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How to Plan an Epic Cross-Country Road Trip: A Comprehensive Guide

Two people on a cross-country road trip in a convertible.

There's something about hitting the open road that is just plain exciting. The freedom that comes with driving cross-country is unmatched. With each mile, you're exploring new parts of America, experiencing the local culture, and feeling the wind in your hair. 

Planning an epic cross-country road trip may sound daunting, but it doesn't have to be. With a bit of preparation, some good tunes, and a sense of adventure, you'll be on your way to the trip of a lifetime. 

Choosing Your Route

The first step in planning your epic cross-country road trip is to decide where you want to go. Do you want something that follows the classic U.S. Route 66, or would you prefer to take a more unique route and explore some lesser-known places? Whether you opt for the traditional route or create one of your own, make sure to do plenty of research on the places you'll be visiting.

Popular Routes

You know what they say - life's a journey, not a destination. And what better way to embark on an epic journey than a cross-country road trip? The first step is choosing your route.

You could go for the classics, like Route 66 - the "Main Street of America" that takes you through the heartland of the U.S., or the stunning Pacific Coast Highway with its ocean views and winding roads.

Are you feeling a little more adventurous? The TransAmerica Trail stretches over 4,000 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, traversing small towns and big cities. Whatever your preference, there's no wrong answer regarding picking the perfect route for your journey.

A photo of the sun setting over the Grand Canyon.

Must-See Attractions and Stops

Once you've chosen your route, it's time to plan out where you'll be stopping along the way. Besides great sightseeing and photo opportunities, consider adding in some must-see attractions. 

National Parks and Landmarks

An epic road trip wouldn't be complete without seeing breathtaking landscapes and iconic landmarks our country offers. A cross-country road trip is the perfect way to explore the beauty of America, and there's no better way to kick off your journey than by visiting some of our must-see national parks and landmarks. From the sheer magnitude of the 

  • Grand Canyon 
  • Yosemite 
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial 
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Yellowstone National Park and Crater Lake
  • Museums and Art Galleries

Don't forget about visiting some of the incredible museums and art galleries across America. From the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, there's sure to be something that piques your interest. Make sure to add a few educational stops along your journey—after all, why not feed your mind while you're feeding your soul?

Local Eats and Entertainment 

No epic road trip is complete without a few pit stops to sample the local cuisine. Don't forget to make time for some entertainment as well. Whether it's a theater show, an outdoor concert, or just taking in the atmosphere on the boardwalk—there's sure to be something to satisfy your appetite for adventure.

Foodie Stops

The food you eat while on your road trip can be just as important as the sights you see. From the best burgers and fried chicken in the South, to regional specialties like Chicago-style deep dish pizza or fish tacos in Baja California, make sure to add a few delicious stops along your route.

Preparing for Your Trip

Now that you've planned the where and when of your road trip, it's time to get ready to hit the road. You'll want to make sure you have a few things before you leave so that nothing will interfere with your travels.

Pre-Trip Checklist:

  • Get your car ready: Make sure it is in good working order by servicing it and checking the tires, oil, and brakes before you leave.
  • Stock up on essentials: Pack a first aid kit, blankets, snacks, water bottles, and any other items you may need during the trip.
  • Plan out accommodations: Do you want to camp, stay in hotels, or try a mix of both? Figure out your lodging before the trip starts.
  • Prepare for emergencies: Create an emergency plan and ensure you have important contact information.
  • Get travel insurance: You never know what can happen on the road - having travel insurance will give you peace of mind.
  • Plan your stops: Research exciting places to visit and ensure you know what's around so you don't miss out on any great attractions.

Setting the Right Time Frame

Let's face it, one of the most important decisions you'll make is how long your trip should be. It's easy to get carried away and plan a route that covers all the must-see destinations, but remember; you don't want to burn out before you reach your final destination. 

Before you start marking up your map with all the places you want to visit, take a moment to ponder the ideal trip length. Think about the miles you want to cover, the number of stops you plan to make, and any time constraints you may have. And don't forget to factor in some wiggle room so you can take unexpected detours or stop for that irresistible roadside attraction.

An RV against a backdrop of stars.

Choosing the Perfect Vehicle

Having the right vehicle is essential when planning an epic cross-country road trip. Not all cars are created equal; you need something that can handle your route and withstand the elements. 

If you plan on taking a classic Route 66 trip, opt for a car with plenty of cargo space to pack supplies and souvenirs. If you're going off-the-beaten-path, you'll want something that can handle rough terrain and dirt roads. And if you're looking to make a statement, why not rent an RV or a classic convertible?

No matter what vehicle you choose, make sure to check the mileage on it before leaving. You don't want to be caught in the middle of nowhere with a car that has seen better days.

Renting vs. Using Your Car

You've already begun planning the perfect route and all the must-see attractions along the way. But now comes the big question—do you rent a vehicle or use your own? 

On one hand, renting a car may offer a more reliable and well-maintained ride and potentially better gas mileage. However, the downsides include added expenses, such as rental fees and insurance costs, not to mention the lack of familiarity with the vehicle. 

Alternatively, using your trusty ride is a more economical and comfortable option. Keep in mind the wear and tear you'll put on your car, not to mention potential mechanical issues that could arise.

Before You Hit the Road

Before you hit the road, it's important to ensure that every component of your car is in optimal condition. Take a moment to inspect the lights and all the features, ensuring they are functioning properly, before embarking on your journey.

Don't forget to regularly monitor your oil levels, especially during long trips. In fact, we've had to change our oil twice within just four months. It's also crucial to stay on top of other maintenance tasks, such as checking the air filter, windshield wipers, spark plugs, and coolant. By paying attention to these details, you can ensure a smooth and trouble-free driving experience.

To ensure a smooth road trip experience, keep a spare key, along with your registration, driver's license copies, and insurance information, in the glove box. If you're renting a car, opt for one with unlimited mileage and consider investing in the top-tier auto insurance option or confirming coverage through your credit card. Nothing brings a road trip to a screeching halt faster than being confronted with a hefty bill for damages from a car rental agency.

A photo of tents under the stars.

Accommodation Options

Accommodation is another essential element of planning a cross-country road trip. After all, you'll need somewhere to rest your head and recharge after a long day on the road. There are a few options available—let's look at the options so you can pick the one that fits your needs best.

Campgrounds and R.V. Parks

Why not get back to nature and pitch up at a campground? There are tons of excellent camping spots dotted across different states. From the stunning Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona to the home of the famous Yosemite National Park in California, you'll never be too far away from a great camping site. 

If you're looking for more luxury, why not try an RV park? Many R.V. parks have facilities such as swimming pools, playgrounds, and even Wi-Fi to make your stay more enjoyable.

Hotels and Inns

If camping isn't your thing, you have other options. Staying in a hotel or inn is the perfect way to experience the local culture and hospitality. 

You can find hotels nationwide, from affordable options to luxurious suites that offer top-notch amenities. These spots are ideal for those looking for comfort during their road trip. Plus, you'll be able to take advantage of the hotel's services, such as laundry and room service.

Alternative Options

If you're trying to stretch your budget, consider BLM land or national forests for a free place to pitch your tent and get some rest. Want to spend the night in your vehicle? Some businesses, like Walmart and Cracker Barrel, allow overnight parking. Just remember to ask for permission and follow all rules and regulations.

Staying Connected on the Road

Don't underestimate the power of staying connected on the road. No, we're not talking about mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds. Although we've definitely all been guilty of that. 

We're talking about finding your way to your next destination, making reservations for places to stay, and staying in touch with your loved ones. Trust us, internet access can make or break your road trip game.

Setting Up a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Travel internet solutions are the way to go if you want to stay connected while on the road. Many mobile service providers offer data plans that you can use to create your network. All you need is an internet-enabled device, and you're ready to go.

Nomad Internet Solutions

Nobody wants to miss out on posting those epic photos or streaming their favorite podcasts. 

That's where Nomad Internet Solutions comes in. You can have uninterrupted connectivity throughout your journey. No more stressing about losing service or being disconnected from the world. 

Packing Essentials

Packing the car is a careful balancing act. It's important to be prepared, yet avoid unnecessary weight. When it comes to clothing, less is more. While we may not always be camera-ready, having one carry-on each saves time during frequent check-ins and check-outs. Simplify your travel and pack smart.

Essential items for your car include a first aid kit, a dash cam (invaluable in the event of a non-fault car accident), portable cell phone batteries, extra USB cables, jumper cables, a spare tire, sheets, a pillow, and even an air mattress specifically designed to fit in the trunk when the backseats are folded down. You never know when these items might come in handy. 

A traveller standing in a forest.

Be Ready for the Unexpected

Even with meticulous and comprehensive planning, unexpected challenges can arise. However, embracing a mindset of openness and adaptability is key to preventing them from ruining your day. When faced with setbacks, refrain from panicking. Have faith in your thorough preparation, and you'll quickly regain your momentum.

To minimize inconveniences, it's crucial to prioritize self-care while on the road. Ensure you're well-rested by getting a good night's sleep and fueling your body with healthy food and plenty of water before embarking on a long drive. 

For added ventilation, consider leaving the windows open, especially if you're feeling drowsy. If you find yourself in need of a quick snooze, seek out a well-lit and secure area. Remember, driving at your best will significantly enhance your overall travel experience.

Prepare for the Adventure of a Lifetime

Now that you have all the details sorted, it's time to hit the open road. Whether you're traveling in a car or an R.V., remember to make safety your number one priority. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and other hazards on the road, and always obey speed limits. And remember to take plenty of breaks—after all, an epic cross-country road trip is about the journey, not just the destination. So prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure full of unforgettable memories and new experiences. 

Final Tips

Before you hit the open road for your epic cross-country road trip, here are a few final tips to keep in mind:

  • Familiarize yourself with your route, and use a reliable GPS.
  • Ensure your car is updated on all maintenance checks before heading out.
  • Bring contact information for nearby service stations and garages in an emergency.
  • Pack plenty of snacks, drinks, and entertainment for the drive.
  • Have fun. This is your chance to explore new places, make lifelong memories, and gain a greater appreciation for the beauty of our country.

Now that you're ready to start your journey, grab your keys and get ready—it's time to hit the road. Check out our other great articles about Life as a Nomad.

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