How to Get the Most Out of Your First Long-Distance Road Trip
As cliche as it sounds, the journey is just as important as the destination when it comes to road trips, especially very long cross-country ones! When my fiancé and I first started entertaining the idea of a digital nomad lifestyle, one of our biggest concerns was actually getting to the cities we wanted to live in.
We have a dog who is too large to fly in-cabin, and we would need a car in all the places we wanted to live. So, naturally, the solution was to drive. While we regularly took single-day road trips from southern California to northern California, the idea of spending a full week on the road was pretty intimidating.
Once we gathered the courage to commit to a drive from Orange County, California, to Nashville, Tennessee, we knew we had to make the most of our week of vacation. We definitely did our fair share of driving, averaging about 475 miles per day, but with some careful planning, we made sure each day was enjoyable!
Below, I’m excited to share my top three tips to ensure you get the most out of your road trip. As Miley Cyrus sang, “It’s not about how fast you get there, it’s the climb.”
1. Plan, plan, plan!
This one may be a bit obvious, but I do truly believe that much of our success on this road trip was thanks to meticulous planning.
About two weeks before our trip, we planned out exactly how many miles we would drive each day, where we would stop, and where we would sleep. We chose our stops to be along cities we wanted to visit regardless of our road trip, since we were taking PTO and didn’t want to spend all of our “vacation” exhausted in the car. We found that our sweet spot in terms of mileage was between 450 and 500 miles per day. We made the most of our travel time but still had enough energy to get out and explore a bit after being in the car for so long.
We made a slight detour to visit Santa Fe, which was out of the way of our route, but it was worth it to visit a place we wanted to see for a while! We also wanted to make our hotel reservations ahead of time to ensure that we’d have a pet-friendly place to stay.
Here’s an example of our itinerary:
2. Start your day as early as you can
I’ll preface this by saying that we’re both very much “morning people.” I am normally up at 6 a.m. (even on weekends) and in bed by 10 p.m. However, I do think there’s a lot of value to getting an early start to driving. We had a rule that the time driving in the dark didn’t count, and as a bonus, we got to see beautiful sunrises every morning.
We would set our alarms for 4 a.m. every day, and try to get on the road by 4:45 a.m. We would try to get at least 100 miles out of the way before we’d stop for our morning coffee and breakfast and to walk the dog. We’d almost trick our brains into getting a big chunk of our drive over with before we were truly “awake,” in turn making the rest of the day more digestible.
We also wanted to prioritize getting to our nightly stop as early as possible, as it would give us more time to explore the city and relax before the next day of driving. Our 5 a.m. starts meant we’d get to our destination in the afternoon, giving us a good chunk of daylight to see the city. Since we had our dog with us, we weren’t really able to explore nightlife, so we prioritized walking around as much as possible to get Teddy enough exercise while seeing each city.
3. Plan your drive on America’s Byways
If you have the luxury of time and don’t need to get to your destination as quickly as possible, I highly recommend taking a look at the scenic byways along your way. We found out about America’s Byways from a barista in Utah during our drive to Colorado last year. We decided to take Scenic Byway 12, and while it was longer than going on the freeway, it was definitely a highlight of our journey. This specific byway was 120 miles through Utah, and it was absolutely stunning. It had everything, such as red rock cliffs, canyons, forests, national parks, and cute towns.
On the trip out to Nashville, we took Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway or the Mother Road. We planned this trip to specifically be on this road and got to visit many historic stops along the way, including the Wigwam Motel and the Petrified Forest in Holbrook, Arizona, and the Tee Pee Curios Shop in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
The scenic byways were much less congested than the freeways, and there were no large trucks to maneuver around. While the winding roads were a bit slower to get through, the beautiful scenery around us was a welcome change from the emptiness along the highways. Just make sure to stop whenever you see a town—restrooms and gas stations are few and far between along these roads.
You can learn about all 150 of America’s Byways here. I highly recommend fitting at least one in on your next road trip!
All in all, our road trip out to Tennessee was surprisingly pretty easy, and definitely much more fun than I had anticipated. The anticipation of getting to a fun city to explore each night helped the day go by a bit faster, and the varying landscapes along with interesting stops along the way broke up the monotony of hours of driving at a time.
It helped immensely that we’re living with Landing throughout our entire trip, so we didn’t have to worry about packing up our entire lives—we each have two suitcases of clothes, an extra bag of things for the pup, and that’s about it. Once we got to Nashville, all we had to do was unload our closet and make a quick trip to the grocery store, and it’s like life is back to normal. While we definitely will be exploring the areas around Nashville throughout the next few weeks, for now, we’re excited to take a break from driving and enjoy Music City!