The United States is a vast country with many cultural and regional differences that requires time to explore. While many travelers choose to take flights from place to place, taking a road trip in the USA is a one-of-a-kind experience that will give you a better idea of this amazing country and its people.
From exploring the popular West Coast with iconic cities and jaw-dropping national parks to taking the less touristy routes such as the American South, hitting the road in America is an amazing experience that will challenge some of the familiar stereotypes and create life-long memories.
As someone who has done numerous road trips across the United States, I can tell you that it’s the ultimate experience that can’t be compared to anything else. Not only you will see some gorgeous scenery in certain regions, but you will also get to understand the American culture better.
But before you start planning your road trip in the USA, you should spend time familiarizing yourself with some of the specifics of the country that will help you make the most out of your trip.
1. Get familiar with the car renting process
If you visit the United States from another country and want to do a road trip, you will have to rent a car. Car rental companies in America typically charge extra if a driver is less than 25 years old. Some companies also charge if the inside or outside of the car is dirty or messy when you return your vehicle. And most of the companies will charge you if there’s any damage or something is missing, so treat a rental car like your own.
That being said, not all car rental companies have the same policies, so make sure to do your homework before you make a booking.
2. Check your vehicle
Before you hit the road, check if the vehicle is in good condition. Check if the warnings lights are on, if all fluids are full and if your tires have enough air in them. It’s also a good idea to have a spare tire and jumper cables ready in your trunk. There’s nothing worse than having to wait on the side of the road for a tow truck.
3. Check road conditions
Before you hit the road, make sure to check the road conditions. Weather conditions, road work, and accidents can affect your trip significantly to the point where you have to change your plans. Make sure to have an alternative plan in case you can’t take the road that you were planned to take.
4. Create a budget
Taking a road trip in the USA and traveling in this country, in general, can be very expensive. However, if you budget properly, you can cut your travel costs significantly. Since hostels are not really a thing in the US except for big cities, you can save by staying in AirBnb’s and budget hotels. Hotels in certain popular places are especially cheap during off seasons.
5. Don’t rely on cell phone service
The further you drive away from major cities, and especially if you drive in remote areas, the more spotty cell phone service is going to get. This is especially true in many parts of Western United States where cell phone service disappears if you drive on remote rural roads. This also applies to many national parks and areas around them. Don’t rely on cell phone service and instead get a map with detailed directions.
6. Fill up your tank
If you travel on major interstate highways, finding a gas station shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you plan to take more remote roads and state routes, you could drive for hours before you find a gas station. No matter where you are going during your road trip in the USA, you should always have a full tank of gas.
7. Be aware of the driving rules
When you drive across the states, pay attention to speed limits. Different states have different laws when it comes to speeding and other driving-related violations. The last thing you want is to get a ticket for driving over the speed limit, so make sure to play by the rules.
Also, don’t drive after you had a drink or two. The legal limit for alcohol in your blood is 0.08 percent in all states, and while penalties for drunk driving vary, they are typically pretty stuff. It’s better not to do it.
8. Have your documents ready
Having your documents ready is important while you are on the road. That includes a driver’s license, car registration, insurance, and other relevant documents. If you get pulled over, you will have to show at least some of these documents. In addition, make sure to pay your traffic tickets and other violations before you go on a road trip.
9. Always have some cash on you
While credit cards are widely used in the United States, you should always have some cash on you. In case you have an emergency or a gas station doesn’t accept a credit card, you will be able to pay with cash.
10. Eat healthily. And don’t forget to tip!
Eating healthy can be tough when you are doing a road trip in the USA. The country has tons of fast food chains that offer plenty of unhealthy food packed with calories. That being said, you can always opt for healthier meals at restaurants such as Subway or Chipotle. Another good option is to buy plenty of fruits and vegetables at grocery stores, especially if you plan to be on a road for a while.
Finally, when it comes to eating in restaurants, you have to tip your waiter or waitress. Tipping is the part of an American culture that always comes as a surprise to many overseas visitors. Minimum wage is really low in the United States and compared to other countries where customer service workers earn a salary, their US counterparts rely on tips for their livelihood. The minimum necessary tip is 20 percent of the total cost of your meal.
PRO TIP: It’s also a good idea to tip porters, maids and other people who serve you during your vacation. At least a few dollars makes a difference 🙂
Hope you enjoy your stay in the United States and have a chance to check off some of the bucket lists. If you need advice on some of the most scenic areas to visit, please see some of my guides on epic road trips in the United States.
- San Diego things to do for first-time visitors
- Death Valley Survival Guide
- A day at Death Valley National Park
- Ultimate guide: Things to do in Vegas
- Places to visit near Las Vegas that tourists don’t know about
- Perfect Southern road trip
- Los Angeles Bucket List
- Complete guide to Red Rock hikes
- 10 must-visit spots in the American Southwest
Daria is the owner and operator of The Discovery Nut Travel Blog, where she writes about her passions of travel, writing, and photography. Her true passion is discovering new places and documenting her adventures. If you haven’t done so already, check out some of her other amazing work on her blog or you can find also find her on Facebook!