Summer Road Trip Tips

It’s summertime, the best time of year for many of us. It’s all about grilling on the bbq, outdoor sporting events, and one of the great American pastimes: the road trip! The United States, with its vast open spaces, pristine national parks and fascinating monuments, is rife for exploration and travel. And it’s a car culture, so practically every American of the legal driving age either owns a car or has access to one. So before you head out on the open road to exciting and new destinations, here are some summer road trip tips to make the experience the most fulfilling one.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere: Photo by Anders Jilden

Summer Road Trip Tips

Plan Out Your Route

Planning is key. Pinpoint destinations and determine the time and distance between them. This is easy to do using Google Maps or the map on your smartphone. But factor in the unexpected. Don’t be too rigid in your itinerary. Keeping in loose and flexible whenever possible will lead to a more easeful rewarding experience. Expect things to go differently than expected. There’s a lot to see off the tourist-beaten path.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Google Maps Route Plan
Google Maps Route Plan: Photo on Flickr by Brenda Anderson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

App It On Your Phone

There are some great apps for your smartphone out there that can assist you in plotting out your trip. Here are some of my personal favorites that I’ve found  invaluable in my road trip planning. Download them to your mobile phone and familiarize yourself with them before you set off on your adventure.

Summer Road Trip Tips: iPhone Apps
iPhone Apps: Photo on Flickr by Jorge Quinteros / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Using Google-Maps based directions to plot your route, the RoadsideAmerica app can assist you in finding important stops along the way. Calculating time and distance between each stop, this app also allows you to calculate fuel costs.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Roadside America
Roadside America: Photo on Flickr by Savannah Sam Photography & Coastal Art / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The AlongTheWay app for iOS reveals stops along the way, but also is a great resource for discovering restaurants, parks, museums, and other attractions.

Field Trip

This is Google’s excellent mobile app for finding remarkable landmarks. Field Trip scans the terrain you are in and pings you with an alert if there is something of note nearby. It’s completely customizable


his fast, handy app doesn’t have a notification feature like Field Trip, but AroundMe is a great source to find local restaurants, bars, and even movie theaters. You can also locate local medical facilities, cash machines, and parking lots.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Saturday Night at the Movies Fort Myer Florida
Saturday Night at the Movies: Photo on Flickr by Pat O’Malley / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The Findery App is essentially a crowdsourced version of Field Trip where you can find more hidden local attractions like public art and murals and read user reviews and interesting facts about them.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Murals in Limerick Ireland
Murals in Limerick: Photo on Flickr by Stefan Jürgensen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Create a Budget

Of course there are always going to be unexpected cost involved in a road trip, so it’s best to work up a budget before you leave. Travel Budget Calculator is a great source for planning out your trip’s expenses.
Fill up your car with gas before you leave. You most certainly know where the cheapest place to fill up is in your town, and you can set out on time if you start with a full tank of gas

Summer Road Trip Tips: Hang on to your Cash
Hang on to your Cash: Photo on Flickr by SS&SS / CC BY-NC 2.0

Pack Light, Pack Less, Pack Essentials

If you pack on the lighter side, not only will you have more room in your car, but travelling with a lighter load (and following the speed limit) will save you money on gas, sometimes as much as 33% on the freeway, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Summer Road Trip Tips: My Possessions for a Month Packing
My Possessions for a Month: Photo on Flickr by Matito / CC BY-SA 2.0

Be Smart About Gas and Food

It’s often difficult to find decent places to eat on the road beyond the track stop or fast food restaurant. When lightening your load, leave space for a cooler with food and beverages that you pack before the trip. This will ensure that you won’t be left stranded having to choose between McDonald’s and Arby’s.
Those off the highway truck stops are a great place to stop for gas, however since there are often multiple gas stations competing for your business and driving down the price of gas there.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Petrol for Sale! Victoria Australia
Petrol for Sale! – Photo on Flickr by Luke Richardson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Take your car for a tune up before you leave. This will help you get better mileage, and also set you forth on your trip in a more relaxed state of mind.

Prepare Your Entertainment

Don’t embark on your adventure before arranging your music playlist. On a long road trip, listening to top 40 hits can get tiresome, and talk radio can put you to sleep. Put together an engaging playlist of familiar music as well as something new you haven’t heard before. Pack books and magazines. If you have kids and are preparing for a family holiday, make sure you make room for a wide variety of games and toys to keep them occupied.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Inflight Entertainment
Inflight Entertainment on Flickr by Frans Persoon / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Prepare for an Emergency

Make sure you have the tools you need in case of an emergency: everything you need to change a flat tire, jumper cables, first aid kit, flares, blankets. Bourbon.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Be prepared for a Flat Tyre
Be prepared for a Flat Tyre: Photo on Flickr by Elvis Kennedy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Procure a Paper Map

When driving someplace like Death Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park, or practically anywhere in Idaho outside of the city of Boise, you are almost certainly going to get off the grid and lose cell phone service. Invest in an inexpensive paper map of your route in the event that you should fall off the digital map.

Summer Road Trip Tips: Ordnance Survey Map
Ordnance Survey Map: Photo on Flickr by Christopher Bulle / CC BY 2.0

Turn Your Summer Memories into Prints

By the end of the road trip you’ve probably amassed a heap of images on your phone, or Instagram, or Facebook. Collect the best of them, go old school and print them in a photo book that you can display on your coffee table. There are printing services that will  Keep the memory of your summer road trip alive long after you’ve completed the journey.
Get on the road with these summer road trip tips and enjoy the journey safely, wisely, and creatively.

listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go

–e.e. cummings

One Response

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