Road trips are one of those quintessential summer vacations that everyone does at some point in their lives. They’re a cost-effective holiday that provides the excitement, adventure, and spontaneity that few other vacations can.
A road trip across America is the ultimate getaway for adventure seekers dying to explore their country. Keep reading to learn how to plan a road trip that fun and unforgettable.
1. Decide How Spontaneous You Want Your Trip to Be
Do you have a bucket list of places you want to see on your cross country road trip? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants kind of traveler?
Before you head out, you should determine how spontaneous you want it to be. Are you going to drive to a set destination every day or just pull into a motel when you’re feeling sleepy?
If you’re a planner, you’ll want to book hotels and map out your traveling days in advance. This will ensure the number of surprises you encounter along your way is kept to a minimum. You’ll know exactly when and where you’re starting and stopping each day.
A spontaneous road trip is more adventurous, but can also lead to challenges. If you don’t plan, you can wind up in the middle of nowhere without food or gas.
You can strike a healthy balance between spontaneity and planning, however. We recommend having a rough itinerary and trying to stick to it. If you need to make adjustments, so be it, but at least you’ll know where you want to go and what you want to see.
2. Bring the Right Gear
Create and stick to a packing list for your road trip to ensure you’re ready for whatever your journey will bring.
You’ll encounter many different climates as you traverse across our beautiful country. Be sure to pack plenty of clothing to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature, no matter where you’re visiting.
If you’re making a lot of miles, you may need to wear clothes for different seasons throughout the day. You might need a spring jacket in the morning and shorts and a tank top by the afternoon.
If you’re road-tripping during the winter months, you’ll want many layers to keep you warm in case you get stuck in a storm.
A cooler is one of those road trip essentials you won’t regret toting along with you. Buy drinks at your local grocery store before you leave to save money on gas station mark-ups. You can also pack healthy snacks like yogurt, string cheese, grapes, and vegetables to keep you satiated on your drive.
We’re all accustomed to using Google Maps in our everyday lives. But what happens if you lose satellite connection in a booming metropolis or on a long stretch of country road? You’ll want a physical map as a back-up plan if technology fails you.
Are you planning on calling it a night in the comfort of your own car? If so, you might want to consider bringing some of your creature comforts from home—a blanket and pillow, namely.
If you have space in your vehicle, a car air mattress can make for a comfortable night’s sleep.
If the seat in your vehicle makes your posterior ache on your commute to work, you’ll want something more comfortable for your road trip. We recommend investing in the best gel infused seat cushion to ensure you’re cozy for those long days of driving.
First Aid and Emergency Kits
You should already have a car first aid and an emergency kit in your vehicle, but if not, it’s time to get one. These kits are full of equipment and gear that can save your life in an emergency. You can save money by putting together your own kit.
Be sure to include items like:
- bug bite treatment
- emergency hammer
- jumper cables
- emergency foil blanket
- antiseptic wipes
- first aid tape
- road flares
3. Preload Your Phone
If you’ve ever been on a long road trip, you know how boring it can get after the novelty wears off. Neverending stretches of highway will be more interesting if you prep your smartphone in advance.
Create road trip playlists with your favorite sing-along songs to keep you entertained.
If you’re like half of Americans, you listen to podcasts on your commutes or in your spare time. We recommend downloading several different types of podcasts to stream as you drive. Try new a new series you’ve never made time for before.
Audiobooks are another great boredom buster for your trip.
4. Visit the National Parks
While the crowds at Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon can be off-putting, these national parks are popular for a reason. If these destinations are on your travel bucket list, plan to visit them as early in the day as possible. You’ll beat the crowds and the heat, making your day much more enjoyable.
Use the Find a Park function on the National Parks website to learn about your options as you drive through each state. Each park is unique in its geography and attraction choices, so pick and choose ones that appeal to you the most.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina provides stunning views and opportunities to learn about the areas rich history.
The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and Lake Mead in Nevada are must-sees for adventurous nature lovers.
You’re sure to make a great day of it no matter which parks you plan to visit. Be sure to check the National Parks website to find pertinent information before making your day trip.
5. Download the Right Apps
You already know that you should have music, podcasts, and audiobooks on hand to keep you entertained during your trip. But are there other apps you should download in advance, too?
While they’re not necessary for a great road trip, some apps can help make your vacation easier and more enjoyable.
HotelTonight and Expedia are fantastic to use when looking for a place to rest your head for the night.
While Google and Apple Maps will fill you in on what traffic looks like, Waze relies on community members to provide information on traffic, accidents, and speed limits.
If you’re looking to save money on gas, you need to download GasBuddy. It will use your GPS location to determine where in the world you are and then list the cost of fuel in nearby gas stations.
Apps like Groupon or LivingSocial provide great deals on dining, events, and attractions for the destinations you’re visiting.
If you thrive on kitschy roadside attractions, you need the iPhone app Roadside America. The app will show you where unique entertainment opportunities lie, such as the Oddporium in Delaware or the world’s largest frying pan in Brandon, Iowa.
6. Consider Low-Cost Accommodations
Hotels are nice to stay in, sure. A hot shower at the end of a long day of driving feels like heaven on earth. But if you’re serious about making this road trip work on a shoestring budget, consider low-cost accommodation options.
Couchsurfing provides a unique way for you to meet locals in the places you’re stopping on your trip. This free service connects you to friendly locals who offer a bed or couch in their home for you to sleep. Make sure you read the host’s references before deciding to crash at their place, though.
Camping is another way to save money on your trip. Pack a tent in your vehicle and sleep under the stars for the duration of your vacation.
7. Ensure Your Car is In Tip-Top Shape
The last thing you want to deal with on your road trip is a faulty vehicle. Take your car to the shop well in advance to ensure it’s in tip-top shape for the journey it’s about to embark upon. If you’re on a budget, try tackling some of the pre-trip maintenance yourself.
Check the wipers to ensure they’re in working order, so you’re not in for a surprise on the first rainfall.
Take a look at your brake, power steering, and transmission fluids to ensure they’re at the right level.
Take a walk around your vehicle to look at the headlights, taillights, and tires. Ensure your lighting system is in working order and that there are no signs of damage to your tires. You may want to check the tire pressure while you’re at it, too.
Start Your Road Trip Across America
Your road trip across America is sure to be a blast with our helpful tips at your disposal. So sit back, relax, and let the wide-open road guide you along your way.
Keep reading our Travel section to find more tips on planning your next vacation.
You should already have a car first aid and an emergency kit in your vehicle, but if not, it’s time to get one. These kits are full of equipment and gear that can save your life in an emergency. You can save money by putting together your own kit. If you have certain medical needs that could become serious, it’s worth it to read medical guardian reviews to see if that type of product would give you peace of mind on a road trip.