7 Major Keys To A Great Cross-Country Road Trip
Last fall I took a cross country road trip to find the best food in America and I did it alone. Solo Dolo. Just me, my Honda Civic and my appetite. Two weeks and ten cities later I concluded one of the best trips I’d ever taken. So if you’re thinking of making the journey with a group of friends or by yourself here’s a guide to help you have the best trip ever.
Before You Go
Set travel rules
My #1 rule was to never drive at night. I wasn’t familiar with the roads and I didn’t want to end up stranded in a strange place at night. But one day I got a late start and as the sun set, instead of pulling off for the night, I decided to keep driving the 3 hours to my next stop. I reasoned that the roads were fine and the weather was good. That changed quickly. Shortly after nightfall heavy fog rolled in, I hit the mountains, and a hail storm popped up. I spent the next few hours tensely driving 20 miles per hour on steep, winding roads with terrible visibility. Don’t do what I did. Don’t ruin your cross country road trip with bad decisions.
A reliable car and roadside insurance
There is NO WAY you can make this trip without a good car and some backup if something happens on the road. Especially if you’re going solo. While I didn’t use the latter, you don’t want to be SOL if you do need it. If you’re renting a car use your credit card. Some credit cards offer FREE roadside assistance with car rentals.
Navigation is set
You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know the way. Luckily you have several options to help you out. Google Maps and Waze (Apple maps suck, don’t use it). Both give good, accurate directions but there are key differences. Google Maps has an offline mode. So even if you’re driving in the mountains or through a small town and you lose internet Google Maps keeps you on track. On the other hand Waze is a community based traffic and navigation app. So you get real time updates on road conditions, traffic, and speed monitors from drivers who just took that route. Waze helps you to avoid dangerous debris, speeding tickets, and traffic.
Know yourself and your company
Spending days on end on the road can take its toll. If you don’t know your limits you can wear yourself out on day one. After the first day of driving 8 hours straight I was exhausted and in pain. I quickly reevaluated my plans, made small tweaks in my schedule and set a new daily driving limit of 6 hours that fit my needs. I felt completely different the rest of the trip. Find what’s comfortable for you and your crew.
A road trip playlist is so necessary. But it isn’t only music. I preferred podcast and audiobooks, only listening to music when I needed a break from the other two. The right mix of music, podcast and audiobooks will get you through a long haul. My favorite podcasts are The Left Field, The Read, This American Life, and Another Rounds. You can also get free audiobooks via Audible with an Amazon Prime membership.
Remain Open and Flexible
The beauty of a road trip is the freedom it gives you. If you stumble upon a town, restaurant, or landmark that seem interesting, give yourself the flexibility to explore it. This is easier to do when you’re not stuck with a hotel booking somewhere else. Don’t make reservations you can’t cancel with 24 hours notice. On my trip I decided to skip Houston and go to Austin and did so with ease because of Priceline’s booking system. Hotel Tonight and Priceline are two great apps with the hotels in all price ranges and most allow you to pay at checkout.
You’ll never fully experience a city without help from locals. They know where to get the best food, who serves the best coffee, and where’s the best nightlife. They’ll make your cross country road trip amazing. To find people who know the city:
- Crowdsource on social media-we don’t know who are friends know and chances are you know someone who knows someone who knows someone in the city you’re visiting
- Check out Couchsurfing- CS is more than finding a free place to crash for the night, it’s a community of people who love their hoods and want to share it with visitors. In multiple cities and countries I’ve reached out to CS members asking them for recommendations, to meetup for a drink or meal at their favorite spot, and of course a couch here and there.
- Sit at the bar- when you go out, especially if you’re alone, sit at the bar! You can talk to the bartender and other single diners and make new friends.