1. Maps and Lists Are Your Best Friends
This one goes without saying and is undeniably the most important one — work out the route. While I’ve been one of those wherever-the-wind-in-my-knickers-takes-me travelers, I respect the importance of following a well-planned map. A route, jotted out on a physical map with a sharpie (always preferable and memorable), or your smartphone will make the trip at least twenty times more worry-free.
Make a list of landmarks and destinations that you would like to cover and use apps like Google Maps or RoadTrippers to mark them on the map. Road Trip USA outlines almost 11 great routes to take around the country. You could just as easily follow the routes to a tee, or make your own based on your preferences.
Pay special attention to your Start and End cities. Starting and ending to and from large cities like New York or San Francisco is more desirable, because these cities have a more extensive network of direct international flights.
Matthew Kepnes, of Nomadic Matt, writes about his food favorites across the States and the list will make you slobber all over your keyboard! Surf Yelp and Foursquare reviews to compile your own list of must-visit culinary spots. Don’t forget to mark those on the map as well.
2. Choosing Who To Travel With
Might not seem like an apparent advice, but it will make your trip so much better if you choose your companions carefully.
My brother once took a trip with friends, driving from Kolkata to the scenic Leh-Ladakh. And once of the boys on the trip, a friend of a friend had a serious case of gas (the bodily kind) because heights made him nervous!
The SUV soon turned into a hazmat chamber.
Granted that you cannot always say “No” to your boyfriend’s annoying friend — the “bro” who is always covered in spicy mustard and insists on playing Meat Loaf all the way throughout the trip. But if you’re unwilling to take a trip alone, then choose your companions carefully.
Be on-your-feet while travelling with children. Whether it’s carrying healthy snacks, dealing with tiny bladders or activities that they can engage in while in the car, travelling with babies and children require extra prep.
3. Pre-plan The Accommodation
The best thing about pre-planning your accommodations is that it helps immensely with budgeting your trip, since accommodation is pretty much a fixed-cost. This is where CouchSurfing, Airbnb, motels, hostels and hotels come in. Once your dates are final, go ahead and make those bookings and make sure you contact and confirm with your hosts or hotel/hostel admin a few days before your check-in date.
It is also advisable to jot down all names, contact numbers and addresses on a piece of paper, and not just have them saved on your phone. That way, even when your phone dies on you, you’ll have some way to get around easily.
Of course, you can always just drive into a town and ask around for a cheap, local spot to crash in. But whether you’ll get vacancies or not cannot be guaranteed. From a safety point-of-view, especially for women, driving around a foreign town aimlessly, looking for a place to stay is just unsafe.
4. Get Rid of Rigidity
While having a handy list of cities, towns and major landmarks is always better, make sure the list includes no more than that. This is, of course, true for not just road-trips, but any kind of trip for that matter.
We have our fascination for the spectaculars like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, but over-scheduling your trip takes away the fun and turns the journey into a check-list. Being flexible on the road is important. That way you’ll get to enjoy bucket-list items and discover hidden gems along the way as well.
Try and follow weird signs and billboards to hidden shops, strange road-side attractions and fun-houses. Whether it’s The Thing in Arizona or the UFO Watchtower in Colorado, you’ll come away with great memories and hopefully, souvenirs that are intrinsically American. Here’s a great guide.
Also prep yourself mentally. A road-trip whether around America or anywhere else, requires you to be mentally prepared for inconveniences. Nature might call in the middle of the road with no gas stations around, you may get lost despite following the map diligently, or tires may burst and people may fall sick. It’d be much better if you’re prepared for these situations, instead of gawking in annoyance and running around flapping your arms.
5. Safety First
Speed limits and specific traffic rules in USA, vary from State to State. Doing a bit of research on whichever State you’re planning on driving through will help you steer clear of trouble with local law enforcement. If you’re driving, use cruise control whenever possible — that will help you enjoy the views while you drive.
Ensure all your travel documents, vehicle rental agreements and papers, insurances, road-side assistance contact numbers and gas point cards are in order and at easy access, before you start.
Caz and Craig from the ever popular Ytravel Blog, suggests renting a car before getting to USA. Car rental sites more often than not, provide complete pricing and discounts which are much more economical that booking a car after you get to the States.
If you’re a woman travelling alone, thoroughly research and read all the reviews for all the accommodation you will be putting up at. Don’t hesitate to leave a property (or situation) that feels unsafe. Safety apps like Guardly and Circle of 6, are extremely helpful in dodgy situations. Check out these recommendations.
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6. Pack Light. And Then Pack Lighter.
Considering how big USA is as a country, you’ll face varied degrees of temperature and assorted weather, that you need to be ready for.
Pack light, easy clothes and shoes (maybe don’t take that pair of stilettos, you know) that can be repeated and paired with other pieces of clothing. Light waterproof jackets, wraps that can be used as blankets, trainers instead of heavy sneakers and the like. Most things are also cheaper and more accessible in the US than in other countries, so you can just as easily buy “stuff” when you get to the States. It would be wise to make sure your bag is only half-full!
Here’s a quick check-list to have handy before you take off!
Let us know your top tips and favorite destinations while travelling around USA in the comments below.