9 Tips For The Best Cross Country Road Trip

Cross country road trip essentials

This summer, we moved in together, which means Adrian moved to California. Together, we made the cross country trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to Los Angeles. Anika grew up taking lots of long road trips with her family, but this was Adrian’s first experience driving cross country. For lots of people, taking a trek across the states is a lifelong bucket list experience. While Adrian liked the idea of seeing the sights, they were honestly really scared that they would be bored out of their mind and sick of driving by hour five. What they found was that the drive cross country is really not bad at all (and actually incredibly beautiful) - that is, if you’re prepared and know what to expect.

Here are our top 9 tips for making your trip the best cross country road trip ever!

1.Plan your route, take your time, and see some friends

Plan ahead of time what major highways you’ll take, what cities you want to see, and what you CAN’T miss (restaurants, sights, etc.). If you have friends that live along your route, or if it’s not too out of the way, make sure you stop to see them! It makes the trip so much more memorable. Additionally, you’re so much more likely to enjoy a city you’ve never been to if someone you know can show you around. The “local” point of view is different and exciting. You’ll get to experience the stuff that the internet can’t tell you about. Just don’t forget to run the dates by your friend to give them plenty of time to adjust their schedule for your visit.

2. Determine your budget beforehand (and plan for emergencies)

Know how much you want to spend! Money is the number one thing that stresses people out. You don’t want to be caught halfway across the country without the funds to get back. And you definitely don’t want to be stuck in the car arguing with your road trip partner about money. You’ll need a budget for food, lodging, gas, shopping (if you want!), and don’t forget any bills you might need to pay. Also - you never know what’s going to happen on the open road. Have a chunk of cash set aside for emergencies whether it’s car problems or health problems, you’ll be glad you have a safety net.

3. AirBnB it

AirBnB in Phoenix, AZ, June 2018

AirBnB in Phoenix, AZ, June 2018

AirBnB is a great way to save money, meet new people, and get a more local feel. Hotels can feel stiff and generic. Choosing an AirBnB in a cool neighborhood with a highly rated host is much more likely to be a good experience. And don’t just pick the cheapest or the one that looks luxurious. Do your research!!! Google the kind of neighborhood you want to stay in and read the reviews under the AirBnB listings. Decide what amenities are important to you (such as parking) and only look for listings that include them. You’ll be glad you booked a place that has some comforts! Better yet, get $40 off your first stay of $75 or more using this link. Happy booking!

4. Get AAA and have your car serviced before the trip

AAA is a small investment for the year and totally worth it. You’ll have peace of mind because you just never know how travelling almost 2000 miles will unfold. Which is why you should make sure to get your oil changed, have your tires checked, and top off the fluids. Have your mechanic give your vehicle a one-over to make sure they sign off that it’s a good to go. You’ll be glad you discovered any problems beforehand and not in the middle of the desert. Try to take care of this about a week before you leave so that in case there are problems, you have time to get them fixed.

The forests in Arizona were amazing!

The forests in Arizona were amazing!

5. Stop and smell the roses (and take photos!)

You’ll see some amazing scenery and we’re guessing that like most people, you don’t have photographic memory. So don’t hesitate to stop when you see something interesting or want to take photos of some beautiful scenery! Photos are free and better than any souvenir. Make sure you even plan for this time. And if you think, “Oh, we’ll stop somewhere else,” you probably won’t. It can be easy to get caught up in just getting to your next destination, but the journey is kind of the whole reason you’re doing this. So give yourself the flexibility to stop and experience some stuff. Note: Do make sure it’s safe to do so. Find somewhere with lots of space, where you’ll be out of the way and doing this during the day is much better than at night.

6. Don’t mess with Texas - and get gas often

We were warned multiple times before we started our trip that Texas was going to be the longest and most monotonous part of the drive. We were also warned that Texas police are quick to pull you over for going even a few miles over the speed limit. And because this is such a long part of the drive, it’s a good place to mention that you need to get gas often. Even if you’re not driving through Texas, do NOT wait until you need gas to look for a gas station. Even if you have half a tank, just get some more gas. There are long stretches of emptiness when you’re driving across the country and you don’t want to be in the middle of who knows where without gas. Tip: Break up the long drives with slightly more frequent stops. We had a long 10 hour day and we stopped 5 times to stretch our legs, use the restroom, and get snacks. It breaks up the monotony and helps these long drives go by faster.

7. Plan your cross country road trip packing list

Some things you might not have thought of, but definitely want to bring:

    • First Aid Kit that includes pain medication and Pepto Bismol

    • Hand wipes, stain wipes - all the wipes

    • Everything you’d need to change a flat.

    • An easy to use car mount for your phone (We like this one!)

    • Car adapter for your phone charger

    • SNACKS - We had lots of snack and drinks on hand and even if we didn’t yet run out of our other snacks, we got more snacks. Snacks and drinks are crucial.

    • Items for unexpected weather (clothing, umbrella, tire chains for snow)

    • Something comforting that reminds you of home - Anika has a soft blanket that is lightweight and super travel friendly that she uses at home all the time. Having little comforts can make a long trip much easier.

    • Your own pillow - great for the car and for your lodging. Trust us, you’ll sleep better.

    • Some mini trash bags - or just use the bags you get from buying your snacks because eventually you’ll have trash from the snacks you eat and you’ll want to clean it up.

This is the actual route we took from Charlotte to Los Angeles.

This is the actual route we took from Charlotte to Los Angeles.

8. Try not to drive at night

At the very least, try to limit how long you drive in the dark. While night time might have less traffic, everything becomes more difficult when your vision is impaired whether that is actually driving or fixing a flat or trying to see where you’re supposed to exit. Plus, who want to get stuck at a creepy, isolated gas station in the middle of the night? Sounds like a horror story waiting to happen.

9. Queue up the tunes, audiobooks and podcasts

If you don’t have Spotify - get Spotify. And create playlists for your drive. Listen to the albums of artists you like, but have only heard their singles. Dive into some brand new new artists. And definitely have an oldies playlist. If you want to get really creative, create a playlist for each state you’re passing through. Then, sign up for Audible here and get 2 free books for your trip. If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, it’s about time you tried. Audiobooks are great for making significant chunks of time go by fast.

Finally, explore all the podcasts. There are SO many podcasts out there that are super interesting and, in our opinion, make the time go by the fastest. We like learning about new things like philosophy and ways to improve yourself and we also like crime podcasts, if you need a few subjects to dive into.

The most important thing to remember is to be open to whatever happens. It’s an adventure and doing too much planning or trying too hard to stick to a plan could dampen the magic. Not to mention, sometimes the craziest situations make for the best memories. We hope this checklist helped. Stay safe and have fun!

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