Taking a Cross-Country Road Trip: Tips and Reflections

ROADTRIPTIPS

So you’re going on a giant road trip? Well don’t worry, I did it already and I’m here to help. Here are my tips.

buygroceries

1) Buy groceries. When you’re livin’ on the road like a rockstar, but you’re not actually a rockstar, eating out for every meal can get expensive. Working with the limited space of a car that probably has most of your belongings in it, it’s important to pick out groceries for a couple simple meals and snacks that you can make at the hotel or on a driving break. Also, bring a cooler for perishable groceries. My recommendations are: a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, a box of cereal, and a carton of almond milk.

packlight

2) Pack light and stay organized. I suppose you might be taking a road trip exclusively for fun, instead of for moving purposes like us, but in either case, packing as light as possible is essential for feeling comfortable in the car for upwards of 8 hours at a time. We threw out or donated more than half of our belongings in preparation for our move. Everything’s easier to find when there’s less of it. More important than downsizing, though, is keeping the car organized during your trip. That starts with packing up the car. The things we wouldn’t need at all on our road trip (speakers, dressy shoes, etc.) were packed on the bottom of the pile, out of reach. Most of our clothing was in a large suitcase, but we kept a few days worth of clothes in a small, easy-to-transport bag so we only had to take that bag, a toiletries bag, and a backpack into hotels and Airbnbs for the night.

downtime

3) Schedule in down time. On a road trip like the one we took, there are a lot of sites to see, a lot of cool cities to explore, and A LOT of driving. After a few days, as exciting as it is, all the go go go of it can have you feeling fatigued. I highly recommend blocking out an evening or an afternoon every few days that is designated for hanging out, reading, napping, and basically doing nothing. On a few of the days of our road trip, we found a local Starbucks and relaxed there for a while, taking advantage of the Wi-Fi, a coveted and scarce resource in rural America. Even during our time at the Grand Canyon, I spent a whole afternoon in the hotel room, accepting that even when there are amazing sites to see on the other side of the wall, sometimes you need to recharge your batteries.

planahead

4) Plan ahead when it comes to rural driving (or any driving, really). If you’re from a city, you might not know that in many of the more rural parts of the country, there are no street lights along the highway, and sometimes hardly any reflectors. In a place you’re not familiar with, it can be very scary driving at night, not being able to see well. We tried to keep all our rural driving to the daylight hours, and that worked well for us. Also, schedule in more time for breaks and getting lost than you think you need. In cities, on the other hand, it’s best to try to leave very early or late for drives, to avoid terrible traffic.

weatheralerts

5) Listen to the radio for weather alerts. Wherever you are driving, but especially in the Great Plains, radio weather alerts can save you from getting caught in severe thunder and hail storms, and even tornadoes. We heard severe weather alerts on the radio multiple times on our trip. They will say where the bad weather is expected, and then, depending on whether or not we would be driving through it, we would decide if we should stop for a couple hours and wait for it to pass. We both felt a lot safer on the trip, staying informed to make these choices.

SPLURGEORSAVEEl Tovar Hotel

6) Consider when to splurge and when to save. My last tip is to mostly try to keep things inexpensive on your road trip. Because a cross-country road trip like ours lasted for two full weeks, splurging every day would have really added up. One great way to save money in most places is to stay at an Airbnb. They tend to be the same price as the crummier motels in an area, so it’s usually an upgrade to stay in someone’s house or apartment. Finding free or inexpensive site-seeing is also great for a long road trip. We loved walking around Central Park in NYC, visiting the art museums and the National Mall in DC, and driving through the Great Smoky Mountains (the country’s only free national park) near Asheville.

That being said, sometimes you can splurge! (Especially if you’re on your honeymoon, like we were). Over the 14 day trip, we had 3 or 4 nice, sit-down dinners. Not necessarily fancy-restaurant-nice, but definitely not-a-truck-stop-nice. Our biggest splurge of the trip was staying at the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon for several nights, and it was such a wonderful and relaxing time. After more than a week of gas station bathroom visits and Airbnb showers that sometimes didn’t have shampoo, a stay at a nice hotel with a balcony and its own Keurig machine was heavenly.

Let me know some of your road trip tips!

 

Until next time,

Spencer

 

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9 thoughts on “Taking a Cross-Country Road Trip: Tips and Reflections

  1. My husband and I are full-time RVers, so although our road trip is never-ending and we have a lot more space (and our own bed, shower, kitchen…), I completely agree with your suggestions! There’s so much of the country to see and enjoy it’s a shame not to take a little time here and there to stop and LOOK AROUND 🙂 One note — The Great Smokey Mountains NP isn’t the only NP that’s free — at least one other one exists: Great Basin National Park in NV, on the UT border. It’s a great, mostly undiscovered spot because it’s not close to an urban center, and probably why it’s free.

    Will you be doing more road trips?

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    1. Hi Ellen, Thanks so much for the comment! It sounds like you live a very adventurous life. Good to know about the other free National Park! I’d love to go some time. It always feels very special to visit a place that seems undiscovered. No road trips planned in the near future, but I know my husband and I would love to travel to other parts of the US, especially the North West where we haven’t been yet.

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  2. My wife and I have been roadripping around the U.S. In my 2008 Honda Accord since we retired. I agree with all of these recommendations.There is a Triposo app for U.S. that I highly recommend for this type of vacation. Over reliance on GPS navigation is not recommended if you are driving for scenic purposes.

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    1. That sounds like such a fun way to spend your time after retiring! I definitely agree about relying on GPS. Sometimes I feel like I lose my own sense of direction when I’m only listening to what a computer is telling me. Thanks for letting me know about the Triposo app! My husband and I definitely plan on doing a lot more traveling, and I’m sure it will come in handy.

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