Tips for a Smooth Cross-Country Drive

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A woman outside her camper taking a break on her cross-country roadtrip

A cross-country drive can allow you to experience new places and bond with loved ones. For us, some of our favorite times were on the open road.

However, these adventures can quickly head south if you’re not careful. Today, we’re sharing some of our best tips for a smooth cross-country drive. Grab your favorite snack, buckle up, and let’s hit the road!

What Is a Cross-Country Drive?

A cross-country drive is a long-distance road trip that covers an entire country. Typically, these go from one coast to another, but that’s not always true. Participants usually travel by car and cover long distances relatively quickly. 

People usually take cross-country drives for recreational purposes and may require overnight accommodations. Experienced travelers plan their routes to include roadside and popular tourist attractions.

Do you have a sense of adventure you need to fulfill? Or do you want to experience new areas and attractions? If so, it might be worth planning an epic road trip.

View of an open highway by the mountains

How Long Does a Cross-Country Drive Take?

A cross-country drive from sea to shining sea covers approximately 2,500 to 3,000 miles. Depending on your pace, you can expect it to take four to seven days. However, a variety of factors contribute to how long it takes.

For instance, doing it quickly could require driving 10 to 12 hours for several days in a row. This will allow for filling up on fuel, grabbing a bite to eat, and sleeping.

However, you wouldn’t have time to stop for much else. You’ll pass by a tremendous amount of history and culturally significant spots.

Additionally, some things are beyond your control. If you’ve traveled the roads much, you likely know that weather and traffic can be unpredictable. You could find yourself stuck in traffic or construction or delayed when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

What Is the Best Way to Drive Across the Country?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to drive cross-country. For some, the best way is to travel in a massive RV. In these situations, they practically tow their home and all of their belongings with them. They can use their own bathroom and sleep in their own bed.

On the other hand, driving or towing a massive RV can be overwhelming. Some adventurers prefer to use a passenger vehicle and find hotels along the way to stop for the night. And some will look for free overnight parking spots like rest stops, truck stops, and store parking lots.

Aside from accommodations, you also have to consider traveling style. The interstate can allow you to cover many miles very quickly, but you’ll miss a lot. Some prefer to take the scenic route and experience the many small towns throughout the country.

Ultimately, whatever works for you is the best way to drive across the country. We had an incredible time navigating the roads in our massive fifth wheel. In addition, we are enjoying it even more in our truck camper.

A truck with a truck camper parked at I-70 diner

Tips for a Smooth Cross-Country Drive

We logged several hundred thousand miles on the open roads. We’ve learned a few things during our travels that we think can help you during your next trip. Let’s get into it!

Plan Your Route

One of the most essential steps of any extended trip is to plan your route. You can start by selecting your starting and ending points.

From there, you’ll want to consider how long you have to cover the required distance. Once you know these details, you can start putting meat on the bones of your itinerary.

You must decide whether you want to focus on the destination or the journey. If you aim to reach your final destination as quickly as possible, you’ll want to minimize stops. However, slowing down can provide some flexibility to stop along the way.

When planning your route, consider the weather, traffic, and any spots you want to visit. This can provide an opportunity to experience national parks, landmarks, and unique attractions. Additionally, many plan their routes to connect with friends and family along the way.

Check Your Vehicle

Once you have a general idea of your route, check your vehicle. Ensure it’s up to date on all of the recommended maintenance and is in good working order.

If you’ll cover thousands of miles, go ahead and get an oil change. You don’t want to worry about finding a shop once you hit the road.

Don’t forget to top off all your fluids, check the tread depth on your tires, and test all your lights. Knowing everything is ready to go means one less thing to worry about while traveling.

If you aren’t comfortable inspecting your vehicle, hire a professional. It’s generally relatively inexpensive to have a trusted mechanic inspect your car. They’ll know the common issues they see and can identify any potential concerns.

Pack Essentials

One mistake you don’t want to make is not packing some essential items. Consider the weather where you’re going and everywhere in between on your cross-country drive. Don’t forget to consider how elevation changes can significantly affect temperatures.

Your essentials should also include toiletries, personal items, and items like sunscreen, insect repellent, and any medications. These road trips can be unpredictable, and you must prepare for almost anything.

You can’t hit the road without snacks. However, while it might be tempting to stock up on chips, candy, and sugary beverages, it’s not always a great idea. Opt for healthier alternatives like fresh fruit, trail mix, and water.

Don’t forget to consider safety. It’s a good idea to carry a first aid kit or other emergency medical supplies. You hope never to need them, but you’ll be glad you have them when you do. Place these supplies under a seat or somewhere easily accessible.

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Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated no matter what you’re doing is incredibly important. Your body depends on water, and going without can cause serious issues. 

While it may be tempting to limit water consumption to keep bathroom breaks to a minimum, it’s not something we advise. Instead of going without liquids, build stops into your travel plans to accommodate restroom needs. 

Be as efficient as possible with your stops, and ensure everyone goes when you do pull over. If you’re already stopping for fuel, have everyone go to the restroom while the driver fills the tank. You don’t want to have someone need to stop shortly after you get back on the road.

Take Breaks

Driving for hours upon hours cross-country can be exhausting. You must know your limits and stick to them. If you plan, you can build these breaks into your schedule and stop at more than just gas stations and rest stops. Look for attractions and scenic viewpoints along your route.

Try to stop every 100 to 150 miles or approximately every two hours. You can stretch your legs, use the restroom, and grab a snack or drink. Go for a short walk or do some stretching to stay alert.

You also need to be mindful of fatigue. Driving tired can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Find a safe place to park and take a quick 15 to 20-minute nap or switch drivers. It’s better to arrive a little late than not at all.

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A truck with a truck camper attached to it parked at a Love's gas station during a cross country roadtrip

Plan Entertainment

Not every second of your cross-country drive will be exciting. Unfortunately, watching the mile markers pass you by can get rather dull. To help you and your passenger maintain your sanity, it’s a good idea to have a plan for entertainment.

Create a playlist, download podcasts, or get an audiobook from your local library. These can provide hours of entertainment and help the miles go by faster.

If you’re a parent, may the odds be ever in your favor. Keeping children strapped into a car seat entertained can be challenging. However, it’s not impossible. 

Visit the local dollar store and purchase inexpensive toys. Instead of giving them all at once, give them a new toy every hour or two. It’ll be money well spent!

A welcome sign as a driver enters Tennessee

Enjoy the Journey

Ultimately, the point of these adventures is to enjoy the journey. Many of these trips are once-in-a-lifetime events. You may not get the opportunity to see or experience some spots ever again. 

Take the scenic route, try local cuisine, and embrace spontaneity when possible. Make sure you capture the moments in photographs and memories.

This is a great way to share them with friends and family, and you can reflect on the journey years from now. 

Is a Cross-Country Drive Worth It?

For us, a cross-country drive is worth it. We’ve made some incredible memories while navigating highways and byways as a couple. However, they take time and can be unpredictable. 

If you’re short on time, you may want to consider booking a plane ticket. On the other hand, if you have an open schedule, it can become an unforgettable and life-changing experience.

Last update on 2024-04-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. The number one thing you are missing here is the terrible condition or the roads you will have to travel on. We have been and still are going cross country with a travel trailer and the roads can and will destroy your vehicles. You can’t avoid it, but have to be prepared for it. Number one rule, you have to slow down.

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