Road Trip Pro-Tips for Your Next Adventure

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

A stock image of someone holding a map in a car with the road in front of them.

Now that summer has begun, it’s the perfect time to start planning your next adventure. One of the best ways to see the country is to travel on the road. Whether it’s a weekend excursion or a multi-week journey, going on a road trip is a great way to get a change of scenery and experience new things. The country has countless national and state parks to visit––all of which are awe-inspiring––and seeing them can be a great way to learn about the US’s geological history and protected lands. Below are a few tips for planning your next road trip:

Plan Your Route

Step one is to figure out what part of the country you want to explore. Do you want to stick around the Midwest or go on a sprawling cross-country adventure? If you’re planning to stay close, the Midwest has a number of great places to visit that are within driving distance, including the Great Smoky MountainsCuyahoga Valley, or the Red River Gorge, to name a few. If you want to get out further, the US has 63 national parks and hundreds of state parks that are worth checking out. Visit US-Parks’ road trip planning webpage for some inspiration.

Know Where You’re Going to Sleep Each Night

Figuring out where you’re going to sleep each night is also a very important part of any successful road trip. You don’t need to have the whole thing mapped out in advance, but knowing your route will give you some guidance on where you’ll need to stop for the night. Do you plan to stay in hotels, or will you be camping? Car camping or sleeping in a tent will keep your costs much lower than hotels, as you can often find free campsites if you know where to look. Use the Free Campsites website to plan your stays, and be sure to get to the campsites before dark so they don’t fill up. 

Get Your Vehicle Prepared for the Long Haul

Having a vehicle that is ready for long drives is key to making sure that you don’t hit any bumps in the road. Get an oil change beforehand if you’re on a long journey, and also plan to get gas every time you make a stop, as gas stations can be few and far between in some parts of the country. Better to be safe and stay above half a tank when possible – and don’t forget to pump up those tires! Be sure to travel with a buddy or two to help tackle the particularly long hauls.  

Pack Your Bags (and Phone) Wisely

Making sure you pack properly is also key. Knowing what activities you’ll be doing once you’re out there will help you decide on what to pack, but in general be sure to bring enough clothes, toiletries, food, and water to live comfortably. If you’ll be doing outdoors activities such as camping and hiking, be sure to check out REI’s road trip checklist (some of it is a bit overboard, but in general there are a lot of good suggestions). 

If you’ll be hiking, which you should if you plan to visit the parks, be sure to download the Hiking Projectand AllTrails apps, as both apps allow you to download all the trails for entire states and have them viewable on your phone, regardless of whether or not you have service. On that note, be sure to load your phone with downloaded entertainment too, as music, podcasts, and audio books can help pass the time.

Talk to the Locals

Last but certainly not least, be sure to talk to the locals of any area you visit if you are looking for some advice on destinations to visit, places to eat, and so on. Volunteers or park rangers at any of the parks you may visit should all have some great pointers for things to do. Now get out there and explore!