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Top Ten Tips for Driving Cross Country

Updated on August 22, 2014

Niagara Falls (Canadian Side)

Canada has the better view.  The behind the falls tour is really cool!
Canada has the better view. The behind the falls tour is really cool!

Tip #10

Planning is a must!
Some people like to wing it, and want to drive as far as they can. I personally want to know we are going to have a roof and a bed for the night, ahead of time.
1. Reserve Ahead: You never know when there is going to be a festival, or town event which might book hotels for the night.
2. Plan Your Route: This may alter due to construction or accidents. It is a good idea to have a rough estimate of how many miles you'll travel and which attractions are on the way. Its also a good way to see which areas are deserted and when you should stop for gas.
3. Give Extra Time for Mishaps: Even the best planner can't predict accidents or breakdowns. Give an extra hour or two between hotels. This way you don't miss your reservation, and you don't stress if you run behind.

Tip #9

Get an updated map
Do not rely on your phone's GPS or your TomTom. We realized we were plowing through Data with our GPS on, plus there are a lot of places that don't have signal in the Midwest. Having a map as a back up is a good idea. Also, there were a couple of stops we made because the map had them written in. This is another great thing about getting a TripTix.

Tip #8

Pack Light
If you are doing a lot of one night stops, it isn't the best idea to have multiple bags. Have a few outfits in a small overnight bag, one that you can quickly pick up and bring with you into the hotel. It is such a hassle to repack the car every morning. Here are some helpful tips to make the most out of your space.
1. Roll your clothes. It takes up way less space. If you are going to be gone a while, roll outfits up together. Grab a couple and put into your overnight bag, saves you from rummaging around.
2. Get a hotel with a washer and dryer.
3. Pack in clear totes: We had four flat, clear, totes. Each had their own theme, and we were able to pack a ton, stack them, and easily find things we needed.
4. For the kids, having a couple over the door shoe organizers makes it easy for them to store electronics, toys, and snacks with out taking up a lot of floor space.
5. Have versatile clothes. Having a shirt that only matches one item isn't the best use of space. Pack clothes which you can mix and match. Creating multiple outfits with the same 8 pieces, makes it seem like you have more.

Snack Ideas

Source

Tip #7

Bring your food and pack snacks
Meals can get really pricey if you are eating out every meal. Pit stops can also be an extra $30 you weren't planning on. The best way to save money is to bring your own. Pretty obvious, I know, but it is very true. My favorite places to save money is for breakfast and snacks.

Breakfast:
You should have a solid breakfast each day. Nothing is worse than having to get off the highway because you're hungry, a couple hours after you leave. Here are my suggestions.
1. Continental Breakfast: If you are planning at staying at a hotel chain, find one with a free breakfast. Some have full hot meals, while others may just have bagels and cereal. This is an easy way to have a nice big breakfast to get you going. (Also a great way to grab a couple snacks for the day). Most places will at least have coffee. If your hotel doesn't have breakfast, here are a few ideas for breakfast. If its an extra $10-$20 for the hotel, but you have a good breakfast, it may be worth it. Especially for large families.

2. Breakfast in your Room: For those who don't have access to a breakfast at your hotel, you can still eat in your room. Some easy ideas.

  • Bring a Toaster: This can be used for toast or frozen waffles. I love to put peanut butter on both with some honey. This gives you some much needed protein. You can put fruit or tomato on them for lighter options.
  • Oatmeal: If your room has a coffee maker, run a clean cycle with just water. This will give you hot water, to use for oatmeal. Doctor it up with dried fruit, almonds, granola, or cinnamon
  • Fruit and Yogurt: If you get bored with dried foods, stop at a grocery store and pick up some. This is a nice refreshing breakfast, especially if it is a warmer state.

3. Breakfast on the Road: For those in a rush in the morning here are some suggestions

  • Protein Bars or Shakes: Quick and easy to carry. Some can keep you full for hours. My favorites are Luna Bars or Special K Protein Shakes
  • Muffins: I am not a huge fan of pastries for breakfast, but if you are in a rut, a muffin is a good suggestion. I suggest one with nuts (Gives a little protein). Pumpkin ones are my favorite!
  • Fruit!- Best way to have a healthy breakfast.

Snacks

1. Before you head out make a small tote or bag with individual sized snacks. This makes it easier it so you don't buy unhealthy options, because you already have them on hand. (Carrot sticks, almonds, raisins, pretzels or dried fruit)
2. Make them easily accessible. We had the tote on top in the truck, but we also had a small lunch box that had a variety. I had labeled whose was whose, this way there is no bickering on who ate what.
3. Every couple of days pick up a bag of baby carrots or apple slices, if you have a cooler bring some gogurt. Try to hold back from unhealthy choices like cookies and candy.
4. If you have small children, get a couple containers with multiple spots. I suggest getting a couple of the larger weekly pill containers. This makes it so each slot has its own cover and will prevent spilling. You can make a whole variety of small foods. A craft organizer is also a great idea. These are both reusable and can easily be filled in the morning.

St. Louis Arch

Very High Up, Worth Doing!
Very High Up, Worth Doing!

Tip #6

Need a pit stop? Get off the highway!
You can save so much $ by taking the extra five minutes off the high way. The gas and food is usually 20% cheaper off the highway. Highway rest areas tend to be over crowded and messy.


Marriott
Best Western
Red Roof
$130-$160 Nightly
$100-$120 Nightly
$60-$80 Nightly
$100 per stay Pet Fee
$50 Pet Fee (Only 50% allow)
Pets Stay Free
Expire if No Activity in 2 Yrs.
Points Never Expire
Points Never Expire
Nightly Stays are AVERAGES, but will change due to holidays and peak seasons

Tip #5

Find which hotel chain and fuel company which works for you and get on their rewards program.

Why not add up and get free stays, extra discounts, and rewards? Check to see if they have any specials going on. We stayed at RedRoofs the whole way. They had a promotion for when you stayed at RedRoofs on two separate nights you get one night free. Also when you spent $1000 you got a free night. In total, we purchased six nights and got four free. Take advantage, shop around, and stick with which every hotel you are signed up for. See which hotels are available in the places you are stopping. If there is one in particular which is available in all areas it might be a good suggestion to look up their rewards program.

My Top Hotel Chains:
Marriott: These can be a bit pricey, but a lot of them have free breakfast. They also have great rooms which is nice after a long day of sitting. You can gain rewards for every dollar you spend and use them on more than hotel nights. You can use rewards for gift cards, items, or even flyer miles. It does take a lot of points to get free nights.
Red Roof: If you are on a budget and can live with out all the extras, try here. They are usually under $100, depending on the area. They are also great if you are bringing a furry family member. Animals stay free! On their site it says only one pet, but when we booked our reservation we asked if it was a problem that there were two. Most were fine with it, however, some you may need to pay an extra $10-$20. They often have specials for if you stay two nights you get one night free. As well as other specials. After around 6 nights you can get a free night stay.
Best Western: This is a great family hotel chain. You can redeem points the same as the marriott. However, Best Western is at a lower price point. They are individually owned, so some have different amenities than others.

Same with Fuel rewards. You're going to be using the gas, why not get a few cents off a gallon every now and then.

Source

Tip #4

Stay Entertained
If you are traveling with children it is best to keep them entertained. Boredom can lead to grouchy travelers and bickering. Here are some suggestions.
1. Make a binder of different activity pages. They can include coloring pages, tic tac toe boards, bingo boards, mazes, word searches, etc.
2. Have fun easy family fun games. Here are a few suggestions. If you need instructions let me know. I-Spy, Alphabet Game (Signs), License Plates, Name that tune, Categories, Picnic or Market.
3. Read Out Loud
4. Sing!

Don't forget to include the driver!! Keeping the driver engaged is safer than having them doze off.

Oklahoma

Long Stretch of The Same View
Long Stretch of The Same View

Tip #3

Prep Your Car

Things happen, and it is best to be prepared than to be stuck on the highway either broken down. Some things you can't avoid, but here are a few checklists to prepare for the journey.

1. Go to your local mechanic and have him do a routine maintenance check. Tires, brakes, spark plugs, radiator, alignment all fluids. Spending the extra money to get this all done before you leave will give you better gas mileage and avoid preventable breakdowns.
2. Check your spare! The air pressure in your donut goes down overtime. However, if you are getting new tires before you leave, keep one of your old. Get a rim at junkyard (Mine had one for $15), have whomever is changing your tires to put your best old tire onto the rim. There is a lot of empty and long stretches in the Midwest, longer than any donut could do.
3. Pack a mini First Aid Kit for your car. This should include: Jumper Cables, Quart of Oil, Gallon of Water, Tire Gauge, Air Pump, Small gas jug, jack and spare tire

Tip #2

Get AAA
Here some my top reasons why.
1. It is always good to have that peace of mind for road side assistance. There are a number of different plans. We went with the middle sized plan. Towing was for 100 miles and if you run out of gas they'll give you a few gallons for free.

2. Discounts on hotels and other travel expenses. Did you know Burger King has a AAA discount? How about Kohls? Every hotel we stayed at had a 10% discount. It adds up, and it doesn't hurt to ask.

3. Trip Tix. Check with your local AAA to see if they do them onsite or if they send away for them. This was so handy. Tell them where you'd like to visit and they'll give you the route, book your hotels, and give you full books/brochures of all of the places you are going. This is all a free service. It was well worth it for us!!

Grand Canyon

Pictures don't do it justice.
Pictures don't do it justice.

Tip #1

Be safe with your money, avoid identity theft. Being from AWAY, is a target on you. Here are some helpful advice to help keep your money safe.

1. Notify your bank and credit cards. This is extremely important. My bank is very finicky about access when we travel. Be sure to let them know when you are leaving, what areas you are going to and how long you'll be away.

2. Use cash at gas stations. There is a lot of Phishing at gas stations. Meaning, people track your credit card/debit card # and watch you put in your pin/zip code. This happened to us first hand and when we left they made a duplicate card and used it as a debit card. Even if you think its safe with one of those "security" covers. Recently, those covers are actually taking pictures of all your activity. I know its a hassle going in to pay cash, but its better safe than sorry.
3. Don't leave your car unlocked when just stepping out. There is a lot of theft on the rise for people who are getting out of their car and pumping gas. Take your wallet/purse with you and lock your car if you need to go into the store to pay cash or even while you are pumping.
4. Only Bring the cards you need. Don't bring every credit card you have. It is easier to overlook that one is missed if you have a stack of all your discount and credit cards. Empty your wallet and use only one card for all your transactions. Or one debit card and one credit card.
5. Set up Mobile alerts. Check with your bank or card company. There are a lot of apps out there that will ask for security features when using your card, or alerting you if something is funny. This is good to catch anything fishy as soon as it happens.

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