The American roadtrip – Do It Yourself

Some people have been asking us about how we planned our 2009 cross America roadtrip and what to think about when driving from coast to coast, so here´s a few tips from us based on our experience.

We got the idea for our roadtrip when planning a vacation to the US. Neither of us had ever been in America so we had a lot of places to choose from. When we couldn´t make up our minds on where to go, we decided to go everywhere.

How to get started:

The first thing you need to do is to make up your mind. How far, how fast and for how long? Once you answer those questions and decide which places you definitely want to see and which you can leave out you pretty much have your route lined out. We wanted to visit LA, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Telluride and New York so we planned our trip according to that. San Francisco was also on the list, but we had to leave it for another trip because we didn´t have enough time. Our trip lasted 17 days, and 14 days we spent crossing the continent. Of course you can never have too much time, but you do see a lot in 17 days. At least if you have a good plan.

Once we had decided the route we started to plan a schedule of some kind. We used Google Maps to check routes and distances to plan how much time we needed to get from one place to the next. Google Maps estimates pretty accurately how long the drive will take but it always took less time to cross the distance compared to what Google Maps said. When you know how much time you need on the road you just have to decide on how much time you want to spend in each place. Strive to leave at 8 AM each day and drive until 3 PM. That way you will still have time to do something in the place that you arrive to and you won’t be too tired. We did one straight nine hour drive through Kansas and we were quite beat after that.


We booked approximately half of our lodging in advance, which took away some of the spontaneity but also made the trip somewhat smoother. In four cities we stayed with friends and of course we had to agree in advance on which days we would show up on their doorstep. Staying with friends is a good tip; aside from spending time with them you also have someone to tell you the do´s and don’ts of the place. That saves you both time and money.

We also booked a motel at the Grand Canyon in advance as it is a major tourist attraction and fills up pretty fast in the summer. In bigger cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas we booked hotels in advance because we knew which days we needed to be there and because we thought it would be easier to arrive in a big city and have an address to go to, which turned out to be true. But some times during the trip we just decided to stop for the night at a roadside motel when we didn´t feel like driving anymore that day. As long as you have a plan of some kind of where you´re going and when you need to be there, be as spontaneous as you like. Some of our best and worst stops were unplanned.

The car:

On a coast to coast road trip your best friend is the person sitting next to you and the car. Even though we do not condone the use of big gas guzzlers, on a trip like this they do feel like a good choice. The best reason for driving a big car in the US is simple: everyone else does. If you don’t you´ll feel like an ant zick zacking between lanes on the highway. And of course a big car is comfortable on such a long drive, and since gas is cheap over there it won’t ruin you. The whole 5500 km drive only cost us around 350 euros in gas money.

One thing you want to have in the car is a GPS. Pay the extra 100 dollars for it, you won´t regret it. It not only guides you to the place you´re going, it also tells you where the closest restaurant, gas station, outlet, ATM or you name it is.

Except for paying an extra 100 bucks for the GPS, we also bought an insurance that covered all costs up to one million dollars even if we smashed someone else´s car. It made us feel more secure, but do as you like. We rented our car from Avis and we made the reservation at home online before we went, but you can also walk into a car rental and rent it when you get there. The biggest cost for us was the “leaving cost”. Since we rented the car in LA and left it in NYC we had to pay almost 1000 dollars for leaving it so far away. The total cost of the car with insurance and GPS was a little more than 2000 dollars.

We dropped the car off at JFK Airport and took a cab flat rate into Manhattan. You don´t want to take your car there if you don´t have to. Believe us.

We spent the longest time in New York, 4 days, which was a good decision. In retrospect we´re amazed at how well everything worked out, we didn´t have any problems along the way. The only thing that would have made the trip even better would have been more time. We experienced a lot, but for example a few more days in LA would have been nice, and it would have been fun to make that extra stop in Nashville if we would have had the time. But then again, even with a few more days the feeling of wanting to do a little bit more would probably still be there.

The total cost of the trip for us both including everything – food, lodging, flight tickets, car, gas etc was 6200 euros.

To keep things interesting, we left around 250 “We heart america” cards with our information and site address in every place we stopped at (the featured image is one of them). We sometimes took photos of the place where we left them and you can find all of the images from the trip on Flickr.

We also made a list of songs of songs that we in one or another way associated with the US and this is our Spotify list. Also make sure to stock up on podcasts for the long eventless drive through the midwest. The CD cover is below.

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