I'm about to finish off my 1-year stay in the US with a legendary road trip, and am posting it here in hopes of getting tips and advice on what I've thought up (and more importantly on what I haven't thought of). Together with a friend from back home, I'll leave Baltimore on the 15th of October in my trusty Corolla, which I plan to sell in LA and then fly back on November 14th.
First off, our intentions for the trip. Given that neither of us are residents in the US, we're working under the assumption that we won't get to do anything like this for a looong time. Thus, we're hoping to catch as many must-sees as we can along the way. I'd evaluate our preference for nature/cities as perhaps 65/35%. Neither of us has been in the areas we'll visit before. We're both young and ready for truck stops, camping, talking to strangers etc. We don't have a strict budget, because we won't want to miss anything just to save money, but we are going to keep costs as low as possible otherwise (again, sleeping in the car, camping...). We'd like to get off the highway when we can, but also realize that more highway hours will give us more hours at sights. We're definitely embracing the 'freedom' aspect of the road trip, so all else being equal we'd prefer not to plan more than necessary.
Just as a disclaimer, I've been reading things online about the road trip, so I believe I'm clear on things like staying hydrated, being careful of fatigue, packing a cooler with food, having my car checked before I leave etc.
With that out of the way, here's the rough plan: Highway from Bmore to DC; I've seen it, friend hasn't, so spend a day just glimpsing the National Mall. West on I-66 then Southwest along the Appalachians: Skyline Drive then Blue Ridge parkway, ending at Great Smoky Mountain NP. Head up the Knoxville and highway it to Nashville, which we might spend most of a day taking in. Natchez-Trace Parkway down to Tulepo, then double back up to catch Memphis for perhaps a day. Thence cruise down highway 61 (what else), taking in the blues country. Only planned stop is Natchez for mansions. Continue to New Orleans, where we'll spend a couple of days for sure, then zoom west to Houston. We have a party to attend there on the 31st, so that's our first deadline. After the party we'll head out as soon as we're sober enough, and basically haul ass through the desert. Either straight I-10 or veer off to check out Austin, with no other stops planned before we reach Las Cruces in New Mexico. Check out White Sands then keep going west to Saguaro NP and Tucson, up to Phoenix then Flagstaff and Grand Canyon, making sure to catch the Sedona drive on the way. From there's it's past the Hoover dam to Vegas, where we again spend a couple of days, then on to LA via Death Valley. Hopefully we'll have something like 5-7 days left at this point, in which case we'll do some trips from LA to Sequoia NP, up the pacific highway 1 and maybe south to San Diego. Depends on our timing though.
So that's the rough plan, which is very much open to impulsiveness. It's my first big road trip, and new territory, so I can't say for sure, but I think this should be doable. When there's nothing we really want to see, drive hard on highways, and then enough time to relax a little at the 'destinations' while obviously not getting the full experience (could spend a week in DC alone...). Very rough timetable would be to hit New Orleans around the 26th, Houston the 31st, Vegas around the 5th, and LA around the 8th.
Aside from requesting general tips and advice, I have a couple of specific questions:
- We've obviously left lodging very open. I'm thinking we'll wing it: camp if we can, sleep in the car if we have to, preferably at a truck stop. Get a motel if there's nowhere to camp or park, and in a few places get a hotel (Vegas, maybe New Orleans) or a B&B. Does this seem reasonable?
- On a related note, how much do we need to plan our camping spots? I've heard you can generally camp in national parks, and just from googling the sites don't seem to be filling up too much. How difficult would it be to camp outside designated sites?
- Any areas in particular where we'd do well to get off the highways? And conversely, places where we can really just zoom through to save time?
Big thanks in advance for all your help! And I'm sure I'll be back with a few more questions before we leave.