Reprinted from Island Echo https://www.islandecho.co.uk
(With some additional observations by me.)
The US is famous for its road trips. Vast stretches of the country are empty if you don’t count the magnificent nature through which you’ll drive for hours.
If you have a few weeks on your hands, or even just a week or two, you should organize a road trip and visit the country’s famous landmarks and natural parks away from the cities on the coastlines.
Our list will help you set up and organize such a trip because it’s a long endeavour and it requires some preparation on your part in order to enjoy it fully.
Have a Loose Itinerary
The best thing about going on a road trip is that you don’t need to stick to an itinerary, and you can visit a place and move on from it whenever you want to. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have at least a loose plan as to what you want to visit during your trip.
Having such an itinerary will give some structure to your road trip and allow you to make plans and make accommodations to rest. As long as you keep in mind that it’s only a draft, you’ll be fine.
(My note: That’s OK if you have a lot of time. If, like most of us, there’s a time limit you need to be more disciplined. If you are just freewheeling along, going and staying as the mood takes you, you will be spendthrift with time in the early days of the trip because you seem to have so much time. Towards the end of the run you realise you haven’t got to see half the things you had on the must-see list. I recommend a fairly detailed itinerary so that even if you depart from it you know how far adrift you are.)
Have The Proper Documents with You
If you’re a foreigner driving in the US, you’ll need a few documents so that you can drive and rent a vehicle legally. For the most part, you’ll need an international driver’s license and a national permit that proves you can drive. You’ll also need a photo ID; in most cases, a passport will do just fine.
(My note: That’s not quite correct. An English language licence from most countries in the world is sufficient. There is an international agreement for countries to recognise other countries licences.)
These documents don’t cover insurance, and you need to have separate proof that your vehicle is insured. It’s best to insure both the vehicle and your belongings in case you’re in a car crash.
Do Your Research Beforehand
It helps a great deal if you research the place you’re going to visit beforehand. That way, you’ll know if there are any fees you need to cover, what’s the best time to come by and what you expect in terms of crowds. In most cases, all of this information can be found online.
This is especially true if you’re planning to visit national parks since you don’t want to make such a long trip and find the venue to be closed. Practice common sense and expect some things not to go your way even if you’ve done the research.
GPS On Your Phone Won’t Always Be Enough
If you’re in a city or a mid-size town, the GPS on your phone will be just fine, and you’ll be able to find your way around. However, big chunks of the US road trips are going through the desert and away from any sizable urban infrastructure. This means you’ll need a paper map or a GPS device for your car.
(My note: Boy-oh-boy, is that true. I had major trouble with Google Maps in parts of the Great Smoky Mountains recently).
If you decide to rent a GPS device for your car, you should keep in mind that it comes with its own insurance policy that you need to cover.
Avoid Rush Hour
It’s easy to figure out when the rush hours are and especially so if you’re visiting locations that are popular with tourists and easy to research. The best way to go is to avoid rush hours altogether. That’s one of the advantages of setting your own schedule.
Not driving during rush hour will actually help you make better time since you won’t be stuck in traffic, and it’s also much less frustrating. In most cases, you’ll be able to finish the trip an hour earlier simply by waiting for the rush to clear out.
Don’t Overlook the National Parks
National parks are one of the best things about a road trip in the US. They are very well organized and kept in pristine condition. The natural beauty of the US can’t be overstated, and in most cases, you’ll be amazed by the view and the feeling of being in touch with nature.
This is especially true for small and lesser-known national parks. These, too, are worth your time, just like the ones that everyone has heard of, and in most cases, they’ll be just as memorable, if not more so. Less crowded venues often have such an effect on tourists.
Plan to Spend More Than You’ve Budgeted
It’s essentially important to make a budget for your road trip. It should cover food, accommodations, gas, insurance, fees, and some pocket money. However, even if you’ve made all of these preparations, it’s still a good idea to have in mind that you’ll spend more than you planned to.
That way, you can have some wiggle room in your plans and not have to worry about every cent you spend while on the road. In most cases, 20 percent more than you’ve initially planned will be enough.
(My note: Very true. Like when I tripped and fell and smashed the screen on my work laptop. Repair bill $295. Travel insurance excess $250 – so hardly worth claiming. Go to my recent post to hear how unbudgeted extra costs can pile up. https://roadtripdreamer.com/are-discount-airlines-as-cheap-as-they-seem/)
Eating Healthy Isn’t Always an Option
American food culture is different from what most of the world is used to. This is true when it comes to the size of the serving and how healthy the food is. Depending on where you are, there may be little you can do about it – since, in some parts of the country, that’s the only food you’re going to get.
The food, however, is delicious even though it’s not always healthy. Sometimes the best way to go is to let go a bit and enjoy the trip. Food is a big part of experiencing the local culture, and that’s what you should do.
(My note: Also very true. Just have a look at what I got for breakfast in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was delicious but there was no way I could finish it. )
Check Your Car Before You Go
It’s essential to check up on your car before a long trip, regardless of where you go. This is most noticeable with tires, a car battery, breaks, and fluids, but anything can break at some point, and you don’t want it to happen on the road.
Big chunks of the US road trip will be in the middle of nowhere, and it’s, therefore, best to do all of these beforehand. Towing your car for miles can be difficult and expensive, and you should do what you can to avoid it if you can.
(My note: If you are renting a car check it for the slightest damage before you leave the depot. Get a staff member to check any dings, dents or scratches. Check the windscreen and headlights for chips or stars. Take photographs.)