Planning a Cross Country Road Trip

Depending on your timeframe and your budget, a road trip is a great way to see the country while en route to visit family and friends. If you're planning a drive cross country anytime soon, you'll want to start planning now so you can avoid the potholes and road blocks that mark the path of poor road trip planning.

Decide What You Want to See
Are you simply trying to get from one part of the country to the other, or do you want to see as many sights along the way as you can? Is speed the most important factor, or do you want to enjoy the scenery? Decide what kind of road trip you want this to be, and plan your route accordingly.

Select Your Route
As you choose your route, check out road trip maps and online resources to determine which route will give you the experience you desire. If you're driving from New Hampshire to Florida, you may want to take major highways until you hit the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then wind your way through the mountains for some pretty scenery, and then hit the major highway again for speedy travel.

Services such as AAA and other travel w can give you input on avoiding construction delays and traffic. If you're going around big cities such as Chicago or New York, but don't plan on stopping in the city, you may want to take routes that avoid the city altogether, since traffic is almost always congested in these areas.

Map Your Way
Use an online service or AAA to map out your trip. Many online travel sites will give you detailed directions, including time estimates and mileage for every leg of the trip. Pick up local area maps as well so you have both detailed directions and general area maps. Put all of your maps in a folder to keep beside you as you drive for easy and quick access.

Prepare Your Vehicle
Bring your vehicle into the auto shop for a tune and check up before you head out on a major cross country road trip. Make sure the inspector checks the following:

  • Windshield wiper blades should be soft and pliable
  • Lights all work and are aligned properly
  • Tires have even wear and are properly aligned and inflated
  • Fluid levels are adequate
  • Belts and hoses are in good condition
  • Battery connections are corrosion-free
  • Brakes are in good shape

Pack the Essentials
You'll want to pack a few items for your family road trip to make the experience more comfortable. Include a variety of snacks (not messy items, but easy finger foods) and a cooler of beverages.

Pack a small plastic bag for trash and wet wipes and hand sanitizer. Keep a box of tissue within easy reach. Bring along non-drowsy anti-nausea medications and Pepto Bismol for stomach problems. If you are traveling with children, have them pack a bag of toys. Bring along small blankets and pillows for easy napping.

Bring Entertainment
You'll want some entertainment along the road to help pass the time. As much as "I Spy" and license plate games can be fun, you'll eventually tire of looking at the scenery or chatting with the people traveling with you. Consider bringing books on CD, music or DVDs for the kids.

Book Motel or Hotel Rooms Before You Go
Whatever you do, you don't want to find yourself driving around for hours at the end of your day of travel searching for a motel with a vacant room. Plan your trip so that you know where you want to stay each night, and book your hotel or motel room ahead of time.

Since you're just looking for a place to sleep, take advantage of cheaper rates at lesser known spots or motels that have few amenities and few tourist locations, unless you want to explore in each town as you stop.

Be Prepared for Emergencies
You'll want to take the time to pack a small emergency kit in case you break down on the road. Make sure you include:

  • Oil
  • Radiator coolant
  • A funnel
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Flare
  • First aid kit
  • Duct tape
  • Jumper cables
  • Blanket
  • Nonperishable food
  • Bottled water

Safety Tips While On the Road

Stop every two hours. Get out and stretch, get a drink of water, use a restroom and freshen up with a splash of water on your face. You need to stay alert so you can drive safely.

Keep children with you. It may be tempting to leave your sleeping child in the vehicle while you dash into the restroom, but that could easily turn into a poor decision. Inconvenient as it is, always bring your children into the restroom with you at rest areas and gas stations.

Use extra caution when driving at night. Watch out for deserted rest areas and gas stations, especially late at night. Choose your stops carefully and only use well-lit, well-frequented places, especially if you are a woman traveling alone or with children.

Don't talk on your cell phone while driving. You've heard the warning before, but it's true-talking on a cell phone while you drive is asking for an accident, especially when you're already tired from driving a long distance. Limit calls to stops.

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