American Road Trips 101

Tips and Tricks for Planning Your US Road Trip

students on a road trip
••• Stanislaw Pytel/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Road tripping the United States is one of the best ways to see the country, and the country itself is one of the best to drive across! If you're planning a drive in the United States then look no further than the resources listed below -- I cover everything you could possibly need to know about preparing and planning the perfect road trip. 

Where to Go: Hit the City

Surveyed students listed their top 10 favorite US cities not long ago -- jumpstart ideas with this list for some surefire student travel spots, including free stuff to do in places like Austin and Boston.

You could also just head to the big city nearest you and say in a hostel overnight.

Nowhere to stay? No friends there yet? No sweat -- go Couchsurfing and meet like minded people while you sleep for free.

Where to Go: Hit the Beach

Dr. Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach), reknowned author and professor of environmental studies in Florida, dishes out the gritty goods every year on the U.S.'s best beaches and rewards the country's sweetest sand with a coveted spot on his annual top ten list. Check out his current list of where to go below:

  • Top ten list - US best beaches

Go Car Camping

Car camping is as easy and as close as your nearest national forest, or even KOA. Pack the car and hit the road for a weekend or the whole summer and stay cheap in campsites while you eat cheap, too. And the next road trip is as simple as packing the car and leaving camp.

Get Maps and Guidebooks

U.S. maps will be crucial to your road trip planning, whether it's paper copies or using Google Maps on your phone.Check out some great road trip guidebooks like Lonely Planet's "Road Trip Route 66" and "The Most Scenic Drives in America."

Find the Best American Road Food

You want to see the real core of the country you're traveling through? Eschew the chain on the interstate and hit Main Street for a cafe. It may take some time to locate the really good food, and TripAdvisor and Yelp will help you find your way. Try real roadside restaurants and cafes on any drive for a slice of Americana and apple pie. More information on how to find great road trip food:

Stay Safe on the Road

Travel is as safe as you make it, and travel in the U.S. can be every bit as risky as travel abroad if you're not prepared -- that's why I always say that traveling abroad is perfectly safe when compared to staying at home. Some resources on staying safe on your road trip:

  • Student travel safety overview
  • Women's travel safety tips
  • Hotel safety gadgets

Be Ready for Roadside Emergencies

Flats happen -- don't let them ruin a day if you haven't got a spare (you will, though, right?) Be ready with a travel club membership and get roadside emergency assistance or towing. AAA is easy, less than $100 annually, and they also offerf hotel and car rental discounts plus car help; check with your gas credit card company, too -- it might offer a car travel club benefit and discount program.

Look on the card's back to find out.

Calculate Your Gas Costs Carefully

Gas costs are far from fixed, so you can save a lot by finding a cheap station. With a gas cost calculator, you can find the cheapest pumps in towns you'll be passing through. More on that in the following article: How to calculate gas prices and your road trip cost

How to Save Money on Road Trips

Read my top 5 money saving road trip tips to find out how to keep to your budget while you're on the road. Some of the highlights include using a gas calculator (as mentioned above) and avoiding drive-thrus and snacks while you're traveling. 

Find Free Wi-Fi on the Road

Finding wifi on the American road is pretty easy, depending on where you're traveling. If you're in a major town or city, though, Starbucks and McDonald's can always be guaranteed to have some.

Additionally, you should be able to get cell service in most parts of the country. Download Here Maps in advance and cache the United States map -- that way you'll be able to get directions even if there isn't a cell tower nearby.

 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff