Road trips are a fun way to explore the country and experience new places you wouldn’t get the opportunity to see if you were flying. And planning a cross-country road trip is half the fun!
There are so many amazing places to see. You want to maximize your time when you’re on a road trip and make sure you hit up all the must-see places along the way.
But planning an extended trip and coordinating many stops can get to be overwhelming. Don’t stress though.
I’m going to share some useful road trip planning tips with you to help you plan an epic cross-country road trip!
8 Tips for How to Plan an Epic Cross-Country Road Trip
1. Map out your route
Start by plugging your starting and ending points into Google Maps. This will show you some of the routes you can take.
I’m a visual person, so I need to see where I’m going. Plus, by mapping out your route, you can see places you’ll be passing through.
That might give you ideas of other places you want to visit. For example, let’s say you’re driving from Los Angeles to New York. You could:
- go up through Las Vegas to try your luck at gambling,
- hit up the National Parks in Utah and do some hiking,
- see Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ,
- soak in a few hot springs in Colorado,
- chow down on some BBQ in St. Louis,
- and take in some historical sites in Pennsylvania before reaching New York
That sounds like an awesome cross-country road trip! But there are so many different routes you could take.
Check a map to see alternate route options. And choose the one that will get you to the places you’re most interested in seeing.
2. Figure out some stops along the way
There are most likely going to be quite a few other places along the way that would be worth taking a detour to see. Do some research to find more places you want to visit.
For example, you could be driving through Illinois along I-70. In that case, you might want to make a quick stop in the town of Casey, IL to see their incredible collection of World’s Largest items.
And you might not want to miss seeing some of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures along the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota.
What if you didn’t do some research in advance, and then found out after your trip that you had missed those places? You’d kick yourself! Been there.
Take some time beforehand to make sure you don’t miss out on any must-see places on or near your road-trip route. Pinterest and Instagram are both great for finding random and worthwhile places to visit!
Plus, making some stops along the way will also help you break up your drive. And that brings us to the next tip…
3. Break up the drive
Road trips can be a blast, but driving long distances can be tiring. Know your limits. The longest drive I’ve done in a single day so far is 880 miles. That was entirely too long! I now know I don’t want to do that again.
Keep distance and drive time in mind when you’re planning out your route. That will help you figure out where you should stay each night during your trip.
Your cross-country road trip will be more enjoyable if you don’t have to rush and drive too far each day. So break up the drive, figure out where to crash each night, and take in some of the sights to make the most of any downtime.
4. Don’t get too low on gas
Something else to keep in mind with the drive itself is your gas level. Don’t let your gas get too low. You might think there’s bound to be a gas station up ahead.
But you could be in the middle of nowhere where gas stations are few and far between. You might not make it to the nearest gas station that happens to still be 50 miles away.
My rule of thumb is once the gas gets to ½ a tank, I start looking for an ideal gas station to stop at. And if the tank gets down to ¼, I stop at the next gas station I come across.
Be aware of how far you can go on a tank of gas, but don’t press your luck. It’s not worth the stress of wondering if you’re going to make it to the gas station or run out of gas and be stranded.
5. Get an idea of where to stay
One of the best things about a road trip is the flexibility! You don’t have to catch a flight at a certain time. You can go where you want when you want. If you love a place, stay longer. If you’re not feeling a place, you can bounce.
If your road trip is during the busy season (special events, weekends, and/or any holidays), book your accommodations beforehand. If you’re going to hold off on booking a place to stay in advance, I still recommend researching places to stay beforehand.
That way you can at least have an idea of where you might want to stay. It will be less stressful as you get to your destination. And you won’t be left scrambling trying to find a place to stay at the last minute.
6. Keep track of your travel plans
There’s a lot that goes into planning a cross-country road trip. And it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the details.
To help keep things organized and on track, you’re going to want to keep all your travel plans together. You can use a travel planner, lists, folders, whatever works for you.
Whenever I travel, I make a to-do list of things I need to get done before heading out on a trip. I also use a trip packing checklist for items I need to bring.
Here are a few things I recommend having on your cross-country road trip:
- First Aid Kit
- Jumper cables
- Snow chains (if traveling in the winter)
- Cash/coins (in case you come across any toll roads)
- Vehicle registration and insurance card (make sure both are up to date)
- Road Atlas and/or GPS (you don’t want to rely on your cell phone for directions because you might not get reception everywhere)
That’s a start. Feel free to add to the list. It’s also handy to have a to-do list of things you need to get done ahead of time. You don’t want to get on the road and then wonder if you turned the stove off.
Write down whatever you need to remind yourself to do before heading out. It will give you peace of mind for a more enjoyable trip.
7. Prep & Check Your Vehicle
One of the most important things when planning a cross-country road trip is making sure your vehicle is in good shape! When was the last time you had your vehicle serviced?
Fill your gas tank before heading out and check to see if your vehicle needs any maintenance. Here are some things to look for:
- Windshield Wipers – Do you need to replace the windshield wipers and/or fill the wiper fluid?
- Tires (including the Spare Tire) – How’s the tire pressure and tread?
- Brakes – Are your brakes squeaking?
- Lights – Are all your lights working?
- Oil – Do you need to change the oil?
- Leaks – Are there any leaks?
It’s not a bad idea to take your vehicle in to get serviced. Get the tires rotated and filled with air and get all the fluids topped off to be on the safe side.
8. Be safe!
Above all else, be safe! That includes being aware of your surroundings. If a place looks sketch, keep moving. Trust your instincts, and don’t risk it. Also, be sure to lock your doors and keep valuables out of sight.
You may want to also consider having some bear spray on hand (it can work on both bears and humans). I used to carry pepper spray but had mine confiscated when I tried to cross the Canadian border once. Something to think about for preparing.
Wrapping Up How to Plan an Epic Road Trip
It’s great to be spontaneous when you take a cross-country road trip. But doing some planning ahead of time can help you avoid bumps along the way and make for a much smoother ride.
No pun intended (okay, maybe it was… haha!). Hopefully, this list of tips for planning an epic cross-country road trip has you ready to hit the road on your next great adventure!
Briana is a travel blogger who loves RVing, hiking, visiting National Parks, and helping others start their own blogs to become digital nomads and travel.
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