Road trips are a fun and economical way to discover the U.S. However, up until about 5 years ago, I’d always dismissed them in favor of cheaper travel in other countries.
It wasn’t until a French friend shared his dream of one day driving from New York to Los Angeles that I thought: “Hey, I want to do that, too!” I discovered that there are many things I don’t about the U.S. and many places I’d like to visit. So, now I set out on at least one road trip per year to learn more about the diverse country in which I live.
What I’ve found during my multiple cross-country road trips is: (1) They are always more fun than I anticipated they’d be; (2) It’s easy to be frugal if you stick to a budget; (3) The trips rarely go as planned. Spring is almost here, so now is the time to start planning your late spring/summer adventures. Here are some tips for making the most out of your road trip:
- Have a general idea of your itinerary before setting out on your journey. When planning your itinerary, be realistic in terms of time. If you only have 1 week of vacation time, perhaps you just want to explore a small part of the U.S. (after all, you have the rest of your life to make it to the other states!).
- Always budget more time than you think you’ll need. When I go on a road trip, I typically alternate long driving days with sightseeing days. It’s important to remember that your driving days may take longer than you think due to unforeseen circumstances.
- Take along a GPS or maps. It’s important to have access to maps for every region you’ll be traveling to. Even if you MapQuest it all before leaving, you may want to take a detour, etc. that will require knowledge of an alternate route. Stopping to ask for directions takes time, so it’s best to be self-sufficient in this regard.
- Check the weather often while on the road. I once spent several days dodging tornados in the region where I was traveling. In order to stay safe, I checked the weather multiple times per day.
- If possible, bring your own source of Internet access. Smart phones and tablets now make it easier than ever to stay connected without lugging around a computer. Having Internet access is important for checking weather, finding information about various locations (tourist information, lodging, etc.), and staying in touch with those back home.
- Have a general plan for lodging. Camping is the most frugal option, but there are plenty of cheap motels throughout the U.S., too. I always try to spend at least one night with a friend while I’m on the road. Keep in mind that, due to unforeseen circumstances, your accommodation plans could change.
- Set a trip budget. Before you leave, it’s important to have an idea of about how much you’ll be spending. AAA offers some good discounts, so if you are a member be sure to take advantage of them. If you don’t have a plan for roadside assistance, be sure to budget in an extra cushion for flat tires and whatnot. Save money on food by bringing a cooler and making sandwiches for lunch instead of shelling out for fast food.
- Pack an emergency kit. Be on the safe side an pack an emergency kit with first aid supplies, blankets, extra water and dry food, a flashlight, etc. It’s best to be prepared because you never know what can happen on the road.
- Traveling with kids? Stay flexible. If you’re going on a road trip with kids, there are a variety of things to consider. Remember that, depending on the ages and personalities of your kids, you may not be able to get quite as far as you had planned each day. The important thing is that everyone stays safe and happy – you want your kids to remember this as a good experience, right?
- Enjoy the unexpected. One of the best things about road trips are the pleasant unexpected opportunities/events that arise. Relish in an impromptu hike, stop for a live rodeo you hadn’t planned on attending, enjoy a relaxing picnic with your travel partners. It’s all part of the experience.