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Road Tripping America: The Honest Guide
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Road Tripping America: The Honest Guide

Picture of Kate Howley
Updated: 7 April 2017
Vacations can be glamorous—a five star resort on a tropical island, endless drinks, scantily clad suntanned bodies, crystal pools and dinners under the stars. But vacations can also be rugged: roaming from place to place, not knowing where you’ll end up, seeing more in one short span of time that some see in a lifetime. Sound like fun? Here are some tips for planning and taking an American Road Trip.

Figure out a Destination

West or East? North or South? Choose a region or, if the state is big enough, the whole state. Take climate and season into consideration as well. If it’s winter in New York, drive to Cocoa Beach. Sweltering in Nashville? Maybe drive north, or south to sandy gulf shores. Don’t have a final place in mind? Then just get in your car and drive, see where the road takes you.

My Public Lands Summer Road Trip | © Bureau of Land Management/Flickr
My Public Lands Summer Road Trip | © Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Decide Your Focus

No one really considers this and it is the second most important factor. What are you passionate about? Are you a foodie and you want to eat your way across America, sampling all the finest foods from every subculture? Or are you a music-fiend and want to see every live venue possible? You might be a history buff and want to learn all your can about this country’s history. You might also love chic hotels and scenic views. Either way, decide your focus and make that what you splurge on. Or be a wild child and find a different focus in every city!

The Rusty, Trusty, Steed | © Zach Dischner/Flickr
The Rusty, Trusty, Steed | © Zach Dischner/Flickr

Decide on a Vehicle

Will yours make it 2,000+ miles? Maybe renting a car will be a wise decision. Even an RV or an airstream can be a fun investment if you’re the adventure or camping type. Either way, make sure it’s reliable and covered by insurance. There are some roads in the U.S. that are hours away from any form of civilization. It’s best to be assured your trusty vehicle will survive.

Pack Accordingly

Everyone has over packed at least once in their life, but it becomes even more important while on the road. Pack the car, unpack the car. Haul it up hotel steps, kick it back down. Not to mention, at least a third of the time will be spent in a car where you’ll want to be comfortable. So choose wisely, pack sparely but don’t skimp on the essentials, and always pack extra under wear. Also, don’t assume that 90+ degree weather days mean hot nights. Pack a sweater for cold hotel rooms and nights on the beach.

Plan – but not too much!

There are no flights to catch, deadlines or schedules on a road trip, that’s what makes it so free and exciting. If you hear from someone in Atlanta that Savannah is beautiful this time of year, but you were headed to Jacksonville, why not make a pit stop! See everything this country has to offer, but don’t be afraid to deviate from a plan. It’s also ok to cut your road trip short if the weather gets bad, someone gets sick, or you’re just plain tired of moving around!

Good Night, Sweet Blues | © Randy Heinitz/Flickr
Good Night, Sweet Blues | © Randy Heinitz/Flickr


Don’t book too far in advance and choose wisely. This can be the easiest thing in the world, or the most difficult thing in the world. Let’s make it simple. Are you only passing through a town? Then find a clean inn or hotel for under $90 a night. Are you staying for more than one day? Find a Radisson, Best Western, or a Comfort Suites for a good rate. Are you staying on the beach? Find a nicer place to make your stay super special. Here’s some advice on the beach though. Beach front property is extremely expensive. If you have the money, go for it! If not, why not just stay a block or two from the water and then just walk a few extra minutes to the beach? It will save you loads of money. And don’t forget discounts like AARP and AAA, as well as coupons you may find at rest stops.

Decide What to do

Besides doing some research ahead of time (which is always a good idea), every hotel and every rest stop has tons of information on activities to do in that state. Weed through them and find the ones that don’t look like tourist traps. To avoid tourist traps even further, ask the locals! Hotel concierges, bartenders, taxi drivers; they know it better than you do and probably can have more fun than any pamphlet will tell you. If it’s a small town like Key West or if you’re in the heart of a walking city (think New York, not Los Angeles), just get out there and find some fun.

Venture off the Beaten Path

Take this with a grain of salt. Use common sense and street smarts to decide what path to take. The point is, following the crowds or going to the epicenter of a city doesn’t guarantee the best time. Go down little side streets full of shops and strings of lights. Go to the seaport instead of city-center. Try outer boroughs and small towns.

USA, Arizona, Grand Canyon North Rim | © Graham Styles/Flickr
USA, Arizona, Grand Canyon North Rim | © Graham Styles/Flickr

Take Pictures and Admire Views

It goes without saying to take pictures and document your travels and the wonderful sights you see. But don’t spend the whole time looking through a camera (or worse, holding up an iPad at things). Take a minute to soak in a beautiful ocean view, a bright vibrant forest, or historic place.

Take a Different way Home.

Road Trips aren’t one way adventures. Stop at different places on the way back, or if you missed something, go through again. And there is no rush to get back, home will be there when you get there. If you went with your special someone, the last leg home is always a great time to reflect on the trip, your favorite spots, and what you’ve learned along the way.