How to Plan a Cross-Country Road Trip: The Ultimate Guide

With your favorite music blaring and long stretches of pavement ahead, there’s no greater feeling of freedom than hitting the open road.

Whether you’re a city seeker bouncing between hip cosmopolitan hubs or a nature buff exploring jaw-dropping national parks, a road trip across the U.S. is an exhilarating (and cost-effective) way to experience everything this country has to offer.

While road trips are synonymous with spontaneity, it’s smart to plan—at least to a degree. Extended cross-country trips inevitably entail bumps on the road, but proper preparation can help your vacation go off without a hitch. 

We’ve compiled this handy guide to give you the scoop on how to plan a road trip across the U.S. 


How to Plan a Cross-Country Road Trip for You

From rural inland routes to scenic coastal drives, there’s an array of different ways you can venture across the U.S. Pick a trip that aligns with your interests, budget, and timeframe, and then iron out the details with your road-tripping partners.

Remember: flexibility is key. Have a plan, but leave some wriggle room to embark on impromptu adventures as they arise.

Not sure where to go? Consider one of the following routes, often called the best cross-country road trips in the U.S.


The Oregon Trail

Dubbed “Big Daddy”, US-20 Route is the longest road in America, running some 3,365 miles through the country’s historic heart. History buffs will love checking out age-old Gold Rush towns, and there’s no shortage of gorgeous natural sights to visit in-between.


Route 66

An oldie but a goodie, this classic American road trip spans 2,278 miles from L.A. to Illinois (or vice-versa). Once called “The Main Street of America”, the route welcomed hordes of workers and vacationing families in its heyday. Faster alternatives have seen the popularity of Route 66 wane. It was officially decommissioned in 1985, but the route still reels in road trippers for its nostalgic appeal.


The Pacific Coast

Beach bums will love gallivanting down the wonderful West Coast, stopping off at cute coastal villages, big booming metropolises, and charming wine-growing regions along the way. The stunning 1,550-mile route along US-101 and California State Route 1 lets you experience the Pacific Coast in all its scenic glory.



From the snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the scorching deserts of Utah, this epic 3,200-mile journey is perfect for nature lovers seeking to escape the crowds. The section from Ely to Carson City, Nevada is exceptionally sparse—you certainly won’t get stuck in traffic on “America’s Loneliest Road”—but you'll want to make sure you have a full tank of gas before you tackle this stretch as gas stations are rare, too.


Set a Sensible Timeframe for Your Cross-Country Road Trip

How long does it take to drive across the U.S.? It depends on your specific route.

In any case, crossing the country is no easy feat. Set a realistic timeframe that lets you step outside and explore the sights.

Many people don’t enjoy driving for more than 3–5 hours per day. If that sounds like you, divide the total route distance by the number of travel days to gauge whether your mile-per-day ratio is reasonable.  


Ensure Your Vehicle Is in Good Health

Make sure your cross-country vehicle of choice is in good working order. If your car is due for a service soon, get that done before starting your journey. Then, while on the road, keep a close eye on the essentials: oil, fluids, and warning lights.

Even the most reliable vehicles break down from time to time. To avoid getting stranded, sign up with a reputable roadside assistance provider, such as AAA, before your trip.

Finally, check that your registration, driver’s license, and insurance aren’t due to expire anytime soon.


Compile a Packing List

While it’s possible to pick up odds and ends as you go, a solid packing list will save you time and money.

Don’t leave home without the following gear:

  • A GPS unit (your cell phone will do)
  • Jumper cables
  • A spare tire and tire jack
  • A first aid kit, including any necessary medicines
  • Toiletries and towels
  • Climate appropriate clothing
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat
  • A USB car charger plus a few portable power banks
  • A flashlight
  • Lots of snacks and water


Set Your U.S. Road Trip Budget

How much does it cost to drive across the country? The precise figure varies with your trip length and travel style.

Gas will likely be your single largest expense. Crunch the numbers—total distance, fuel consumption (miles per gallon), and the average cost of fuel—to determine roughly how much you can expect to spend on gas. Remember, remote gas stations charge much more than their city counterparts. Apps like GasBuddy can help you find the best deals at the gas pump as you go.

Book your accomodations well in advance to lock in rates, so you know what to expect budgetwise before you head out on the road.

Eating out also adds up, so consider bringing your own food if you can. Pack non-perishable snacks and a cooler full of fresh produce to avoid grabbing food on the go.  


What Is the Best Month to Drive Across the U.S.?

Typically, spring and fall offer the best weather across the board, with mild temperatures making sightseeing and long-distance driving ideal.

If you can’t travel during these seasons, choose a northern route in summer or a southern stretch in winter. Tackling icy mountain roads or blazing hot deserts is a sure-fire way to run into issues.


Tips for Driving Cross Country

The most common mistake long-distance road-trippers make is trying to squeeze in too much in a short stint. Manageable driving days become especially essential when you’ve got small children in the car.

In any case, it’s unsafe to drive more than two hours without a break, so look for rest stops on your route. Aim to take breaks at landmarks or national parks if you can—that way, you’ll get to savor the sights while taking a rest from the road.

Remember that you may be without a cell phone signal on those long rural drives. Download your GPS map of choice for offline use and ensure you’ve got a solid playlist of music and podcasts to keep you entertained.


Start Planning Your Road Trip Today

Now that you have all the details on how to drive across the country, it's time to start planning the road trip of a lifetime

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has a wide range of road trip–friendly hotels scattered across the U.S.—from small towns to big cities to beachfront destinations. Book now to secure a comfortable spot to rest at a reasonable nightly rate.


Find your stops, book your stays, hit the road. It’s the easiest way to book and go on the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts app.


Enjoy member-only perks and earn points for your stays to redeem for free and discounted nights at thousands of hotels worldwide.*


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