There's nothing more American than a road trip across America. Of course, there are few things more overwhelming than planning a cross country road trip. Ours is a vast nation criss-crossed by interstates, turnpikes, and highways. There's a staggering amount to see, hear, smell, and taste. To put it bluntly, where should you begin?
We can't tell you the best way to take a road trip across America. What we can do is share some tips and guidelines that will help you plan a road trip vacation you'll always remember:
Think it through. This may sound obvious, but...you realize the country is about 3,000 miles wide, right? And you know it could take you four or five days—each way—to drive that far? And if you want to stop and spend some time in one spot, that's going to lengthen your vacation?
Just checking. We applaud your pioneering spirit, but sometimes people forget to evaluate the basic logistics of a road trip across America.
Consider the family. Road trips with kids are not only possible, but can also be delightful. Of course, that all depends on the kids.
Our best road trip was a 4,300-mile trek across about two-thirds of the country with a 15-month-old in tow. She was a great car baby and did fine.
But before you plan a cross-country trip, have a frank discussion about the car tendencies and travel tolerance of your kids and other family members. Tell your kids they'll be stuck in the car for six or more hours per day, two hours at a time, for two weeks, and see how they react.
Find an appealing destination. You don't want to drive across America and then spend several days visiting somewhere uninspiring. Sure, you'll just be happy to be out of the car, but why not make your cross country road trip to a destination you've always wanted to see?
Plan an off-day or two during the drive. Suppose you're driving from the Los Angeles area to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit relatives. Looks like you'll be on Interstate 40 the whole way.
Why not plan a one-day stopover in Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, or Memphis? You'll recharge your batteries as you explore a new city. Stopovers are a great way to turn a long drive into a real vacation.
Balance interstates with highways. As you can imagine, interstate highways will get you where you're going much faster. But then again, you're going to spend a lot of time driving through suburbs with the same chain restaurants and big-box stores you have in your hometown.
Non-interstate highways make for slower going, but you'll generally see more beautiful scenery and will have a chance to see small-town life up close. If you're not on a tight deadline, plan to leave the interstates for at least parts of your trip.
Use different routes for "going" and "coming." Here's a great way to strike that interstate/highway balance: take different roads on your way out and way back. On our big road trip from California to the St. Louis area, we took mostly non-interstates on the way out and got to see remote towns in southern Utah, the reservation town of Kayenta in Arizona, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma.
On the way
back, we hit the interstates, which made for faster travel (which we
welcomed) but still allowed us to see the scenic beauty of Wyoming and
desert landscape of northern Nevada. If I do say so myself, it was the
So, there you have it. Good luck planning your road trip across America. Remember: it's about the journey as much as the destination.