How To Plan An Epic USA Road Trip

Time goes by way too fast. When thinking back about my travels I always caught myself saying ‘Oh jeez, has it been that long ago?’. I can remember every trip I’ve made for the past few years, like it was yesterday. But it almost feels weird to say that our road trip through the USA has been four years ago, already.

Time to head back.

I loved the USA. I loved how their mindset is everything I thought it would be. I loved how the nature varies so much within such a short driving distance – from high, snow-covered mountains, to hot deserts and deep canyons. And I loved the cities, as big, as massive, as crowded as they are.

The USA made me appreciate nature more. Made me love to travel more and made me curious to see more of the country itself.

 I think it is safe to say that our road trip definitely was one epic adventure!

A road trip through the USA, sooner or later, appears on most travelers’ bucket lists. It is just one of those adventures you need to do for yourself, and the national parks and cities are places you just need to see.

A road trip takes planning. The USA definitely takes planning. The thing is, that a road trip through the USA seems so easy, but while planning you are going to discover there are way too many things you want to see and you are definitely going to find out that the USA is extremely big.. Or maybe that was just me, coming from the Netherlands, where a driving distance of 3 hours probably is the maximum distance you can drive from A to B in this country.

This once in a lifetime trip is something you look forward too. So how to plan an epic adventure through the States? I’m going to give you a couple of tips, based on my experience!

Seattle, USA - The Tourist Of Life
National Glacier Park - The Tourist Of Life
National Glacier Park - The Tourist Of Life
USA Road Trip - The Tourist Of Life

First things first: where do you want to go?

As I said: the USA is big. And I am probably stating the obvious but you can’t see everything in one go. So just for you: write down all the things you definitely want to see, and try to find a logical route in between.

For me, it was easy, as the things we definitely wanted to see were all on the west-coast of the USA: the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas. As all these stops were pretty ‘close by’ our road trip was easy to plan within the amount of time we had.

I also wanted to see New York, but with a short stopover on our way back home that was easy to plan. So if you want to see one particular thing on the other side of the country, I would suggest you to book a similar stop-over, and keep your road trip ‘local’.

When you’ve decided your ‘musts’ during this trip, and after you’ve decided how long you want to stay in each of these places, you can decide which places, cities and national parks are perfect ‘stops’ (time and location wise) on your drive over to these ‘musts’.

Don’t pick to many if you don’t want to spend a lot of time in your car and if you want to spend a long time in all these places. But be sure to make the route as epic as you can.

USA Road Trip - The Tourist Of Life
Bryce Canyon - The Tourist Of Life

Don’t plan too optimistic

As I just said: make sure that you don’t plan too much in the time you have in the States, and definitely don’t make a tight schedule for yourself. In other words: plan your trip knowing something can go wrong: traffic can always be bad, so don’t plan around Google Maps. Traffic in national parks can be really slow, depending in which month you are going, and for all you know your car can break down or you can get lost.

If I were you I would plan one full day for every time you have to drive long distance. The thing is: a drive might just seem three hours, but before you are driving off you aren’t going to do more then pack up all your stuff, and when you arrive you are probably going to check in first, unpack second and chill and eat third. A drive can also take longer when you need to stop for fuel, when you are going to eat something in between or when you stumble upon a great spot or a scenic route. You probably know from experience already that car drives always seem to take up more time than expected, so don’t plan to much on the day you are driving and definitely take this into account when making your road trip plans!

With that being said – be very careful with planning and booking too much! For all you know this could be the last time you are visiting the USA and you don’t want to be in a constant hurry!

San Francisco, View over the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco - The Tourist Of Life
San Francisco - The Tourist Of Life

To book or not to book

In advance, we already booked all of our hotels and a lot of our activities. Traveling in high season, I think this was easier in a lot of destinations we went to; such as national parks, which can be quite busy – which makes it quite hard to find a room around town when most hotels are booked.

But I guess that the main reason to have pre-book everything for us was the fact that we didn’t feel like driving around in the search for a hotel after already such a long drive.

Same thing for activities: some things are easier (if not necessary) to book in advance to make sure they aren’t sold out once you are there. Things like visiting Alcatraz in San Francisco, private tours in cities and hiking tours in national parks.

Of course, whether you want to book everything in advance or not is up to you. But I would definitely advice you to look into the things you want to do, and the places where you want to stay to see if you need to book in advance!

USA Road Trip - The Tourist Of Life
USA Road Trip - The Tourist Of Life

Practical information

VISA When traveling to the USA, there is a big chance you need a visa. It isn’t hard to apply for one – you can just apply for a visa online. It isn’t expensive, but definitely don’t forget to fill in the form before leaving to the States.

CAR RENTAL There isn’t a state where you can’t rent a car, and you can pretty much hand in your rental car at every airport. But be prepared for the costs though. Renting a car isn’t cheap, especially if you are under the age of 25, when you have to pay an extra fee for car insurance. However, the costs of renting a car is just a part of your car-expenses. When we traveled to the USA we got a huge ass Dodge, which was the perfect road trip car, but as you might have guessed already – it isn’t that fuel efficient. In other words: save some money for fuel.

THE COSTS OF A ROAD TRIP THROUGH THE USA Sleeping in motels and eating at yet another fastfood restaurant you spot at the side of the highway can make your road trip a bit less expensive. However, let me just tell you that the USA is a pretty expensive country, and a road trip alone isn’t the cheapest way too travel. If you want to make your road trip epic, and don’t want to miss out on experiences you should definitely be prepared to save up a bit for your trip.

I can’t tell your exactly how much, because it definitely depends on how you’ve planned your road trip (length, driving distance, activities, choice of hotels and whether you go out to eat three times a day or stick to supermarkets), but be sure to bring more than you think you need.. you know, just in case!

Grand Canyon - The Tourist Of Life
How to plan an epic USA road trip - The Tourist Of Life

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  • Cassandra Le

    I loved all of your photos! They’re gorgeous! Being from the US, I can definitely agree with you that it is big and it is expensive! I’ve been trying to plan my cross country road trip for so long, but finding the time to do it is difficult! Thanks for this post and all of your tips! I totally agree that you need to give yourself ample time to drive and do things, because driving around here can take more time!

    • It does! Glad that you agree haha, you’re the expert! Where are you from in the USA?

      • Cassandra Le

        I’m based in Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC (:

  • This was a great read! I’m in the USA at the moment (Arizona) and have been fortunate to travel here for most of my life growing up. But when we get married we are hoping to do a similar road trip across the USA as a honeymoon, hadn’t even thought of budgeting in petrol! It looks like you had a fabulous time, I’m dying to go to San Francisco.

    The Little Things | Louise x

  • Jennifer Bowler

    We did a road trip across most of the US (from Boston to Yellowstone) a few years ago. We had a blast.

    • Can imagine! That is a great distance though!

      • Jennifer Bowler

        Lots of time in the car. You are right about planning for emergencies. We ended up having a major car issue on our way home. Luckily, we dealt with a really honest mechanic and were able to reroute a bit and spend an extra night away.

  • Mooi artikel, alleen kan ik nog altijd geen foto’s van je zien op mijn laptop 🙁
    Straks maar even via mijn ipad kijken. Maar zoals je zegt een road trip staat bij veel mensen op hun lijstje en ook zo bij mij!
    Ik hoop volgend jaar, 2018, de westkust te doen van Amerika. Gewoon rijden en kijken waar ik beland 🙂

    • Dankjewel:-) Wel heel gek dat je geen foto’s kan zien! En zonde natuurlijk. Ik zal eens kijken of ik dit kan oplossen. Kan je me misschien vertellen welke browser en laptop je gebruikt en of je van andere browsers hetzelfde probleem hebt?

      • Ja ik vind het ook vreemd. Ik heb even Mac Laptop en ik gebruik safari. Op mijn iPad en iPhone zie ik het wel.

  • Great tips in this post and you are right…the US is big and can’t be done all in one trip, unless you have months to travel.

    I’m currently living in the US and have done quite a few road trips most recently just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, and Sedona. The biggest money saving tip I can offer is to book with Airbnb (which can be cheaper than hotels, especially if a few friends or two couples are sharing) and pick a place with a kitchen to make your own breakfasts and dinners. We also like to pack picnic lunches (like crackers, cheese, meat, hard boiled eggs…things like that) and we save a absolute fortune on food. As an example, on our trip to California last year we spent $75 for a mediocre lunch at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco (3 people) but then fed ourselves for 3 meals a day for the next three days on about the same amount. Eating out can really add up!

    Also if you are planning to visit any National Parks or National Monuments the “America the Beautiful” annual pass might be the way to go. It is $80 but is good for several people (I think everyone in one car) and it can pay for itself pretty quickly. With three of us traveling in Arizona last week we quickly reached the $80 just by going to Grand Canyon National Park, Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, and Lake Meade National Park. All really neat places to visit too btw 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed your trip!

    • Love your comment! Airbnb can definitely save a lot of money, but I guess the biggest expense is the car itself, unfortunately!