How to plan a road trip in America

Road trip featured

When looking to plan a road trip around America, a few questions need to be asked. Firstly, write a list of all your bucket list destinations. Next, ask these fundamental questions to yourself. They will inform you of the most realistic itinerary for your trip plus they’ll keep you on the right track:

  • How much time do I have?
  • What is my total trip budget (including fuel, food, accommodation and attraction tickets)?
  • What time of year am I planning to go on a road trip?
  • Where do I want to go?

Are you looking to explore one state or go cross state? If it’s the latter, dedicate a realistic amount of time to driving to each destination. Next, allocate time to sightseeing the top local attractions and for staying over. Cities are typically fun to dip into and sightsee for around 3 nights, whilst large nature parks may take 5-7 nights to explore (if you plan on enjoying some epic day hikes, outdoor activities, and tours).

Road trips are about freedom, so remember to factor in a day or two for spontaneous detours and stopovers!

When is the best time to go on a US road trip?

For many, spring and the fall are the best seasons to enjoy a USA road trip. For one, the weather is often very good and it’s not too humid to enjoy days out hiking and sightseeing. Secondly, the road conditions will fair better at these times of the year, so you won’t need to contend with icy roads or broken A/C in high summer.

Budgeting for your American road trip

Depending on your accommodation costs, how often you plan to dine out, and the amount of sightseeing you’ll be looking to do, the average daily budget per person per day on a road trip is between $50-150 per day. This will cover your food and fuel costs and help towards accommodation. Factor in a larger daily budget if you’re staying in high-quality vacation rentals and hotels, rather than motels and campsites. We recommend though that once you’ve mapped out your itinerary, you book up your accommodation and car rental (if needed), before you hit the road. These expenses will be the single largest outlay in your trip, so knowing these prices at the early planning stage will help you to stick to your budget, once you’re on the road.

The best road trips in the USA

The USA is at the top of the pile when it comes to amazing road trip destinations. From world-class and historic trips like Route 66 to the incredible scenic Pacific Coast Highway, there are a plethora of fantastic adventures to choose from. Here are some of our favorite American road trip ideas;

Road trips in California

The Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Start: San Diego

End: Mendocino

Distance in miles: 656

Time: 1 – 2 weeks

California is all about that gorgeous coast, and with an irresistible combo of dreamy ocean views, buzzy cities and world-class beaches, a road trip down the Pacific Coast of the Golden State is one of the best in America. Highlights of the route include laid-back San Diego, glitzy Los Angeles and the iconic drive through Big Sur. Cameras at the ready; this is the ultimate road trip in California.

Route 66

Start: Sant Monica, California

End: Chicago, Illinois

Distance in miles: 2448

Time: 2 – 4 weeks

Route 66 is one of, if not the most famous road trips in the world. The historic road takes you through a little bit of everything that America has to offer, from the lux coastline of California to the arid plains of Arizona. Immortalized by many Hollywood movies, novels, and songs, Route 66 is a bucket-list-worthy road trip that lives up to its considerable hype.

Road trips in Virginia

The Skyline Drive

Start: Front Royal

End: Rockfish Gap

Distance in miles: 105 miles

Time: 3 hours

One of the shortest road trips in America on our list is also one of the most scenic; particularly if you’re a fan of wild mountain views and lofty winding roads. Taking drivers through the epic landscape of the Shenandoah National Valley, there are plenty of big sights to see on this little road trip.

Road trips in Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Start: West Glacier

End: St Mary

Distance in miles: 50

Time: 2-3 hours

The Montana wilderness is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the US, and the Going-To-The-Sun Road traverses Glacier National Park’s most jaw-dropping vistas. There are so many pinch-me-I’m-dreaming sights packed into this short but sweet road trip, including the unbelievably beautiful St Mary’s Lake.

Bear Tooth Highway

Starts: Red Lodge

Ends: Montana/Wyoming border

Distance in miles: 69 miles

Time: 2.5 – 3 hours

In a state full of heavy-hitters such as Yellowstone National Park and the mighty Tetons, Beartooth Highway manages to hold its own in the natural beauty stakes, and images a good claim to be America’s most beautiful road. Just 2 hours from the center of Yellowstone, the Beat Tooth highway climbs to an altitude of almost 11000 feet, offering magnificent views from the very top of Montana.

Colorado Road Trips

San Juan Skyway

Starts: Durango

Ends: Durango

Distance in miles: 233

Time: 7-10 hours

Prepare for epic Rocky Mountain views on the San Juan Skyway, a route through the beautiful southwest corner of Colorado. Starting and ending in Durango, an old mining town, this loop takes you through one of America’s most impressive landscapes, with lofty mountain peaks rising all around you as you follow the popular route.

Road trips in Florida

Overseas Highway

Starts: Amelia Island

Ends: Florida Keys

Distance in miles: 340

Time: 4 hours one-way

If ‘beaches’ are the first thought that springs to mind when you hear the name ‘Florida’, then this Sunshine State road trip is for you. Many of Florida’s iconic beaches are accessible via the A1A Highway, which runs along the entire Atlantic Floridian coastline and even includes the mighty and magnificent Florida Keys Scenic Byway, and an unforgettable driving experience over the Caribbean Sea. If you’re looking for a spectacular East Coast road trip, this one is hard to beat.

Florida bridge

New Mexico Raod Trips

The High Road To Taos

Starts: Santa Fe

Ends: Taos

Distance in miles: 105

Time: 2.5-4 hours

New Mexico’s landscape is legendary – stepped in legend and history, with vast deserts and fascinating traditional pueblos appearing like mirages out of the endless sand. The High Road To Taos road trip gives you a front-row seat to spectacular vistas and winds up in one of New Mexico’s most popular destinations – the perfect place for a spot of skiing if you go during the winter.

Road trip packing list

Before heading out on the open road it’s important to know what to pack for a road trip across America. These road trip essentials will not only help you day-to-day, but they’ll also come in handy if something unplanned happens along the way.

Here is a definitive road trip checklist of the key items you need to pack for a carefree adventure. Don’t forget to pack your seasonal travel clothes and shoes!

  • Driving license and registration
  • A copy of your car insurance policy and direct contact numbers to call them
  • Car manual
  • Spare tire
  • Roadside emergency kit
  • Paper map
  • First aid kit
  • 2 flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Bug spray
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Toilet roll
  • An epic road trip playlist!
  • Travel games – particularly for road trips with kids
  • Blanket (for cool nights)
  • UV window shade
  • Garbage bags
  • A bath towel and beach towel (if you plan on wild swimming or beach trips)
  • A day pack
  • If you’re doing a road trip with your dog or cat, make sure to pack food that they’re used to eating, and something comforting that smells of home

The best road planners to ‘pack’

On a 21st-century road trip, you also need to think outside the ‘suitcase’. Digital travel companions will go a long way in making your road trip as stress-free as possible. We bring you some of the best USA road trip planners and journey Apps out there. They are especially helpful for planning a stress-free family road trip. So get ready to download these for your trip:

  • PackPoint – never miss a single item from your travel packing list again!
  • Roadtrippers – plan your road trip route, with up to 150 stops, tips, travel guides and a share function
  • Google Travel – get the same organizational features as the old Google Trips App, with this easy-to-use tool
  • iExit Interstate Exit guide – know which pittstops to make and where, plus find the best gas prices
  • Parkme Parking – know where to park and secure your space in advance, by paying direct
  • OpenTable – find nearby restaurants, read reviews and book a table
  • HearHere – a true road trip companion, with GPS-enable audio clips to add context, culture and history to your trip
US road trip

Where to stay on road trips

The earlier you plan on where to stay, the better. At Top Villas you’ll be able to book your accommodation up to 2-3 years in advance, taking away any nasty surprises! When booking your USA road trip accommodation with Top Villas, you’re also guaranteed a first-class service. Our Guest Experience team is on hand to help enhance your overnight accommodation too, with amazing Travel Extras.

What’s more, we make payments a breeze. Our new Affirm credit payment option* means you can spread the cost of your villa stay over a 3, 6, or 12 month period. Simply look out for properties with the Affirm banner!

*Subject to meeting Affirm’s credit criteria. T’s & C’s apply.

Choosing our flex properties

Many of our USA vacation rentals also benefit from our new flex cancellation policy. You’ll be free to cancel within the specified time for any reason, for a full refund. Alternatively, amend your travel dates for free.

To benefit from this extra peace of mind, reserve a vacation home with one of the following badges:

  • Flex 14 – Cancel for a full refund or amend your dates free of charge, up to 14 days before check in.*
  • Flex 30 – Cancel for a full refund or amend dates free of charge, up to 30 days before check in.*