I grew up in a really small town in North Carolina where everyone knew everyone and everything you needed was in a 10-mile radius. But from the time I can remember, my heart yearned for something outside of what my little town could offer. My family used to gather together and watch the reality show, Amazing Race where teams of two would race around the globe, traveling to new cities, and completing unique challenges that allowed them to engage with the culture. I would watch with wide-eyed wonder, just wishing for the chance to do that one day. I knew that’s what my heart longed for.
Now it’s safe to say that I have not gone on to be a reality TV star racing around the globe (though it is still on my bucket list), but I have been extremely fortunate to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world — and some of those places being right here in the United States.
Before entering the “real world” post-college graduation, my friends and I decided we wanted to do something unforgettable. When I first pitched the idea to drive from coast to coast, I didn’t think they’d go for it, until they did.
We spent 15 days driving through 15 different states and it was, well – unforgettable.
But let’s be real — I know you don’t want to take road trip advice from a girl who has been on one road trip that she took as a broke college student. I actually never anticipated taking another road trip, but the Lord does work in mysterious ways.
Since 2017, I have taken 6 cross-country road trips (which, granted, some have been for my husband’s job) and I’ve been so fortunate to have different passengers for each one ranging from my amazing hubby, both of my sister in laws, my mom(!), and one of my best friends from Arizona. One of our road trips was even in an RV my husband and I renovated!
So maybe after hearing I’ve been on six long trips, I’ve convinced you that I am worthy of presenting a few good road trip tips? If so, grab your coffee, a comfy seat, and pull out your aesthetically pleasing journal for notes (or you can just bookmark this page to come back to it later) and let’s get planning.
First things first, when we are planning a road trip, you gotta get in the right frame of mind and body – be spontaneous and adventurous. Think unforgettable.
Okay, now that you’re in the right mindset, let’s do the dang thing.
Before you can go anywhere, girlfriend, you gotta have a reliable vehicle.
My first road trip included four girls who had no idea what they were doing, with lots of bags packed into a four-door hyundai. I know you are internally screaming “yikes.”
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the reality of a road trip is that you will be spending a lot of time in the car. You want to make sure you maximize the space you do have.
I know we all hate going to the mechanic, but in this case, it is a non-negotiable before a road trip. It is SO important to make sure your car is safe to drive for long distances.
Here’s a few things your mechanic will want to check out:
– How many miles you plan on going
-If you need an oil change
-If your tires have enough tread and air
-A green light for the overall operation of yo’ car (engine, lights, etc.)
You’ll want to make sure you have a roadside kit in the car AND we even got a membership for AAA so in case we break down, there will be guaranteed service!
Now that the mechanics of the car are taken care of, you have to make sure the inside is comfortable since you’ll be crusin’ for a while.
Before leaving, make sure that everyone agrees on how to pack.
I have found that one carry-on sized suitcase and a backpack/weekender bag work great. It’s also easy to “grab and go,” so you can easily bring it into wherever you are sleeping for the night.
REMEMBER: You can always do laundry at your hotel or rental, so don’t worry about having a new outfit for every single day!
Having too much in the car will start to feel overwhelming, so I recommend trying to pack as light as possible. I always have a bag to store trash and a convenient spot to easily grab and store my wallet.
Make sure you are comfy in the car – however that looks for you! Biker shorts, leggings, sweat pants, your best worn-in jeans. However you ‘lax, mkay?!
A checklist of random things I ALWAYS like to have in the car:
-Car chargers x 2 (so multiple people can charge their phones at once)
-Phone holder to easily see the GPS
APPS YOU’LL WANT
My top three essential apps for any road trip are Roadtrippers, Gas Buddy, and All Trails.
This is the ultimate planner when it comes to road trips. And it’s super user friendly.
You’ll insert your starting and end destination. From there you will be able to add stopping points including hotels, landmarks, national parks, restaurants, and more!
Between each stop, Roadtrippers Roadtrippers will tell you how many miles you have, the total driving hours, and the estimated gas prices!!
It’s so helpful when you are trying to decide what attractions you want to do and how long it takes to get to each one or if something is out of the way! I recommend watching this quick video on the basics of how to use Roadtrippers, and then just have fun exploring the app and planning your trip!
Bonus: you can even save a downloadable PDF of your route. 👏🏻
With gas prices these days (um, yikes) we want the cheapest gas possible. Gas buddy will help you search along your route to find the cheapest gas to save on money. Gas is definitely the most expensive thing on a road trip, so I am always looking to save on expenses there so I can spend more money on the actual fun things.
If you plan on doing any hiking, then you’ll definitely want this app! All Trails allows you to search all over the United States for hiking trails! There are over 300,000 trails to look through with photos, reviews, difficulty ratings, trail info, and maps.
EXPENSES TO PLAN FOR
Well to state the obvious – gas. Gas is going to be your biggest expense, but other than that, the best part about road trips is you can make them as cheap or expensive as you want.
Unless you are a robot, you are going to need to eat. If you want to cut down on costs, I would recommend bringing a nice cooler to store snacks and drinks. I store water, iced coffees, deli meat, cheese, yogurts, and fruit to snack on throughout the day. I also pack beef jerky, bread, peanut butter, crackers, and trail mix to keep my lovely passengers from getting #hangry. Whatever you do, you do not want to be traveling with hangry folks. Trust me.
Personally, I like to save my eating out for unique places when we visit new cities!
National Parks are a HUGE attraction for most road trippers, so I would highly recommend investing in the National Parks pass. You can purchase it online or at most national parks. It is $80 for the year and will get you into any national park for free! This is a great price, considering most national parks will charge $20 a car for entry.
Come on, you know you’re going to want at least one souvenir to bring home. My husband and I started collecting magnets from each place we travel and I am obsessed with them. They’re pretty low in price and easy to travel with. This is definitely not something you have to budget for but don’t say I didn’t warn you! After it’s all said and done, the pictures and memories you make will be priceless so remember that when you find yourself buying frivolous things from every stop.
WHERE YOU’LL REST YOUR HEAD AT NIGHT
Hotels are great options for places where you are just passing through or rest stops for late night drives. They’re safe, open 24 hours, and you can make a reservation at any time! It’s also a way to save money if you have hotel points.
Airbnb or VRBO
I personally like to save my Airbnb or VRBO stays for when we plan to stay in a place for more than one night. This can be a more expensive option, but I’ve always loved the unique places we have stayed when booking a rental through Airbnb or VRBO. It’s definitely a more intimate and cozy experience.
Friends or Family
You can never go wrong with checking in with a friend or family to see if you can stay a night with them. While this is obviously the cheapest option, sometimes it’s the most fun. I’ve gotten to stay with friends from all over the country and they’ve gotten to show me their favorite parts of their city which is such a sweet gift. Always ask before assuming, but a lot of times, I have found that my loved ones from all over enjoy hosting, just as much as I love visiting!
There is a lot to do in this big ole country, and the truth is, you just can’t do it all at once. When planning your road trip, it will feel less overwhelming to research each place you plan to go. And by research, I mean Instagram. Google is great, too, but I have actually found most places I want to go through Instagram – I know, so millennial of me.
Knowing some of the activities you want to do in advance can be a huge help though! If you already know the hikes you want to do at a national park, it can save time once you are already there.
Looking up what museums or cute retro bars you want to visit in a city, can help you feel less stressed once you arrive. You don’t have to plan everything down to the second, but having a general idea of the area and what’s around you is a big help!
If going to multiple national parks, you’ll want to make sure you look up if they are open during the time of year you want to go! For example, if you are visiting Zion National Park and you’ve always wanted to do their famous trail- The Narrows, you’ll want to book your trip during summer time when it’s open. You don’t want to be disappointed when you arrive somewhere because you didn’t research beforehand!
HOLD YOUR PLANS LOOSELY
Some of my best memories have been the spontaneous ones — the moments not planned for. On my first road trip, we had a strict timeline for when we wanted to arrive at our destination for the night, but around sunset we saw a trail head on the side of the road and made a quick decision to stop. To this day, that sunset hike was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed.
Remember it’s a road trip. You get to make it what you want it to be. Don’t feel bogged down by a schedule or a strict timeline. If your heart is leading you to stop at a lookout point or do a quick hike that wasn’t on the itinerary, or stop at a cute bakery that you didn’t plan for – do it. There is no way you will regret it.
Embrace the journey, take the pictures, have intentional talks in the car, sing out loud to old throwback songs, forget about social media, and enjoy the ride — literally.
Ivy Sheaffer is a creative designer and writer for TCS. Ivy has an adventurous spirit and a heart for design. She is most inspired by people and believes her best ideas come to life with a vanilla iced latte in hand. Apart from TCS, Ivy works alongside female owned businesses to create branding that inspires. She travels with her husband and dog for baseball and when they aren’t traveling, you can find them in North Carolina. Ivy longs to love others in the way Christ first loved and to share how the unchanging God has forever changed her.