Planning A Road Trip To The USA

If you are planning a road trip to the USA there are many things you need to consider.

1. Get an ESTA

An ESTA is an Electronic System For Travel Authorization. All eligible international travellers who wish to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization. Estas are valid for two years but need to be renewed when your passport expires too.

You can apply for the ESTA yourself through the official website but if you are short of time there are companies that will do it for a fee, and will double-check your application for you. If you fill out your ESTA wrongly you could, in theory, be denied entry. If you want to use a company click here for e-visums to process your ESTA application. They are also available for advice and to answer queries. 

2. Pick your destination and the length of time

The USA is a big place that's for sure.  If you only have a week it will be almost impossible for you to do a road trip of Route 66 as it covers 2448 miles, but if you have longer you may want to do this as it's one of the most iconic drives in the world. We are planning to do this trip next year driving from Chicago to Santa Monica. 

In a week, however, you could cover a California road trip taking in the Pacific Coast Highway, in particular, San Francisco, LA and San Diego and take the drive over to Las Vegas. Another option could be a road trip in Florida, driving down to Miami and the Florida Keys, stopping in Key West.

Planning a road trip is a mix of driving time, downtime and sightseeing. Maybe you want to see a particular place so are happy to drive for a long period, but when you get to your hotel you may want to spend time by the pool before heading out to explore. You need to factor all this into your trip.

Always be sure to plan in rest stops, never drive when tired or under the influence of alcohol. You know it makes sense.

3. Become familiar with the local driving laws

Key West

Each state has different driving laws, although most of them are very similar you always should check for any particular differences with the car hire company. 

You need a full valid driving licence to drive in the US. Some car hire companies will refuse to hire if you are under the age of 25 although others will if you pay a surcharge. 

Some things are different in the US. You are allowed to turn right at a red light as there is no oncoming traffic. Undertaking is not illegal so be careful and watch out for cars undertaking you. When you come to a four-way inter
section without lights, the car that arrived first has priority and then the next. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the more popular road signs in the USA before you travel also.

4. Car Hire
Chevy Tahoe

If you are hiring a car for a trip, there are a number of things to consider. 

A large car like a Chevy Tahoe will be comfortable for long journeys and can hold a number of people and cases. If there are just two of you, you may want to hire a sporty car like a Mustang convertible. Be aware though that many convertibles do not have much space for cases. This is an important consideration when you are doing a 2 or 3-week road trip! An alternative maybe to hire a sports car when you are in a town or city for a couple of days to see the local sites.  Most people will hire a car some way in-between - a car that isn't huge but will carry cases and you in comfort. 

You should also get any extra insurances you need like CDW or collision damage waiver which is similar to fully comprehensive insurance. You don't want to be hit with a big bill if you do have an accident. Medical costs in the USA are huge.

A great tip is to ask what the total car hire charge is including all fees. Taxes are always on top. You may also be charged more to pick up or drop off a car at the airport, and if you are driving over state lines.

Before driving off always check over the vehicle for any dents, scratches or marks. We like to go around with a staff member and video the vehicle. Report any pre-existing problems and ask the company to note them on your rental agreement.

5. Costs of driving

The Golden Gate Bridge

Besides car hire, there are other costs of driving. 

The US has road tolls that are often placed before you enter cities or go over bridges, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge has a bridge toll. Your hire car company may sell a pass to cover your road tolls so be sure to ask. Alternatively, you can usually pay with your credit card or of course cash. 

Petrol and diesel are cheap compared to the UK and at around 40p per litre, a road trip is more affordable than you think.  Most petrol stations are pre-payingJust pay at the kiosk before filling, the pump will cut off once the pre-pay amount is reached. If you don't use it all, go back to the kiosk and they will put the amount back on your debit or credit card.

6. Planning your stops

San Diego

We like to plan our road trips with Google maps. It's easy to do, just put in a start point and an endpoint and zoom in to see the cities along the way. 
If you want to make additional stops along the way instead of planning a route straight through, click on "Add Destination" directly below the second text box. If you are thinking of spending longer on the route it's worth checking out sites for apartments for longer stays like San Leandro apartments

Other ways to plan your route can include hiring a Sat Nav from the car hire company, renting a Sat Nav from eBay before you go, buy one in Wallmart, use a good old fashioned map to plan your route. Some newer cars have Sat Nav also built-in, so it's always worth checking with your car hire company.

Pin for later

If you are spending a long time on straight roads, don't forget to use the cruise control to help your drive become more relaxing. 

If you want to read more about driving in the USA, check out Mr W's post on his Top 5 Loves and Top 5 Hates of Driving in the USA.

*PR collaboration


  1. Thanks so much for this, we're going to America soon so will need an ESTA.

  2. A US road trip is definitely on my bucket list for when the boys are grown up. There's so much of the country that I want to see!

  3. I would love to do a road tip one day and these sound like some amazing tips to really make the most of it.

  4. We did a US road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway for our honeymoon and loved every second of it. Your tips are spot on, exactly what we did as well!

  5. I really want to do a US road trip. Me and my other half spoke about doing California/ Vegas and I really hope we get to go x

  6. I would absolutely LOVE to go on an American road trip one day. In the future though, once the current government situation has been fixed!

  7. Ooh I would love to do a US road trip, we often talk about it but it would be a huge trip for the six of us and expensive too!

  8. I had no idea there are different driving laws!

  9. We'd love to do a USA road trip soon. Lots of planning to do obviously.

  10. I have been on a few US road trips and there are some good tips here. America is so huge - planning is a must.

  11. I actually have a friend who is doing what I believe is a 'route 66 trail1 so I will be share to share your tips with him. He is going next month! x

  12. Some lovely tips, I'd love to visit and do a road trip xxx

  13. So much to think about! An informative read - great.

  14. I love traveling and adventure. While we're already in the East Coast, I cant wait to explore the rest.

  15. I guess a lot of people overlook some of the hidden costs such as toll booths, but they can really add up!

  16. We're starting a Cali road trip in three weeks, so this is handy! xxx