Driving cross country is a fun and exciting way to spend vacation time, especially when traveling with family. But before setting out on your epic journey, you need to keep in mind a few factors. You need to fully plan your trip, make sure you have everything you need before departing, and follow safe-driving practices when traveling.

Part 1 of 2: Before you depart

Preparation is key when trying to ensure the success of a cross-country trip. Making sure you have a good route, knowing where you are staying at the end of each day, and packing what you need is paramount to making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. Luckily, you have a wide range of online resources at your disposal to help facilitate the planning process.

Step 1: Plan your trip. Planning your trip is the most important part and includes many factors.

This includes the route you want to take, how long it should take you to get to your destination and back, and any sightseeing you plan on doing along the way.

Take into account how long you have for your trip, and determine how many hours you must drive each day to complete it in the time allotted. Traveling from coast to coast takes at least four days one way.

It's best to plan on at least a little over a week for driving, in addition to the time spent looking at the sights and visiting various locations along your trip route or at your destination.

To plan your route, you have a few options to choose from, including using a road atlas and highlighter to mark your route, printing out directions online using a program such as Google Maps, or using websites, such as Furkot, geared toward helping you plan your trips.

Step 2: Reserve hotels. Once you know the route and where you plan on stopping for the night along the way, it is time to book your hotels.

The easiest way to book the hotel rooms you need is to look at a map and figure how long you plan on driving each day, and then look for towns that amount of distance from where you start at the beginning of the day.

Look for hotels in the vicinity of where you plan on stopping, keeping in mind you may have to look a little further in more sparsely populated areas.

  • Tip: Make sure to book your hotel stays far enough in advance to ensure that the hotel you want to stay at doesn't become booked up. This is especially important during prime tourist season, such as in the summer months. Also, during select times of the year, a location might experience higher-than-normal tourists visits.

Step 3: Reserve a rental car. You should also decide if you want to drive your own vehicle or rent a car.

When renting, do so far enough in advance to make sure the rental company has a vehicle available for the span of time you need it for. When comparing rental car companies, look for companies that offer unlimited miles.

Since the distance across the U.S. is over 3,000 miles in some places, the cost car of renting a car from a rental company that doesn't offer unlimited miles can really add up, especially when taking into consideration a round trip.

Step 4: Have your vehicle inspected. If you plan on driving your own vehicle cross country, have it inspected before you leave.

Make sure to have various systems inspected that commonly break down on long trips, such as air conditioner and heating, battery, brakes, and fluids (including coolant levels), headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and tires

It is also a good idea to get your oil changed before leaving on a cross-country trip. The same goes for a tune-up, which helps ensure your vehicle operates smoothly on the long drive.

Step 5: Pack your car. Once your car is squared away, make sure to pack essential items you may need on your trip.

Remember, you should expect the trip to take at least a week and a half to two weeks depending on stops. Pack accordingly. Some items to take with you include:

  • Tip: Consider signing up for an auto club membership, such as AAA, to take advantage of a roadside assistance program. The services these types of organizations offer include free towing, locksmith services, and battery and fuel services.

Part 2 of 2: On the road

You have your route planned, hotel rooms booked, car packed, and your vehicle is in great running condition. Now it is just a matter of hitting the open road and getting on your way. While driving along your route, you can keep some simple tips in mind to keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable.

Step 1: Watch your gas gauge. Depending on which part of the country you find yourself in, gas stations availability can be few and far between.

This is mainly a concern in the Midwest and Southwest United States where you can literally travel a hundred miles or more without seeing any signs of civilization.

You should fill up when your vehicle gets down to a quarter tank of gas, or sooner if you expect to travel across a large area with little to no services.

Step 2: Take breaks. While driving, take breaks occasionally, allowing you to get out and stretch your legs.

The ideal place to stop is at a rest area or gas station. If you have no choice but to stop on the side of the roadway, make sure to get over as far to the right as you can and use caution when exiting your vehicle.

Step 3: Switch out drivers. If you are traveling with another licensed driver, switch out with them every so often.

By switching out with another driver, you can take a break from driving and reenergize yourself by taking a nap or eating a snack. Plus, you want to enjoy the scenery occasionally too, which is hard to do if you are driving all the time.

Just like when you take a break, when switching drivers, try to pull off at a gas station or rest area. If you must pull over on the side of the road, get over as far to the right as you can and use caution when exiting your vehicle.

Step 4: Enjoy the scenery. Take time out on your trip to enjoy the many beautiful vistas available across the U.S.

Stop and soak it all in. Who knows when you can expect to find yourself there in the future.

Driving cross country provides an opportunity to see the U.S. up close and personal. As long as you properly prepare for your trip, you can expect to have a safe and fun time. When preparing to travel across the U.S., have one of our expert mechanics perform a 75-point safety inspection to make sure your vehicle is in great shape for your trip.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Drive Cross Country and was authored by Cheryl Knight.

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