How to Plan a Cross-Country Trip

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cross country trip

The United States is a vast nation. I’ve always wanted to travel the country and see a lot of sights up close. A few years ago, I embarked on a cross-country trip. I traveled from Atlanta, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida, and then drove Interstate 10 until I reached Santa Monica., California. Words can’t explain how thrilling and exciting this felt.

I know that many people have questions about driving cross country. I’ll share insights you can implement in this article when planning a cross-country road trip. I will share my experiences, from the preparatory efforts to some resources I found handy throughout the journey. I didn’t just jump up and decide to go cross country just a week before the trip. It took months of planning and preparation.

Cross-Country Trip Tips

Decide on Your Route

You have to decide on a route to take for your cross-country trip. There are four major interstates to choose from that go east to west and vice versa. They are Interstate 90, 70, 40, and 10. I decided to take the I-10 route because we are just about 5 hours from Florida, and of course, I wouldn’t have to drive through several mountain ranges either. Besides, the 1-10 route crossed eight states (the perfect amount for me to visit). There are also numerous U.S. and state highways to choose from as well. If you need help deciding what route to take, the guide below can help you. Once you’ve decided, it’s time to take the next step forward.

Decide When You Want to Travel

You have to figure out when you’re going to make your trip. Depending on what route you plan to take, winter may not be advisable as a season for travel. The conditions could be dangerous. Late spring/summer is probably the best time to do your trip. Summer was the best choice for me as I wanted to attend some baseball games and see new stadiums. I attended three games during my trip.

Plan a Schedule

Draft a schedule of how much you want to drive each day. Also, include any must-see places on there. Allow yourself some time to rest and or change it up, though. Things may sometimes go differently than planned. You may experience traffic or run into a storm. If that happens, you may have to reschedule a thing or two. It’s better to have an extra day in some locations.

Road Trip Duration

How many days do you want to be on the road? Technically, You can make it across the country in three days if you push it, but where’s the fun in that? You wouldn’t have the opportunity to do any sightseeing, which is the essence of the entire thing. The minimum time you should plan for a one-way trip is at least two weeks. That way, you will have a chance to rest and enjoy your trip.

Spending

Make sure you have a budget. Your budget should include money for gas, accommodations, food, and others. The other money could be used for an emergency or to purchase souvenirs. The budget for my trip was $2000 per person. We both saved that amount. The article below has some tips on making extra money that can be used for the trip.

70+ Side Hustle Ideas to Try This Month

Sites/Destinations

You have to decide what you want to see and do. While planning a route, make sure that you choose some nice things to see while traveling. A few examples of things you may want to see are college or pro stadiums, national parks, historical sites, or museums. If you are a fan of Major League Baseball, you should catch a game.

Lodging

When planning your cross-country trip, reach out to people you know. Contact family and friends living in the cities you are passing through. They could show you around the area. They may even let you stay on their couch. That will allow you to save some money on the trip. At the beginning of my journey, I saved money by staying with a friend in Jacksonville.

You can also decide to stay at a motel, hotel, or caravan park. Check TripAdvisor to see the hotel reviews (it helps a lot). If you have credit card reward points, this may be a pivotal time to use them. I have an American Express card to get points for Hilton hotels. This card comes in handy.

Check out Hilton Rewards today!

Mode of Transport

Figure out how you are going to drive cross country. You also need to determine if you are going one-way or round-trip. There are numerous scenarios. You can rent a car or drive your own vehicle if it’s in good shape. You can also rent an RV or hitchhike. I’m just joking about the hitchhiking part. I don’t think that’s the safest way. As I stated earlier, we rented a car for the drive out west and then flew back.


Hertz logo 125x125

Your Trip Partner(s)

You have to decide who you want to take this cross-country trip with. Make sure it’s somebody that you get along with. Also, make sure that you have similar plans for the road trip. Do not include too many people. The more people you bring, the higher the chance that some people might want to do one thing while others may not.

The Essential Stuff 

While the idea of a road trip is fun (and the road trip should be fun), there are a few less fun but essential things you need to remember. For example, what will you do if the car breaks down? Do you know how to change a tire or fix engine troubles? If not, it’s worth learning or collecting a list of mechanics. Additionally, having the number for a car accident lawyer can help you should you be involved in a collision, no matter how minor, because you don’t want a crash to derail your adventure. 

Relish Every Moment

A cross-country road trip is something that everyone doesn’t get the opportunity to do. If you take one, enjoy the moment. Take pictures or videos, and make sure that you save and back them up. Those memories are priceless. Be aware during your trip. Talk to people that you come in contact with. Make sure you enjoy every moment.

Below is a post about my trip from a few years ago.

Cross-Country Road Trip: The Interstate 10 Route

This is the post that a lot of people were interested in. It talked about the numbers. I had a specific budget that I wanted to stay within. I was able to make it happen. If you are interested in a cross-country trip, you may be surprised by how inexpensive it may be.

Cross Country Road Trip Expenses

Cross Country Road Trip Essentials

Airbnb

Airbnb should be your go-to when it comes to lodging. You’d often discover cheaper prices than hotels. 

Expedia

Expedia is a site where you can check the hotel and rental car prices. Visit Expedia and compare the prices.

TripAdvisor

You can search TripAdvisor to get some ideas of what to do in the cities you will visit on your cross-country trip.

Google Maps

I used Google Maps to preplan my trip. I’m a stickler for directions, so I wanted to know where I’d be driving beforehand.

GPS

Use a GPS if you think you may get lost. You can use Google Maps on your phone or use an app like Waze.

Cooler

Some days, you will be driving longer than others. You may not want to get off the road to go to the store. Bring a cooler and fill it up with food and snacks. You have no idea how handy this will be for you. Here is an example of a cooler that you can use. It’s only $26 and only takes up a little space.

StubHub

If you plan on attending any sporting events or shows on your trip, purchasing tickets in advance is a good idea. StubHub is my go-to site. They usually have tickets to every major event. In a lot of cases, they are cheaper than Ticketmaster. Check them out here.

Priceline

You can book your rental car and hotel rooms with Priceline. They have some great deals. I booked a couple of the rooms I stayed at using the Name Your Price deal. Click this link for more details about Priceline.

 

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Jason Butler is the owner of My Money Chronicles, a website where he discusses personal finance, side hustles, travel, and more. Jason is from Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Savannah State University with his BA in Marketing. Jason has been featured in Forbes, Discover, and Investopedia.