(some links may be affiliate)
Road trips are one of the best experiences life has to offer if you ask me. While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do a road trip, there are a lot of ways to make it immensely easier on yourself.
My longest road trip was when I drove from California to New York City- you can read all about it here. On this trip, I learned so much- some the easy way, and some the hard way.
With all my personal experiences in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to help you on your next road trip.
This list will help with any trip, but some tips are more specific to the United States.
Now buckle in, and let’s get started!
1. Get a National Park Pass
This is something that I didn’t even know existed until my dad mentioned it. You can get a pass to EVERY National Park in America for only $80- for the entire year!
It usually costs around $15-35 to enter a national park. On my big US road trip I stopped at five national parks that all cost $35 each to enter; if I didn’t have my pass I would’ve spent $175 just on parks alone! (I spent a little over that on gas for my entire trip.)
Once you’ve paid for the pass, you can pretty much think about it as getting in free to all 58 different National Parks in the United States- that’s 58 amazing places to see! You can easily spend multiple days at each park. That’s months worth of traveling for just $80- it’s a no brainer. You can even look into their volunteer program for a completely free pass.
Not only can you go to the 58 official national parks, but the pass allows you to get into over 2,000 federal recreation sites.
One of the best parts about the pass is they allow everyone in your car in on just one pass, AND you can put two names on the pass! I’ve added my sister to my pass, and now she can go anywhere she wants as well!
I used my pass to go to The Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone. Those are just a few of the options of places you could visit.
2. Be Flexible
The simple fact of a road trip is- you can’t really plan one. Something is always going to happen that will detour your plans.
I’ve always added a bumper of time in between my planned activities- in case anything ever happened. This way, if you get a flat tire, you’ll still have time to make it to your next destination. You won’t have to skip anything that you want to do!
The biggest way flexibility improved my road trip is by allowing me to stop at places that I didn’t even know existed- things you can’t really find on a map. I stopped to take photos with herds of sheep, giant sunflower patches, and even a hotel that was completely Flintstones themed.
Being flexible also means flexibility with where you stay. It’s much cheaper to stay at a hotel an hour away from the Grand Canyon, wake up early, and drive there than it is to stay at a hotel in Grand Canyon Village.
3. Sleep for Free
In my opinion, the easiest way to sleep for free is to park your car at a Wal-Mart- and sleep in it. Try to find a 24-hour store, then you can wash your face and go to the bathroom whenever you want. Also, it’s prime for going to the store for food- I’ll talk more about that later.
There are so many free camp grounds across America you can park in! You can bring a tent with you, or just sleep in your car there. Use a site like Freecampsites.net to find one no matter where you are! This is a super fun option because you get to road trip and go camping- the best of both worlds.
Another option for the more daring is using a service like Couchsurfing.com. It connects you with people, usually other traveler-type people, who get it. You just need a place to shower and a couch to sleep on. They offer up their couch for you! You can also become a host and let other people, like me and you, sleep on your couch!
4. Shower with No Hotel
There are multiple ways you can shower while on the road. If you want a full on, real shower, you can use your gym membership! Somewhere like Planet Fitness has locations all over the country. The best part is, you can work out while you’re there too- two birds, one stone.
If you’re the more adventurous type, you could shower in fresh lakes- or even a waterfall! It may sound a little odd, but at the end of the day it’s a very viable option. If you do this make sure to use a biodegradable soap, often called a “camping soap.” Also, double check the rules and regulations for the area.
The obvious option is just keeping clean with something like baby wipes. They also make special ones of those for camping. I would wash my face in the bathroom at Wal-Mart or the gas station which would allow me to keep up my entire skincare routine. As long as I could do that and brush my teeth, I felt pretty clean. Of course, this option only works for a few days.
They also make a Solar Shower you can get on Amazon for around $20. You can attach it right to the side of your car- this allows you to shower without having to go anywhere. If you plan ahead and fill it up (or have water jugs in your car), you can have a full shower right outside of your car.
5. Go to the Store
One of the biggest problems with road trips is having no kitchen. You become very limited in your options- other than eating out.
Instead of spending all your money on eating at fast-food or restaurants, go to a grocery store every morning. It’s much cheaper to get all your meals for the day at a grocery store than it is to eat out for every meal. It’s also a much healthier option!
This also ties back into parking somewhere like a Wal-Mart. I was able to get fresh, pre-cut and washed vegetables and fruits. I would get salads or ingredients to make a wrap or sandwich. Fast food is all fun and games until you’re lethargic and don’t want to do anything all day. You want to feel your best on a trip so you can keep going and going!
6. Be Prepared for Spotty Service
I definitely didn’t think about losing service- but it was a problem that popped up multiple times. Especially in National Parks or highly forested areas. If you’re using maps on your phone to get from place to place, you’ll want to screenshot them every morning in case you lose service. Don’t make the mistake I did by realizing this when it’s too late!
7. Don’t Get a Felony
You may know a lot of ways people can get a felony, but did you know a parking ticket on National Park land equals a felony? It’s true! You can make a silly mistake by getting into any trouble in a park, and end up with a felony for life- so make sure to go the speed limit and park in designated spots only.
On this topic, look up laws for every state you go in. Every time you enter a new state, a ton of laws can be different than the one before. I’m big on not planning things, but this is definitely something you want to research before!
8. Wake Up Early
Mornings are going to be your best friend on a road trip. It’s the best time to: drive, take photos, and visit anywhere.
It’s much more beneficial to drive in the daytime. This way you get to see all the beautiful sites, and find places you may not have stopped at before like I mentioned earlier. It’s also just easier and safer to drive when it isn’t dark. I wound up on a bumpy, narrow dirt road in Idaho with no cell service- it was pretty scary.
We all want good photos, and in this case the early bird gets the worm. Sunrise has amazing lighting, and you have a better chance of having nobody else in your photo.
Along with having nobody in your pictures, there are usually less people at all the spots you want to go: National Parks, museums, landmarks, etc.
Most importantly for me- it was just easier to stay awake during the day. It may sound obvious, but definitely keep this in mind. If you’re waking up early you don’t want to try driving late at night.
9. Document, Document, and Document
Road trips make for some of the best memories- remember them. Don’t overlook documenting your trip; you will regret it. I always end up thinking, “Dang, I wish I took more photos”-never the opposite.
Videos, pictures, journaling, blogging- whatever method you prefer will work. Pick a time during the day that you will dedicate to documenting everyday.
It also helps create a trail for exactly what you did and where you went every single day which is always good to have.
10. Stay Organized
Keeping your car orderly will make your trip a ton easier.
I tried to keep a section for trash, then empty it at every gas stop. I also had a specific spot for my contacts, toiletries bag, clothes, etc. You don’t want to waste any time sifting through your car for your belongings- and trust me a car can get messy very easily.
Also, I tried to write everything technical down in my journal like how many miles between stops, emergency phone numbers, and important information. I would keep it right in my passenger seat so I could always access it.