How to Plan a Road Trip Out West

How to Plan a Road Trip Out West
Road tripping to the West is a wonderful American adventure where it truly is the journey and not the destination that matters most. Because you will be traversing much of the country in a westward road trip, it is important to maximize the opportunity and see as much of the country's diversity as possible. This involves choosing a sensible route and a sensible time frame.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • GPS enabled cell phone and U.S. road map
  • Car (including a spare tire and all the necessary tools needed to change a flat)
  • Suitcase
  • Clothes and provisions
  • Credit card
Step 1
Tune up the car. This is one of the most important steps, for a broken-down car in the wrong part of the country will be very expensive to repair--not to mention what plane tickets will cost if it cannot be repaired. Driving out West, you pass through vast expanses of desert, which can be especially taxing on a vehicle. Give it a full tune-up at a mechanic shop.
Step 2
Decide on a time frame. This will affect the route that you plan. Google Maps estimates that a trip from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco--more or less a straight shot from the East to the West--would take about 46 hours of driving. So, rounding this out to two full days of driving each way, the shortest cross country trip possible is probably about a week, though you will be rushed.
Step 3
Choose your final destination. The West might seem like a romantic fantasy, but you do not want to end up just anywhere. The final destination might not be the most important or exciting part of the trip, but it should be somewhat interesting and rewarding.
Step 4
Pick intermediate destinations. Once you have the beginning and end point, you can look at a U.S. map for interesting points in between. Don't choose every stopping point, as some spontaneity along the way can be fun, but if you have a rough estimate of some hot spots--maybe the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the redwood forest--it will assist you in the next step.
Step 5
Plan the route. This will be relatively easy once you have chosen a destination and a few intermediate points. You can look at a map and follow the major roads or use GPS navigation applications on your cell phone. AAA also offers a great mapping service called TripTik, which will give you a series of smaller maps for each day of travel, and their representatives will often help you find good stopping points and accommodations.
Step 6
Map the return route, but do not go back the same way you came, as the drive home can be a journey in itself. You should front-load the activities for the drive West, as fatigue and the desire to return home likely will increase on the back half of the trip.
Step 7
Book accommodations. Wherever possible, especially in the bigger cities and on weekends, it is important to reserve hotels or campsites beforehand. For small towns during the week, it might be OK to wing it, but you are more likely to suffer price gouging in bigger cities if you didn't have the advantage of price shopping from the comfort of your home.
Step 8
Pack clothes and provisions. If you do not plan on doing laundry, be sure to bring enough changes of clothes, especially underwear and socks.

Tips & Warnings

You should have a credit card with at least a couple thousand dollars of available credit for emergencies.
An auto club membership is relatively inexpensive and certainly worth it if you run into any car trouble along the way.

Article Written By Ray Dallas

Ray Dallas graduated with majors in journalism and English. While in Florida, he wrote freelance articles for "The Alligator" and was the copy editor and a writer for "Orange & Blue." Since moving to California, Dallas has worked as a script reader and for a talent manager, as well as taking numerous industry odd jobs.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.