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Travel Inspiration | Travel | Road Trip
Great American Road Trips

MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM OCEAN CRUISING TO RIVER CRUISING

America’s open roads are calling. How will you answer? In the United States, our claim to fame has always been our thirst for adventure. This country was forged by fearless dreamers who believed anything is possible—as long as you’re willing to go the distance. America’s highways, byways, and back roads are stitched together with that mindset, linking from Alaska’s untouched wilderness all the way to the neon-splashed streets of New York City.

 

AAA partners with the world’s biggest names in travel to deliver unforgettable experiences by land, sea, and air. But our true passion is helping travelers discover America the way early trailblazers intended: from the driver’s seat.   

 

As a leader in car travel for more than 100 years, AAA is counted on for advice and expertise that goes far beyond what’s Google-able—everything from ASE-certified car maintenance tips to secret, hyperlocal spots for the best dining and shopping. 

 

In creating this guidebook, we relied on extensive AAA travel research, as well as insight from experienced AAA travel professionals and outside experts. As you explore, look for these icons, which contain at-a-glance info to pique your curiosity and boost your confidence as you plan for your next Great American Road Trip.

-       [ICON TBD] Expert Data + Research

-       [ICON TBD] Road Trip Boredom-Busters

-       [ICON TBD] Budget Friendly Tips 

-       [ICON TBD] Safe Driving Essentials 

 

CONTENTS

 

FIND YOUR ROAD TRIP STYLE: IT’S PERSONAL

Assembling Your Precious Cargo

Choosing a Quick Jaunt vs. Epic Expedition

Everything You Need to Book in Advance

 

PREP LIKE A PRO: MAX CAR COMFORT + SAFETY

ASE-Certified Mechanic Car Maintenance Tips

Ultimate Guide to Car Travel Products

6 Navigation Tools that Go Beyond Basic

 

HIT THE OPEN ROAD: AMERICA’S HIDDEN GEMS

Getting Lost In the Great Outdoors

Foodie Paradise on a Budget

Summer Celebrations of History & Culture

 

FIND YOUR ROAD TRIP STYLE: IT’S PERSONAL

So, you’ve decided to plan a road trip. Terrific choice! Traveling by car is the perfect way to control your itinerary while saving money and spending quality time with the people who matter most. But just like any getaway, the perfect road trip starts with pinpointing basic details—the who, what, when, where, and why—of your one-of-a-kind journey. 

 

Car Trips historically make up more than 95% of U.S. travel, and AAA Senior Vice President of Travel Paula Twidale expects that trend to continue Learn more.

 

Assembling Your Precious Cargo

Long car rides are a rare chance for deep conversations, full-belly laughs, and incredible experiences that take you beyond your day-to-day routine. For that reason, your first step as voyage captain will be choosing the perfect passengers to share these moments. Will you…

 

Take your kids on a once-in-a-lifetime trek across Arizona’s Painted Desert? Enlist fellow alumni for a cross-country reunion at your beloved alma mater? Give colleagues or clients a unique look at a prospective office site? Plan a whirlwind marriage proposal in your sweetheart’s favorite city? Spend quality time alone to reflect and unwind?

 

These are all perfect reasons to plan a road trip, and here are some important factors to consider for each group:  

 

Age. Older adults, children, and teenagers will all have different energy and enthusiasm levels for, say, an all-day jaunt along Kansas City’s historic museum trails.
    

GAME TIME on road trips should be fun and collaborative. Check out these 

 

Activity and ability. That 10-mile Appalachian hike might not pose a problem for you, but it could be challenging for someone with a physical imparity or disability.

Spending power. Can everyone in your group afford to throw in on gas, lodging, food, and attractions, or will you cover or subsidize those costs?

Food and drink preferences. If your group includes non-drinkers or those with severe food allergies, you may need to rethink that decadent New Orleans food and wine tour. 

 

Free time. Summer break is of course the most popular travel window for families, but others may have busy summer work schedules that don’t allow for a long getaway.

 

Choosing a Quick Jaunt vs. Epic Expedition

The average U.S. road trip lasts 7 – 10 days, but your ideal journey may be much shorter—or even longer—depending on how much you want to see and do. Here’s a helpful hint: Start at your endpoint and work backwards, asking yourself:

 

1. What is my ultimate destination? Be as specific as possible here. For example, instead of “California’s Pacific Coast Highway,” you might specify “Paso Robles winery tour.” That way, you can backfill your itinerary with stops at Big Sur, Monterey, and other popular surrounding areas. 

 

CALIFORNIA DREAM on a budget with AAA’s nature-centric sample itineraries[HP3]  for exploring the Pacific Coast Highway, with optional stops in L.A., San Luis Obispo, and more.

2. What are my most important stops? Start by listing everything you want to see and do. Then, categorize each item as: must-have (e.g., weddings and other time-sensitive events); nice-to-have (e.g., festivals and multi-night performances); and negotiable (e.g., historical landmarks and other relatively permanent places and fixtures). 

 

TIRED DRIVING is unsafe driving, which is why AAA recommends driving for no more than nine hours per day, with stops to stretch your legs every two hours for at least 15 minutes.

Are you open to other modes of transport? Keep in mind, it’s still a road trip, even if parts of your journey aren’t by car. Many travelers opt to expedite portions of their journey based on needs and time constraints. Train ride from point B to C? Still a road trip. Sailing from D to E? The water is your road. Flying home from your final endpoint? Yep, that’s a road trip, too! 

 

Everything You Need to Book in Advance

Advance planning is critical as your itinerary begins to take shape. Because when it comes to booking hotel rooms, dinner and tour reservations, and must-see concerts and events, the old adage rings truer than ever: The early bird gets the worm. 

 

GAS PRICES can significantly impact your road trip budget. Check in periodically at gasprices.aaa.com [HP4] for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly national averages by zip code.

 

Here’s how to prioritize advance bookings for your road trip: 

 

Priority #1: Picking the perfect road trip ride. Unless you plan to drive your personal vehicle, ask yourself these important questions before renting a car, SUV, or RV for your unique trip:

How many people need to fit comfortably in the vehicle? 

What in-car amenities are most important for our group?

Will most of our driving be interstate, city, back roads, or rugged terrain?

Who else from my group will be driving the vehicle?

Will I need additional insurance to cover incidentals?
Will we primarily park on a street, in a garage, at campsites, or in residential areas?

 

CLICK HERE [HP5] to peruse U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Cars for Road Trips.”

 

Priority #2: Booking unforgettable accommodations. After a long day of driving, you may be tempted to crash on the first available pillow. And while there’s nothing wrong staying at your reliable go-to chain, it’s worth exploring these ultra-memorable overnight options.

 

Not-So-Humdrum Hotels. Choose from hundreds of offerings that range from quirky to downright peculiar. Find 70s-esque shag carpet, underwater rooms, snowy lodges, and heliport check-in options on Thrillist’s list of “Coolest Hotels in Every U.S. State[HP6] .” 

 

Down-low Locales. No matter how popular a place gets, there will always be fairy-tale inns, secluded beach resorts, and hidden campgrounds that only the locals know about. Start your hidden-gem search with this roundup of “Best Hidden Vacation Spots[HP7] .” 

 

Stargazing Sleepers. Traveling Lifestyle’s list of “Top Outdoor U.S. Destinations[HP8] ” features Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort, a family-friendly riverside fun factory that puts a nostalgic spin on eco-tourism. We can almost smell the campfire s’mores! 

 

Ready for a budget-friendly break from the road? Many of AAA’s 12 Coolest Campgrounds for Families [HP9] offer rental bikes, mini-golf, and more for kids of all ages.

 

Priority #3: Accessing pre-sale and sold-out tickets. What your road trip crew really craves are experiences—a chance to try something new, laugh out loud, and make lasting memories in the process. Here are three ways you can make that road trip magic happen with tickets from AAA: 

 

Take a Silver Screen break with advance-purchase tickets for new releases [HP10] at local and regional movie theaters nationwide.  

Throw your hands in the air (because you really, really care) with tickets to must-see concerts, sporting events, and onstage performances[HP11] .    
  

Make memories to last a lifetime by surprising your crew with discounted tickets to world-class theme parks, museums, and other attractions[HP12] . 

 

BIG CITIES like Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles still dominate road trip destinations[HP13] , based on expert data from TripTik.AAA.com.

 

PREP LIKE A PRO: MAX CAR COMFORT + SAFETY

You’ve plotted your course, assembled your dream team, and booked all the necessary stays and events. Now it’s time to prepare your vehicle and crew for a seamless and safe trip from point A to point B, as you enjoy all the best of what’s in between.
  

ASE-Certified Mechanic Car Maintenance Tips

These four simple tips from ASE-certified master technicians will ensure you and your vehicle are up for any challenge the road may have in store. 

 

Tip 1: Start by checking under the hood. Before you hit the road, have a trusted mechanic check your engine compartment, tires, battery, belts, hoses, wipers, and fluids to make sure everything’s in tip-top shape and there are no pre-existing issues to interrupt your journey.

 

SCHEDULE a pre-trip checkup [HP14] at any of 7,000+ AAA Approved Auto Repair Facilities nationwide.

Tip 2: Maintain visibility before your trip and throughout your journey: 

  • Keep clutter off front and rear dash, passenger seat, and other lines of sight.
  • Test headlamps, brake lights, turn signals, and all other interior/exterior lighting.
  • Keep prescription lenses on your face or in a case where you can easily reach them. 

 

Tip 3: Don’t leave home without car safety essentials. Stash these items in your trunk, in case of unexpected road conditions, flat tires, and other car emergencies: 

 

  • Spare tire kit
  • Tire gauge and small pump
  • Flashlight
  • Umbrella
  • Jumper cables
  • Blankets, gloves, and warm clothing
  • First-aid kit
  • Road flares
  • Ice scraper/brush
  • Tire shovel and sand or kitty litter (for digging out of snow or mud)

It also never hurts to keep a small amount of food and water in the event you become stuck and need to wait for assistance. 

 

Tip 4: Give your tires extra TLC. Long-distance driving depletes tire pressure, which can exacerbate wear and tear and lead to poor overall vehicle performance. Have tires rotated before your trip, and check pressure visually or with a gauge should you notice performance issues.