How to Prep for a Cross-County Road Trip – Planning Your Route and Budget

In approximately 12 hours, my husband Craig and I will be leaving on a road trip – woohoo!  I love road trips! Growing up we took two cross country trips: one from the Northwest to Florida, and the second to New York. We also took other trips to many national parks , including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon. We also took many trips to Disneyland.

And so my love affair with the road trip was born. My husband did not grow up taking road trips. His family’s main source of excitement was to drive from Arkansas to Kansas to visit family. Fortunately, he was ready to explore the world with me, and so we’ve been on many road trips over the years. Somehow in my travels I have missed the states of New Mexico and Texas (how does one miss Texas?). And so that is the path we will take on our way to the Big Easy, New Orleans. (Yes, I realize it’s July.) Here is how to prepare for a cross-country road trip!

Our route to New Orleans

Our route to New Orleans


1.  Decide how much time you can take off of work, and sketch out a budget. I think our budget for this trip is roughly $3000 (definitely no more than that), and we have 16 days. When budgeting, remember to include: gas (prices can differ greatly across the country); lodging; meals; sightseeing; souvenirs; and an emergency fund. It’s our 30th anniversary this year, so we are splurging a bit in terms of a road trip. We were hoping to go somewhere like Europe or Central America, but we spent quite a chunk of change on a Christmas trip to Walt Disney World, so an international adventure will have to wait until next year.

2.  Decide how far you would like to travel, then list everything you would like to see along the way. List those things you MUST see, and then list those things you would like to see if you have time. I made a list and sketched it out on a AAA United States Map.

3.  Estimate the time you will need to travel. You must do this in TWO PARTS. First, estimate the time from your point of origin to your destination. For our trip, Vancouver, WA to New Orleans, LA is 1 day and 14 hours. On first thought, one might think – “Well,that’s very doable. A couple of days of driving, maybe add another day or two to see the sights.”  This next tip is VERY important.

4.  Now re-estimate the time you will need to travel, taking into consideration how many hours you want to drive per day, and the time it will take to see each thing you want to see along the way. A good rule of thumb is no more than This is one of the most challenging parts of planning a long road trip. I painstakingly marked each attraction on the map, then carefully tried to figure out the best route. Next, I looked up each attraction either in the AAA tour book or on the internet. I had to decide if each attraction was worth stopping at, and realistically how long we would want to spend at each attraction. And then I had to decide to change my route, take some activities off my list (and maybe add others), and then see if the trip destination I had originally planned would work. When we first decided to take a road trip, we were planning to drive all the way to Orlando, because my son is spending the summer working at Walt Disney World. However, because of all of the places we want to visit along the way, and because we wanted to spend some time in New Orleans, we figured we couldn’t do it in the time allotted. We chose instead to stop at New Orleans, and fly our son in to stay with us while we’re there.

 TIP: There are many factors to consider when mapping your route and estimating your time. If you’re driving from California to New York to go to college and you just want to get there quickly, your trip is going to look much different than if you’re traveling with the goal of seeing the sights along the way. A good rule of thumb for anyone is to stop every few hours and get out of the car to stretch and walk around for at least 10-15 minutes.


  • How many people will be driving? If more than one, are they comfortable driving for long stretches? Do they feel comfortable driving at night?
  • How old are your passengers? Children need to get out and wiggle every few hours, and many not be able to sit for long hours. Some travelers advise driving through the night while the kids are sleeping, but you must consider that then you will have some tired parents (or at least one). Others suggest stopping in the late afternoon when you travel with children, so they have time to play and eat dinner and then play some more so that they will expend their energy before bedtime.
  • Older passengers may have difficulty riding for long periods as well, so frequent stops are advised for snacks and bathroom breaks, as well as to move those still joints.
  • Is your car reliable enough for a long road trip, or should you rent a car?
  • What will the weather be during your travels? You may not want to visit the south in the middle of July. And just because you are traveling to Wisconsin in April doesn’t mean that you won’t see any snow. 

MY BEST TIP:  The best advice I ever read about planning family vacations is this: Ask each member of your family,

“What would make this vacation a 10 for you?”

For one family member it might be going to an amusement park. For another it might be camping and fishing. One family member might prefer to stay in a fancy hotel. For another it might be seeing beautiful scenery. For another it might be spending an afternoon shopping. The challenge is this: Try to plan a family vacation that includes everyone’s 10. You may not camp the whole vacation, or spend all your time in a National Park or a big city, but can you do some of each?

My favorite vacation where we practiced this was when my boys were in elementary school. We all had different 10’s. Dad wanted to camp, Mom wanted to stay in a nice hotel, one son wanted to go to an amusement park, another wanted to see animals, and one wanted to go to Yellowstone. Well, our budget did not allow for Yellowstone that year, so we drove to Northern California and camped along the way. We went to San Francisco and stayed in a fancy hotel. We visited what was then Marine World/Africa USA, which was a combination animal park and theme park with rides. The last 10 was more of a challenge, but after doing some research, I found that Lassen National Park in Northeastern California has a geothermal area with hot springs and geysers similar to Yellowstone. It was truly a win-win!




  1. My family often took cross-country road trips. I have found your tips very helpful for us. May be next month we go for our next trip. We’re excited and have been planning our trip. Although, we are not traveling with kids. I am glad that I came to your blog, as there are many things that I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing!

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