10 tips for a successful road trip in the United States

Road trip

Going on a road trip in the US is something that is on many people’s wish list. Here we share with you our best tips!

1. Don’t stress!

Calm guy
Calm guy

The most common mistake that many people make is that they want to cover too large an area in too little time. For example, driving coast to coast may look straightforward on the map, but you will regret spending most of the road trip trapped in a car. A maximum of two hours of driving on average per day is a good rule of thumb. We prefer to do longer drives on certain days and then leave the car for a few days so that you have the chance to explore a place for real.

2. Pre-book in moderation

Native American tent
Native American tent

The tip for planning just right (see point 4) also applies to hotels. One suggestion is to book accommodation for the first nights, and maybe the last before leaving. Then pre-book around places where you know it will be expensive or fully booked, for example, in cities like New York and the major national parks. Or if you have been aiming for a specific hotel that you simply have to stay at. How much you want to pre-order is a matter of taste, but things become more fun and more flexible if you don’t pre-order everything. If you book through sites like hotels.com, there is always the chance to cancel your rooms free of charge 24 hours before arrival.

3. Make a budget

Planning a budget
Planning a budget

Make a list of what you want to do and see during your trip. Create a budget tailored for your travel expenses. This might sound adult and uninspirational, but you will be able to enjoy your trip more if you do not have to worry about money. Traveling in the United States is not as cheap as it once was. Even gasoline that used to be really cheap has gone up in price. Unexpected expenses will always come up, which is worth planning for in advance. For example, $20-25 per night is often charged for parking in most major cities. Simple motels are available from around $50 per night, but $100-150 for a double room is frequently standard. The truly price-conscious bring a tent – there are plenty of nice campsites all over the country – or choose a bigger car that you can abandon on certain nights. We prefer to skimp on certain days to be able to go “all-in” other days, both in terms of accommodation, food, and activities.

4. Plan just about enough

Plan just enough
Plan just enough

A road trip is a chance to take a break from the everyday routine. So do not plan the exact route before you go. Leave room for unplanned stops, detours, and excursions. On the other hand, it is not optimal to have too loose plans and drive around randomly, because then you risk missing out a lot. Read on well in advance, make a map in, for example, Google Maps, where you mark out places that you are interested in visiting. Use it as a rough sketch, but be prepared to trash your plans if something funnier turns up, which they tend to do.

5. GPS or traditional maps?

GPS and regular maps
GPS and regular maps

GPS is a great tool, especially if you are in a larger city and are going to a particular address. Then you do not want to sit and panic in a vintage atlas. However, we recommend that you bring a regular paper map. Using only GPS, it’s easy to lose orientation, and miss out on nice little roads or stops that you would have noticed on a larger overview map. And if you run GPS over the cellphone, you may not be connected or receiving at all times.

6. Choose the right travel company

Good friends
Good friends

Road tripping means long days in the car. Days when you are entirely stuck with your travel company. Causes of a brawl can be anything from whose turn it is to drive to what music to listen to. Therefore, choose your travel company with care, if you do not want to sink the journey of your life with unnecessary gnawing. Feel free to surround yourself with people with decent habits and interests, just like yourself. Talk through before what you want to achieve and hope to make of the trip. One requirement should be that the person you are traveling with has a driving license so that you can switch places in the driver’s seat.

7. Big or small roads?

Small road
Small road

If you choose the fastest route between two destinations by GPS, one often ends up on the major intercontinental highways. On these multi-way transport routes, it is possible to get along efficiently. Still, it is also a little soul-killing in the long run, and the surroundings look about the same no matter what part of the country you are in. Often it is more rewarding to look for smaller roads and be able to stop in remote cute places. Isn’t that precisely what you dreamed of when planning your road trip? That being said, it can sometimes be time-consuming to only drive on small roads, especially as not every one of them is incredibly scenic. Again – a golden middle ground is the best. Sometimes you desire to arrive quickly, and sometimes you want to cruise at a leisurely pace and enjoy the view.

8. Keep track of the speed

Being pulled over
Being pulled over

If you drive through the United States, you will sooner or later be stopped by a police officer; it somehow belongs to a real road trip. Even in the most remote areas, there is plenty of traffic police who look for people like you, who might speed from time to time. A police officer we met in the US said that the most common mistake tourists make is to look too much at the beautiful view and not at the speedometer. One suggestion is to use the cruise control on the car, so you don’t get speed blind and are awarded an unnecessary speeding ticket.

9. Pack properly

The art of packing right
The art of packing right

Depending on where you are going, the time of the year, some things are a must to bring. A cooling bag where you can put drinks and food on cooling is superb (can be purchased on-site). A cap, cowboy hat, or any other type of headgear is a must to protect yourself from the sun. A couple of CDs are also not so stupid to bring along, as sometimes there is no way to stream music from the phone through the car stereo. And you can quickly get tired of the radio channels with Christian country music.

10. Book the right car

Car rental
Car rental

Always book a rental car online from home. It is cheaper and also includes insurance that you have to pay extra for if you book in the US. Avoid the temptation to upgrade on the spot – it is always more expensive than booking precisely the car you wanted online in advance. Most American cars are spacious and comfortable, so choosing the cheapest car in the middle class can’t go wrong (if you are two travelings). Avoid the smallest compact cars. It is not fun to drive a little Nissan on the highway and be overtaken by 18-wheel trucks on both left and right. Many people dream of renting a convertible. Rushing along the coasts of California or Florida with a roofless car sound fantastic while planning, but in our experience, you will miss a proper roof. But after a couple of hours with the canopy down, you feel pretty blown out, and besides, you can’t have suitcases in the boot of many car models as long as you have the roof down. Cool, yes, but also a little bit impractical.

(Image credit: Bing)

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