Guide to the Great American Road Trip

Updated July 20, 2020.

It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! Last month Steve and I put a lot of miles on the car that we share. Steve drove 460 miles round-trip to visit his mom while I took a 600-mile round-trip road trip (as a passenger) with some girlfriends to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The next weekend, we forewent $1000+ plane tickets to Nashville in favor of a 1230-mile round-trip drive to visit my parents in Middle Tennessee.

True confessions of a frequent flyer: I hate to drive. Steve doesn’t love it either. I would rather fly 24 hours, be at my destination 24 hours, and fly 24 hours home, as opposed to take a road trip anywhere. But let’s be real: sometimes a road trip just makes more sense. And it’s beyond my understanding, but some people really love road trips! To each his own, I suppose. I’ve put together a quick guide to road tripping for those who love and those who hate it. Take a look and make the most of your road trip, whether you’ll be road tripping all the way across the country or just from one state to the next!

Open Road

Benefits of a Road Trip

I know, I know, I just said I hate road trips. But even I can admit there are some benefits:

  • Leave when you want! Want to get an early start? You can leave at 3:00am. Want to sleep in? Sleep as late as you want and start when you’re ready to go. No schedules, no time limits, no worries.
  • No security. No pat-downs, no metal detectors, no screenings, no undressing and re-dressing–it’s like you’re a free person!
  • Take your largest liquids. There are no rules about the size or amount of liquids you can take on a road trip! Bring your bottles of water, take a cooler of protein shakes, pack the jumbo-sized jar of peanut butter!
  • Have your own wheels. When we fly to Tennessee to see my family, we have to use my parents’ cars, which I always feel weird about. They don’t want us to rent a car, I guess because that would be inhospitable. But when we drive there, we don’t have to ask to use someone else’s car, we have our own!
  • Maximum flexibility. It’s true, airline tickets are notoriously inflexible. But on a recent trip to Pittsburgh to visit my husband’s family, we had the flexibility to leave early and avoid potential mountain snow (in April!) instead of waiting until the next day as planned and possibly getting caught in that. We got to change up our own schedule because we could be flexible!
Quick Stop to Take in the Sunset Views

Know Before You Go

If you’re not from America, there are a few things to know before you go when driving in the United States.

  • Gas is sold in gallons, not liters; there are about 3.75 liters per 1 gallon.
  • Speed limit signs are in Miles Per Hour (mph), not Kilometers Per Hour (km/h)
  • Drive on the right side of the road.
  • DO NOT get out of the car if you get pulled over by the police; wait for the officer to come to you, and roll your window down instead of opening the door unless you are asked to do so.
  • In case of emergency, call 911. If you get into an accident, call 911 on any phone for help.
More here: How to Plan a Road Trip

Preparation is Key

This is kind of Steve’s and my philosophy for life. It’s not too exciting, but it has served us well over the years! Here are some things to take care of as you’re planning your road trip.

  • Please, please, please, take a look at a map before you go! Plan to stop for bathroom breaks and food about every 2.5 hours, unless you’re traveling with kids who will need to stop more often.
  • Pack some plastic bags and paper towels. They will come in handy for trash, spills, sneezes, and more on the road.
  • Bring cash. There are still some roadside stands and rural areas where you cannot use a credit card, so have some cash on hand for the rare occasion it’s your only option.
  • Bring snacks. Especially if you don’t want to stop too often. More on car snacks below!
  • Tune it up. Depending on just how long your road trip will be, it may be a good idea to get the oil changed, check the tread and air level on your tires, get the brakes checked, top off all fluids, and anything else that comes to mind. Maybe get that funny noise checked out before your embark on a 3,000-miles trip!
  • Fill it up! Start with a full tank of gas (or diesel) and keep an eye on the fuel level throughout your trip. Late model cars will often have a gauge for the fuel level and a mileage estimate showing how many miles you should be able to drive on the fuel you have, but it’s always good to keep an eye on it so you’re not surprised when you only have a few miles left!
Safety first! Buckle up!
Also this: How to Travel Safely

Car Snacks

My friend Kelly took great care of all seven (seven!) of us ladies in the car going to and from the Outer Banks. She had more snacks for us than you could imagine! Exciting trail mixes, gummy bears, cookies, homemade chocolate croissants, chocolate-pistachio bark, coconut chips, etc., etc., etc. Other snacks that travel well are fruits, cut vegetables, sandwiches, protein bars, candy bars, and really anything you might want.

Snacks that don’t travel well: ice cream, fish and seafood, soup, and anything else that can get sort of smelly or sloshy.

No restaurants within sight–bring car snacks!


Part of the reason I dislike road trips is the boredom. The stress of driving is rough on both Steve and me, but it’s easier to relax if there is something else to think about for both the driver and the passengers! Here are some ideas:

  • Audiobooks. Steve just got a Kindle before our road trip extravaganza, so we figured out how to rent audiobooks from the library. Audiobooks can be around 9-10 hours or more, which is the perfect length for a day or more of driving! Don’t have a kindle? You can rent audiobooks on CDs from your local library, or you can buy one from Cracker Barrel, listen to it, then exchange it at another Cracker Barrel for a new one.
  • Music. I need music when I’m driving. It keeps me company! Put together a road trip playlist related to your destination, or just put together some high-energy songs that get you excited! My friend Lisa had an awesome music game for us on the way to the Outer Banks, too. Our trip coincided with the Harry and Meghan’s Royal Wedding weekend, so she and her husband put together a playlist, and we all had to guess what each song had to do with the Royal Wedding! It was tons of fun.
  • The license plate game. Look at the license plates on the cars around you, and see if you can find one from all 50 states–bonus points if you see one from Hawaii!
  • Fortunately/Unfortunately. On person starts by making a statement about something fortunate, then the next person states something unfortunate, being as silly and ridiculous as possible. “Fortunately, we’re saving $2000 by driving to Tennessee.” Next: “Unfortunately, that means we’re driving 10 hours one-way!” Next: “Fortunately, we’re not driving 11 hours!” Next “Unfortunately, 11 is my favorite number!” And so on.
  • The Glad Game, or, the Thankfulness Game. Steve and I like this one. Take turns saying what you’re glad about or thankful for.
Always thankful when someone else offers to drive!

Suggested Road Trips

I have teamed up with some fellow bloggers* to come up with the ultimate list of Great American Road Trips! Check them out and pick your favorites!

Big Island: Hawaii

My sweet husband and I went on a fantastic road trip of Hawaii’s Big Island for our third anniversary. From jungle to desert to volcanoes, this was an epic journey! I’ve outlined our route and included some tips along the way!

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia, North Carolina

If you’re looking for a stunning drive through mountains, valleys, forests, and national parks, consider the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. It follows part of the Appalachian Trail, and you can check both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park off your bucket list! Be sure to plan on stopping to take advantage of the many lookout points, hiking trails, and Southern hospitality along the way! This one is particularly beautiful in the fall as the leaves change color, usually from the end of September through the beginning of November.

Cascade Loop Scenic Highway: Washington State

Forget Someday blogged about the gorgeous Cascade Loop around some of Washington State’s green and mountainous landscapes. She takes you through the best towns, best valleys, best foodie pit-stops and more to get you excited for this scenic drive!

Four Corners: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah

My friend Taylor of Due Course is a travel blogger and photographer, and her photos of this Four Corners road trip will instantly convince you to visit ASAP! Her four-day, four-state, multiple-national parks itinerary is just what you need to take this road trip by storm.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi

This is an historic drive if ever there was one. Native Americans, presidents, settlers, and more have used the Natchez Trace Trail for thousands of years. The scenic drive is 444 miles of wildlife, history, and trails, mostly in the state of Mississippi. Civil War buffs will enjoy the battlefields along the way, hikers will find themselves stumbling upon waterfalls, and true history enthusiasts will appreciate the prehistoric mound sites along the way as well. Carmen of Pack Your Baguios has an excellent 2-day itinerary with excellent historical information and beautiful photos!

New England Foliage Road Trips: New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine

New England is known as the quintessential place to enjoy fall foliage. Get your accommodations reservations early, and have your camera ready. The small towns all throughout New England with their colonial-style buildings and church steeples make for a perfect fall scene. You’ll enjoy the vibrant colors wherever you drive!

Oregon Trek: Oregon

Crystal from Dates in the States stumbled upon her own iconic drive! If you can’t decide between the coast and the mountains, this is the road trip for you. Check out her post for the route that she claims is the most scenic drive in the USA!

Pacific Coast Highway: California, Oregon, and Washington State

Valerie of Valerie and Valise has quite possibly the most impressive, most comprehensive guide to the West Coast’s most famous road trip: the Pacific Coast Highway (or, the PCH)! With multiple itinerary options and personal recommendations, she is your resource for the entire length of the PCH!

Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii

The Road to Hana is one of Maui’s main attractions, but to really do it right, give yourself a few days to see and do it all! Most people try to fit it all into one day, but our unique three-day itinerary allowed us not to miss a scene.

Route 66: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California

Dang Travelers spent 50 days (FIFTY!) road tripping historic, iconic Route 66, and they have highlighted the best attractions in each state for you! From the weird to the delicious, there is no limit to the most famous road in the United States!

Utah National Parks: Utah (Bonus: Arizona!)

Jessica of A Passion and a Passport has put together a 5-day itinerary so you can hit Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, plus a quick detour to Page, Arizona, to check another state off your list! Her guide includes where to fly in, what to pack, where to stop, and even car games to keep you entertained on the road!

The lush, scenic, winding Road to Hana

*All blog links used with permission.

More Information

Want more information on trip planning and U.S. road trips? Check out these related blog posts:

What’s your favorite road trip? Comment below! And for all things All-American, check out my United States Page!

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8 responses to “Guide to the Great American Road Trip”

  1. I totally agree with the pacific Coast Highway 🙂 Was there in 2016 and it was just amazing.
    For our next roadtrip, I will take some tips from you with me 😉

    Lots of Love

    1. What a kind thing to say! Happy travels!

  2. St. George, Utah to Zion, Bryce, North Rim to Vegas and Sedona, Az

  3. Kelly Shumate Avatar

    Thanks for the shout-out! Snacks are one of the best parts of a road trip (and something I am very passionate about!).

    1. You are the car snack queen! 👑

  4. […] You will definitely be taking a road trip in college! Maybe you’re taking a road trip to college! Either way, pile in with some friends and take a drive to somewhere fun or far off. Need some inspiration? Check out my Guide to the Great American Road Trip! […]

  5. […] Also helpful: The Guide to the Great American Road Trip […]

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