For the one or two people that actually follow my travel blog, I’ve finally gone and quit my job in Los Angeles! I’ve finally gotten sick of the entertainment industry and I’m ready to move on. That means I’ll have no job or income for a bit so paying expensive rent in LA is not going to be feasible.
I’ve decided that I’m going to move back home to New York for a bit. My family is there and I figure I can plant my roots there is a more affordable life that will also allow me the flexibility to start traveling more. Living so far from home, I’d spend at least 2 of my “big trips” to go back home to visit family. I love them obviously, but I’d also like to use some of that time off to go explore the world. After 8 years in Los Angeles, I’ve done enough exploring of Southern California.
Now I’m getting into planning my epic cross country road trip from Los Angeles to New York. This blog post will be updated while I’m planning the trip to help everyone have a resource for how to plan for an extended road trip across the country or just a trip longer than a day or two. I’ll also update from the road to include anything I wish I had done or anything I’m glad I did.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you want to have a good road trip, you shouldn’t a big straight line unless you’re in a hurry. You should aim to have a lot of little straight lines from city to city that weaves throughout states. Above is my current route plan.
My goal is to maximize the places I see, with the most diverse attractions, for the cheapest budget.
If you have a goal of spending money and just seeing the same types of sites across the country, this isn’t going to be the advice for you. I like variety and I like cheap!
Tips for choosing where to stop on road trips:
- Find cities that you can get a free night to stay in or has the most affordable accommodations (see next section)
- Think of what you might never plan a trip specifically to go see that is out of the way (for example, I’m stopping at Mount Rushmore because I’ll likely never be in that distant region)
- What do you love? Some examples:
- Sports…plan around major sporting events or stadiums you have to see
- Music…pick cities like Nashville and New Orleans is known for their music
- Nature…look for areas around national parks and try to change latitude to see more variety of landscapes
- Partying…avoid the small towns and also look for events along the way
- Regional food…figure out the best food in each area like Texas BBQ or a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia
- Think about what you love to see on shorter trips to one city and try and find that around the road trip route
Use Google Maps
I use Google Maps for two things when I’m planning a road trip. (1) You can just look at cities, landmarks, and attractions on the map. (2) You can use it to find out estimated drive time and distance between cities…even multiple cities across your whole trip. Below is a screenshot of the route I was playing around with. It’s easy to add and subtract cities by hitting the plus sign next to where it says “Add destination” and you can put as many stops as you need. You even have a drop-down option to set it up to avoid highways, tolls, and/or ferries. You are given a total drive time if you were just going to go straight through, but you can click for more information to get drive time and distance between each plotted city.
Where to Stay on Road Trips
Finding Places to Crash on a Budget
Friends and Family
The first place you should look is friends and family along your route. Even if they are a couple of hours away from your desired destination, crashing on a couch or a spare bedroom can save you hundreds of dollars on hotel fees. You also might even get a home-cooked meal and a great local tour guide for local attractions and tips for their city.
Friends/Family of Family/Friends
You’re on a long term road trip. Now is not the time to get antisocial. Let your friends and family know that you are going to be going on a road trip and see if they have any close friends or relatives in the area. You’ll find that your old college buddy’s parents are more than happy to put you up for a night or two. Just make sure you leave the place in as good or better condition as you showed up! Make your damn bed 🙂
Get your Airbnb account ready to go with current Airbnb promo codes and discounts. Before planning a road trip get a good idea of the most expensive and cheapest cities for Airbnb. Avoid choosing Airbnb in cities that hotels and hostels would be a better deal. That isn’t to say you won’t be able to find a cheap gem in an expensive city like Manhattan or San Francisco, but it helps you plan ahead especially for any last-minute deals you need on a place to stay.
This is especially easy for those of you planning on doing a road trip around nature reserves and national parks. Look up areas where there are campgrounds that give you a place to park your car. You can either sleep in your car in your campsite or your car should have plenty of room to keep a popup tent.
Truck Rest Stops
Don’t consider these when planning where you can get some sleep along your trip. Rest stops aren’t the safest places to hang around. You’ll risk getting robbed or attacked if you try and catch some shuteye parked in your car at one of these stops.
Apps to Download
You should make sure you have a few different map apps on your phone before taking off. In most of these apps, you have the ability to download the maps for the area you are driving to. Do this before you leave! God forbid you’re lost in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service. If you download the map in advance, GPS will still work and find you on the downloaded map.
Maps you should have ready for your drive – Waze, Google Maps, Maps.me
Google Maps does include prices for some gas stations, but if you use GasBuddy, you can save a lot of money on gas prices. Maybe this isn’t that big of a deal when you’re just driving around your hometown, but when you drive 3,000 miles or so, this adds up! GasBuddy will help you find cheap gas that is usually just off of a major highway. I’ve seen savings of about 40 cent/gallon in some areas.
If you’re going the hotel route, I find HotelTonight has some of the best last minute hotel booking deals. On most long distance road trips, you really won’t know exactly where you’ll end up at the end of each day, so you don’t necessarily need to have reservations further in advance than a day.
I used Airbnb daily last cross-country road trip. As the sun started going down each day, I’d pull over and look at cities 30-60 minutes from where I was. I got some amazing deals by booking last minute as a guest in someone’s house. There are a lot of people that have full sections of their house blocked off for Airbnb visitors to have to themselves when passing through. If you’ve never used them before, definitely check out my Airbnb discount codes first!
Things to Buy in Advance
Food, Snacks, and Drinks
A case of bottled waters is like $5. A single bottle at a gas station is over $1. Not only would you save money, but you don’t have to start stressing out because you’re driving through the desert without a quick mart in sight! I’m not going to tell you what food/snacks to bring since everyone is on their own diet nowadays. I would however just recommend to pack whatever doesn’t need refrigeration and nothing that will melt when left in a hot car.
AAA is there to save you from so many emergencies you might find yourself in. Whether it’s a blown-out tire, a dead battery, or you locked your keys in your car when you hiked the Grand Canyon, they can help you out with that and a lot more. It’s only about $60/year to sign up. Additional road trip benefits for AAA members on top of tows and roadside assistance:
- Hotel discounts
- Car rental discounts (in case something went horribly wrong with your car)
- AAA travel agents
- Discount at NAPA Auto Parts (in case you need to DIY fix your car)
- Fuel Rewards® at Shell – Save 5 cents per gallon
But you have a phone for that! But…sometimes phones break, die, or lose service. Also, road trips are a little more fun when you get old school and attempt to read a real-life map. This National Geographic Road Atlas is also an awesome atlas for giving you recommendations for things to do in whatever region you’re in.
Do NOT go on a road trip without a spare tire on hand. If your tire blows out or you run over some debris without a spare tire, you are pretty screwed. Sure, you can use your AAA roadside assistance, but if you’re in the middle of nowhere you’ll have to wait forever for them plus pay a hefty towing fee if the closest mechanic is far away. I recommend getting a full-size spare tire instead of just a regular donut spare. You can only drive short distances on a donut while you can just slap a full-size spare on your car and finish the trip on it.
Make sure your car is in tip-top shape before heading out. Oil changes are the bare minimum. I’d recommend opting for a full tune up with everything checked out. Tell your mechanic you’re going for a long road trip and they’ll make sure your battery is good to go, all of your belts are in good shape, and anything else a person that knows cars better than me would do. Also, if you’re driving in the summer…make sure your air conditioner is good to go.
Snow Tire Chains
I learned this the hard way, in two different ways. First, I found out that it is illegal to drive in certain areas without snow chains on your tires if there is even the tiniest bit of snow falling. Yep, got a ticket for that. Second, I’m pretty sure I almost died for 4 hours straight trying to drive on an ice covered Interstate 80 across South Dakota. I actually bought the chains after the South Dakota incident and was able to return them when I arrived in NY since I never opened the case. Frugal AF
Figure out gas price – https://www.fueleconomy.gov/trip/
Review your car’s insurance policy for out of state coverage