So you are flying to the United States for your very own #motherofallroadtrips. Excitement levels are high. But what do you do right now? How do you prepare? Here’s our simple 10-point US road trip guide to help you plan the drive of a lifetime.
1. Research the route
It pays to be prepared. And the first step to be prepared is to do research. Decide what route you are going to take and what you want to see along the way. Our blog includes road trip guides for:
Pacific Northwest – San Francisco to Seattle
Southwest – San Diego to Vegas
East Coast – New York to Miami
Midwest – Illinois, Indiana & Kentucky
Plus many more.
Once you have your destination in mind then research a little more!
2. Hire cars
On this epic road trip you are going to need a vehicle. While hover cars are preferable, chances are you’ll need the wheeled variety.
Hiring a car in the US is a little more complicated than it seems because most booking websites don’t include insurance. Adding insurance to the initially cheap quote can often double the cost! For this reason we prefer using UScarhire.com. Their prices were relatively cheap and included insurance.
To save on costs, another handy tip is to avoid one-way fees. If you can do a circular route then do it, because one-way fees can be a killer. And always look for a coupon!
Not all states are equal. If you are considering the west coast, Oregon has no state sales tax and works out much cheaper than hiring a car in New York.
Remember to check your credit card or car insurance at home to see if it also covers car hire insurance. It may end up saving you a lot of money.
And if you’re feeling adventurous or want to get in touch with nature, check out how we slept in our “car” for 2 weeks.
3. Organise travel insurance
During our first 6 months of travel in Asia we didn’t travel with insurance – even though we thought we did. So when we started the next leg of our journey to the US all our travelling friends said we needed insurance. Medical care in the US is expensive, so you don’t want to risk travelling without a safety net.
Recently World2Cover crossed our desks as a new insurance provider offering family friendly travel insurance. Best part? Kids are insured for free right up to 25 years old when travelling with parents or grandparents! I also love that the insurance includes a specific clause to ensure a dedicated carer will look after your children should anything unfortunate happen to their guardian.
World2Cover’s policies are available to all Australian travellers, with a special 20% discount for Travel With Bender fans using code TB20 for six months until the end of May 2016.
4. Book your hotels… or not
We recommend searching for accommodation on Booking.com. You can find affordable hotel chains from just US$50! Check out Super 8 or Holiday Inn. Most budget-friendly hotels/motels we’ve stayed in have been clean, and better news still, most rooms include 2 queen or double beds, which makes them perfect for families.
If it comes down to the wire and you’re not prepared then flying by the seat of your pants won’t be the end of the world. Nearly every major highway is lined with hotels/motels. Our best tip is to pick up a hotel discount booklet from one of the roadside hotels or gas stations – or just use their website. You can save lots of money with these walk-in coupons, however you run the risk of having to stop a couple of times if the hotels are fully booked. So leave a little wiggle room in your schedule.
5. Check the seasons
Northern regions of the US require winter tyres between October and March. On top of this many national parks close for the winter season, and believe me, you don’t want to miss a sight like Crater Lake. So check the opening dates and plan accordingly.
6. Plan extra time
It’s so tempting to plan a road trip itinerary down to every single day, but my advice is to leave a few days spare for those places you want to stay longer or those roadside attractions you spontaneously visit. Leave time to explore and keep a little wonder in the trip.
7. Stay connected with a local SIM card
Most phone companies are very kind when heading on vacation. Call up your local telecom provider; ask them to place a hold on your account for a month and to unlock your handset so that you can use an alternative SIM card when you travel.
Once you arrive in the US simply look up any number of local SIM cards to save money on mobile Internet access, SMS and calls. Arriving home to an exorbitant roaming bill will tarnish even the best vacation.
Alternatively invest in a Wi-Fi hot spot. We used TEP Wireless and they provide unlimited data plus convenient delivery and return.
8. Know where to go… get a map
Mobile Internet is all well and good, but there are times when mobile reception is non-existent – the US is a big country after all. So download an offline map to your tablet or phone for those just-in-case situations. We use and recommend maps.me. Or if you like the feel of paper, go old school and buy yourself a map or road atlas from Amazon before you arrive.
9. Don’t forget your visa
In Australia you can get a visa waiver known as the ESTA. This gives you 90 days in the US (within a 180 day period). However to reset that you cannot skip to Mexico or Canada or the Caribbean, you have to go further afield to countries like Belize, Guatemala or Costa Rica.
The ESTA is inexpensive and can be applied for directly at the US customs site. Avoid third party websites that will charge more than 4 times the amount!
If you want to spend more than 90 days on your road trip you will need to apply for a tourist visa. We’ve written a whole post about how Australians can do that. The tourist visa provides 6 months in the US, but better yet, skipping over to Canada and Mexico can trigger a reset. Check the visa restrictions for your country.
10. Do you have your driver’s license?
When hiring a car make sure you have your license with you. But most importantly when driving in Florida make sure you have your international drivers license. Some time back a law was passed ONLY in Florida that required non-US residents to carry an international drivers license, not just a valid license. As you can imagine this caused uproar. It is believed that the law is not regularly enforced, but you’re better safe than sorry.
Bonus: 11. Bring a car charger
As a bonus I am going to share with you my most important life-saving tip. Do not forget your USB car charger and powerbank. Having a dead phone on the road for us means no more audio books, no more music, no more maps, and no more last-minute hotel bookings. Car chargers are cheap and easy to find. We use Infinitive brand cables that can be picked up at any Walgreens.
The Bottom Line
I hope the tips in this US road trip guide will be the first step to your own adventure.
So what do you have planned for your trip? I’d love to hear! Share your comment below.
But for now keep following our #motherofallroadtrips across the US! Next phase… Idaho to New York – it’s a long one!
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
Such great tips! All really important things to keep in mind. Love that you mentioned maps--we always print out maps from google maps so that we have a paper copy--then there's always a back-up in case technology fails. So important to research too like you said---I love picking out food stops in particular--so fun to get some of the local/regional flavor & have a stop along the way to look forward to!
I can add something else - the rules changed in the UK this year such that as well as our driving licences we also need an online reference number for abroad when picking up a car (done through the DVLA website, the code lasts for 48 hours I think and proves you are who you say you are)
I'm from the states and we road trip often and these tips are right on! I especially agree that you should always take a map. I can't tell you how many times my GPS has failed us when out of cell phone range and a real map was a genuine life saver! Happy Travels!
Great post! I think anyone traveling to USA for the first time need to read this blog.
I love the idea of a road trip. The freedom of the open road, and I don't think I would book very much in advance, maybe one or two special places that particularly appealed to me. Great tip about the tyres Erin, as a European based in Spain that is not something that I would normally think about.
I've used both a local sim and TEP wireless and I have to say I prefer the latter. Using a local sim meant my phone number had changed so if someone tried to contact me they couldn't. I was also really nervous about losing my original sim.
I like travelling and I like your blog. Thanks for the post
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