Cross Country Road Trip: 20 Things to Know Before Driving Across the US

While the advent of affordable flights diminished the number of cross-country road trips to some extent, it seems that road trips are making a comeback. In fact, according to a recent AAA survey, more than a third of all American families are planning a cross-country road trip within the next twelve months.

So what inspires Americans driving across the country? About two-thirds of surveyed people say spending quality time with their family is the primary benefit of a cross-country road trip. 

Whether you plan to visit some popular destinations, national parks or theme parks or simply let the road takes you, there are several things to consider before driving across the USA.

Cross country road trip FAQs:


RULE n.1 – Check your vehicle

Your vehicle should be roadworthy before you set out on your cross-country trip. About a week before you plan to leave, take your car in for a check of fluid levels, brakes, tires, and anything else which might cause you problems.

Nothing can spoil your cross-country road trip faster than being stuck somewhere you would rather not be stuck, waiting for your car to be repaired. Make sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have jumper cables, a jack, and any other items you might need in the event of a flat tire or car trouble.

Here is the full checklist:

  • Fluids (oil + cooling)
  • Spare wheel
  • Lights
  • Brakes
  • Windscreen wipers
  • Wheels + tires
  • Check for leaks
  • Drive belts
  • Wheel steering

To rent a car, you need a credit card

This is an unknown rule between newbies and also foreigners trying to rent a car in the U.S. Most car rental companies won’t rent you a car if you trying to pay by debit card or cash. A credit card is required!

Be ready for gas prices

gas for cross country road trip

Gas prices are on the rise these days and you definitely want to know where you can get it cheaper when you are doing a lot of miles.

Best 3 gas prices apps in the U.S.:

Don’t have a fixed plan but have a plan!

Even if you want to “free-spirit” it on your cross-country trip, having at least a loose plan can, in the end, make your trip much more enjoyable.

At a minimum, it’s usually a good idea to have a plan for where you will stay each night and have a list of the things you really do not want to miss – as opposed to the things you would like to see but could stand to miss.

Check potential trouble spots / Avoid traffic

While you won’t want to over-plan your trip, it can be a good idea to anticipate any potential trouble spots.

Getting caught in rush-hour traffic in a large city will not improve the quality of your trip, so plan to avoid things like crossing the Hudson River on a Friday at five o’clock.

Have small bills for tolls ready

Nothing will send you into a panic like realizing you don’t have any cash handy when you’re approaching a toll booth.

Eliminate the risk of this happening by keeping some small bills in the side compartment or between the seats, where the driver can easily reach them.

Become a member of a roadside service

If you are not already a member of a roadside service like AAA, consider joining one before you take off to unknown places.

The simple law of averages says if you take enough road trips you will eventually end up stranded on the side of the road in Podunk, USA. You can avoid a lot of hassle as well as potential dangers when you have that handy 800 number to connect you to reputable towing and repair services.

Have your documents ready

Driver Hand Opening Glovebox Compartment Inside Car

Make sure you have all the necessary documentation in an easily accessible place before you start out on your cross-country road trip.

An up-to-date insurance card, a valid driver’s license, and your vehicle registration are all crucial documents to have (not only for a road trip but all the time).

Alcohol laws differ between states

While this next tip is something few people consider, if you or any other adults on the trip plan to enjoy a few relaxing alcoholic beverages along the way, you need to have a good idea of how alcohol laws differ between states.

The last thing you want is to end up with a DUI in an unfamiliar state—not only could such a thing really put a damper on your road trip, but the long-term consequences could also be much more serious than you imagine.

Check out also some cheap motels for a road trip in USA! They might come handy if you need to take a break for night or two.

Make sure you have your tickets sorted!

If you have any outstanding traffic tickets or parking tickets make sure you take care of those before you start out on your cross-country trip.

The last thing you want is to have your trip interrupted by ending up in a police station because you forgot to pay a traffic ticket.

Consider camping

When traveling in the USA, camping is one of the best ways to save money when traveling. Plus, it allows you to see so many parts of the country as there are campgrounds near the most popular attractions and in nearly any tourist destination.

When planning your cross-country adventure it’s important to plan ahead to find campgrounds near the places you want to visit. Most modern campgrounds include amenities to help make your stay comfortable. Some even have small cabins that can save money over staying in a hotel.

Staying in a campground can be a great opportunity for adventure as most have outdoor amenities and fun things to do on-site, while still providing you with the comforts of restrooms, running water, and internet connectivity.

Camping also gives you flexibility with time and budget since you have so many options on where to stay and can compare prices based on the campgrounds in your desired area.

Get a proper road trip playlist

Imagine the perfect road trip scene: the windows are down, the cool breeze is whipping by, the mountains or plains fall away on either side of the open road.

But what’s still missing? The tunes, of course! No road trip is complete without perfect highway music. Make a playlist with classic road trip hits, from the Eagles’ “Take it Easy” to Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again.” Be sure to download it before you leave, since you’re bound to find yourself without cell service.


navigation for cross country road tripRoad tripping is a great way to see the country. Sometimes you may want to venture off the beaten path to discover the unexpected.

These unplanned adventures are when it’s most beneficial to utilize GPS navigation services. Using a navigation app on your phone can be one of the easiest ways to get around since you likely keep your phone close all the time.

When using your phone for navigation it’s important to always have at least one charging cable with you. Many people prefer to travel with a few extra charging spots and cables to avoid running out of battery. You might also want to keep a few power banks with you, just in case.

If you’re going to be spending time outdoors you may also want to invest in a solar charger that has a USB connection.

Lastly, check with your cell phone DATA service provider before your trip to ensure you have mobile data and will be able to use your navigation services throughout your cross-country adventure. 

Holidays and opening hours of national Parks

When visiting national parks it’s essential to check the opening hours during your planning process. The hours of most national parks will vary based on the season and the day of the week. Be sure to check this information ahead of time before your visit so you can plan accordingly.

If you want to take advantage of any of the special amenities or demonstrations offered by many national parks, be sure to know the hours and days those events are offered.

It’s also recommended to be aware of bank holidays during your travels. Many attractions will follow bank holidays which often means closing on popular travel days.

You will go on hikes, get proper shoes!

minimalist hiking boots
We compered 7 minimalist boots!

Perhaps the best part of any cross-country trip is the remarkable natural beauty you’ll pass through.

From mountains to forests, deserts to plains, the pure variety of landscapes in the continental U.S. is enough to whet the appetite of even a casual nature-lover.

As you pass through this gorgeous scenery, you’re going to want to hike. Prepare for this by bringing along a decent pair of hiking shoes. Wearing uncomfortable footwear on a hike is a recipe for nasty blisters, while sandals can be dangerous.

With proper shoes, you can make sure you remember your hike for all the right reasons.

Day trip backpack

So your first priority when packing was probably to find a big enough suitcase for all your clothes and belongings. While this might be perfect for keeping all your things in one place, it shouldn’t be the only bag you take on your trip.

Don’t forget that your journey will be full of minor excursions, and you’re going to want to bring some items along for each separate adventure. Of course, you’re not going to bring your suitcase on a hike or city tour.

That’s why you need a reliable day trip bag that you can comfortably carry with you. A backpack or satchel is ideal.


camping lantern for cross country road trip

If you’re going to be camping, then a source of light is one hundred percent necessary. You never know when you’ll be delayed getting to a campsite, and setting up in the dark is nearly impossible.

The light also makes it a lot more fun to hang out at night, allowing you to read, play cards, or eat instead of just sitting around in the dark. Even if you’re not camping, a flashlight or lantern is still a good idea. You never know what type of situation you might find yourself in. In the case of any nocturnal emergency, you’ll want a flashlight you can count on (as opposed to your phone, which can die just when you most need a light).

Get a cooler!

Plan to take a cooler with plenty of snacks and drinks! While nobody seems to know why traveling makes us hungrier!

Of course, there will be plenty of places to stop along the way for munchies, however having drinks, fruit and treats packed, can really cut down on the number of stops you make, especially if you have children.

Mosquitos can be a problem!

If you are planning your adventure in the summer months, you might encounter plenty of mosquitos. You wanna have your repellents always stocked and some mosquito nets if you are planning to camp.

Sunshades for side windows and windscreen

There is nothing worse than getting into a “burning car” when you are coming from a day hike or a walk. In the hot months, you can get some very high temperatures in US and the sun gets really strong.

If you’re planning to make a longer stop and there is no shade around, you definitely want to keep them up! Inspiring video by Traveling Lifestyle.

Finally, the most important thing you should know about taking a cross-country road trip is to have fun!

Don’t get caught up in your phone on your trip, rather put it away and take the time to really look at the scenery passing you by. Immerse yourself in the beauty of our nation, as you listen to your favorite road trip s0ngs and enjoy your journey.

We hope you found this article useful and we are glad you made it all the way down here. Feel free to submit a comment below with any tips on driving cross country in the USA that you think would be a great fit!