Our guide to great road trips in the US

From November of 2014 to May of 2015, we road-tripped across the USA and Canada in a Roadtrek van. We have compiled some tips and ideas that 1) helped our trip work well and 2) kept us to a reasonable budget.

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Below find:

Tips for making life easy on the road

Getting some deals and keeping costs low

Must-see attractions

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Tips for making life easy on the road

 

  1. Get a gym membership. We chose Anytime Fitness because there are a ton of locations across the US. It became our daily routine, our source of internet, our place to shower and our place to meet locals. For a relatively small monthly fee, we had 24 hour access to the gym which was so convenient.
  2. Take on a mindset that you are traveling and not just on vacation. So of course, enjoy yourself, set out to see the sights and have a great attitude. AND also consider that you are traveling for months as opposed to going to a tropical resort for a short vacation. For us this meant setting up routines like hitting the gym on the daily, setting a weekly budget, drinking moderately unless it was a special occasion, getting lots of sleep, keeping our diets clean, keeping vitamins on hand, etc. These are things that aren’t that important when you’re only traveling for a couple weeks, but when away for several months, it’s good to keep all of this stuff working well. We didn’t want to return from our road trip having gained 30 pounds or being broke.
  3. Keep digital copies of all important information. We took photos of all of our cards, emergency info, van registration, health insurance, etc and kept it well-organized in the cloud. So if we ever lost something, we had a back up and could access it through Evernote on our phones.
  4. Get a bank account. If you have ID and a little starter money, most banks will allow people from out of the country to set up an account (especially easy between Canada and the US). We set it up through TD Bank which meant we could transfer with minimal fees and a better exchange rate between a TD Canada account and a TD US account. Paying with debit and being able to get cash back was very convenient.
  5. Unlock your phone and get set up month-to-month. It’s nice to have the convenience of being able to call ahead for reservations, stay in touch with folks back home and arrange to meet up with new friends.
  6. Get a GPS. We started by using GPS on our phones and the data costs were piling up. So we switched to a GPS that attached to the windshield. It saved money in the long run and saved a lot of arguments throughout.
  7. Always go to the nicest part of town for parking (especially overnight parking). Find a place that is well lit. Don’t leave valuables in sight in your car and go old-school like we did and get a club for your car’s steering wheel. The optics of the club as well as security stickers may be enough to deter crimes of opportunity.

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Getting some deals and keeping costs low

 

There are a ton of ways to have fun for free or cheap! Here’s how to do it.

  • Get apps on your phone for Groupon, Living social and any other discount/coupon sites that allow you to buy tickets and gift certificates at a discounted rate. This is also an excellent way to review a short list of activities and restaurants in a city while getting a great price.
  • Consider housesitting. This is a great way to escape small living quarters. The trade off is taking care of a house/property/pets while getting to live in someone’s place. These are often free, but sometimes paid. Lots of sites exist to facilitate the relationship between homeowners and potential sitters. We used the site housecarers.com. We housesat in Orlando, Florida for 5 weeks over Christmas.
  • Always google “free things in X city” and “weird things to do in x city” before heading to your next stop. You’ll hear about the free nights at the art galleries, random events happening at the university, outdoor spaces to visit, etc. Social media – especially Facebook – is a great place to go to see what’s happening as well.
  • Review the events listed on Eventbrite.com (you can search by cost). If it’s a big town or city, there are often lots of free events on offer.
  • Go to the Goodwill for any clothing, kitchen or book needs. The Goodwill is cheap. You can donate things back once you’ve used them too.
  • Sign up to bonus programs at restaurants so you get a meal for free, a free meal on your birthday and regular coupons/specials.
  • Use Redbox (found at 7/11, grocery stores, Walmart) to rent movies for $1-3 if you’re living in an RV. If you don’t have good internet and you don’t want to carry your own DVDs but you have a way to play them, this is a great activity for a rainy day.
  • Download free podcasts to listen to. Podcast Republic is a free app that we used to download our favourites: TED Radio hour, Freakonomics radio, Mystery show, Serial and anything from NPR.
  • Park in Walmart parking lots for free. Walmart allows campers to park in most of their lots overnight for free (excluding places with bylaw restrictions). This was so convenient because we didn’t have to drive way out of the city to find a camp site. We were downtown in places like Miami even staying for free in the comfort of our own van. Often it means 24 hr restroom access too. Tip: Go to sleep when it’s dark when you’re sleeping in a van in a parking lot, because you’ll wake up with the sun and the morning traffic.
  • Cook your own food. Food is generally cheap in the US. You can make meals  with good food (especially in places with long harvest seasons) for a couple bucks per meal.
  • Download the Gas Buddy app to track where the cheapest gas locations are along your route.

 

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Must-see attractions

We were so blessed to have months to tour 26 US states as well as 8 Canadian provinces so we saw a lot. The below list are the things that really stood out to us.

  1. Hike the Grand Canyon
  2. Shoot guns in Texas
  3. Visit the Senora desert
  4. Explore the Sonoma caves
  5. Go jet-skiing in Key West
  6. Be a beach bum in Florida (Daytona Beach, Miami, etc).
  7. Roam the streets, drink and listen to music in New Orleans
  8. Drive the Coastal highway in California (hit up San Francisco, Yosemite Park, the Redwood forests)
  9. Do your own photo tour of Charleston
  10. See the monuments and museums in Washington DC
  11. Check out Myrtle Beach off season for lots of fun without the line-ups
  12. Drink, shop, entertain yourself in Portland, Oregan

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