Road Trip in the U.S. – 8 Mistakes to Avoid
Going on a road trip for the very first time is exciting and thrilling. Planning it can be hard work and it might seem like the hardest part. But once on the road you might hit a few more bumps. Our first road trip was along the West Coast of the U.S. for four weeks, we hadn’t done anything like it before and I can’t stress how inexperienced we were. Naturally we learned a lot, and of course we made a lot of mistakes. I want to share those with you in hopes that you’ll avoid some of those mistakes and have a great first trip.
These are eight mistakes to avoid when doing a road trip in the U.S as a newbie.
1. Planning too many places to see
I had a bunch of things I wanted to see in the U.S., and since we live in Denmark and it was very expensive to get over there in the first place, I wanted to cross as many things off of that list as possible. But that might not be the best way to go about things.
Even though it’s nice to see a lot of places and cross them off your list, make sure that you also experience that place. There’s a big difference. Sure, we saw Yosemite National Park, but we didn’t explore it and really experience it. Portland was on my list too, but because of bad planning we ended sleeping near the city and drive on the next day, because we thought we didn’t have time to explore the city.
It’s better to fully experience a few places, cities, landmarks etc. than just crossing off a bunch of things not really seeing them, and perhaps even forgetting them later on because you didn’t make them memorable.
2. Being on the road for too long
This of course depends on how experienced a traveler you are and how you prefer to travel. Some people prefer to be travelling for months on end, others think a week is long enough.
We found out that constantly being on the road and having to plan a new place to sleep every night was pretty tough to do for four weeks. Maybe it was because we were rushing it (as per the first tip), not taking our time getting from place to place, or because of inexperience.
Either way I can strongly recommend considering for how long you want to be on the road. If you’re an inexperienced traveler, maybe less is more. You’ll enjoy a shorter trip with less stress more than being on the road for so long that it’s more frustrating than enjoyable.
This point can be made for any kind of travel, whether it be road tripping, backpacking, even beach holidays or weekend trips.
I once read that once you’ve laid out all the things you want to bring, take half the clothes and twice the money. I don’t really know if I agree completely – what if you already brought all the money you could afford to? But I will say that you can do with much less clothes than you think, no matter for how long you’ll be gone. And you’ll almost always be able to wash that clothes. Laundromats are very common and easily accessible in the U.S.
If you plan on camping on your road trip, take a look at your gear. Can you opt for something smaller, something more compactable? Maybe even do without some of the things all together?
It can be hard to predict what things you’ll need, both gear and clothes, because a big part of the decision lies in knowing what the weather is going to be like. But I can almost guarantee that bringing less stuff won’t ruin your trip.
4. Not researching enough at home
Being inspired is often what makes us want to travel somewhere in the first place. You’ll see pretty places on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, and would want to go there, so you note that place on a piece of paper or pin the photo. But remember to research that place. What does it take to get there? Do you need to book a ticket? Is it accessible by car or foot? Do you have to hike a long way to get there? Does the place offer parking? Can you sleep near the place, if it takes a few days to explore?
All of the above are good questions to ask yourself when planning a road trip. That way you’ll be prepared, and your plan won’t be disrupted.
When we went on our trip, we wanted to see Oneonta Gorge. I’d seen photos of the place but hadn’t researched how to get there or where exactly it was. We ended up driving back and forth from a restaurant with wifi to find driving directions, and when we finally arrived we found out that bathing suits would’ve been a good idea to bring (or at least a towel), because we had to walk through a deep patch of water.
Of course, there’s got to be room for spontaneity, but good planning might actually end up making that room.
5. Not planning where to sleep on special holidays
Finding accommodation from day to day is doable, and quite easy. It’s hard to plan from home, so planning it on the road works great. Except for around holidays. If you know that you’re are going to be away around holidays like the 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, whatever it might be, try to book accommodation beforehand. Preferably as soon as you know when you’re going on your trip. It takes a bit of planning to know exactly where you are going to be on a certain date, but it’ll do you so much good once you’re on the road and once the holiday approaches, to know that you have a place to sleep.
We underestimated how big a holiday the 4th of July was by miles. There was no vacancy whatsoever. Not the cheapest motels, not camping sites, nowhere had a vacant spot for us. So, we ended up sleeping in the car for two days in a row.
6. Not planning time for relaxation
Well this is probably a no-brainer for everyone. But I still think it’s an important point to make. It kind of goes hand in hand with the first tip of planning too much to see, because naturally if you do that, there won’t be time for relaxation.
My point is that you don’t have to see something new and exciting every day. You don’t have to cross something of off your list every hour of every day on the road. It’s okay to take a few extra deep breaths at the shore, to lie at the beach for a whole day, or to take the extra-long hike even though that means you’ll have to skip something else.
The most important thing when travelling is to enjoy it. The whole point is take a break from everyday life and just do what you feel like doing.
7. Underestimating distances
Being from a small country the U.S. was … big. What looks like a short drive on the map can easily take several hours. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that and plan accordingly – again I just think we were inexperienced. From home I didn’t really check distances on Google Maps, but doing that would’ve been helpful. Actually, it would’ve been just about all the help we needed. My advice to you is to check every distance, from city to city, place to place, that you’re going to drive. The U.S. is bigger than you think, and you can drive for hours and hours without really getting anywhere. Therefor another advice is to bring some road trip games of some kinds.
8. Only going to the popular places
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to all the tourist hot spots. People go there for a reason. And of course, you would want to see the popular spots because they are often really gorgeous and they are easy to come by. But being spontaneous is a big part of being a traveler, and you should not be afraid to go exploring on your own; Ask a local what to see, be inspired by road signs or take a different route than the GPS suggests. You should not feel like you need to go to certain places to experience a country or be afraid of missing out. All those people who only go to the best places of Instagram are the once missing out.
One last thing
Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. You actually learn a lot more by making mistakes than by flying right through. But that doesn’t mean it’s forbidden to seek guidance. Even with these few tips I’m sure you’ll make some other mistakes (and I mean that as a positive thing) and get out stronger on the other side.
Pin it for future reference!