How to Prepare for an Epic (Yet Safe!) Cross-Country Road Trip
By Abby Terlecki
A cross-country road trip can be the adventure of a lifetime. Travel writer Paul Theroux calls the "Great American road trip ... the supreme example of the journey as the destination." Theroux has traveled the world, yet his wanderlust always circled back to the America he had not yet discovered.
To be on the move on the open road feels like freedom and a dream for many. And if you have Theroux's spirit, the road pulls you toward all there is to explore, from the bustling streets of LA to the rolling hills of West Virginia and all the beauty in between.
Navigating new territory requires the right preparations though, even in your homeland. A lack of a planning could turn your dream trip into a nightmare, so make sure to incorporate the following into your cross-country road trip prep:
Avoid an Auto Breakdown
The unforeseen is inevitable during a long road trip, but car trouble is one mishap that you don’t want to experience. The best way to avoid auto distress is to prepare with a car inspection. The DMV recommends checking tire pressure, air filter, battery, and fluids, including automatic transmission, coolant, brake, power steering and windshield washer fluids. Check DMV.org for more pre-maintenance tips, so your trip doesn’t become a mechanical disaster.
Know the Rules of the Road Across State Lines
Along with car maintenance, you’ll want to make sure that your driving knowledge is up-to-speed, since road signs, rules of the road and speed limits vary by states. Learning state-specific information, such as local traffic laws and safe driving practices, will help ensure that you’ll cruise through states problem-free. A traffic violation ticket can certainly interrupt the good vibes of your trip.
Research and Create an Itinerary
A solid itinerary backed by good research keeps you on track and ensures you hit up the most unforgettable destinations. Consider an itinerary to serve as your travel tool guiding you along your adventure, from experiencing the New England coast to soaking in the beauty of the Grand Canyon.
- Explore your possibilities with a good old-fashioned atlas that can identify good routes or back roads
- Buy travel guides or connect with a travel agency to learn about landmarks and hidden gems you may never have considered
- Use Road Trip USA and the Jetsetter app as excellent resources to guide your dream trip planning
- Invest in an America the Beautiful pass for access to national parks and federal recreational sites
- Talk to the locals along the way! Recommendations from the locals can lead you to the best restaurants, activities, and sites
- Download the HotelTonight app to find great deals for booking a hotel last minute in a moment of spontaneity
Pay the Right Way
Despite what PayPal tells you, it’s best not to “buy a tropical vacation now” and “pay for it later.” Funding your trip on your credit card creates bad debt, comes with high interest rates and can kill your credit score (not to mention support bad financial habits). The healthiest strategy is to save by making a public goal and automatically transferring funds into a separate travel savings account, for example. Viktor Vincej of Traveling Lifestyle breaks down saving tips, tricks and hacks for traveling at a reasonable cost. See what he recommends for transportation, accommodation, food and more.
Pack like a Pro
Packing can be the bane of a traveler's existence. Start to organize your packing by making your own list or following one online. Pack your belongings in various bags of different sizes (rather than one large suitcase), so you can re-pack a small bag for a hotel room or Airbnb rental with only the essentials specific to the weather and activities of those travel days. Don’t forget to put together an emergency kit with a spare tire/car jack, water, first-aid kit and healthy snacks to avoid picking up junk foods at gas stations.
Be Protected from the Unexpected
It’s easy to follow the adage “it’ll never happen to me,” especially when it comes to insurance. This additional cost can seem like a waste, but the risk can be costly. Travel protection helps ensure you're covered in the event of illness, injury and other emergencies. USI Travel Insurance Services offers Voyager annual travel insurance for frequent travelers who want to take a cross-country road trip — here in the U.S. or abroad. Voyager can help prevent financial loss in the event of a medical emergency, evacuation, travel delay, trip interruption or baggage loss as you cross borders via plane, vehicle, train or boat.
About the author:
Abby Terlecki is a marketing copywriter for a university in Phoenix, Ariz. After work, Abby heads to happy hour at her CrossFit gym—her sanctuary of strength where she fell in love with the barbell. In between writing and lifting, Abby loves to explore the Grand Canyon state, indulge in great food and drive west to the beach. Abby earned her journalism degree from Ohio University and has since made the desert her happy home.