Road trips are an incredible experience and extremely rewarding. However, they can be a little intimidating, especially for non-residents of America. Even for residents, you can quickly find yourself outside your comfort zone in an unfamiliar area of the States. Our USA Road trip Tips article will help you plan and execute your road trip in the best possible way. With our tips, you can rest assured your great American road trip will go off without a hitch. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.
1 – Sat Nav
If you are wondering if you need a San Nav or not? While you may not absolutely need one we strongly advise it. It makes everything just a lot easier. Maps just don’t make sense anymore. GPS Navigation just works and gets you exactly where you need to be with very little fuss. Even if you don’t use it all the time (which can be a good idea) It will still get you out of a pickle. But don’t whatever you do rent one from your Rental Car Company. Their charges are astronomical and completely out of sink with the actual cost of a Sat Nav unit nowadays.
It would actually be cheaper to just buy a unit with USA Maps than rent one! But you don’t really need to do that either. Most people have a Smartphone nowadays and this can act as a fully functioning Sat Nav. How you use it depends on whether you have Mobile Data or not. Most US residents will but People from out of the country will not. And even those with US phones may have limited data that they don’t want to use up.
If data is no issue you have the choice of the Waze App which can be fantastic at getting you around traffic or simply Google Maps works fantastically well. Buy a good car mount and off you go.
For those where data is not available, we suggest NavMii. It’s a great little app that functions as a fully functioning Turn by turn Sat Nav while completely offline. It’s FREE on android but We believe it costs on Apple if you need multiple map packs. It isn’t perfect but it does get you where you need to go. You may read about Google map’s ability to function offline by downloading maps and yes this is true but it doesn’t offer turn-by-turn navigation so it is nowhere near the NavMii offering.
Always Pre-Programme the Sat Nav. Most Navigation systems have a “favorites” option. Take time beforehand to program in all the locations you would like to visit. This way you can pull them up on your device instantly. It might seem a little thing but if you find yourself without data and with the device not playing ball you can find yourself barreling down a freeway with no idea where you are meant to be heading, at night, shouting at each other. We know…we have done it a few times.
Know where you are going as completely as you can. And we don’t just mean having the destination programmed into the sat nav, but have a fuller understanding of the actual route you want to take. Sat Navs will take you the best route, but that’s best for getting there not best for scenery or enjoyment. You need to understand the route you wish to take and how and when to deviate from the robotics instructions of the Sat Nav.
Every route we drive has every section Pre Mapped on Google and printed out ready for perusal. We run through the Map highlighting any road numbers or place names that have become lost on the printouts. This way the route is almost pre-programmed in our heads before we head off. This may sound incredibly Anal. Let me assure you however we are not in any way Anal people we travel with a very loose and exploratory attitude. However not knowing where you are going inevitably leads to you going NOWHERE. As you read on you’ll see this prep is only ever done as a framework to build exploration onto. But having that framework ensures you have somewhere to go and somewhere to stay when you get there.
This planning stage also gives you the MOST powerful exploration tool imaginable. A top-down satellite view of the entire world. Once you have your rough itinerary planned, open up Google Maps and get exploring. Using Street View and Satellite view you can uncover endless little hidden gems. Vista points hidden coves, little restaurants, and cafes or photo opportunities. You will find your route and Ininary mold and develop into your perfect trip as you virtually explore so when you are finally there you are already a destination expert!
2 – Walmart
Well not Walmart really, We just mean supplies. America is not always the easiest of places to stop while on the road, which is quite surprising really considering the insane number of franchise restaurants and supermarkets the country has. However, when you get away from the more populated areas or following a large interstate the endless food and drink can completely dry up. So it’s important you have stocked up on foodstuffs that are easily eatable beforehand while you have the chance.
It’s not life or death stuff but being hungry or thirsty with nowhere to get supplies can be distracting and detract from the experience, it’s much better to have some snacks on hand to fill the gap. If you are heading somewhere really remote then proper provisions should be considered but by this we really only mean water. Hunger is not dangerous for days but being stranded without water is more of an issue, especially in America’s desert regions.
Pack mainly non-perishable items as life on the road can be tough and food can go off very quickly in the heat of a car.
3 – Take your Time
It’s not a race. You are here to absorb the sights sounds smells and tastes of the country. Charging through intent on getting to the next destination is missing the point. The road is the destination. While there may be times where you are on an interstate linking places where it does pay to just bury your head and “burn” most of the time you will, or at least should be on back roads, the “two-laners” enjoying the scenery and the culture.
Take the long way, stop at the quaint-looking cafe, head down the dead-end…just to see what is at the end. This is the whole experience, Wherever you are headed will certainly be there when you finally get there. We promise.
4 – Plan extra time
However long Google says a section will take add-on extra time. Things rarely go to plan. You will undoubtedly get lost at some point. You will spend longer in the supermarket than you expected. You will find something fascinating to investigate. You will get stuck behind EVERY RV in America. You will get stuck at every traffic light for 100 miles. and you will be stuck in the worst traffic jam you could ever imagine.
All these and more are unavoidable, but if you are on a strict time schedule they are made a hundred times worse. Being late adds a lot of stress to the mix and this makes traveling far less fun. If you have time in the bank none of it matters. Our biggest mistake with our early road trips was just planning a too-tight schedule. This meant we were rushing to the destination stressed we would not get there in time…in time for what?
By scheduling in little leeway it takes the stress away and you can enjoy a much more relaxed journey. First, be realistic and then add a couple of hours on to any significant journey. Make sure you are never pressed for time for really important things such as flights or reservations.
6 – Playlist
American Radio is …Garbage. While for a while it’s fine and listening to local jocks is great for long or iconic stints it’s really not up to much, they have access to so few songs and repeat repeat repeat. They are also unlikely to really be the songs you REALLY want to listen to during your great American adventure!
You may have dreamed of this for years and the songs you grew up associating with the American culture will be very powerful and moving for you. You need to definitely be prepared with a playlist of songs that you associate with America. Yes rolling into Miami in a convertible blasting out will smith is very cliche and will get a lot of eyes rolling but if that’s what you want, screw everyone else. A bit of Chuck Berry on Route 66? Go ahead. Want to blare out Mustang Sally in your Mustang don’t let anyone tell you-you shouldn’t.
Read our 100 greatest Road trip songs for inspiration.
7 – Power
Modern life is ruled by batteries. Phones Cameras, San Nav’s even Drones. And they can all get a licking while out on the road. It’s essential you have car chargers and for everything. Along with USB Splitters and Car Socket Splitters. While modern cars are getting better and better at adding more USB and Power sockets you can be sure it’s never enough so plan ahead. These items are cheap and easy to pack so make sure you are juiced up and ready to go.
There is nothing worse than a flat phone battery when that is your primary navigation device. or seeing a perfect sunset with a flat Camera battery. Car’s are the perfect mobile power generator, but only if you have the necessary cables and adapters to plug in.
8 – Breakfast
The first meal of the day is extremely important from a health point of view…as they say. But on a road trip, it’s even more vital to get a good meal inside you. With a good hearty breakfast, you can almost ignore lunch completely if need be. Just rely on Snacks until dinner. It’s probably not the healthiest plan but when a packed day presents itself it can really help to be fuelled up right from the off.
We try to choose Hotels / Motels that offer and Included Breakfast. They are not always the best but a simply hearty start to the day of waffles and Toast is all you need. It helps keep the budget down. On at least a few occasions though you should hunt out a proper American Diner (or even a Dennys if you can’t) For that proper USA Breakfast experience.
9 – Spontaneity and Adaptability
All the Sat Navs, Maps, Planning, and knowledge should still only ever serve as a framework. We use planning as a way of ensuring we will get to the places we want to see and discover the places we didn’t know existed. But when on the road we are always ready to alter the plan on the fly. Maybe we just want to stay somewhere longer than planned and need to sacrifice or take a quicker route. Maybe a road is closed due to weather or landslip. Maybe someone you meet recommends something. Or a million other reasons. There will always be pressure to adopt the plan. And that’s good. Following your itinerary like a robot is no real fun. And stressing because you can’t do what you wanted only leads to unhappiness.
So whether you are being spontaneous to Adapting to adversity accept and understand plan changes are not undesirable. It’s part of the excitement of being on the road.
10 – Relax
Road Trips can be incredibly stressful at times, as you find yourself unsure of your present location (Never lost!) running out of daylight, tired, and hungry. The stress levels can get firmly out of hand. It’s at these points you need to take a deep breath and relax. Stressing won’t help. Shouting and screaming definitely won’t help. Understand these moments are normal and think of the worst that can happen. You may be a bit behind schedule but your destination isn’t going anywhere. If it goes dark, you have lights. If you are hopelessly los….temporarily unsure of your position. Pullover, take ten minutes, check the maps and the sat nav. Even find a shop or gas station and ask, however unsure of your location you are you will always relocate yourself. You are not lost.
This last tip is probably the hardest to enact. It’s very easy to write it and to read it and agree, but when the pressure rises it’s a lot harder to keep the lid on. We can assure you even now we still “lose it” from time to time. But it’s recognizing that and applying the coping mechanisms that get you out of the unproductive phases, to being back on your way with the Music Blaring, the top-down, dreaming of the cold one that awaits at the Destination.
Have Your Say
As always let us know what you think in the comments below. Have you got any tips of your own for planning a road trip? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Or if you just have any questions, fire away below.