Congratulations! You have made it to the tail end of your program in the United States – you’ve learned about your local town or city, you’ve seen the big tourist attractions like Times Square, and now you’re ready to experience the “deep cuts” of American culture.
A road trip is a great way to see more of the country, and with the right planning, can be one of the most fun ways to travel! Whether it's a shorter weekend trip to somewhere nearby, or an extended, multi-state drive after your U.S. internship or Work & Travel program concludes, follow our guide to plan your perfect road trip!
Plan where you want to go
This may seem obvious, but many road trippers are attracted to the idea of just hitting the road and seeing where the wind takes them. Even if you want to keep it loose and adventurous, we recommend having a rough outline of where you will be on certain days and where you will be spending your nights. If you need some ideas, we've compiled a list of the Top 10 U.S. Scenic Drives to give you some inspiration. Along the way, make time to visit some of America's more "interesting" attractions. You could even find attractions in advance and map your and trip around them! For some of the most off-the-beaten-path, check them out here. Be ready to pull over and snap a photo at a moments notice!
Pack accordingly: Less is more
Packing for every occasion may sound like a good idea, but overpacking can slow you down a lot. The less you have to keep track of, the less stress you'll have once you hit the road again. You really don't want to worry about misplacing that second sleeping bag that you brought as a back-up. You'll find numerous lists online, but most of them tell you to bring more than you need. For an easy, breezy, (but safe) roadtrip, we recommend these basics:
- A sleeping bag
- A tent with a rain tarp (Sleeping under the stars isn't necessary, but it's a classic road trip experience that we highly recommend! You'll find camp site options across the country!
- Basic toiletries (Bar soap is a great two-in-one for you and your clothes!)
- A travel towel
- A first aid kit
- Jumper cables
- Phone, car charger, and aux cord
- One backpack with clothes
Stay close to your things
This is a good idea whether you stop for 10 minutes at a rest area or spend the night at a motel or campground. When parked at a hotel, try to keep your vehicle within eyesight of your room. Many hotels and motels at rest stops make it easy by having the rooms look onto the parking area. Secure garages offer some safety as well. It is also a good idea to lock everything up in the trunk that you do not bring to the hotel room with you; don't leave your belongings in the front or back seat where they can be easily seen. This is especially important if you have a GPS, satellite radio system, or digital camera in the car.
Filling up the tank
Trust us, you do not want to wait until you're on empty to fill up on gasoline! It can go pretty quick, especially when you're driving more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) per day. Don't waste gas on miles of driving around looking for the best gas prices. So if you see a station and you're half a tank or lower, make the stop. You'll thank us later.
Settle any arguments quickly
Odds are, you will be traveling with a close friend. Disagreements can and will occur, even among very good friends. "Which road do we take? How much do you want to spend on lunch? Where do we stop this afternoon? You ate all the chips?!" Don't let these minor disputes erupt into something bigger. An eight-hour drive can feel like an eternity when you're not getting along with someone. However, that same eight-hour drive can go by in a flash when you're having a great conversation or enjoying music with your friends. If you're in a good mood, the trip will be a fun, memorable experience. Bad moods cause the opposite of fun: unfun. Avoid unfun by being honest and open with your travel partner about any issues that may arise.
You'll travel to some places that are very remote and it may be a long time before you can find a place to eat. Snacks keep you from getting hungry and cranky on the road. You'll also eat less junk food if you aren't starving by the time you get to the rest areas. (Some junk food is okay though; that's part of the experience!)
Rest is important
Sitting in a car is surprisingly hard work. Be sure to stretch your legs and walk for a few minutes if you're feeling tired. Scenic views and roadside attractions are great for this. Get plenty of sleep at night. Being tired on the road is not only dangerous, but it may also result in a bad mood or squabbles with your travel buddies. If more than one person is driving, let other passengers nap after their time at the wheel to ensure you always have a well-rested driver to take over.
Be open to experiences, and have fun!
Your trip is as much about the experience as it is about getting somewhere – but you're a well-seasoned traveler at this point, so you probably know that. Enjoy the journey, keep an open mind, stay safe, and enjoy yourselves!
The most important rule: Always have a jammin' soundtrack
We put together this playlist for your last big adventures through the United States. No matter if you travel by plane, train, boat, or automobile, these songs are pure Americana. Listen to “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” as you look soulfully out the window at the rolling mountains of the Rockies. Folk tunes like “Truckin’” are made for long drives on the historic Route 66, in Arizona’s arid flatlands. As you pull over to an attraction that promises a great view of authentic dinosaur tracks, listen to the melancholic sounds of “Here Comes Your Man,” for a serene and nostalgic experience. Or, for those of you looking for a bit more rock 'n' roll, listen to the Boss himself and blast “Born in the U.S.A” by Bruce Springsteen as you drive down the shore in his native state of New Jersey.
Celebrate the precious free days before your return home, wherever they take you, with a certified American playlist made with love, from your friends at InterExchange.