A PROPER GUIDE TO ROAD TRIPPING THE UNITED STATES
The vast, wild, and untouched landscapes of the United States draw millions of adventurers to head out on a road trip every year. From the Rocky Mountains of the west, rugged coasts of Maine, and bayous of Louisiana, there is frankly too much to see in America, and not nearly enough time.
So when planning a road trip in the United States—whether for two weeks or two years—there are a few important things you need to know.
Sunrise is Prime Time
Most places you see infamous posts are major tourist attractions. If you want to experience a breathtaking place (like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Golden Gate Bridge) with the best chance of solidarity, you'll want to be there at sunrise. By midday, the magic of some of the nations most beautiful spots are dimmed by thousands of visitors cramming to get a glimpse on a narrow viewing platform.
I get it, when your alarm goes off at 5:00 am your first instinct is to punch your phone and then yourself for wondering why you thought getting up at the buttcrack of dawn was a good plan. But trust me, there are many times I chose extra sleep over the sunrise, and each time I was disappointed by giving up a chance to see something spectacular in solitude.
Make sure you have a book
A good book makes a good road trip great. It’s no secret that road trips=long amounts of time on the road. A book will make those down moments great, those evenings at camp bliss, and they might even provide ideas for places to stop along the road.
For example, I picked up a non-fiction book at a thrift store in St. George that went over the history of Colorado City, Arizona. The story behind the book is an incredible and unbelievable account of a woman who escaped the fundamentalist Mormon cult ran by the FLDR. The entire town of Colorado City was (and still is) run by extreme-radicals from the church that often chases out visitors and shuns the outside world. Turns out the town is located just a thirty-minute drive from St. George. Visiting the town just a few short days after finishing the book was quite an experience.
Stay in one really shitty motel
Ahhhhh, it has to be done. I would really love to do another cross-country road trip where I do nothing but stay in slightly run-down motels, mom and pop bed-and-breakfasts, and quirky roadside accommodations (like a teepee!).
Like the one motel that advertised ‘free breakfast’ which, in fact, was six store-bought mini muffins which were being fought over. The same motel had the entire front of our heater break off and fall into our room.
Personally, I liked the one where the cops regularly drove through the parking lot scanning every license plate looking for stolen cars.
Oh! Or the $29/night Colorado hotel that had a super strange waterpark but also ended up hosting movie nights in the pool area where you could watch an obscure animation film from the hot tub.
I’m not saying you need to conquer Mount Rainer or the Half Dome, but climb something. A view from the top of a mountain, sand dune, or cliff provides a whole new perspective. Sure, you can drive to the top of something, but the reward and lessons from a drive can't compare to a hard-earned reward of a summit achieved.
Especially in the Rockies, Sierras, Smokies, and White Mountains, there are thousands of summits to choose from. A road trip is all about experiencing new things, so lace up your hiking shoes and step outside your comfort zone.
If you’re an American planning a U.S. road trip, I emphasize this rule for you. American’s are always traveling one million miles an hour (myself included sometimes). SLOW DOWN.
I see so many itineraries of planned road trips where travelers are shooting to hit eight states and five national parks in ten days. If this is your plan, less might be more. Take it from a person who experienced it: trying to see too much in too little time is going to cause a stressful, sleepless, and sometimes hangry adventure.
Leave time to allow yourself to find a unique spot along Highway One and watch the ocean for a few hours, without staring at your watch.
Instagram is great, but don’t focus on it
If you follow me on Instagram (thank you!), you know that I try very hard to portray real adventures. I love taking photographs, but sometimes I leave my professional camera behind. I don’t spend hours posing a shot or looking for the perfect angle.
If you spend your whole trip focusing on becoming Instagram’s next top travel model, you’re not going to get a genuine experience (and you’re most likely not going to become Instagram’s next top travel model). My opinion on the Instagram world: being fake brings fake followers, being genuine brings genuine followers. Don’t be fake.
The United States is the most diverse country in the world regarding natural wonders. The best part about a road trip around the states is that not only can you see some of the most awe-inspiring sites in the entire world, but it can be done on a relatively cheap budget. The U.S. may not have many hostels, but we do have loads of campgrounds, under $100/night motels, free camping locations, and yes, even Walmart parking lots if you're up for some good ol' fashion car camping.
And if you plan to visit more than three national parks on your journey, invest in an annual NP pass! The price of an annual pass is $80. Parks like Zion, Yosemite, and Arches will cost around $30/each for a day pass. It really adds up. (P.S. if you're military, the pass if free!)
So get out and explore. You'll never be able to see it all, which is wonderful, because that shows just what an amazing country the United States is (excluding politics, of course).
What recommendations do you have for road trips?
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.