travel: how to plan the ultimate USA roadtrip

We’ve just got back from a two week (east coast) USA roadtrip.

A January blues induced decision, whereby we found relatively cheap flights into Boston in the BA sale and just booked – we didn’t have a summer holiday lined up afterall! If you’re a longtime reader, you might remember this trip – where we headed to Maine after my sister got married in up-state New York back in 2015. We spent two weeks at a lake house, and Sam was really taken with the east coast state of Maine. We agreed we’d head back and explore some more – there’s always more to see in the USA, and I’m a great believer you have to visit to understand the sheer size of the place. We’re big fans of America and there’s so many more places we want to visit.

Being just the two of us, we knew we wanted to move around and turn our holiday into a roadtrip, seeing as much as possible but still relaxing in between. We’ve learnt over the last few years we’re not really ones for sitting still on holiday. Unless the temperature is hitting 35 degrees, where you’ll find me glued to the swimming pool, I’m always up for getting out an about. I describe myself as an unadventurous adventurer (more on that in another post!), so I was keen to get out and see what else we could do and experience in New England.

I think alot of people love the idea of USA roadtrips, but sometimes the reality can seem a bit daunting. It can a bit ‘where do we start?’, and I felt a bit like that once we’d booked our flights. Knowing Sam would have little interest in making the plans (he’s more a of show up and enjoy kinda guy…), I knew it was up to me to plan where we’d go, for how long, how we’d get there, what we’d do there. The list seemed a bit endless, so I put this post together for those of you who might be planning something similar.

 

 

How did you decide where to visit?

When I began looking at the map for where we’d head on our trip, I was a bit thrown. There were so many options, so I asked Sam to pick one general thing he’d like to see or do. He chose the mountains, wanting to explore some kind of mountainous terrain, and I chose the coast, wanting to spend some time by the sea. By doing this, we narrowed down the areas to look for to visit. I instantly located the White Mountain National Forest, home to Mount Washington, for Sam’s part of the trip. Located inland in New Hampshire, about two hours north west of Boston, I worked out this was the perfect spot to head to first, working our way east to the coast.

The USA has National Parks in abundance, so zooming out of the map, I was able to spot the areas of greenery fairly easily. Four hours east of the White Mountains lies Acadia National Park, which sits on Mount Desert Island – ticking my coastal check box perfectly. These became the foundations of our trip, creating a loop for us once we headed out of Boston – to the mountains, to the coast and back down south to the airport.

Choosing one thing that’s a non-negotiable each is a good starting point for a lot of things, and trips like this are no exception! It gives you a general idea of what you want to achieve without being too prescriptive.

How did you decide how much you could fit in?

I think the main thing here is, we knew it was meant to be a break too. We both work really hard, I don’t get a lot of annual leave and we knew we did need some R&R as well as adventures. Sam would be doing the driving, so we chatted about how far he’d be willing to drive in one day, and spread things out accordingly. As mentioned, we’d picked two key things we wanted to do, and found two areas what met those, so we felt that if we achieved those and only those, we’d still have had a great trip!

We plotted our driving so we mostly stopped every 1-2 hours, and our longest stint was 4, so we never went too far in one hit. I think if we’d had longer, or a place we really wanted to see, we’d have upped our maximum drive time to 6 hours, but as I said, we wanted some time out too and driving is tiring business!

It’s also worth just remaining fluid – there’s no need to rush between locations, or rule out stopping off at places. The beauty of a roadtrip is that it’s all on your terms.

How did you know how long to spend in each place?

This one is a definite ‘you win some, you lose some’ and pretty much guess work, if you’re going somewhere a bit off the beaten track. The internet is a wonderful thing for research, but we went to some fairly remote places so there isn’t a huge amount out there. I suppose the main things are a) look at what you might want to do there and make sure there’s enough to do/enough time to do it all, and b) what your aim for that part of the trip is. I knew that when we hit the coast, we’d want to relax, so we booked for a full six days in Bar Harbor/Acadia NP, which would give us ample time to chill and explore in equal measures.

We only spent two nights in the mountains, as it looked like it was a pretty sleepy area in the summer, but it turns out we could’ve spent much more time there. You win, you lose!

How did you make sure it all went smoothly?

I thought about this question and have four main points that we found helped keep our roadrip stressfree:

Knowing ourselves, we opted to book 80% of our accommodation upfront. We left the last three nights fluid, as we weren’t sure what we wanted to do and this worked well for us. Some people might prefer to wing it all, but we knew this was meant to be relaxing and didn’t want any stresses. In the age of Booking.com, it’s so easy to book as you go so we struck that balance and it worked out well! We spoke to people along the trip and got recommendations for the last few days, which is the benefit for booking as you go.

We relied heavily on Apple/Google Maps, as well as TripAdvisor and Booking.com, so having data on our phones really, really helped. Of course people got by before phones, but I can’t tell you how easy it made things to have everything on our phones. I wrote in this post about apps I love for traveling – saving spots you want to see or eat at, onto Maps is super helpful!

If you can afford it, just do what you can to make life easier for yourself. For example, we booked an airport hotel for the night we landed. This meant we weren’t collecting our rental car at 10pm and navigating out of Boston at midnight, leaving us with a smooth transition after a good nights sleep! We also paid for the toll road pass upfront, meaning no scrambling for cash and no retrospective payments to organise. Small things like that felt worth doing for us.

Get yourself a comfortable, powerful car. I booked a Toyota Corolla when we went to California last year and it was crap. We made sure we got an SUV this time round, for comfort, space and to feel like we belonged against the other monsters on the interstates! If you’re going on a driving holiday, a good car is key.

What did you learn from your roadtrip?
  1. Book self catering accommodation for part of your trip. Unless you really like eating out twice a day (and spending alot of cash). After a week, all we wanted to do was make a sandwich for lunch but as we were in hotels/motels the whole time, we had little more than a fridge.
  2. Get that comfy car. You spend a lot of time in it.
  3. Make a lot of playlists, with different genres. We made one huge one with over 100 songs on it, but we soon got sick of it. Oh, and download them before you leave, to save data.
  4. Asking the locals really is the best source of information. Someone we met told us to bike anti clockwise around the trail we were heading for, and my calves have never been so grateful for advice!
  5. Pack water. This goes against everything I believe about single use plastic, and where I could, I topped up my reuseable bottle, but we got through an awful lot of the stuff (another reason to go self catering), but buying some bottles of water for the boot of the car was a life saver. Probably also wise in case you have an overheating situation with the car…maybe?

 

With a tiny bit of planning, we had a 10/10 road trip. It didn’t take much more than a few hours planning and we did and saw so much we wanted to. I’m planning some more posts on our trip but wanted to get this one up first, so I hope it’s helpful for anyone planning something similar. I’d love to hear any tips you have too!

You can catch our whole trip on my Instagram Highlights under ‘New England’.

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