Planning Your First Road Trip Across the USA

Woman leaning out of car on mountain road. Road trip across the USA

The best way to see any country is to travel by car. If you’re a young traveler or new to traveling in general, a long-distance road trip across the USA is a wonderful start to your adventures. If such a trip piques your interest, let’s discuss how to prepare, where to stop along the way, and what to do once you get to your destination.

Preparing for your travels

Besides having a reliable car, there are certain road trip essentials you should make sure to obtain before you depart. A reliable phone is one of them. There are amazing apps to assist in emergencies and GPS apps that will help you find the best route and alert you to high-traffic areas. They can show you rest stops, food, gas stations, coffee and places to sleep. 

If you need a new phone, Apple’s iPhone 11, which features a top-of-the-line camera to help document your travels, comes with a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” option that can help you focus on the present (e.g., sights, company, experience). Alternatively, compare Android models to find the one that works best for you. Some models have the Android Auto feature, which promotes safe driving by simplifying the controls and locking the phone. 

Packing for your road trip

Packing should be well-thought-out but not stressed over. You’re taking a road trip across the USA, so if you forget something you’ll pass countless stores along the way that have what you need. Don’t overwhelm your car with clothes, but pack enough that you won’t have to do laundry. You may choose to drive home, but if you are pressed for time you might rent a car one way and fly back. If that’s the case, you’ll want to limit what you have to carry.

Also, plan for emergencies. Make sure you have the following:

Plan your trip

Mount Rushmore. Road trip across the USA
Mount Rushmore. Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

A true cross-country trip should go from one coast to the other, regardless of what side you start from. The best part of the trip will not be the final destination, but the experiences and sights along the way. If you start from the East Coast, choose a northern or southern route to get to the opposite coast. Some popular spots along the way are:

  • Big cities like Chicago (northern route), Saint Louis (central route), Nashville and New Orleans (both southern route)
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway through the Smoky Mountains (southern and central routes)
  • Mount Rushmore in the Dakotas (northern route)
  • Route 66, which expands from Chicago to Los Angeles, includes towns and museums and goes by way of the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas (northern route to southern route)
  • The Alamo (southern route)

If you’re on a tight schedule, you can plan your trip to the day, including miles driven, stops and where you will stay. If you have some flexibility in your itinerary it may be worth it to explore, let yourself take time in places that interest you and stop at places you hadn’t planned. Keep in mind, however, that driving can be exhausting; you’ll want to soak up the moment, so plan to stay at least a couple days in one place midway through your trip.

Enjoy your destination 

There is something so freeing and satisfying about arriving at your intended spot. Revel in your destination. The perk of starting on the East Coast and ending on the West Coast is that you can see great coastal spots from the tip of Washington down to the bottom of California. If you choose a northern route, you can enjoy the lush greenery of Washington and Oregon. Plus, northern California offers beaches, wine country and San Francisco. Highway 1 down California’s coastline is a treasure. The southern California coastline is simply paradise.

A road trip across the USA is a great way to travel and capture wonderful memories. You don’t have to break the bank to have a wonderful trip; you can plan for reasonable meals and lodging while seeing national treasures. Get equipped with the right phone, food, water, and emergency gear. Plan your trip, enjoy it, and then revel in your destination. 

About Catherine Workman

Catherine Workman believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in awhile. She travels to boost her physical and mental health.

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