Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my first big road trip. I packed up everything I owned in my tiny Toyota Yaris and with my best friend by my side embarked on the trek of a lifetime. We traveled west to east across the country and ended a 15-day trip, with over 18 states under our belt, and 5552 miles on our tires. Something so momentous to me that I ended up tattooing that number on my body. Since then I have done a second cross country trip and countless other road trips. There is something so fun about exploring new areas of the United States and spending time in the car while doing it. From all my experiences I have come up with some great rules to live by for taking a road trip.
Don’t over plan. If you have specific places you would like to go that is great. However, do not plan every moment. Leave room to relax, room to stop at fun things on the side of the road, room to slow down. I hate putting a time frame on when you need to officially get somewhere, it adds so much stress to your journey.
Finding great places to stop. As much as I hate the idea of over planning its not a bad idea to do a little research of places you are heading. Keep in mind places like trip advisor list the most POPULAR places. Although they might be fun they also might be packed. There might be something else as equally amazing if not better in the area that is not as busy (and/or cheaper). I love using Atlas Obscura. Just plug in a city you are going to or use their map option to look up weird places in a set area. I have found some of my best road trip stops on there. Including this fun tree:
Another great place to find places to stop is the road signs! I have enjoyed some very unique and often overlooked places by reading the “attraction” signs on the side of the highway. Including this fun little bridge in Oregon. The official shortest, and claimed oldest, covered bridge in the state.
Packing. I strongly believe that over packing is better than under packing. You have a whole car! (normally unless you are moving in which case all your stuff is with you anyways). Do not be afraid to throw in that extra sweater, or comfy pillow, or heck a tent just in case the wind blows you to a campground. There’s nothing worse to having to spend hard earned road trip money on something you could have packed and own at home or miss an experience because an item is not with you to make it happen.
Snacks. I am a big believer in a cooler. I did not always have it and now that it’s a staple road trip item of mine I don’t know how I lived without it. Easy to bring cold drinks, cheese, sandwiches to keep your expenses low and allow you to picnic wherever you want! Plus, a giant bag of snacks! You don’t always want to stop when you get the munchies. I also love finding hidden gem rest stops or viewpoints to have a snack and stretch my legs.
Navigation. Try not to rely on your GPS for the whole trip. If you have a basic destination to head towards, a state or a city, just point yourself in the right direction turn off the maps and enjoy the trek. Sometimes you miss the journey if you are focusing on following a line on your GPS. I will say I have carried a paper map of the US in the back of my car for years and never used it. Its never a bad idea to have a backup if you get lost but technology has come a long way.
Overnight Accommodations. First up, decide whether you want your overnight accommodations to be a place to rest your head or part of your experience. If you are just looking for a place to rest your head sticking to the old faithful’s (motel 6, Super 8) is not a wrong way to go. One interjection is that if you find yourself in a smaller town some of the “inns” and “motels” you might normally overlook as seedy can often be such gems. Same price as a brand name but run by families with so much more character. Either way do not be expecting ritzy quality. You are literally paying for a bed and a roof.
If you are looking for more of an experience, I’ve found great options through airbnb and hip camp. Know your budget and know that the “price per night” isn’t always the final cost so make sure you know what you are paying for before booking. On airbnb I love finding fun unique places to stay like tiny houses or hidden cabins. Hip camp gives great one of a kind alternatives to your normal overnight stay. Besides for campsites and RV parking they also offer off grid living, yurts, and overall great glamping experiences.Cost/expenses. More often then not I am on a budget for my road trip. I cannot drop hundreds on food and everything else you can find on the road. As mentioned above two great money savers are bringing snacks and avoiding highly popular attractions for cheaper (equally awesome) ones. If you know you are going to be frequenting specific attractions like National Parks, investigate getting an all-inclusive pass. More money up front but a saver in the end. Also look for attractions that give AAA discounts. Even better, find the free attractions! So many hiking spots or fun stops are 100% free. Another way is to adjust your overnight accommodations. Do not be afraid to utilize car camping at free spots or cheaper camp sites to spread out your budget.
Fuel. I have two rules for your gas tank. If you are on the main highway start looking for a gas station as soon as your tank hits ¼. If you are anywhere off the main drag start looking for a gas station as soon as your tank hits ½. You might feel that is over exaggerating the need. However, I would rather stop more and feel confident that I can get where I am going, then miss out on great stretches of road stressing over finding a gas station. Or worse, running out of gas on some back highway.
Staying Safe. There are a few quick tips I follow for safety.
- Whether you are traveling by yourself or with a friend never underestimate the way a place makes you feel. If you do not get the right vibes from someplace, do not stop. There are plenty of other amazing things out there to experience.
- Always make sure someone knows your itinerary. You do not need to check in at every stop just make sure someone knows your general route, i.e. what towns you are expected to stop in for the night.
- Take all your bags into the hotel each night. As a rule, do not leave anything in the car you don’t want taken. It might be a drag, but as someone who used to work in the rental car industry, I cannot tell you how many peoples trips were ruined by someone breaking in a window and stealing their stuff.
Hopefully, you find these tips helpful and if you would like any extra advise or have any more questions for your upcoming road trip feel free to email me! (over on my contact page).
Happy [road trip] roaming!