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First time American road trip checklist

27th June 2016 Print

The United States has some of the most breathtaking landscapes on the planet, not to mention a handful of the world’s greatest cities. Those with the means to visit the States can be easily overwhelmed by the multitude of destinations, leaving many with exhausted itineraries or a desire to return to see more. In fact, most Americans have never traveled to the four corners of the continental US.

Plane travel from one American city to another as a foreigner is a painstaking process due to airport security. The passenger train system is overpriced and inefficient. Without a doubt, the ideal way to tour the States is by automobile. The Interstate Highway System links every major city and passes through the most beautiful parts of the country. 

The key is to establish the framework of your first American road trip before departure. This requires going over a simple but critical checklist:

Know the Laws

While signage and freeway speeds are regulated by federal law, numerous statutes are left up to the states themselves to enforce. Therefore what may be considered a legal U-turn in Utah may be a fine-worthy offense in neighboring Colorado. Although local traffic police may let out of state drivers off with a warning regarding obscure or unfamiliar violations, it’s still a good idea to brush up on the motorist laws of states you plan to enter by vehicle.

Know the Dangers

The roads of the United States are a bit more dangerous than those overseas. For example, when considering the 112 lives lost per day in American motor vehicle crashes (source: compared to an average of about four to five a day in the UK, roads in the States are 24 times as dangerous. Now consider the fact that the US is only about 4.5 times the population of its friend across the pond. 

It’s critical to always pull over when managing navigation apps and other distractions from the road. While it may sound like common sense, these sorts of distractions are far more likely to occur when drivers and other occupants in the vehicle are unfamiliar with their surroundings and traffic moves in an opposite direction than it does back home.

Plan & Research the Route

Now onto the more enjoyable part - planning the route. Have you always wanted to travel down the west coast, from Seattle to San Diego? Or maybe the older, more historic east coast is preferred? Perhaps Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains are in the works, with a triangular turn toward Vegas afterward? If there’s time, do it all - but make sure to do your reading too. Look up hours for attractions, dining, landmarks, and museums. Check for other interesting things to visit in close proximity to a destination of choice, or along the way. It’s also a good time to gauge the price of admissions, fuel, and so forth.

Research Car Rental Options

The States are in no shortage of rental car companies. Though this may seem overwhelming, the ball is in the renter’s court. This variety gives you the chance to shop around for competitive pricing. If your itinerary calls for a week or longer, they will be eager to get your business, meaning a decent amount of money saved. They’ll make you work for it a little, but a few phone calls or emails isn’t asking too much for saving 100s, is it?

Be Reminded of Distance

The last thing for first time American road trip takers to remember is just how big the US is. It would take about two days of nonstop driving to get from New York City to San Francisco, whereas you can drive from Paris to Moscow in a little over a day. Bear this in mind when looking at maps and considering where to go next - there may be hours and hours of sightseeing out the car windows.

Those with the time and the means to tour the United States are encouraged to do so at some point. The country has more one of a kind cities and landscapes than anywhere else on Earth. The only catch is the vast distances between them - yet choosing to travel by automobile means the experience is about as authentically American as possible.