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  1. Default NEED ADVICE for Cross Country Road Trip (1-2 months)

    For a long while now, it has been my dream to do a cross country road trip across America. Being from Pittsburgh, I would ideally like to start my road trip here, heading west. I would like to head west hitting the northern half of the country. Once reaching California, I would like to head back east, hitting the southern half of the country. My friend and I plan to do this trip between May to July of 2017 (lasting between 1 and 2 months) and are really looking for any kind of advice that may help us in our planning. As of now, we are largely trying to decide what our best mode of transportation will be along with accommodations (basically, which will be most wallet friendly , practical, and SAFE). We have thought about looking into a van (such as a 2002 Ford Econoline) and traveling/living out of that with the addition of a tent to stay in at some locations. However, we are not sure if it would be better to go with a car that gets better mileage and use a tent as well when we can at campsites. We would like to hit plenty of National Parks and are not afraid to rough it (such as eating Ramen noodles and PB&Js for food for many meals along the way).

    As mentioned above, we are really just looking for any advice that will help us in making our dream American road trip a reality.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Basic Planning

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    I just wrote a response to another poster that covers general planning for a RoadTrip. Much of that advice will also apply to you. More specifically, one to two months is a goodly amount of time for a 'once around the block' type RoadTrip that you are planning. When I did my first such trip, I had about three weeks and certainly could have used a bit more time. On the other hand, more than two months starts to get expensive, especially in terms of lost pay, and is also a lot of time to spend in very close quarters with someone. You and your friend should take the RoadTrip Compatibility Quiz to make sure that you are on the same page with regards to what you expect the trip to be like. You should also build in a fair amount of time for the two of you to go your separate ways on occasion. Cities are obviously a better place for that than the countryside, but even separate hikes in a park can give you some quiet time to yourselves.

    As a general rule, I wouldn't purchase a new/used vehicle specifically for a RoadTrip, particularly if you are trying to economize. You simply can't save what you'd have to put into such a purchase in a matter of a couple of months, and almost anything that is suitable for long-haul driving and camping will more than likely cost more to operate day-to-day afterwards than your current transportation. I would, however, plan on spending about $100 to get whatever vehicle you end up deciding to use thoroughly inspected before setting out. The last thing you want on the road is an expensive and time-consuming surprise.

    Camping and RoadTripping are generally as safe as any other enterprise. Remember that anywhere you're going is somebody's home town and they live there all the time. You know when you're in an 'unsafe' neighborhood in your own home town, no? You'll sense when your surroundings are unsafe or just uncomfortable for you while on the road as well. Just follow your instincts.

    The main bit of advice I have for you at this point is to enjoy the planning process. Make the most of it so that your trip is everything you'd like it to be. Mostly, at this point, daydream a bit and try out different scenarios with your friend. Discuss, argue even, back and forth until YOU decide what's the best itinerary for you.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-29-2015 at 08:32 PM. Reason: Fixed link to general planning advice

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default a few questions to start

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    A few questions/thoughts about your plans.

    First, how old are you and your friend? I get the impression you are probably a teenager, and that could impact some of the details of how to plan your trip.

    Second, how much money do you realistically think you'll have available for this trip? When people start out by talking about things like eating ramen and PBJ, it often means they are underestimating just how much it can take to be on the road for a month or more, even when traveling cheaply.

    As far as transportation, my initial thought is that going with a van probably isn't a good idea. Buying a vehicle just for one roadtrip generally doesn't make a lot of sense. Planning to buy a 15 year old van could lead to big problems, and even bigger costs, if something breaks down. Again, this is something where your budget and your ages would be a potentially large issue.

    What experience do you have camping and being on the road? A huge trip is not the place to have your first experience with either. At the very least, if you are lacking experience, you should do several short trips with your friend before hitting the road of a month or more.

    Finally, remember, you don't have to do "everything" in one roadtrip, and a massive roadtrip isn't always better. There are a lot of times where just hitting the road for a couple of weeks can be a more enjoyable and more practical trip.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Actually, the most budget friendly is to use a vehicle that is yours. Vans can be kind of pricey to rent, honestly, and very occasionally come with mileage stipulations. A sedan can be comfortable as long as you aren't taking a huge amount of camping equipment. Renting one of those is usually less expensive.


  5. Default

    We are both females and currently 21 but will be 22 at the time of the trip. Realistically, I believe that we will each have somewhere between $3,000-$4,500 for this trip. My experience with road being on the road is pretty decent as I have done multiple one to two week road trips with my family, however this was mostly staying in hotels and cabins, with little camping. I also just spent a month this past summer backpacking across Europe, staying in hostels and using trains as our primary mode of transportation. As for camping, I have moderate experience, mainly doing weekend trips into national forests or state parks. Although my experience is not extensive, I plan on doing some backpacking trips this upcoming spring and summer. We mainly would like to do a large road trip this go around because it will be following our college graduation and therefore the best opportunity we will have to do such a trip together.

    Thank you for the advice- it is much appreciated!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Good maps will be a great help.

    For two young ladies with your interests, I would follow Michael's suggestions. Believe me, there will be more trips together - no need to try do it all in this one trip. However...

    Firstly do you have good detailed maps of the country.... one of the complete country and then one of each of your favourite States and/or States you plan to cross. Might be an idea if you both get these., or at least put them up where you can both constantly see them.

    This trip is many months away and you have lots and lots of time to plan. The trip will take many different forms between your original idea and when it takes place. Spend your time till then, reading through the various forums, travel books and magazines and take notes when you see or hear a travel show.

    My inclination, especially with your love for backpacking and hiking, would be to stick to one of the States you fancy.... preferably one close enough to home, that should you start running out of money, the trip home will not be too daunting.

    Once you have the maps.... and each time the route changes, follow the advice in this paragraph. It will be a great help in discovering just how much there is along almost every route and in every State.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck
    Start with maps. Not GPS, not software, not Google, but real honest-to-god paper maps that show you your entire route, that you can mark up (and erase), that you can stick pins in, and that show something about the land you'll be driving through. Those are your essential tool in any RoadTrip planning process. Start by marking all the places you know you want to visit. Then connect the dots. Then look for more places of interest and scenic routes along the lines connecting the dots. Repeat until you've got as many sites and roads as you think you want.
    By all means come back for advice during the planning process, when specific questions arive. But right now I would focus on saving and studying maps to learn just how much there is in any one place.

    Enjpy the planning.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Your budget actually looks pretty healthy, and you've clearly got enough experience traveling that getting on the road won't be that unusual of an experience for you. I'd still try to make at least 1 or two small trips with your friend between now and then to get more familiar with camping (what you like/don't like, need/don't need) and to get used to traveling together.

    Even there, when building your plan, try to find at least some time where the two of you are apart, and have your own personal time.

    I will say the van idea seems pretty suspect with the budget numbers you're laying out. Buying a vehicle that's roadworthy for a major trip is generally going to set you back at least $3,000-4000, and then you'd need to set aside at least another $1,000 for possible repairs while on the road. If you already own a vehicle, that's going to likely be a far more cost effective option for you.

  8. #8


    Hello Madi Hoff,
    In addition to the comments above I would suggest a more southerly western trip and the northern leg for the return portion as many of the national park camping areas are not open until May and early June. You'll also want to purchase the annual national parks pass.

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