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5 Tips for Smart Cross Country Driving

driving across country

Make preparations before driving across country or for a road trip. Photo credit: Kevin Shorter from Flickr under the Creative Commons license

Is there anything better than hitting the pavement for a great American road trip? Driving cross country can be an exciting adventure, full of sight-seeing, new experiences, regional cuisine and plenty of fun to be had. So, how can you keep the good times to the max while staying safe and not emptying your wallet? Smart travelers know it’s all in the planning.

Getting There is Half the Fun

Taking the plunge to drive across America can lead you to all sorts of interesting spots. From chowing down on Texas barbecue to seeing the bright lights of Las Vegas, the destinations along your journey are as varied as your taste. By getting your planning right and knowing where to look for the best prices on gas, lodging and even where to take breaks, you can make sure you arrive at your destination safely and have more money to spend on souvenirs when you get there.

driving an older car

Driving across the United States can be fun, be prepared for possible unforeseen events. Photo credit: Erin Bonilla

To keep as much of your money in your pocket as possible, be sure your insurance is up to date and be mindful of your speed, especially in small towns, as getting ticketed in a speed trap can result in a fine of hundreds of dollars or jail. Also, in case an accident occurs, make yourself aware of local laws. For instance, in Dallas you must stop at the scene of an accident, even if there is no vehicle damage, pulling both vehicles to the side and out of the way of traffic.

Here are some other great tips for today’s road warrior:

1) Plan your route

Make a list of the destinations you’d like to see on your road trip and then start planning your route. While having a GPS system in your vehicle is helpful, there are times where it can fail or go out of range, so knowing before you go can prevent a lot of lost time asking for directions. Try using online systems like Google Maps to help plan each route from city to city. This can give you an indication of how long it will take, and help you plan out your days.

2) Travel with a friend

Hitting the road on your own can lead to you driving too long, getting tired and paying less attention to what you’re doing. When you travel with a friend, you can share not only the cost, but the driving load. If you don’t have a friend or partner that can make the trek, sites like Rideshare.com can connect you with like-minded travelers who can go with you.

3) Know when to take a break

It’s a well-known fact that driving can tire you out, so taking breaks is essential. According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA), fatigue is a factor in up to 10% of all accidents. Set yourself up to not drive more than 8 hours in any day on your road trip, and be sure to stop and give yourself a 10-15 minute break every two hours. Stretching your legs, taking a brisk walk or even simply having a cup of coffee can get your mind re-focused and alert again.

4) Have a safety plan

Should you find yourself stuck in a remote area lost or out of gas, it pays to have memberships to roadside assistance either through your insurance or groups like AAA. You should also have a dedicated person who knows your route that you can check in with daily and who will report to police should any foul play occur. You can use social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to document your trip, make loved ones aware of your location at the same time, or use phone apps in the event of an accident. Just be sure your privacy settings are up to date so only those you want to will know your whereabouts. A car equipped with OnStar can also offer peace of mind.

5) Get the best price

When you’re on the road, gas, food and lodging are going to be your biggest expenses. Nip that in the bud by logging on to some great, money-saving apps before you even walk out the door. Gasbuddy.com offers a free app that can tell you the cheapest prices in your immediate area, making it a must-download before you hit the open road. Also, don’t just look to fast food for your hunger fix. Regional specialties can often provide a great meal at a lower price.

Hit up burrito stands or find local agents while in the Southwestern in cities like Austin or barbecue joints in the deep South. Price comparison sites can be a real help when looking for your lodging. Try to book as far out in advance as you can for the best price. For last minute bookings, use hotel apps to assist in finding great hotel rates. Identified as one of the top smart phone apps of 2013 by The Today Show, Hotel Tonight finds the best deals for that day and allows you to book the room in just a few taps.

Going on a road trip is a great American tradition, and truly captures the spirit of adventure. If you’re thinking of hitting the open road, make sure you plan well before you go. With a little pre-trip research, you’ll maximize your time, safety, and savings.

Sylvia Burley
Sylvia Burley is a Freelance Writer who has been road tripping since she was a little girl. Her most traveled routes are from the Midwest to the south and back. Even excellent pre-planning and resources can’t forestall a car accident though, so in case you do experience an unfortunate travel incident, use competent legal assistance.

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