Taking a road trip is one of the best ways to see America without worrying about getting on a plane.
Many people prefer long car rides and road trips for their flexibility, more eco-friendly output in compared to flying, and the cost effectiveness when taking a trip with a large family.
These road trip tips will make sure you plan the most perfect road trip and know exactly what to do along the way.
Sidenote! If you want more tips on US travel and to chat about all of the wonderful places to see in the USA, consider joining my Ultimate USA Travel Chat group on Facebook. Just click here and I’ll add you!
Have a Plan of Where to Stop Along the Way
Whether you are planning to drive straight through or you do want to stop along the way, I really recommend planning out your overnight stops in advance.
If you really want to throw caution to the wind, you can pull over at random motels you find when you’re tired, but especially if you’re going on a road trip with toddlers or babies or for someone on a budget, you are going to want to make sure that you’re stopping in a place that makes sense for your safety and for your wallet.
This can even be something as simple as a list of hotels every 30 miles or so that you’d be happy to stay in so you can pick and choose on the night.
Just do a little research beforehand, as staying in a bug motel with blood marks on the wall doesn’t get your road trip off to the right start.
Shower Right Before You Go
It’s simple, but necessary.
Have everyone be completely showered and clean right before you go!
Staying in a car together for a long period of time can really bring the stinky if you’re not careful.
Your hair could get oily from being against the seat all day, and starting off clean is the right way to do things.
This also means that if the drive takes longer than you think or if you decide to drive straight through instead of stop along the way, you’re not way past overdue for a shower when you get there.
Don’t Try and Force Fill the Time
You might have visions of family sing alongs in your head or feel like you need to bring 100 “road trip questions” with you so you and your spouse don’t get bored of each other, but I would recommend to take it easy on the forced activities and just enjoy the ride.
Now, with kids, I would definitely come prepared with activities for them to do, but forcing the teenagers into a game of I Spy that they’re not into isn’t going to make for good family memories.
Instead, take the drive as it comes – be yourselves, make jokes, talk about what you see out the window, what you’re excited about where you’re going.
Use the time to really get to know each other, not just going along with the motions of a road trip question list you found on Pinterest.
Pack for All Eventualities
What if you get an hour from home and your car breaks down and you all have to stand on the side of the road in your shorts in the winter?
What if you go into a restaurant along the way that requires shoes, not flip flops, and all you have are your flip flops as you’re heading to the beach?
Contingency plan so that you have the right clothing and footwear for all occasions, in case you get stuck or find yourself somewhere you didn’t expect.
This includes bringing a bathing suit if you think you might be stopping at hotels with pools, even if you don’t plan on swimming at your destination.
You can definitely stop for food along the way, but I would also recommend to pack food in advance for your road trip.
Inevitably, not everyone will be hungry at the same time, and you might find that someone is hungry right after you’ve stopped or they were asleep during the fast food trip or you just go for miles without finding anywhere to stop.
Pack up sandwiches, fruit, and chips for each person so you have some food backups, and pack more if you’re going to be on the road for a long time.
You can also make fun cookies like these animal cookies in advance and keep them as treats along the way.
Make a Playlist
Consult everyone in the car before you make a great road trip playlist on something like Spotify where you can all add your favorites.
You don’t want one person to dominate the radio for the entire trip, so making one giant playlist is going to keep everyone interested and waiting in anticipation for their songs.
Also, having a giant music playlist ready to go is going to help prevent you from conversation burnout or to give everyone some quiet time to stop arguing in the backseats and instead just listen.
Prepare a Sightseeing Questionaire for Kids
If you’re on a road trip with kids, especially younger ones, you’ve got a whole different challenge on your hands than road tripping with your best adult friends.
Kids don’t have long attention spans, and when there’s nothing else to look at besides the road for hours on end, they might (will) get restless.
One way to prepare for this is to create a kind of sightseeing question list for them that goes throughout the duration of the trip.
Have them look out for specific buildings you know are along the way, certain cars they need to find, count how many cars they can see that are the same type as yours.
Whatever is at their age appropriate level, prepare this ahead of time to give them something to keep them busy as you’re driving.
Make Sure You’ve Checked Over Your Car’s Oil, Tires, Etc
A road trip is much more intense on your car than a trip to the local store or the daily school run.
You’re going to be going over hundreds or thousands of miles, and you may be driving on terrain that you don’t normally drive on.
The car needs a full over check before you go on a road trip.
If you’re not an expert in cars, bring it in to be serviced and checked out by an expert instead of just glancing under the hood yourself even though you have no idea what you’re looking for.
Make sure the oil, windshield wiper fluid, gas, etc are all topped up
Bring USB Power Packs for Phone Charging
In today’s day and age, we’re so relient on our phones, but what happens when we can’t charge them?
“Oh, well I have a USB port in my car,” you say.
Okay, but what if you get into an accident and can’t turn on the car and your phone only has 20 minutes of battery left!
Bring a USB portable phone charge, fully charged, as a backup in case you need it along the journey.
Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you did.
Take a Chair and Portable Picnic Set
If you’re going on a more outdoorsy type of road trip and stopping at outdoor or nature parks along the way, there are plenty of fold up chairs and picnic sets you can buy that mean you can all get out of the car and eat outdoors rather than being cramped in your seats still.
This is only something to think about if you truly have the space, not a necessity, but a fun one if you do!
Get Sunscreens for the Windows
If you’ve got people in the backseat, especially kids, buying sunscreens that attach to the windows is a great idea for when you’re driving during times of the day where the sun seems to be streaming in at full force and baking them and their electronics.
This is also helpful if someone is trying to take a nap as you can pull it down and create a darker environment.
Get a Holder for Your Phone to Use GPS
If you’re using your phone as a GPS, which most of us do, get a holder that attaches your phone to the dashboard.
It is dangeorus to hold your phone in your hands or on your lap and try at look at the directions.
Have someone else in the car navigate, if possible, and if not, get that phone attached to your car so you don’t have to touch it or make contact with it to look at it for directions.
Okay, I’m also including a list of things to pack for the road trip, so this is an ironic tip, but don’t overpack!
You want the car to feel as roomy inside as possible, and you don’t want to literally weigh it down with stuff.
It can be tempting, when on a road trip, to celebrate not having all of the restrictions on what you can bring, but don’t let it go too far the other direction!
Double Check for Insurance Details and Driver’s License
Make sure the car insurance details are stored in the car before you take off, and ensure that everyone who could possibly be of driving age and has a driving license in the trip have their driving license on them.
You don’t want to find, halfway through the trip when you’re supposed to switch drivers, that someone has forgotten their license.
Bring Cooler with Ice
If you’re packing things like water bottles, fruits and sandwiches with meats, you’re going to want to bring a cooler with ice to put the food in if you’re going to be out all day or for multiple days without refrigeration.
You can get soft side coolers that can tuck under people’s feet or go squarely in between people so it doesn’t feel like such an imposition.
Pack Baby Wipes
Baby wipes aren’t just for babies!
They are great to wipe your hands with if you’re about to dig into your food trip snacks but have marker all over your hands from helping the little ones color, or if someone has a spill.
Have a Non-Electronic Map
We rely so much on electronics and having signal nowadays, which can be downright dangerous if you’re going on a cross America road trip.
There are going to be places where you don’t have signal, your phone might die or go kaput for an unknown reason, and you don’t want to be stuck without a way to figure out where you’re going, especially in the middle of the night.
Bring a physically printed out map or atlas that isn’t going to have any problem being read if you find yourself off track without your electronics working.
Avoid Busy Traffic Times
It makes sense to avoid busy traffic times when you leave the house, but think through your journey.
Sure, you could avoid morning rush hour and leave later, which is great, but then at some point you’re going to run into evening rush hour if you drive for long enough.
Plan your stops and your journey so that you are not in built up areas during rush hours or you use those times for stop for meals.
If you’re going to spend an hour and a half in traffic during rush hour if you drive through and 30 minutes in traffic if you go outside of rush hour, you might as well use that extra hour to stop for food or a walk around.
Don’t Sleep in a Parking Lot
Finding random gas stations to park in and sleep in your car can feel like it’s part of the road trip on a budget dream, but it’s really not.
Even if you really need to keep your lodging on a budget, try an actual campsite.
Sleeping in your car in a parking lot is not secure and you could be opening yourself up to situations you don’t want to be in.
Take Two Cars if Cramped
Taking two cars doubles the cost of gas and wear on the car on a road trip, and it means more drivers are needed, but if you have a really big family or are taking a super long road trip, it can be the best option.
You don’t want the car to feel so cramped that everyone is suffocating from being two inches away from each other and from all of the luggage you’ve had to put on people’s laps.
Don’t Go with People You Don’t Know Well
Road trips are one of the most intimate ways of travel.
You’re literally sitting in this box together with just those other people for hours on end.
With flights and trains, you’ve got other people around, other things to do and look at, but for road trips, you’re stuck together.
If you’re going on a road trip with your family, well, then, hopefully you like them!
But if you’re considering a road trip with friends, really make sure you know them well enough to want to be road trip buddies before setting off.
Let the Kids Help Plan the Route
Another way to get kids interested and involved in your road trip instead of just asking when you’ll get there is to let them help plan the route.
If there are different options you can take, see which ones they want to take and help teach them how to plan the road trip and pick out stops so they have a vested interested in it and aren’t just being carted along.
Check Out Sightseeing Options Along the Way
Sometimes, people think of a road trip that takes you from point A to point B, but think about what other sightseeing options you have along the way.
Even if you don’t have time to stay over in other places, you could always plan your rest breaks to be at other sightseeing options like National Parks.
Give Your Route to Friends or Family Beforehand
It’s always a good idea to tell friends and family who aren’t going with you what your route is ahead of time.
Not only is this a safe thing to do in case you break down or don’t show up at your destination for nefarious reasons, but it can also be useful if you find yourself lost and your GPS isn’t working – call someone, tell them the last place you remember, and see if they can look it up and help you get back on track.
Hang Personal Organizers on the Back of the Seats
When we used to go on road trips as kids, we each had our individual organizer that would hang on the back of the seats in front of us, and this is a great idea for kids to be able to put their snacks and activities in.
It also means you can load them up ahead of time with provisions instead of arguing about who gets which bag of golfish.
Plan to Arrive in Daylight if Possible
Whether you’re arriving at your destination or the places you’re staying along the way, it’s always safest to plan to arive in daylight.
It prevents you from wandering around not knowing where you’re going, and just makes it easier to find in general.
Stay Together at Gas Stations and Rest Stations
As a general rule, if you have kids with you, I always think it’s a good idea to stay together at gas stations and rest stations.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to tell them to run inside while you fill up with gas, but for safety reasons, I think everyone should use the buddy system.