For many it’s the ultimate dream: wind blowing in your hair, the open road stretched out in front of you, the perfect road trip playlist blasting from the speakers. It’s the stuff of fantasies (and many a Hollywood movie)…a road trip in the USA!
Citizens from many countries are allowed a 3 month visa to the USA, and it makes sense that you’d want to see as much of the country as possible in that time. The only obstacle is that the United States of America is a HUGE country. And that’s not even counting Alaska and Hawaii, which require even more of an effort to get to. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on the “Lower 48,” and how you can go on the ultimate USA road trip in 3 months.
First, a warning: Even with three months, you will not see everything. Some of these itineraries are a surefire way to make sure you see almost nothing but the road in front of you, even though you are technically seeing “more.” I am always an advocate for slow travel, but if you truly want to see as much of the USA as possible during your three months, it is possible. I recommend seeing less in order to see more. Possibly focusing on only one region instead of the entire country. Here are a variety of itineraries to suit any preference.
The Whirlwind USA Tour
This itinerary is perfect for someone who really wants to say they saw the “entire USA.” Of course, seeing everything in 3 months is simply impossible, but this is about as close as you’re going to get! With the exception of Alabama (sorry Alabama!) and West Virginia (sorry West Virginia!) this itinerary allows you to at least drive through each state.
Please keep in mind that this itinerary is NOT for the faint of heart. It requires the adrenaline to get up early most days in order to cram in the maximum amount of sightseeing and driving into a day. Much of your time (if not most) will be spent inside your moving vehicle. If you’re cool with that, and just want to say you saw all that you could see, go for it!
The Urban Explorer Itinerary is perfect for those of you who enjoy a taste of the city life. You will still be driving through rural and scenic areas, but with the benefit of spending a few days in each destination. This is still quite a hectic trip, but with more than one night in each destination, you can see more of each city.
The cities on this itinerary offer everything from historical sights to world class restaurants. From urban street art to museums with beloved artifacts. See sights you’ve been dreaming about your entire life like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, and the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The beauty of this itinerary is that these cities are always changing. You may just discover the next hottest thing before everyone else does!
It really wasn’t until researching all of the National Parks to create this itinerary that I realized just how MANY exist in the USA. The National Parks road trip will allow you to re-connect with nature and experience some of the world’s most breath-taking natural wonders.
This road trip is really perfect for those of you renting or buying a camper or RV. You’ll be able to spend the night in nature and wake up to the birds chirping. Many National Parks do require entrance fees, and it also costs money to stay in campgrounds across the country. Visit this website to find a listing near whatever National Park you want to visit. Keep in mind that if you are traveling during high season [i.e. summer in the Northern Hemisphere] many campgrounds get fully booked in advance. Therefore, if you want to secure a place to sleep it’s worthwhile to book ahead of time. If you desire more flexibility and spontaneity, consider traveling during the off or shoulder seasons.
The Quirky USA route is less of an itinerary and more of a list of some crazy, kooky attractions to see on your USA road trip. Including a few major hubs where everything weird is revered: Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon come to mind. And it wouldn’t be a Quirky USA road trip without visiting Las Vegas, that strange place where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. There are so many small roadside attractions around the country that cater to your desire for kitsch. Looking for the “world’s smallest skyscraper?” You’ll find it in Wichita Falls, Texas. The “world’s largest ball of twine?” Stop by Cawker City, Kansas! And can we talk about the American obsession with planting cars into the ground in a Stonehenge formation? It’s real.
How much money do I need for a 3 month USA road trip?
This really depends on your personal desires for your trip. You can eat out for every meal, splurge on shopping, and spend lots of time in cities (where things are more expensive). Or you can cook your own meals, camp, and take advantage of free activities to cut down on expenses. It also depends on how many people you are traveling with. The more people you travel with, the lower your individual cost is because you can split gas, food, really everything! That said, if you travel with a group that isn’t budget conscious, it could end up being more expensive overall. Here are some money saving tips for your USA road trip:
-Check out the website GasBuddy.com (there is also an app). It will tell you where the closest gas station is based on your location. You can also research current gas prices around the country using their website. Some states, even ones adjacent to each other (looking at you, New York and New Jersey!) have incredibly different prices for gas. Keep in mind that gas prices are always fluctuating.
-If at all possible, try to drive a vehicle that will be economical with fuel. Not only is it better for the environment, but it will save you money on gas over the entirety of your trip.
-Cook your own food. Assuming you are driving a camper van, yours should have a small kitchen built in. Stock up on food from the grocery store and cook your own meals. If you don’t have a kitchen in your vehicle, you can still stock up on non perishable food items for snacks that can fuel you instead of stopping at every rest stop.
-When you want to eat out (and I highly encourage it!) you don’t have to stop anywhere fancy. In fact, America is known (for better or worse) as being the land of fast food. While, it’s true, you could roll through a McDonalds drive through (please don’t), there are plenty of other “fast food” options. America is a country of immigrants, so there are tons of foods from around the world to try. Huevos rancheros in California, pupusas in Texas, phở in New York, dim sum in Michigan, the list goes on and on. Of course, if you want something a bit more home grown, you can’t do a USA road trip without stopping at a classic greasy spoon (diner).
-Instead of paying a fee at every National Park that requires one, consider buying an America The Beautiful Pass. The traditional Annual Pass is only $80 and allows you access to “more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.”
-There are some great online resources for finding free or cheap activities in cities around the USA. Some of the best are: TimeOut, Thrillist, and check out this list of ‘163 Free Things To Do In America’s Top Destinations’ on Travel + Leisure.
Some More USA Road Trip Tips:
-Keep in mind that some places you will drive through are very rural. Think: absolutely no one and nothing for miles. That includes gas stations. Always check before passing a gas station that the next one isn’t too far away. This is also where GasBuddy comes in handy.
-Likewise, because of the rural nature of much of the country, cell service will not always be stellar. On a practical level, make sure to have any survival items necessary in your vehicle. Check out this suggested Emergency Kit from the DMV. On a less practical level, you’ll want to download any entertainment before heading off on the road. Don’t rely on your cell service to access Spotify or Podcasts. Download songs and albums offline, and make sure your Podcasts are downloaded, too. You can also opt to go the old-fashioned route and buy some CDs, you retro-chic traveler, you.
-Weather varies drastically around the USA. You could start the day in 80-degree heat, drive into the mountains, and suddenly be in the midst of a blizzard. Always check the weather of where you will be driving that day, and make sure that your vehicle is prepared for anything.
-I won’t pretend to know a whole lot about insurance, but what I do know is that it’s important to have some. Both for your vehicle and for your person. Look into AAA Roadside Assistance for your vehicle and World Nomads Travel Insurance for your person. With the tenuous existence of health insurance in the USA, it is NOT wise to be caught in a bad situation without insurance.
Is Now A Good Time To Take a Road Trip In The USA?
If you want to take a road trip in the USA, but are put off by the current political climate, I completely understand. Where you choose to travel, and spend your hard earned money, is your own personal decision. But I can attempt to help you understand some of the myths surrounding Americans and travel in the USA.
-Despite the negative images of Americans you may have seen in the media as of late, most of us are generally friendly and welcoming to foreigners. In fact, what you may notice is that we Americans are OVERLY friendly to just about everyone. This varies widely by region (you’re not going to see too many smiles in the Northeastern Corridor, which I can say confidently because I am from there), but especially in the South, being friendly is a deeply ingrained way of life. Hospitality is taken very seriously. The majority of interactions you will have are going to be positive, because I truly believe people around the world are generally well-meaning.
-There is no use denying that we have a problem with racism (and many other -isms) in the USA. If you are a person of color thinking of going on a road trip in the USA I understand you may have fear in visiting at this moment. Unfortunately, given the current political climate I can’t say for sure whether your fears are unfounded or not. In cities around the country, you are unlikely to meet with any open hostility (unless you’re a slow walker, in which case, watch out!) More rural areas may be unused to seeing many people of color, and might take an interest in you. This doesn’t mean it will be a negative experience, in fact you may be surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of people will simply be curious about your experience.
There are, however, some very scared people in the USA. They have been led to believe that different = bad and therefore may react to your presence with open hostility. It is up to you and your judgement whether or not you feel comfortable traveling in the USA at this time.
-If you are wondering whether or not you want to spend your money in the USA given the policies that are being promoted by the current administration, I get it. However, I would say that at this point in time it’s more important than ever that people from other countries and Americans interact. Only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport, so sometimes the only interaction they will have with foreigners is when they travel to the USA. And hey, maybe you could even report back to your home country that Americans aren’t ALL like the ignorant buffoon that you see on the television.