Planning a road trip is no easy feat, but it isn't rocket science either. There is no better time than the present, and a road trip doesn't have to take weeks!
A cross-country road trip through the USA is a bucket list item for people worldwide. There are so many routes to pick from, 48 potential states to visit, and an unlimited number of things to see. I finally took a much-anticipated eleven-day drive from New Jersey to Seattle this past summer, and here are my takeaways.
Leave Room for Spontaneity
I love to plan everything, but you can’t enjoy a road trip without some flexibility. Leave some room every day to go somewhere unexpected. I had a list of fun backup places to potentially visit if I had the time, but I made sure to talk to the locals and see if they had anything to recommend.
You might also run into signs along the drive advertising local activities that you didn’t know even existed. In fact, my favorite memories from the road trip are from random stops at the Corn Palace and Wall Drug. Plus, there may be unexpected problems with your car, and having to reschedule due to a breakdown can be a huge downer.
You Can’t Do It All, So Don’t Try
It is so tempting to visit every interesting-sounding place. Every state has random hidden gems, such as the largest ball of twine! You’ll drive yourself crazy and run yourself ragged trying to visit each one. I recommend making a concise list of must-sees and a longer backup list. An all-or-nothing mentality will keep you from enjoying the stops you make to the fullest.
Even if you don’t think you’ll ever go on another road trip, keep a “save it for next time” mentality. You may fall in love with a city or state and end up coming back, so don’t try to pack so much into a road trip that you end up too tired to appreciate it.
Book Accommodation with Flexible Cancelation Policies
Plans can change. Say that again! Especially if you are driving long distances or take too long somewhere cool, don’t ruin the experience by rushing just to get to the next place you booked. Although I highly recommend booking where you are staying in advance, try to find places with flexible cancelation policies, so you don’t end up losing your money.
If you plan on camping and staying at KOAs, make sure to pay a little extra for the membership. We did the math, and we saved over $100 in just 11 days by paying the $33 yearly membership fee. Keep in mind that booking last minute can be expensive if places book up. Even at a KOA, a cabin can cost as much as $60, and if you book last minute, the cheaper options may be sold out.
This sounds a lot easier than it sounds. Living out of a suitcase is a pain. Packing, unpacking, and repacking every few days is a nightmare. Save yourself the trouble by bringing less. Think back to your recent trips and recall what you truly needed. Having fewer things will give you room in the car and make you feel freer in general.
Also, try to book places that offer laundry services, so you only have to bring a few days’ worth of clothes. I like to buy t-shirts as souvenirs, if you’re like me, pack fewer t-shirts knowing you’ll be buying some along the way. If you overpack or overbuy, you can always mail stuff home. If you are shipping domestically, a flat-rate box only costs around $10 and can fit a surprising amount.
Download Road Trip Music
You’ll be surprised how spotty the internet can get in the midwest or even in larger cities. Unless you aren’t picky and don’t mind listening to local pastors preach for hours on the radio, download some music. Don’t forget to download more than you think you need because, after several days on repeat, you’ll find yourself hating your favorite songs.
Print or Download Offline Maps
Not having music is sad. Not having directions to your hotel or campground can leave you stranded or waste time lost. You can download entire regions on Google Maps to browse offline, but having a marked-up printed map doesn’t hurt either. Especially if you want to save that phone battery.
Invest in a Car Charger or Power Bank
Speaking of phone battery, make sure you have a good car charger, a power bank, or both. I am constantly taking photos and videos, so charging my phone is crucial. I have several car chargers and power banks to ensure my battery stays full.
This is also important if you use your phone for music or to navigate. You may be able to find a gas station or drug store along the way with decent car chargers or power banks, but you may end up overpaying for something subpar. I also like to ask the server to charge my phone behind the bar whenever I visit a restaurant or bar.
Bring Your Favorite Creamer or Coffee Set-Up
I know I told you not to overpack, but if you are a coffee snob, bringing a French press or Chemex could make or break your trip. I had a lot of trouble with gas station coffee, so I made a pit stop at Walmart to get a simple coffee machine and decent coffee. Also, if you prefer non-dairy coffee or creamer, you may need to pack some with you because it isn’t as common as you may think.
You Will Need Cash, Bring Some
Yes, it’s 2022, and most places take cards, Apple Pay, and even Venmo. However, you may find yourself somewhere that’s cash-only. Even if there’s an ATM around, some charge a hefty withdrawal fee. Bring some extra cash and leave a few bills in the car just in case. Future you will thank you!
Don’t Overthink It
Planning a road trip is no easy feat, but it isn’t rocket science either. Many people say they’ll go on a road trip one day instead of just doing it. There is no better time than the present, and a road trip doesn’t have to take weeks. You can do a test run on a shorter trip if you’re feeling anxious, and then just bite the bullet and go!
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