really have any specific places that I *wouldn’t* recommend. Especially if you’re mostly just going to be sleeping there. 🙂

      I really like Chicago, St. Louis is cool, and Oklahoma City is worth stopping in. As for Albuquerque, I would recommend stopping in Santa Fe instead if you can, just because Santa Fe is such a pretty city!

    When sharing the road with large trucks, be aware of their blind spots. If you can’t see the truck driver in his or her mirrors, then the truck driver can’t see you.Thanks for sharing!

      Yes, always an important tip to remember when driving on highways!

    Thanks for sharing such valuable tips. Our online community is actually benefiting a lot from them, as we have referenced and guided them to read this article. Really excited for being to share this with our members and readers!

    Great! While this is another good idea for long drives, Pull over, walk around the car, grab a snack or a cup of coffee, or take a nice walk down the road. I like to give myself an extra hour of driving time, so I know I can make at least a few stops along the way. Thanks!

      Yes, allowing some extra time so you can stop and stretch your legs is always a good idea!

    Thank you for a great post, by far one of the best I have come across.
    My partner and I are planning on a one month trip next summer. Ideally from NY, Louisville, Chicago, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah and through Arizona to Las Vegas and LA, maybe San Francisco, fly to Miami 1or two days, and then fly NY and out. Would love to drive to Florida too and even all the way to New York, but thinking we may already be a bit ambitious with what we have crammed into one month without that. What do you think?

      Definitely ambitious! The US is really big, and even with a month you’re probably going to feel rushed to fit all that in!

        Thank you for your response. I hope once we get a more detailed plan that it will work out, at least for the cross country bit without Florida to start with.

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