15 Tips for Driving Cross-Country Like a Pro

Embarking on a cross-country road trip is a rite of passage for many Americans. There's something about driving on the open road and exploring the vast openness of the country that fills everyone up with hope. Who wouldn't want to road trip?

As an avid cross-country driver, I've curated a can't-miss list of essential tips for ensuring your next trip goes off without a hitch. From keeping your GPS on to making a great playlist, a lot goes into driving like a cross-country pro. Follow these tips, and thank me later!

1. Plan Your Stops

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Trust me, you don't want to go on a road trip without a semblance of a game plan. I can't overstate the importance of planning your stops. While you want to give yourself as much freedom as possible, don't overdo it. So be prepared.

Plan where you fill up for gas, where to sleep for the night, and where to pull over to eat. Keeping yourself on a schedule is paramount for a fantastic trip.

2. Prepare Your Car

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Don't let fate ruin a perfectly good road trip. Ensure your vehicle is running in tip-top shape before you head out on the adventure of a lifetime.

Of course, this means getting an oil change, properly inflating your tires, topping off fluids, and checking your brakes. Don't leave anything to chance; the more you prepare your vehicle for the road ahead, the fewer surprises you'll encounter along the way.

3. Bring a Blanket

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You'll never know when you'll be involved in an emergency situation. Even minor ones can literally and metaphorically leave you out in the cold, so pack a blanket for the trip.

You never know; your car may break down unexpectedly, and you'll appreciate having a blanket if it happens in the middle of the night during winter. This tip is one my dad passed down to me, and it's on my mind whenever I pack the car for a long drive.

4. Research the Route

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I heavily advise you to know the ins and outs of your drive before you first pull out of your driveway. From identifying traffic jams ahead of time in routinely congested areas to simply looking forward to stopping at specific destinations along the way, you should always research your route.

“Just winging it” is not advisable since it will add hours and dollars to your trip. You're smarter than that!

5. Avoid Toll Roads

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Tolls add up in a significant way. Nobody wants to look back at their bank account after their cross-country drive ends and realize they spent hundreds of dollars on tolls that could've been avoided if they planned a little better.

It's easy to avoid tolls; in most cases, it will set you back only a few minutes and miles during the trip. Of course, if you're made of money, feel free to blow as much as you want on tolls.

6. Keep Your GPS On

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It doesn't matter if you've researched your route for weeks, memorized every turn on every highway, and bought an old-fashioned road map to chart your progress. Keep your GPS running at all times. Although this may seem overkill, there's a method to the madness.

Your GPS and mapping apps will alert you of unforeseen traffic jams and construction work that could derail your route. You won't lose time using GPS at all times, even if you get off track.

7. Bring Food and Drinks

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If you can pull it off (and have the space inside the car), I recommend packing tons of food and drinks to enjoy during your trip. Every minute spent eating at a rest stop or restaurant is time wasted. While I'm not advocating that you eat every meal while driving, packing at least your lunch daily is an easy way to save money.

At the very least, bring a case of bottled water and spare the expense at rest stops and gas stations.

8. Keep Fuel Economy a Priority

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Maximizing your vehicle's fuel economy as much as possible is vital. This often means driving slower, keeping engine revs low, and generally driving defensively. Drivers with heavy feet will quickly realize the benefits of driving like a sane person for once!

The logic should be obvious, but I'll explain it anyway. A better fuel economy means less money spent on gas, which means more money is saved, resulting in an overall more affordable (and enjoyable) trip.

9. Bring a First Aid Kit

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I'm consistently surprised how many people don't keep an emergency first aid kit in their cars throughout the year, let alone during days-long road trips across the United States. What are these people thinking? Always bring a fully-stocked first aid kit with you. You'll never know when you'll need it.

Sometimes, a bandage or two is all you need, and that's when keeping a first aid kit in your vehicle during road trips comes in handy.

10. Don't Drive an Electric Vehicle

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As a new Hyundai Ioniq 5 owner, I know firsthand how fun electric vehicles are to drive. Exploring the United States while riding in one of the most efficient and fun cars ever is exciting. Still, I'd be crazy to attempt a road trip in that car, or any EV, for that matter.

Sadly, the nationwide charging infrastructure just isn't where it needs to be in 2024. Attempting a cross-country journey in an EV will lead to massive frustration due to the lack of available charging stations. Stick to gasoline-powered vehicles.

11. Don't Travel During Holidays

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Traveling during holidays is messy, whether driving coast-to-coast or traveling an hour away to meet family for Thanksgiving. Traffic is terrible, fuel costs are high, and there's generally a sense of apprehension among drivers during the holidays. It is what it is.

Planning your trip during the off-season, far away from any significant holidays, will make the journey much smoother.

12. Make Great Playlists

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A memorable road trip is only as good as the tunes you blast along the way, dude. I hope your playlist skills are as good as they were in high school because you'll need every ounce of that skill when crafting the ideal soundtrack to your adventure.

I'm not saying a road trip is ruined by questionable taste in music. I'm saying that you can't travel across the U.S. without giving at least a few minutes toward crafting the ultimate song list.

13. Make a Budget

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Like any significant undertaking, making a budget (and sticking to it) is essential to success. Road trips aren't cheap, and spending more than you intended could prove disastrous when you finally return home and find your bank account is suspiciously bone-dry.

Set aside money for everything from fuel to food. Don't road trip without a plan. Pulling off an adventure like that is fantastic, but it shouldn't cost more than you can afford.

14. Bring a Portable Power Bank

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Driving cross-country means always being prepared for an emergency, whether major or minor. As we all know, our smartphone running out of battery is pretty much a worst-case scenario in 2024, so we need to protect ourselves against this catastrophe by packing a portable USB power bank.

These inexpensive chargers should give your phone (and similar smart devices) all the juice they need until you can find a standard outlet to charge from.

15. Have Roadside Assistance on Standby

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Think of roadside assistance as the ultimate road trip insurance policy. You're covered with roadside assistance no matter what happens (flat tire, engine failure, running out of gas, or other catastrophes). I prefer AAA, but there are plenty of options available.

You can't put a price on peace of mind, especially when covering most of the United States in your car.

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Author: Chris Phelan

Chris Phelan is an American culture writer, frequently dabbling in the travel, finance, and entertainment fields. He currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina where he is constantly amazed at the number of black bears wandering down his street on any given day.

His work can be seen on Wealth of Geeks, NBC, Bravo, USA Network, Yahoo, and countless other online publications.

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