The American road trip is something that has been romanticized for most of the country’s history. The iconic Route 66 and the images of the happy American family toting their kids to the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore in an RV have become essential parts of our culture. There has definitely been a revival of this road trip mentality in recent years – much of my generation is seeking to live simply and Instagram causes travel envy like never before.
Road-tripping is something I’ve become quite proficient at over the past year or so. In 2016 I took six road trips across various parts of the United States. From full-on coast-to-coast trips to weekend trips through a few states; I’m quickly on my way to my goal of visiting every state! As I’ve done all of this driving around the country, I’ve honed in on some of the essentials for beginning a good road trip, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
However, road-tripping is not for the faint of heart – it actually requires a lot of work and organization. As I was in the process of planning my first big road trip – a drive from South Carolina to California – I was overwhelmed by the number of things that needed to be planned out, and that resulted in an unorganized trip. It may not be fun to plan, but it makes the trip go so much smoother. And, as you plan more trips, your process becomes more streamlined and efficient – practice makes perfect!
But, before we break down how to be organized for a road trip, let’s talk about why we should even road trip in the first place. The biggest motivators for me in taking a road trip have always been that you get to experience so much more of the country you are in than most other forms of travel and that it is very cost effective. When you’re on a road trip, you get to watch the scenery of the country change as you drive. I’ve watched forested mountains turn to desert flats turn to oceanside cliffs all in one drive. It’s incredible how diverse and beautiful our country is, and the road trip is definitely at the top of the list of ways to see it. It is also cheap, especially if you camp instead of staying in a hotel. Now, don’t get me wrong, a road trip can get pretty expensive if you are eating out every meal, staying in hotels and splurging on every cool attraction you pass. But, the wallet-friendly road trip is a feasible and enjoyable option.
So, now that we’ve covered our bases about why we should road trip, let’s dive into those planning tips you’ve been eagerly waiting for:
- Don’t put off planning – it can be easy to become intimidated by how much goes into planning a road trip, but once you start it gets so much easier! Even if you are unsure about when you can go and if you can get people together to go with you, just pick a place and start figuring out what you’d want to do. Any trip, no matter how ambitious, feels a lot more feasible once it is written down.
- Reserve ahead of time – speaking of campgrounds, RESERVE THEM. I’ve had one too many nightmares of driving for hours (yes, hours!) trying to find a campground with an open spot. Reserving a campsite may be scary because you are actually putting money down on an assigned date – your trip is becoming real. But, it can help you when planning to see whether campgrounds are available where you want to go and to cater your dates around that.
- Have some key goals – but also be flexible. Yes, an organized road trip will run a lot more smoothly, but also allow room for change and spontaneity! You could list out multiple options for where to visit along your route and choose them as you go or just take off on a side road attraction you see a billboard for. The essential part of a road trip structure is to know which places you REALLY want to go to and the work from there.
- Know how much you can drive – this was one of the hard lessons I had to learn on my first road trips. I tend to be an idealist, so when I planned out driving up to 19 hours in a day, I thought that was no problem! Plus, I didn’t factor in time zone changes at all. How much you are willing to drive is really up to you, it all depends on how much time you have in total for the trip, how much you want to do at every place you stop, and how long you can stay in a car without getting cabin fever.
- Pick your companions wisely – there are some people that are just not road-trippers. Think about whether the people you are going with enjoy camping (or have even camped before), whether they are willing to drive (or whether you trust them to drive), and see if they want to go to the same places you do. Driving for hours in a car is a true test of patience and friendship, and there are definitely some friends that you can road trip with and some you can’t.
- Think about when you are going – there is nothing worse than rolling up to a national park or a cool attraction and realizing that every other person on the planet decided to go that day as well. Look into whether there are big events happening near or at where you plan on going and work your timeframe around that. I’m also a huge advocate of the off-season. I’ve visited national parks during the off-season and during peak times, and the most popular parks are just so much more enjoyable when they aren’t clogged with tourists.
Okay! Those are the key points I have on how to start planning a fantastic road trip! It takes work, but the effort will be so worth it once you are on the road and enjoying the wonderful sights the USA has to offer!
PS – if you’d like to see how one of my first big road trips went, check out the video series I made documenting it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcMfHEmTgqo&list=PL4Wi0_Ks5VIPBt10QCNtazQdw5wZvAB0r