How to plan an American road trip


Updated on 24 May 2017 | 0 Comments

Hit the open road in the USA with these travel tips

A great American road trip is on many a traveller's bucket list. Four million miles of spectacular coastal roads, dizzying mountain passes and empty desert highways, a road trip is by far the best way to see the real USA. Follow our expert tips to elevate a good road trip into an epic one.

1. Hire some hot wheels

Why drive a bland hatchback when you can go all out and hire a snappy convertible? Would Thelma & Louise have been quite so cool if they were on the run in a beige Ford Mondeo rather than a petrol-blue 1966 T-Bird?

If funds allow, grab a rare opportunity to drive the car of your dreams for a week or two. International hire car companies like Hertz and Alamo often offer upgrades to a convertible Ford Mustang, a Cadillac or sporty Dodge Charger for a few bucks more than a station wagon.

Mustang

2. Choose the right travel buddy

Embarking on a long road trip can be a rather intimate experience. Stuck in a car for hours at a time, you want to make sure you pick the right co-driver. Whether it's a partner, a close family member or a group of best friends, having similar tastes in music, politics and in-car snacks will avoid any unnecessary conflict.

Work out a route together before you go, set a firm budget and be open about who pays for what. And unless you absolutely love driving, make sure your buddy is up for splitting time at the wheel.

3. Pick the right route

Thanks to the advances of the World Wide Web, planning the Great American Road Trip is remarkably easy and fun to do. The route you choose will largely depend on the time available and the sights you want to see. The classic road trip is Route 66, which runs between Chicago and Santa Monica, California, slashing through St Louis, Missouri, Texas and Las Vegas.

The Pacific Coast Highway is another popular route. Bumble from beach to beach along the dazzling coastal road between San Francisco and San Diego, taking in Santa Barbara, the Big Sur and the bright lights of LA.

Pacific Coast HighwayBixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway (Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock)

Capture America's rugged desert interior on the week-long Salt Lake City and Las Vegas route. Venture through the vast Moab Desert, see the colourful sandstone cliffs and peaks of Zion National Park and Monument Valley, and witness the unfolding glory of the Grand Canyon.

If time is tight, shorter drives like Highway 50 in Nevada can be equally as impressive. Known as the Loneliest Road in America, this empty 400-mile stretch features a string of deserted ghost towns. But for serious road trippers, the ultimate drive has to the transAmerica route between the east and west coast, which can be conquered in three or four weeks.

4. Plan it out

Ditch the romantic image of rocking up at LAX, throwing a duffel bag in the trunk and hitting the open road, as some advanced planning can make or break a trip. Sketch out a vague daily itinerary before you go, noting what you want to see and where you want to spend each night.

Use hotel booking site such as Booking.com to book rooms in advance, as most allow penalty-free cancellations with 24/48 hours notice. But equally, don't be afraid to go off-piste some days. Stop off at that empty beach in Big Sur for a skinny dip or camp out to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. It's often the unexpected stop which turns a great road trip into an epic one.

Motel, USA

5. Take it easy and stop once in a while

Try not to spend more than seven or eight hours driving a day. Factor in plenty of stops, whether it's to feast on barbecue or tacos at a retro roadside diner, or to hike through waterfalls in a national park.

Embrace America's weird and wonderful attractions, such as the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, Texas, and the Bunny Museum in Altadena, California. Play bible-themed minigolf at the Lexington Ice Center in Kentucky, or stay at the spooky Clown Motel which overlooks an old cowboy graveyard in Tonopah, Nevada.

And who can resist selfies with the world's largest pineapple/sheep/hotdog which seem to litter America's highways. Quirky travel site Atlas Obscura features hundreds of alternative attractions that guidebooks tend to miss.

Yosemite

6. Pump up the volume

An extensive and well thought out playlist can turn a great road trip into an epic one. For a week plan at least 12 or 15 hours of tunes, and don't forget to throw in essential movie soundtracks like Thelma & Louise and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider. On the road, tailor your tunes to the scenery. AC/DC's Highway to Hell at full pelt is perfect for the punishing heat of Death Valley, while the Beach Boys' Fun, Fun, Fun booming out of the soft-top on Venice Beach will elevate you to legend status.

And no sensible road trip playlist should be without Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, complete with Wayne's World-style head banging. Be loud, be cheesy, and remember, no one can hear you at 70 miles per hour.

7. Don't feel the need for speed

The last thing you want from your epic road trip is to come home to a handful of speeding tickets. As tempting it is to put the pedal to the metal on a long, empty highway, speed limits vary from state to state, so make good use of the cruise control.

While sat navs are an essential piece of kit for any modern road trip, pack a paper map too in case of a satellite blackout. If you're planning to tick off several of America's great national parks, it's well worth buying an annual pass.

Map reading(Tatiana Gekman/Shutterstock)

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