So you want to embark on an American road trip? That fabled four-wheeled odyssey across one of the most road-trippable places in the world. You have dreams of cruising down stretches of open road, expanses of land flashing away into the distance - sunsets hues in the rearview mirror - an isolated gas station - a disused motel. The allure of an American road trip is undeniable. We're talking wide roads, wild horizons and endless skies. But before getting too carried away with the romance of it all, first thing’s first...planning!
How to Plan an American Road Trip
Putting together a solid plan for your road trip is a must.
Whether you want to be on the road for 1 day, 1 week or 1 month, there are things that every aspiring road tripper needs to factor in. Even the time of year can change your journey, especially planning a safe winter roadtrip. We have put together the ultimate step-by-step guide to help you start living your best road trip life.
What kind of road trip do you want?
Figuring out the kind of road trip you want to go on is an excellent starting point.
The country is an endless network of byways and highways. With over 4 million miles of road to cruise down, picking a route is not easy. You can start by thinking about where you want to travel and what you want to see. Build your trip from there.
Also consider practicalities, like - how much time do you have for your trip? Are there any fixed destinations you need to begin or end your journey in? How many hours of driving do you want to do per day?
When it comes to actual route ideas, well...you are truly spoiled for choice in a country like America. Here is a bit of inspiration to get you thinking about the kind of routes you can cruise along.
USA Road Trip Inspiration
For Ocean Lovers 🐠
Ever heard of Big Sur? Or what about Malibu Beach and Santa Cruz? The Pacific Coast Highway will allow you to take in these beachy Californian classics and more. The 2,500km route snakes its way along miles of dramatic coastline, winding through Washington, Oregon and California. Driving from North to South is definitely the best direction to travel in, as it puts you on the right side of the road which means lovely, uninterrupted views. You'll be able to hop out and stretch your legs with a walk along a windswept beach, and find endless picturesque places to stop for a picnic.
For Food Lovers 🍔
Why not plan your entire road trip around sensational food stops?
Road tripping doesn't have to mean squashed soggy sandwiches or mediocre meals at random places you happen to pass by. You can allow a quest for delicious sustenance to lead the way and clock up those mph (meals per hour) by determining where you want to travel, by what you want to eat. Follow a food trail. Go on a palate pilgrimage! To plan this kind of trip, Roadfood.com is a good resource to rummage through. You’re also going to want to check out this Trippy resource which has an interactive foodie road trip map. Also, don't be afraid to ask locals for recommendations en-route. You never know, you might find yourself lost on some dusty back road during a 40 minute detour on a quest for the best marionberry pie in Oregon. Food adventuring at its finest!
For Nature Lovers 🌵
If your dream USA road trip involves indulging in the vast splendour of American landscapes, you should pick a route renowned for its scenic beauty.
Route 50, from California to Maryland, will give you mile after mile of majestic window views. The Nevada section of the route is nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America”. Driving across this desolate stretch with the right playlist is a sure fire way to get in your feels. Of course, there are also America's National Parks. The Northern National Parks route will allow you to visit Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. The Southwest National Parks will take you through the Grand Canyon, Zions’, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Arches.
For Music Lovers 🎶
There are a number of ways to give your road trip a musical motive.
Heading down Route 61, aka “The Blues Highway” through the Mississippi Delta, will be a fantastic ride for those interested or curious about the history of the Delta Blues. You can make pit-stops at an array of iconic music landmarks, like the Highway 61 Blues Museum and Dockery Farm (a cotton plantation hailed as the birthplace of the blues). The road goes from Nashville to New Orleans, so any country music lovers will also be able to explore hot-spots like Memphis and Nashville.
Another idea is to plan your trip around any American music festivals or events you've always wanted to check out.
Plotting your route
Once you've picked your route, fine-tune and personalise your itinerary by determining your waypoints.
There are many tools to help you build your map from skratch, or even customise an existing one. Here are some applications for organising and formulating your route:
Sorting out your ride
Now you have your route - what about your ride?
The kind of vehicle you travel in will be crucial to your plans and overall trip. Hiring an RV or camper, for example, means that #vanlife will take care of your sleeping situation. Renting a car of any kind also means you’ll have to think about where to pick up and drop off your ride (which can also impact the route you take). Definitely put some thought into the best vehicle for your adventures (city car or off-road car?).
A popular, well-reviewed company is Rentalcars.com.
Figuring out where to sleep
Do you book in advance or book as you go?
The more cavalier kind of traveller might be tempted to just roll with it and book accommodation on the go. But booking even a few nights in advance can be a good idea, especially if you are staying near national parks or somewhere where there is a festival or event.
Here are some good sites for organising your road trip lodgings:
- Hipcamp - for camping, cabins, treehouses and more.
- National Park Reservations - for accomodation in National Parks.
- Priceline - for cheap hotels and motels with flexible booking.
- Airbnb - for an assortment of accomodation, including staying with locals.
- HotelTonight - for same-day reservations.
Preparing on-road entertainment
Sometimes cruising along in silence, watching the land go by is all you want. Other times, a bit of Solange or Brian Adams is needed as the right kind of playlist can elevate your driving experience to a whole other level.
Plan your playlists! More importantly, download them before you hit the road. Here is a fabulous ready made playlist for you to plug into:
Podcasts and audiobooks are also a good idea, and tuning into local radio stations will give you a more immersive state-to-state experience.
Organising your travel memories
A trip like this one deserves to be documented in style.
You will be clocking up the miles as well as the memories so why not put some time into thinking about how you can best organise your road trip memorabilia. Here are some ideas how you can best do this.
Expecting the unexpected
The best kind of road trip will be the perfect balance between sticking with a plan and going with the flow - a mix of strategy and spontaneity.
You can plan, plan, plan, but once you hit the road, don’t be afraid to let the road lead you. Stash away the GPS, throw away your map and just go with the flow! Speak to the locals and ask for recommendations. Even if you have drafted up the sturdiest of plans, nothing will prepare you for those unpredictable moments like getting lost on some back road and finding yourself in some Arizonian oasis. These are the times you will remember.
Find out more about your own travelling style here.
Top Tips Round-Up
- Download helpful road trip apps.
- Download all your playlists, audiobooks and podcasts.
- Bring a "real" physical map with you.
- Join a roadside assistance group (like the AAA).
- Think about packing a roadside emergency kit.
- Fill up on gas every time you stop (just in case!)
- Pack smart. Check out this road trip packing list.
- Invest in a portable charger or vehicle charging device.
- Give yourself enough time when planning your itinerary so you don't end up rushing your trip.
Happy road tripping! 😎