After dreaming for months of a slow cross-country road trip, I recently drove from central Florida to Arizona! I spent the summer reading tips and itineraries, and ultimately found there was no one-size-fits-all blueprint to planning a true Great American Road Trip. Here is a little guide I hatched to help myself (and hopefully others!)
- How long do you have? While I had a bit of a rush to arrive in time for my first day of classes, there are sometimes great opportunities to leisurely draw out your trip. My three day cross-country trip could have easily been extended a couple weeks; for inspo, Michelle from Live Like It’s The Weekend just took a long trip visiting National Parks across the U.S. Also, while you may have more time, it’s important to consider how you want to spend it; for example, I had a span of eight days for spring break, and I wanted at least two of those days to be no-travel days in Las Vegas, the start and end point of the road trip. Figure out first your Start/End points, places you want to really explore, where you’re fine breezing through, etc. With limited time, zoom out of the most efficient Google Maps route and look for quick attractions, like Big Texan Steakhouse on Route 66 or the Meteor Crater.
- How are you getting from Point A to Point B? If you’re driving your own car, it’s helpful to calculate the mileage and gas you’re putting it. If you’re renting a car, compare companies and look into discounts from agencies like AAA or AARP. Similarly, if you’re under 25, some car rental companies won’t rent to you, though some just have an additional fee for younger drivers. This also goes hand in hand with where you decide to go – you may need to start in a particular city to use your rental company of choice, like camper van rental companies.
- What does your budget look like? Again, factor in gas prices – a more fuel-efficient rental may save you gas money in the long run though it’s more expensive up front. Budgeting is similarly important with accommodations; if use points to offset costs of splurging other nights’ stays, that is great! Some hotel stays are less expensive with sites like Groupon, or calling directly about any current promotions. If you prefer to camp, consider the cost of buying any tents, campfire stoves, etc. Shop secondhand or look out for REI sales well in advance of your trip (saves $ and more sustainable!). A camper van may also be a great option if you’re looking both to rent a vehicle and camp; check out this great list by Adventure Journal on camper van rental companies.
- Who are you going with? During college, I drove alone from Chapel Hill to Philadelphia; over the six hours, I saw some bomb views from the comfort of I-95, like the Washington Monument and the Baltimore Harbor! It was super empowering and I would totally do it again on my own. However, my girlfriends and I should share a week-long Pacific Coast road trip. If you are planning a trip with friends, make sure you are all collaborating on the itinerary, monitoring spending, etc. If it’s a whole bunch of friends, this post outlines my top tips for large group trips.
In the car, you’ll want:
- Snacks, duh
- Reusable water bottle, for easy fill-up at restaurant stops
- Vehicle registration – just double-check for it before leaving!
- Downloaded Spotify playlists (not just saved to your library!)
- A print-out packet for the glove compartment, including:
- Accommodation confirmations (hotel receipts, campsite numbers, etc)
- Google Maps directions, especially if there is a chance you lose service
- Rough itinerary for each day, including any fun stops in the event of extra time
- Flight confirmations, if you’re flying out of your end destination