USA Road Trip Planner Guide

On the road near Monument ValleyOn the road near Monument ValleyDuring the last 6 years or so, I have been on numerous road trips across the United States. I easily put 20k-30k miles on my car each year (the cirumference of the earth is about 25k miles). Most people who visit me from other countries are interested in doing a road trip, to go on a adventure in the Wild West. In this article I am going to cover some of the things that you should know to make your life easier when you go on a road trip. I love driving on empty roads through the great west, and I am sure you will too. Wide open roads through red desert landscapes, winding roads along rocky coasts, high passes or boringly slow freeways its all there.

Hypermiler App

The car

SUV in Monument ValleySUV in Monument ValleyFor every road trip you are going to need a decent car. Depending on where you are planning to go and on your budget, you should get the best car you can afford, since you are going to spend most of the time in your car. In most national parks and state parks it really pays to have a 4 wheel drive with high clearance, since many roads are unpaved and not passable with a sedan. Go here for good Rental Car Deals. Some people who visit the states for a longer time ask if they should buy a cheap car. I would actually advice against it. A road trip puts a lot of strain on a car and you don't want to spend your vacation waiting for the tow truck in the middle of nowhere.
Don't try to save money on the insurance. Always buy the full coverage when you rent a car. Its well worth it not having to worry about a scratch.

Driving

Traffic Jam in LATraffic Jam in LAThe general speed limit on freeways is 65 miles per hour and in residential and commerical zones 25 miles per hour (unless there is a sign saying otherwise). I recommend you check out my article on how to avoid speeding tickets. There are some tips there that may be useful if you are like me and cannot help it but go faster than you should.
Driving in the states is actually quite relaxing. Most people from Europe are amazed about the distance they can cover even when they stick to the speed limit. Many states in the southwest are not populated as much and you can almost always drive 75mph with your cruise control on.

Gas

Always get gas before you enter a National Park. I cannot stress this enough, since most people underestimate the amount of driving you have to do in the parks. And even if you can get gas there, its usually outrageously expensive. So fill up while you can. Gas prices vary from region to region. Some of the cheapest stations are:

  • Arco / ampm
  • Rotten Robbie
  • Pilot
  • Tesaro
  • Valero

Cheap Gas: Cheap Gasoline in Bakersfield, CA. December 2001Cheap Gas: Cheap Gasoline in Bakersfield, CA. December 2001Gas prices can vary a lot even from one city block to the next, but when you are on the go, try to find one of the stations above. Some stations offer free coffee or free hotdogs with a fillup. Some offer a discount on car wash, but who is going to wash a Rental Car anyways?
Pretty much all rental cars run on unleaded regular gas.
With most gas stations you need to pay before pumping gas. You can either pay by credit card at the pump (which is the only option to get gas at night when noone is tending to the station) or you go inside and pre-pay. Don't worry about the amount, you can always go back inside and get the change. So if you want to fill up, put enough money down.
On some gas stations you need to lift the little arm the nozzle rests on to enable the pump.

Police

Bad Weather in Sequoia National ParkBad Weather in Sequoia National ParkIn case the police does pull you over, don't panic. Just wait for the officer to approach the car and don't make them nervous. Police is usally very helpful and forgiving with tourists. So in case they pull you over for a minor offense, just explain to them that you didn't know better and they might end up giving you directions instead of tickets.

Rules

Most of the rules are pretty self explainatory. In most states you can do a right turn at a red traffic light, after stopping. It is best to observe other drivers and follow whatever they do. Unlike in most other countries, we have roads with stop signs from all 4 sides. In this case, the first come first serve rule applies. Whoever gets to the intersecion first, will have right of way. The same applies if there is a power outage and the traffic lights are out.

Lodging

Highway 178 through Death Valley: This road leads past Badwater, the lowest point in the Norhtern Hemisphere.Highway 178 through Death Valley: This road leads past Badwater, the lowest point in the Norhtern Hemisphere.Bixby Bridge on Hwy1: Highway 1 along Californias Coast is one of the most scenic and most popular drives.Bixby Bridge on Hwy1: Highway 1 along Californias Coast is one of the most scenic and most popular drives.Usually I don't book hotels ahead of time. I try to see where the road takes me first. Usually I pick up a coupon book at Mc-Donalds or any other restaurant or even at the airport in a certain area. Usually the coupons don't apply in the travel season, but it will give you a good idea about the hotels in an area. I simply call ahead and make a reservation when it gets dark.
My favorite Motel Chain is Best Western. When you stay at a Best Western or when you pass it on the road, stop and ask for their road atlas. Its not really a good atlas, but it lists every city with a Best Western and it has a description and price range for every hotel in the chain. If I have internet reception, I try to book online, since they have a better rate. Make sure to ask for discounts whenever you call a hotel (AAA - auto club, Senior Discounts, Coupons). It doesn't hurt to ask, even if they say no.
I usually try to find a hotel that offers internet access (most do these days for free). This way I can plan the next day, do online research or even book the next day's hotel on Priceline. Priceline offers fantastic deals when you name your own price. Don't worry about going in really cheap. If they can't find a hotel, you can increase your price until they have found a match. You specify the neighborhood and the star rating and they will find the best deal. I booked the Roosevelt Hotel through them and was quite happy.
Here is a short listing of hotel chains:

Highway 263 in UtahHighway 263 in UtahVery Good Hotels / Motels (can be pricey)

  • Embassy Suites
  • Clarion
  • Marriot
  • Raddison
  • Ramada International
  • Doubletree Hotel

Good Hotels

  • Red Roof Inn
  • Best Western
  • Best Value Inn (I got an astonishing deal in Portland once, dirt cheap and the room was actually like an apartment with a seperate bedroom and free internet, I think Best Value Inns are the best deals you can get, but they are not as common as Best Western)
  • Red Lion Inn

Lower Average

  • Motel 6
  • Super 8

Below Average

  • Days Inn

Those are the ones I stayed in (off the top of my head). There is an infenitely larger number of chains. Usually I go for a Best Western if I can find one. When I am on a road trip, I try not to spend large sums on the hotels, since I only stay over night and check out the first thing in the morning.

Baja Fresh Food: This is the food they serve at Baja Fresh. Its really tasty Mexican cousine.Baja Fresh Food: This is the food they serve at Baja Fresh. Its really tasty Mexican cousine.Food

Check out my review of fast food restaurants. When I am on the road, I usually eat in a fast food place during the day, so I can cover more distance. Only when I roll into a city with plenty of time on my hand will I go and find a nice sit down restaurant or diner. I usually ask at the hotel for a good restaurant. I tell the person behind the counter what I am looking for and they can usually tell me where to go for good food.

Gas Money

I just compiled a rather extensive list of 29 Tips to Save Money on Gas. Considering the current prices, I'd say you should check it out.

Credits

My name is Andre Gunther, I am a Travel Photographer and I have done countless road trips.

On hotels and motels

I found the motels further away from the highways always a bit nicer and cheaper, and the people there are more helpfull.

road trip safety

Road safety first. This should be the priority of all the drivers to avoid accidents. I have found best gadgets to keep you safe in terms of road safety. First is No Nap . If you are feeling drowsy but needed to keep yourself on the road and just want to make it to your destination as soon as possible without causing a major accident. And you have tried all the un-effective strategies to keep you awake just like drinking 10 cups of coffee, blasting some punk music, or drinking some old stuff like energy drink this is the best gadget for you. The No Nap is a small, easy to use, device that will keep you and others safe during a long, drowsy drive. All you need to do is turn the device on, adjust the wake up angle switch, and place it behind your ear. Then when your head slumps forward as you begin to doze off behind the wheel, the No Nap produces a loud, powerful beeping noise that will snap you out of your snooze. It runs on low battery consumption, and its ergonomic design fits comfortably behind your ear. This gadget has been popular with truckers who spend long hours on the road and it could be useful for keeping many others safe on the highway as well. So why take a risk in driving you might not just save your life but start caring for others too.

New England Road Trip

Road trips are my favorite kind of traveling. Your tips are really helpful, and I'll definitely be using them on my next trip (we're headed to Napa from Arizona). Our last trip was through New England, you can see this and our other adventures on our Travel Blog

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