Travel Advice

Essential Planning Tips For A USA Road Trip

USA Road Trips Useful Tips

We love a good road trip, and later this year we will be off on a road trip driving  Route 66 in the United States. This trip from Chicago to LA covers over 2400 miles and we will be driving it over 23 days with a few detours along the way, in Branson Missouri and Las Vegas.  Planning a road trip to the US especially for those from other countries can be complicated so here are our top essential planning tips for a USA Road Trip. Enjoy!


Route 66 Sign

Setting up a spreadsheet for a complicated road trip like Route 66 is a great idea as with so many different hotels and accommodations along the way it can help you keep everything organised. Then before you do anything else think about your budget. Work out the cost of accommodation, car hire, food and petrol (gas) as well as admission for attractions and entertainment. Planning this out will help you budget for the trip and give you an idea of costs along the way.


We take a mix of credit cards, prepay cards and currency for our trips to the US. We take a Halifax Clarity credit card that has no foreign transaction fees and gives you the MasterCard rate of the day which is a great rate. We get our currency on the high street at John Lewis which has a consistently good rate as you almost always need a small amount of cash too. We also have a FairFx prepay card, this allows you to load up the card with money in advance – you get the currency exchange rate on the day you load. This can help with budgeting as you can save on the card before your trip. 


Tow Truck

Get insurance from the first moment you book your flights, accommodation or a package including car hire. If you go on more than one holiday a year it may be worth you getting annual insurance like those provided by All Clear, who also specialise in travel insurance for those over 50. Be sure that your insurance covers the USA as this is usually more expensive than insurance covering Europe and allows for higher medical costs.

Car Hire

Use a comparison site to compare car hire like When you’ve found the car you want for the price you want to pay, go to the company and see if its any cheaper if you book direct. It may be worth you registering with the company’s own loyalty scheme for benefits like bypassing the car hire queue at pick up. If you are dropping off a car in a different state as you often do on a road trip, many places charge a drop off fee which can be as much as $500! This drop off fee is almost impossible to avoid, but sometimes splitting your car hire and dropping off in a different state may mean it works out cheaper. If you do Route 66 in reverse from LA to Chicago it may save you some money on your drop off fee, so shop around. A car like a convertible sounds great but driving through the desert is no fun in the heat and convertibles have very limited boot space.

Plan Your Route

Gas Station

To plan a road trip you need a good map. Buy an old fashioned map or plan your trip with Google Maps. This gives you a rough itinerary. You can see how long it will take to get from A to B. You don’t have to stick to it rigidly but it’s a useful guide and ensures you don’t miss out on attractions and places you really want to see. You can download Google Maps to use offline too which is especially useful if you have spotty wi-fi. For Route 66 we highly recommend the ‘Here It Is – Route 66 Maps’ available from Amazon, as planning Route 66 on Google Maps is difficult to do as the road is decommissioned.  Another tip is to try to avoid driving in rush hour if you can as it will take twice as long to get anywhere.


The Blue Swallow Motel

Booking in advance will invariably get you the best deals and if you have your heart on staying somewhere unique then don’t leave it to chance in case they are fully booked. This is especially so in high season.  On a trip like Route 66, staying in the historic motels along the way like the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, is a popular thing to do and these get booked up early so do book these in advance.


Don’t forget to apply for your ESTA before the trip. The ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. You need to apply for it in advance as if they reject your application, you may have to go to the US Embassy for a Visa which takes more time. The ESTA last for two years and currently costs $14 per person.  Be sure to go to the official ESTA site as there are many sites that charge you more to apply.

For The Trip

An American Diner

Depending on where you are going, some things to pack could include snacks for the trip, water, chargers and US adaptors for technology, suncream, hat, mosquito spray, hand sanitizer, wet wipes and a cool bag for your drinks. The air conditioning can be fierce in the US so if you are driving anywhere hot, be sure to pack a jumper or cardigan for the air conditioning in the restaurants.

Music And Apps

What is a road trip without a great playlist? Spend some time making up a list before you go or download one from a music streaming service like Spotify. Again download the playlist so you can play it offline if you have poor wi-fi or mobile service. Apps that can be useful include Gasbuddy which will show you the location and price of gas (petrol) stations, hotel apps like Trivago and Expedia although, with many small motels you need to book direct, XE the currency conversion app, and the Route 66 Ultimate Guide app which is useful for planning your Route 66 trip.

So these are our 10 essential planning tips for a USA road trip. Where is your favourite road trip destination? 

*Collaborative post

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