A cross country road trip can provide a group of friends or a family a memorable experience. You could buy someone gifts that perish, or take them out for a good meal that last a couple of hours… But the gift of shared moments stays with you forever. Traveling with someone across our great nation is a fantastic way to get to know them better, or simply to reconnect.
The key to a successful cross country road trip is planning. By planning your trip in terms of the items below, you can start out well and avoid or handle hiccups along the way.
- which direction you are headed – based on the routes below, or your own trip route.
- how you will be traveling – your own car, or rent a car?
- where you’ll be staying – hotels and motels, family or friends, or in an RV?
- things to take with – depending on the weather, where you will staying and personal items.
- budget – for travel expenses, fun, and emergencies.
Whether you’re a tourist to America wishing to rent a car and do a cross country road trip, or taking a trip in your RV with the family for the first time, this guide will give you the most important info.
Epic American road trips
Some people are spontaneous; they could be sitting there, talking to their friends when they decide to go on a road trip. However, a cross country road trip takes a bit more planning, especially if you’re taking a group of people along. After all, most cross country road trips in America range from about 2,500 to 3,500 miles. If it’s a rushed trip, getting some sleep along the way and driving – no sightseeing or veering off the planned route – it will take at least four days to reach your destination. Some of the top cross country road trips in America include:
Southern Pacific – For a full-flavored taste of the US, follow the US-80 through a variety of physical and cultural landscapes. Be sure to visit: Civil Rights Movement National Historic Trail, Roswell, Tombstone and Desert View Tower.
The Road to Nowhere – Travel along what was once the only entirely paved route from Old Mexico to Canada. The US-83 is a must-do cross country road trip through America’s heartland. Add the following to your sight seeing: Paint Rock Pictographs, Monument Rocks, Nebraska Sand Hills, and Sitting Bull Memorial.
Border to Border – If you’re up for a great road trip across raging rivers, deserts, glaciated valleys and mighty mountains, be sure to rent a car that can handle the rugged terrain from Jasper National Park in Canada down to the Sonora Desert. Along the way, be sure to stop by Joshua Forest Parkway, The Extraterrestrial Highway, Bitterroot Mountains and Columbia Icefied.
Atlantic Coast Road Trip starts at the Statue of Liberty and winds its way across the Overseas Highway to Key West. This epic 2,000 mile cross country road trip runs alongside the Atlantic Ocean, so you can stop by Cocoa Beach, Savannah, and the Assateague Island National Seashore.
The Great River Road is also known as the Big Muddy, Father of Waters and Old Man River cross country road trip. It takes you from Minnesota to Louisiana, passing some highlights such as Main Street USA, Saint Louis, Natchez Trace Parkway and New Orleans.
The Appalachian Trail runs from upper New England down to the heart of Dixie. This beautiful cross country road trip is a natural masterpiece. Be sure to stop by Mt. Washington, the Poconos, Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Great Northern runs along the pioneer railroad and offers unforgettable sights of our beautiful country, with sights such as Tumwater Canyon, Glacier National Park, Lake Michigan and Acadia National Park. The Great Northern is the longest and most breathtaking of all cross country road trips.
The Oregon Trail follows the footsteps of the pioneers and pilgrims along the US-20. Stop by Cannon Beach, Fort Boise, Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rushmore and Carhenge.
The Loneliest Road runs from San Francisco to Ocean City in Maryland, making it an epic journey of 3,200 miles along the US-50. During this trip, you will travel through twelve states, four capitals, and through Washington D.C. There will be much to see and do, but don’t miss South Lake Tahoe, Moab, The Million Dollar Highway and Dodge City.
Historic Route 66 needs no introduction. This historic, quintessential cross country starts at Chicago and runs all the way to Los Angeles. Be sure to stop for selfies at all the middle-of-nowhere truck stops and a few of the famous neon signs, as well as visit Chicago, Meramec Caverns, Tucumcari, Painted Desert and Santa Monica.
The Pacific Coast Highway cross country road trip starts at the the Washington Olympic National Park along the ocean to San Diego. During this 1,650 mile trip, you will experience temperate rain forest and near-desert climates and everything in between. Some of the route highlights include Olympic National Park, Three Capes Loop and Redwood National Park.
Plan Your Cross Country Road Trip
- Choose your route. There are seven classic cross country road trip routes across the USA. Of course, your specific route may combine one or more sections of these routes, depending on your origin and destination.
- Always check your vehicle. If you’re using a car rental for your cross country road trip wheels, you don’t have to worry much beyond the vehicle’s basic operating requirements. If you’re traveling in your own car, be sure that it’s roadworthy and properly serviced before you set out. If you rent a car, that will be taken care of and you will have the benefit of roadside assistance.
- Check all the seat belts to ensure they work as they should.
- Ensure that your car emergency kit has everything it requires.
- Check the condition of your alternator and battery.
- Ensure that all your lights are working to ensure road visibility.
- Check all the filters, including fuel filters, radiator, engine and fuel lines.
- Check your tires for pressure and wear.
- Check the coolants in your vehicle.
- Have a (flexible) plan. It’s good to have a “road map” in mind. We’re not talking about Google Maps here, but rather a flexible trip itinerary. So, if you’re planning on making the trip in 5 days, but you come across a beautiful place where you’d like to stay a day longer, you can.
- Do prepare for all eventualities. For instance, if you have to be in a certain place at a certain time, plan around rush-hour traffic. Also have any medications, emergency kits on hand. It’s a good idea to also get roadside assistance insurance and ensure that any traffic tickets are paid. If you rent a car, be sure that your contract is flexible.
- Get a cooler. You never know when the munchies would strike during your epic road trip, so fill it up with cold drinks, fruits and other treats sufficient for you and the crew. It’s a good idea to rent a car with sufficient space for all you need. Rather too much than too little space.
- Invest in a GPS. You could use a navigation app on your phone, but that will merely sap the battery. With a GPS on hand, you can easily veer off the beaten path and visit some of the most epic destinations in the country. Download maps with navigation. If you rent a car, you can rent a GPS as an extra, unless you own your own.
- Sort out your accommodation ahead of time. This can be tricky if you’re on a spontaneous cross country road trip during a busy time of the year, such as summer.
- Plan for everyone who’s traveling with you. The more people traveling together, the more important it is that everyone’s on the same page. Spontaneous road trips with crowds bigger than four people can be tricky, as everyone has a different schedule and expectations. Be sure that everyone understands the basic plan. Discuss the logistics, money, direction, accommodation and food.
- Get travel protection. Travel cover is handy when you’re on the road. A quick way to get this is to take out the insurance offered along with your rental car. Also check if your main credit card offers this protection.
- Bring enough money for emergencies. We don’t like to think that things will go south while we’re on a cross country road trip, but it happens. Your car could break down, or one of your travel buddies could fall ill. You will need money for mechanics or medical treatments. Instead of ruining your road trip, be sure you are able to deal with it in the moment.
- Ensure you have all the documentation you will need. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you will need to bring along any important documentation. This might include:
- proof of insurance
- credit card
- medical information
- Bring along all your traveling essentials, including:
- toothbrush and toothpaste
- a towel
- charger and power bank
- change of clothing as well as underwear for the duration of the trip
A cross country road trip in the USA is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the diverse landscape. Put away the phone, and enjoy yourself.