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How To Plan A Cross Country Trip

How To Plan A Cross Country Trip

Whether it’s your first time making a trip across the country or you are a road-tripping expert, putting time into planning a trip of this length is equally essential. Cross country road trips are a different thing entirely from a weekend getaway, and not planning appropriately can be the difference between making memories that last a lifetime and a trip filled with frustration. We’re here to lend our experience and share some tips on how to plan a cross country road trip so that your adventure can be everything you hope it will be.


Decide On A Final Destination


Planning a cross country road trip starts by actually working backward. In order to plan a successful trip that spans such a large amount of miles, you need to have a good idea of where you plan to end up. This will help you be able to plan a route.


Are There Any “Don’t Miss” Stops You Have To Make?


In addition to figuring out there you want to end up, take a look at anything you absolutely want to see along the way. With a final destination in mind, pull out a map (we’re big fans of purchasing an actual, physical road map) and look at what is near the route you’re likely to take. Even if it means going out of the way a little bit to see something you’ve never seen before, like Yellowstone National Park, for instance, it will give you a better idea of how much time you need to budget.


Build In Extra Time For Spontaneous Adventures


When planning your road trip time span, make sure to add in extra time to allow you to take those spontaneous side trips and adventures that so often come up when you’re on the road. You may run into a festival in a local town or find a hiking destination that you want to explore. Cross country road trips are supposed to be about adventure, and it’s the journey that counts. Some of the best memories made on these trips are the ones you didn’t necessarily plan for. 


Check out websites like Roadside America while on the road as well. You might be surprised by all of the offbeat attractions you might stumble across on your way across the country. 


Book Camping Reservations In Advance, If Possible


If you’re planning on camping overnight at any national parks or popular tourist attractions, strongly consider booking your spot as far ahead of time as possible. Many of these places only have limited availability, and, especially in the spring and summer, reservations tend to go quickly. Don’t risk arriving and not having any place to park. 


However, if worst comes to worst (or if it’s more of your travel style), boondocking is always an option. This is especially easy in a Bowlus, because of its off-grid capabilities. Our lithium batteries are the top in the business, and they ensure that you can go at least a week totally off the grid without a power hookup. 


That said, you don’t have to book every single spot you plan on staying in advance. This can lead to stress and frustration as you try to stay close to your itinerary and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for enjoying yourself and being spontaneous. There are plenty of other camping opportunities on the road, so try to limit yourself to only reserving those that are likely to sell out.


Make Sure That You Plan For The Unexpected


Unfortunately, not everything that happens on a road trip is going to be a fun adventure. Sometimes, emergencies and other unexpected events happen that require extra time and money. 


Have a plan for what would happen if your vehicle breaks down or if someone gets sick on the trip. Have an emergency kit packed and fully stocked, and have a backup source of power for your cellphone. Bowlus comes with USB ports and lithium batteries for charging all your devices, so with us, this should never be a problem. Learn how to perform simple car repairs like changing a tire, adding coolant, or fixing a fan belt, and have the right tools and parts available.


You know what they say… hope for the best, plan for the worst. You’ll be able to relax more if you know that you’ll be ready if anything unexpected happens.


Get a Tune-Up Before Leaving


While it’s not a “fun” part of planning a road trip, getting a tune-up before you leave is incredibly important. While you can’t predict everything that may occur on your trip, being able to identify and fix potential issues along with getting routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations can help reduce the risk.


You may also want to consider checking your car insurance to see if you have roadside assistance and what it covers. Having a plan for who to call on the road if you encounter an unexpected emergency with your vehicle can put you at ease. Read through your plan thoroughly to make sure there isn’t any small print about mileage or location. It might be worth purchasing a plan if you don’t already have one.


Make a Packing List


Although packing lists aren’t a glamorous part of the planning process, it is helpful to have a physical list to refer to help make sure that you’re bringing everything you need to have the perfect trip.


  • Atlases (both state-specific and countrywide)
  • Road maps
  • Guidebooks for destinations you plan on visiting
  • GPS dashboard mount
  • Manuals for your vehicle
  • Vehicle registration
  • Car insurance
  • Driver’s license or personal identification (for those not driving)
  • Different types of currency (cash, credit card, traveler’s checks, etc.)
  • Extra food and water. The Bowlus fresh water tank has a massive 19-gallon capacity, so you never have to worry about running out of water.
  • Electrical and duct tape
  • Crowbar
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Automotive fluids (coolant, windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, motor oil, brake fluid, etc.)
  • Jumper cables
  • Jacks
  • Spare tire and a tire repair kit for your car
  • Gas can
  • Toolkit
  • Emergency kit
  • Flashlights
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Extra batteries


In addition to the necessities, make sure that you’re packing for the weather you might encounter. For instance, it may still be snowing in the spring in certain parts of the country or at higher elevations. Do some research on the types of weather you may encounter so you can be more fully prepared.  


Ideas For Routes


If you want to plan a cross country road trip but aren’t sure exactly where you want to go or how to get there, there is plenty of information out there on suggested routes to take. Road Trip USA is a great website to refer to, with eleven different routes to take.


Keep in mind, fully crossing the United States from coast to coast takes at least four to six days if you drive for eight to ten hours a day. You’ll likely not want to just drive cross country; you want to get out and experience it. It’s best to plan for at least several weeks to really enjoy your time, no matter what route you decide to take. 


A Few Final Tips


Always Get Gas When You Can


Depending on your route, gas stations may be few and far between at certain points on the trip. If you have under half a tank of gas and you can fill up, it’s always a good idea to just go ahead and do it. 


Take Plenty of Pictures


While there is a lot to be said for experiencing the beauty of nature without looking through a camera lens, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take pictures. Grab an old Polaroid camera or a disposable, and snap pictures without having to go back over them and second guess them. You’ll be able to remember your trip without obsessing about getting that perfect shot.


Eat Local


It can be tempting to stick to what you know, but that’s not part of the adventure! When traveling, always try the local spot. You can usually find recommendations or reviews online, or just ask the locals when you stop for gas. There is an endless amount of undiscovered local gems out there to eat at.


Don’t Push It


Part of planning a flexible itinerary is being able to listen to your body while you travel. So many car accidents are caused by tired drivers who think that they can just push it a little further. If you’re feeling drowsy, pull over and get some rest. There is no time constraint more important than your life. 


In Conclusion…


Traveling across the country (or even just across part of it) should be a fun adventure that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Setting out on the road, wind in your hair, driving roads you may have never driven before is freeing in a way that very little else in life can be. However, in order to experience that feeling, you’ll want to make sure that you plan appropriately. Preparation in advance leads to a far more relaxed trip, knowing that you’re ready for anything. 


Your Bowlus travel trailer can help with this. Because it’s already set up with all the amenities that you need for a comfortable lifestyle, you never have to worry about living the “van life” while out on the road. With your Bowlus, you’re ready to take on the great outdoors. The team here at Bowlus wishes you many successful cross country road trips to come!