Top 10 tips for a USA cross-country road trip

I have come to the conclusion that the summer of 2016 was and will be the best summer of my life. And I’m totally okay with that.

Here was the Summer 2016 line up:

  • Graduate college
  • 10 days in Disney World
  • 1 month in China
  • 1 week on the East Coast
  • 2 weeks in Washington state (road trip included)

I know, right?? Big shout out to all the parents and relatives out there who made this possible.

Our trip to Washington was our last hurrah before settling down at our desks and becoming full-fledged adults. That 34-hour drive was the epitome of young adulthood, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


We drove from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Mt Rainer National Park, Washington. Since we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, we took the “point A to point B” approach. Meaning, we didn’t stop much along the way. But whether you choose that approach or prefer to take your time reaching your destination, following these tips can make your cross-country road trip not only bearable but possibly even enjoyable!

1. Choose your travel companion(s) wisely

Before you ask that best friend of yours to accompany you on a road trip across the United States, make sure you give it some thought. Just because someone makes a good friend does not mean they’ll be a good person to be stuck in the car with for 34 hours. Do you have similar tastes in entertainment? Are either of you good with directions? Can he/she remain calm in stressful situations? Is he/she uncomfortable with silence? Is he/she a good driver?! Choosing the right companion can make all the difference when it comes to these long trips.


My wisely chosen adorable travel (and life) companion


2. Always have a backup plan

After 24 hours of driving, my husband and I pulled into the campsite where we had reservations, took one look at the place, and kept driving. The campsite was in this field with a run-down trailer park on one side and a prison on the other. Since we didn’t feel like getting murdered, we spent the next few hours using our spotty internet to try to find alternative lodging in our price range. We ended up booking a hotel room only to cancel it a few minutes later after finding a campsite near Lake Cour’daline, Idaho. It was kind of a mess and caused us both a lot of unnecessary stress. If we had established a backup plan before then, things would’ve been a lot easier.


Due to lack of backup plan, we got to camp with these slimy aliens


3. Decide your priorities in advance

Is this road trip going to involve detours to landmarks every couple hundred miles or driving straight through the night? Are you stopping for food along the way or brown-bagging it the whole trip? Are you driving to see the sights or to save money? There’s no wrong answer, it just depends on what you’re looking to get out of your road trip. Deciding these priorities in advance cuts down in-car arguments as well as disappointed travelers and keeps everyone’s expectations in check.


4. Get your car checked before you go

Get yourself that oil change you’ve been needing, your tires rotated, your engine checked, maybe even your windshield wiper blades replaced. You are going to be putting a ridiculous amount of miles on your car so it’s important that you do everything you can to help your car make the journey in one piece.

5. Spend some time organizing

Since your car is going to be your home for the next few days, spend some time making sure your layout is comfortable. Are snacks within reach? Do you have enough leg room? A place to put the trash? It’s much easier to organize these things before you leave than out on the road.

Also, make sure you are at least familiar with the route before you leave. I know Google Maps makes getting places ridiculously easy, but you’ll want to know where you’re headed if you ever get stuck somewhere without data (or your phone stops working, which it totally will at the worst time possible)

6. Check out your local library

Stock up on audiobooks! They are one of the rare forms of entertainment both the passenger and the driver can enjoy. As long as you’ll be back in time to return them, borrowing audiobooks is a great way to cut down on costs for your trip. Hours of entertainment at no cost to you! Well, besides taxes and stuff.

7. Be smart about safety

NEVER attempt a cross-country road trip alone unless you have every intention of stopping for a full night’s sleep each evening. My mom did a cross-country road trip once and hallucinating she was running over arms in the middle of the road because she was so exhausted. In this respect, don’t be like my mom. You’ll need someone to switch off with you if you get too tired, someone to check directions, etc. Also, if you have an uneasy feeling at a particular gas station or stop along the way, trust your gut and keep going until you find somewhere safer.

8. Be sure to bring the essentials

Bringing the essentials can save you money and unnecessary stress on the road. Here are a few essentials we were glad we brought:

  • plastic shopping bags (for trash)
  • tissues
  • paper towels
  • Nalgene water bottles along with a case of plastic ones
  • pillow
  • blanket
  • sweatshirt
  • easy on/off shoes
  • sunglasses
  • change (for tolls)
  • snacks such as ProBars, Clif Bars, pretzels, gummy bears (great for the late night shifts), apples, mini bagels with almond butter and honey, baby carrots, etc
  • A sense of adventure (sorry, had to)


A happy camper with all the essentials.


9. Download before you go

Did you know there are still people in this world who don’t know what a podcast is? I was one of those poor souls not too long ago, now podcasts are my jam to and from (and during) work. Do some research to find a few series you’re interested in and download them ahead of time. That way you’ll be able to easily access them on the road. Some recommendations: This American Life, Serial (great for road trips, since it’s an entire story and not just standalone episode), Criminal, The Mortified Podcast, and Terrible, Thanks for Asking.

10. Enjoy the view

Look out the window every once and awhile! Chances are, you’re traveling through parts of the US you’ve never seen before. Looking out the window you’re guaranteed to find weird billboards, shocking sunsets, and people you’ve never met going about their daily lives. If you see something beautiful, pull off the road and snag a picture. Who knows when you’ll get the chance to see this side of the country again?


Taken on our way to Yellowstone. Told Jackson to look, but he said he had to focus on the road or some nonsense like that.


Spending 34 hours in a car isn’t the most glamorous way to travel, but I guarantee it will be the most memorable. You’ll be surprised to find yourself months later sitting at work, daydreaming about doing it all over again.

Road Trip

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