America road trip planner: Things to do when you travel around the US

By , 8 December 2023

6 mins read

Going for a drive is always fun, but it’s even better when you go on a road trip. Taking the excursion State-side is a great way to combine classic American road routes with visiting landmarks and going off the beaten track to make new discoveries.

Before you embark on such a trip, there is plenty of planning to do – from packing effectively to finding the perfect hire car, as well as choosing the route you’re going to take in the US.

Here are some top tips and tricks to ensure your road trip goes smoothly.

Planning a road trip

Your driving holiday is more likely to encounter problems or hiccups if you haven’t done your planning beforehand. Take the following steps in the run-up to getting out on the road in America:

Decide on your route

Whether you’ve been making a mood board in Pinterest, gathering ideas with friends in a group chat or you’ve taken inspiration from a movie, you will want to get a route organised well in advance. This is because you’ll need to factor in driving time, places you want to stop and explore, rest breaks and overnight stays.

You may have a route in mind already, or you can check out the popular routes in the section below for inspiration.

Divide up the driving

Driving on an open highway can be exhilarating, but we all get tired and so it’s important to ensure the others in your group are doing their fair share. Decide in advance on the number of hours each person will spend behind the wheel before swapping over, and make it as equal as possible.

Getting this decided in advance means you’re reducing the chance of having a heated argument along the way that could put a dampener on your trip.

Rent a car

It’s relatively easy for British citizens to hire a car in the USA. Many will say it’s easier to have your own vehicle whenever you’re across the pond, as you don’t want to be limited by public transport – which often isn’t as readily available as it is in the UK, unless you’re in a major city.

Factor in the cost of your car hire for the duration of your trip and split the expense among your group. Weigh up factors such as whether you want to pick up the car at the airport or go a bit further out to potentially save money.

Don’t forget car hire excess insurance, which can save you £100s if you accidentally damage your vehicle during your trip. Our Worldwide Plus policy most comprehensively covers the US and Canada.

Pack smartly

You don’t want to forget packing essentials in your excitement to prepare for your trip, as it can be hugely inconvenient to factor in the time and money taken to run to the nearest shop to stock up on new supplies.

As a result, we recommend creating a list and ticking off items as you pack them. If you don’t want the hassle of creating a list from scratch, check out our ultimate packing list guide - where we’ve done the hard work for you.

Check your hire car

Once you touch down in America, don’t let the jet lag stop you from carrying out checks on your vehicle before you drive away. You want to minimise the chances of being blamed for any existing scratches or dents on the exterior and interior, so take the time to photograph the car once you’re taken out to it.

Ensure you check everything is working – which means inspecting the tyres, lights and accessories such as air conditioning. Our guide to avoiding being charged rental car damage by carrying out such checks provides everything you need to know.

Be prepared for emergencies

We don’t like to think about things going wrong, but it’s best to know what the procedure is if your hire car has a flat tyre or breaks down. Ensure you have the contact information for the relevant rescue or breakdown company saved on your smartphone and on paper.

Whenever you’re embarking on a long journey, make sure you have enough water for all passengers in case of emergency, and pack some snacks too in case you are left waiting for help to reach you.

Explore the best America road routes

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding which of the 50 states to explore on your road trip, but unless you’re feeling very ambitious and have a lot of time and money to spare, you won’t be able to explore everywhere in one go.

How long does it take to drive across America?

The common consensus online is that it would take between 5 and 6 days to travel from coast to coast. Bear in mind that if you were deliberately doing this, you would have to pack in around 8 hours a day of driving time.

To explore the 48 continental states in one go, it would take a couple of months at best. If you want to break down your USA road trip into smaller chunks, here are some of the top America road routes.

Route 66 – Chicago to Los Angeles

Many take the Route 66 road trip to experience feelings of freedom or nostalgia – it's a well-known, All-American road trip to experience.

The route takes you through top attractions such as the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe and Las Vegas. You’ll be treated to the city streets of Chicago at the outset, which soon expand into the open roads across Oklahoma and Kansas.

You’ll see the landscape turn to desert as you pass from Texas through to New Mexico and Arizona, with the final leg of your journey including the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and the Santa Monica pier.

You can take this route at any time of year, and it will take you at least 16 days to travel the entire route. You’ll be covering a whopping 2488 miles, so plan your rest breaks and driving turns accordingly.

Blue Ridge Parkway – Washington to Nashville

If you’re looking for luscious green scenery and a relaxed drive with plenty of sightseeing in between, check out this 14-day route which will see you traverse 850 miles across highlights such as the Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains.

We recommend taking it slow to start with, spending a few days in DC so you can explore the history in the US capital. The best time of year to take this route overall is autumn, so you can watch the leaves change colour as you drive towards the National Park.

After that, you’ll be going from Virginia to North Carolina, where plenty of mountain towns offer local markets, varied shopping experiences and enjoyable nightlife. You can then switch up the vibes by cruising into Nashville, home of rich US music history and culture.

Florida overseas highway – Miami to Orlando

Those who love to be near the water will enjoy this Floridian road trip the best, which encompasses a round route from Miami or Orlando. Ideal for a 9- or 10-day excursion, it’s a great way to side-step visiting theme parks and take the time to check out this sunny state by car.

If you start your journey in Miami, you’ll be able to drive across 42 bridges which overlook the sea. When you’re in the passenger seat there will be plenty of opportunities to take stunning photos of the islands you’ll pass through on the way to Key West.

Next, you can cross the Everglades National Park to indulge in alligator watching or take an airboat across the river to immerse yourself further in the stunning scenery. Don’t forget to take in the beautiful sunsets and sandy beaches on your way to Orlando.

Pacific Coast Highway – San Francisco to Los Angeles

Want to spend a week in California? A great way to take in the sights is to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, starting out with some city sights in San Francisco before taking your car 485 miles down the highway towards the bright lights of LA.

As with the Blue Ridge route, we recommend enjoying a mini break first. A popular activity in San Francisco is cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, or you could get a ferry over to Alcatraz Island and enjoy a day trip.

Once you’re ready to move on, the PCH will take you through Monterey, Pebble Beach and Carmel before you’re enjoying the iconic Big Sur. Be sure to pause for photo opportunities as you breeze through state parks, cliffs and other stunning viewpoints.

Your journey will finish up along Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, where you can enjoy some California wine before heading into Venice Beach and ending in Los Angeles.

About the author

Jon spent years travelling Europe and Asia before settling down in the UK when he met his wife.

He’s hired cars across the globe and is passionate about helping people save money with excess insurance.

Since co-founding Reduce My Excess, Jon has found that he can use the knowledge he picked up from his travels by sharing it in online guides and articles.

He hopes to save people from making the mistakes he learnt from over the years by giving them the travel information they need before they head off on their holidays.