Perhaps you’ve decided to pull up the stakes and relocate for a better career opportunity. Maybe you want the ultimate vacation experience. Either way, it’s time to load up the family trickster and drive across this great nation.
An undertaking of this magnitude takes planning. How much time do you need and how many stops will you make? What will you do if you break down?
Fortunately, a little prep work can make your journey an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime. Here’s how to plan a cross-country road trip.
1. Get Your Ride in Good Working Order
Your first stop on your cross-country road trip is a trip to the mechanic. Here’s where it pays to be the DIY sort, not only because of the financial component. Knowing how to work a lug wrench comes in handy when you travel. However, many of today’s newer model cars require specialized knowledge and parts, creating headaches for mom-and-pop shops and individual mechanics alike. When in doubt, ask your dealer — don’t void your warranty.
A thorough workover can alert you to trouble, but so can using your common sense powers of observation. Have you noticed your tires showing signs of uneven wear, braking problems, or difficulty steering? You could have an issue with your suspension to address before hitting the open road.
Don’t overlook the importance of more mundane maintenance tasks. For example, rotating your tires can improve overall fuel efficiency, helping you keep more money in your wallet. Every penny saved at the pump counts when you prepare to drive nearly 3,000 miles. Regular oil changes help preserve your engine life and it’s always wise to check your fluids and ensure your windshield wipers and headlights do their jobs.
You should carry a few tools even if you aren’t mechanically inclined. Ensure you have the following before you depart:
- A spare tire, lug wrench, and jack
- Extra motor oil and radiator fluid
- Triangles and flares
- Backup cellphone charger
- Extra water, food, and blankets to stay comfortable while you wait for help
For added peace of mind, check with your insurance. Does your plan include roadside assistance and if so, what does it cover? For instance, many policies only handle towing up to a specific number of miles from your home address — unhelpful if you live in New York and break down in Sacramento. You might want to invest in a separate plan like AAA to know help is only a phone call away.
2. Plan the Perfect Itinerary
Even if your cross-country road trip is for relocation purposes, you should still plan the most scenic route unless severely time-crunched. After all, you may never pass through certain states again — why not take in the most famous sites?
If you’re planning a vacation, the only limits are your imagination and available time. Try giving your cross-country road trip a theme, like famous or quirky museums. Learn about all things spud at the Idaho Potato Museum or see a giant impacted colon at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians.
It takes nearly two days to drive from New York to California and pushing straight through isn’t enjoyable, even if you rotate shifts with other drivers. However, depending on your budget and preferences, you have multiple lodging options:
- Car camping: You can pitch a tent atop some vehicles, remove the rear seats and lay down a mattress or curl up on the backseat if it’s big enough. However, you must keep safety in mind. Some states limit how long you can stay at rest stops and street parking leaves you open to a midnight knock from the police. However, stores like Walmart and Home Depot let you park overnight if you don’t abuse the privilege.
- Glamping: Why not spend part of your cross-country road trip sleeping in a yurt? Although some glamping destinations are nearly as pricey as hotels, most cost considerably less. You can find creative options and this choice is ideal if you’re hitting the open road to visit America’s national parks.
- Airbnb or VRBO: Prices range from expensive to very affordable — especially if you select a spare bedroom in someone’s home.
- Traditional hotels: You can’t go wrong with most hotels for ultimate comfort. Motels and motor lodges are generally more affordable, albeit with fewer amenities.
Plan your lodging before you depart and get confirmations unless you plan to car-camp. Few things are worse than feeling exhausted and not seeing a safe place to pull over for miles.
3. Outfit Yourself With the Right Gear
Smart packing can make your cross-country road trip far more enjoyable. What should you bring?
It might be a balmy 75° Fahrenheit in Tampa, but you can’t expect the same when you get to Seattle. You’ll also travel through several climate zones on your trek, so you need a variety of garments to keep comfortable. Will it feel somewhat extravagant to bring outfits in one or two suitcases for all four seasons? Undoubtedly, but it’s better than spending the day sweltering or shivering because you don’t have the proper attire.
Water and Food
You can’t survive without water — a good rule of thumb is to bring a gallon per person daily. This amount provides you with adequate drinking water while leaving some left over for handwashing or topping off your radiator.
You can go longer without food, but finding healthy eats at convenience stores is a challenge. Pack plenty of trail mix laden with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and some whole-grain crackers for energy while you drive.
Every well-stocked first aid kit should contain the following:
- Various sizes of adhesive bandages and gauze pads
- Medical tape
- Scissors and tweezers
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- OTC medications
- Prescription medications
The open road might be your entertainment if you travel solo — although a few audiobooks or downloads of favorite podcasts come in handy, especially if you lack satellite radio. However, if you have kiddos in tow, you need ways to stave off the inevitable “Are we there yet?”s.
Don’t rely solely on rear-seat DVRs. You want your children to see the country, not spend hours on screen time. While electronics are okay in moderation, prepare yourself by learning a few interactive car games like I Spy before you depart. It’s also helpful to carry activity or coloring books that only come out during road trip time.
4. Have Your Documents in Order
What’s worse than seeing flashing lights in your rearview mirror? It’s when the police pull you over and you can’t find your registration or proof of insurance. Ensure you inspect your glove box and have everything in order before you depart.
However, your license and registration aren’t the only things you’ll need. What if you lose your wallet somewhere between Toledo and Omaha? Write down or create a secure cloud document including the phone numbers of your financial institutions and credit card and banking information to get your cards canceled quickly and order replacements.
Finally, notify the folks back home and leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted family member or friend. Plan regular check-ins, such as calling when you reach Albuquerque or FaceTiming on a routine schedule. That way, should something happen and you go missing, your loved ones will know to contact the authorities and direct them where to look.
Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip With Ease
Traveling across the country can be a grand adventure and doing your homework beforehand can significantly enhance your overall enjoyment of your trek. These four tips will help you plan the ultimate cross-country road trip. You’ll enjoy greater peace of mind, whether relocating for a fresh start or making vacation memories that last a lifetime.
Jack Shaw is a freelance writer operating in the men’s lifestyle niche. He works as a senior writer at Modded.com.