The Great American Cross Country Road Trip
It’s the American dream. Traveling over state lines and seeing the US from the front seat of your car. Yes, I’m talking about a cross country road trip! Making a cross country road trip was my dream for over a decade and this past Summer, I made it my reality. Before we embarked on the journey of a lifetime, I did over a years worth of research. Here’s what you need to do in order to have an epic cross country adventure! (all opinions are my own)
Create A Route
First thing is first, you need to decide where you plan to travel. Are you going to take the Southern route or the Northern route? This is a tougher question than you might think! If you’re looping back around then lucky you! You won’t have to choose. Once you’ve decided your route, it’s time to start planning the details. Talk about what cities and landmarks are must sees with your group. Chances are, you will have to cut some out, so don’t get too attached to any of your destinations. There were several sites we intended to see that we never got a chance to. (More about that later.)
When Adam and I were mapping out our trip we used the site Furkot to help us make our route. I strongly recommend making an account. It shows you lodging, gas stops and any hazards that may pop up along your route. Here’s an example of our route and what it looks like when you click on a destination.
Where Will You Stay?
Next you will need to decide where you will be sleeping each night. Are you camping, sleeping in your car, or using lodging? When Adam and I took our trip, we did a mixture of using Air bnb and staying with friends and family. We considered camping at some of our destinations, but in the end decided against it. If you do decide to camp, KOA is a good place to start. (Furkot will also help you find their locations!)
Initially, we thought camping would save us money, but it turned out that using Air bnb wasn’t that much pricier! (If you’re familiar with Air bnb, you could probably skip this part, if not, read on!)
If you are trying to budget, you will want to choose either a private or shared room. If you can forfeit some of your privacy and feel comfortable staying with strangers, it is entirely worth it. (What’s the point of traveling if you can’t meet new people, right?) We met some pretty incredible people through Air bnb and stayed in some absolutely lovely houses. We also had some awkward encounters in some not so great houses (picture a loft that smelled like wet dog in 85 degree weather & a place that was next to train tracks with a train that ran every 4 hours.) But to be honest, although some of our stays weren’t very glamorous, they made for great travel stories. Traveling is all about getting out of your comfort zone.
Make Sure Your Car Is In Good Condition
I think this is fairly self-explanatory. I’m not going to pretend that I know very much about cars but, obviously make sure your car has passed inspection, the oil has been changed, the tires are in good condition, etc. If you can, sign up for AAA. We were extremely fortunate to not have any issues on the road, but I have heard some horror stories! It wouldn’t hurt to do some basic research about how to change a flat tire. You never know when you won’t have any service and you and your travel partner might be the only ones you can depend on! With that, I would highly recommend never going below a half tank of gas. Gas stations can spontaneously disappear from your route. Even if you plan your route and think a gas station isn’t far off, always play it safe rather than sorry.
Discuss Your Needs With Your Travel Companion
This was honestly one of the best tips I read during my research. Whether you are going on your trip with your partner, your best friend, or a large group, this is a tip that makes a big difference. I don’t care how well you know each other, talk about what you will need while you’re on the road. Whether that means you absolutely need a cup of coffee to start your morning (my need) or knowing that you don’t feel comfortable being behind the wheel in bad weather or at night. Obviously things will come up during your trip that you didn’t think to discuss, but if there is something that automatically came to mind while you were reading this, let the people you are traveling with know. It helps prevent the inevitable fits of bickering that will happen at some point during your trip.
Find Some Sweet Podcasts
There were days during our trip that we spent 10-13 hours in the car. You can make the best road trip themed playlist in the entire world but I promise you, you will get to a point where you never want to hear those songs again. Before we hit the road, we both picked some podcasts that we thought seemed interesting. I recommend downloading them when you have access to WiFi because you’re gonna want to save that data, honey. Here’s some lists to get you started. (My picks are: Season 1 of Serial, Dear Sugar, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, & Ask Me Another)
Expect the Unexpected & Do Your Research
As I mentioned earlier, there were several places we intended to visit on our route that we never got a chance to see. There were a few reasons for this. Some places like Antelope Canyon, Hamilton Pool, & The Wave require you to make reservations in advance. Luckily, I knew this about Antelope Canyon and made reservations months prior, but I didn’t think to look up some of the other landmarks I’d planned on seeing. Hamilton Pool simply requires you to make a reservation a few days in advance.The Wave was a whole different story.
In order to see The Wave, you needed to show up and take your chances “winning the lottery” in order to gain admittance for the following day. We decided we would take our chances so we woke up early, got in the car, and started driving. After about 15 minutes or so, we looked at each other and said “forget it.” We had tickets to the canyon that day and we decided that we’d prefer to explore the area around us than drive an hour and a half to not even be guaranteed to see it. In the end, it’s your call, but some simple research will save you some anxiety and major disappointment.
Additionally, you can never plan the weather. You may have done everything right and get a really crappy day of weather. Sometimes this can mean more than not being able to sight-see. This may mean having to re-route your trip entirely. When we made our trip, parts of Texas had recently experienced a large amount of flooding. We stayed in contact with our hosts and thankfully the flooding had gone down almost entirely by the time we got there. But up until then, we talked about having to cut Texas out of our trip entirely. Stay up to date on your route and the weather for the areas you are planning to visit. Especially during seasons where extreme weather can occur!
Ask The Locals
This is another reason I really liked using Air bnb and opting for a private room instead of the entire house. You get to talk to the locals and hear what some of the cities best kept secrets are! If you don’t wake up every morning and have the chance to ask a stranger their opinion, you’re in luck, there’s an app for that! Like a Local makes it so you can find the hidden gems that you might have missed if you just went for all the tourist attractions.
Listen To Your Instincts
There were points in our trip where we absolutely loved the city we were in and times where we weren’t feeling the vibe. Because of this, we did have times where we both extended our stay and cut our stay short. During this trip you are going to be outside of your comfort zone a lot of the time, but it’s really important to listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t just try to ignore it, say something!
Lower Your Expectations
You might not like this last one, but it’s gotta be said. Not every moment on the road is going to feel like you’re living the dream. You’re going to get annoyed with the people you are traveling with. You’re going to stay in some 2 star quality locations. You’re going to have set backs and disappointments that you won’t see coming. Adam and I were very lucky and didn’t have any major catastrophe’s on our journey, but not every moment was amazing. When you have a dream trip, you often start to romanticize it, leaving very little room for reality. I had dreamed my entire life of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. From the moment I watched the opening of Full House till the second we arrived in California, that dream lived very vividly inside my head. Imagine my disappointment when all we could see was fog.
Horseshoe Bend was another location I was ecstatic to see. When you see gorgeous Instagram photos of these places you don’t see what’s behind the scenes hundreds of other people trying to get the same shot as you:
My advice is to roll with the punches. Yes, waiting in line to take a picture with 50 white girls is exhausting, but at the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. Just be prepared to wait 15 minutes to take your artsy shot with that mural!
The point of your cross country trip is to see amazing sights, strengthen your bond with your partner or friends, and have a once in a lifetime experience. I promise you, even with all the pitfalls you experience on the road, the highlights are what will stick out in your mind. You obviously need to be sensible about budgeting, safety, and planning while on the road, but don’t take yourself too seriously while on your trip. Your biggest regret will be not allowing yourself to truly live in the moment while you are on the road. Take a ton of pictures, buy that tacky souvenir you’ll probably never use, and have an amazing time. This trip was the best trip I have ever been on and I wouldn’t change a moment of it.
Share with me your thoughts, questions, or your own cross country experiences!