10 Tips for Surviving an American Road Trip

By Abigail Chandler on at

Planning on living that Route 66 dream? An American road trip is a proper adventure, but it takes some preparation. Getting an International Driving Permit and sorting out that epic Spotify Holiday Road playlist is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are some quick tips to bear in mind if you’re planning on hitting the open road.

1) Gas is cheap, but tolls are expensive

We all know that petrol – or ‘gas’, as you’ll soon be calling it – is cheap across the Pond. And it really is.

But that giddiness you feel over how cheap it is to fill up your tank will start fading once you’ve been through your second toll booth in as many hours.

They get more expensive and frequent the closer you get to a city, and you could be paying $20 a time. Make sure you have cash on you, or that you’ve registered for an EZ pass.

2) Road surfaces are dramatically different from state to state

Those road tolls are forgivable because they allow road maintenance to be paid for by the people who actually use the roads, rather than being paid for out of tax money.

So why, then, are road surfaces in New York state so shockingly terrible compared to, say, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania? Whatever their tolls are going towards, it isn’t resurfacing.

Some parts of your journey will be more comfortable than others.

3) Be prepared for all kinds of crazy driving conditions

American weather is fairly similar to UK weather, except bigger. Rather than snow, they’ll have a blizzard. A windy day will become a tornado. Rain will bounce off the tarmac so hard that you can’t see the car in front of you.

A bit of mist and you’ll find yourself crawling at 10 miles an hour through a terrifying Silent Hill landscape, waiting tensely for your own untimely death.

4) Beware of lorries (sorry, "trucks")

Big old 18-wheelers have no sense of their own size, nor do the drivers of them have any sense of their own mortality.

They will overtake you at 75mph in a 60 zone, in heavy rain, and think nothing of it.

You, however, will be screaming in terror and rendered temporarily blind by the spray they kick up.

5) You’d better get used to driving a MASSIVE car

America doesn’t seem to do hatchbacks.

We requested an estate from the car rental place and got a minivan instead, large enough to fit a family of seven, all their luggage and a handful of Labradors. This, we soon learnt, is a pretty standard car size in the US.

If you’ve had experience of driving, say, a tank or a monster truck before, you should do okay in America. If not, there’s going to be an adjustment period. And it will be scary.

6) New York drivers are as terrifying as everyone says

Surely they can’t be that bad, you may think. But trust us – they are exactly that bad.

They will pull into whatever gap they like the look of, at speed, without indicating, and then beep at you, as if your failure to predict their crazy moves is the real problem here.

7) Have a back-up map

The UK is small enough that we have internet basically everywhere, even if it’s just the dreaded 2G.

But America is a big place, and if you’re driving through an isolated area you’re likely to lose internet connection altogether.

Make sure you have an offline maps app, or even a good old fashioned A-Z. If anyone can still remember how to read those things.

8) On the Interstate the speed limit tends to be viewed as just a jumping-off point

If you’re in a 60mph zone doing 60, you’ll probably get beeped. Americans have a long way to drive, and they want to get there quickly, if not legally (or safely).

9) In America, EVERYONE drives, so be prepared for some busy roads

Not driving is not an option. Americans will think nothing of driving for an hour just to go to the cinema. Public transport is viewed as something only for the very poor.

Highways can be pretty deserted, but the Interstate, particularly approaching a city, can get quite slow.

And cities – well, they’re basically hell to drive in.

10) A surprising number of towns and villages are built right on the Interstate/highway

On the motorway in the UK all you ever see are service stations, wind farms and the occasional airport.

But in America, highways and even Interstates will take you right through villages and towns. Why, in a country so big, would anyone want to live right on the Interstate? It’s a mystery that remains unsolved.

Still, at least it gives you something nice to look at on your long drive.

Image Credits: Route 66, Hackberry General Store, Yokohl Drive, Tornado, Yellow Semi Truck, Monster Truck, NYC, Lost in the Desert, Speed Meter, Los Angeles, Texas Interstate from Shutterstock