My American Roadtip: Stats, Tips and Observations

My little rental next to my tent

As I jumped in my car in the west of the United States I knew that I was likely in for a lot of hours behind the wheel. I was driving from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and then all the way across the country to Miami. Oh, and I only had 2 weeks to do it all.

I finally pulled into Miami drained, tired, broke, behind on my work, and mind-numb from all the driving. However, I feel like the long hours at the wheel, the nights sleeping in my car or camping, and the costs incurred were all worth it at the end of the day.  I can walk away with not only a great experience under my belt but a greater understanding of a region I knew little about before hand.

I have split this long post into three sections: 1. Stats, 2. Observations, and 3. Tips for having a great American roadtrip.

Stats

  • Days: 15
  • Miles: 3,657 (5,885km) 

    One of 7 states I crossed

  • Fuel: 125 gallons (462 litres)
  • Hitchers picked up: 3
  • Total hours of driving: 71 hours
  • Redbulls: 10
  • Rednecks met who had just gotten out of jail: 1
  • Beautiful Southern Girls: Too many to count
  • New Orleans Drinks: Also too many to count
  • Near accidents: 2
  • Times I flipped the bird at other drivers: 5
  • Times I was flipped the bird: 2

Observations

Mascot for the band "Dogfood" that I met in Austin

  • Poverty: I was shocked by the amount of poverty in the south of America, especially West Texas. I expected to see poverty in places like the New Orleans region, but not in so many other places. I was amazed by the amount of rough housing dwellings. I was equally amazed at the conditions people lived in while at the same time driving a brand new truck.
  • Going Green: Say what you want about America for being an industrial machine with no regard for the environment. There are more “green” projects going on in the US than most countries in the world. I was impressed by the windmill fields in West Texas and the availability of at home recycling pickup even in the rural areas of the country. In fact, my “home and native land” could probably learn a thing or two from the US in this regard.
  • Division: You could cut the tension in the United States with a knife. It seems that everyone is on a “team”. Of course everyone says they are American first but beyond that the divisions are stark. Rich vs. Poor, Republican vs. Democratic, Minority vs. White, Gay vs. Anti-Gay, and so many others. It’s almost like an unhealthy sexual tension between sides, each wary of the others.  Maybe that’s why there are so many flags in America, so people remember that they are all on the same team.
  • Sport: One thing I love about the US is their involvement in sports. Despite the image of the United States seen by the world as overweight I think you’d be hard pressed to find a country more intuned with sport. Sure some just show this love for sport by drinking beer and watching the games on the tube, but a large preportion get out and play and that’s a great thing in my opinion.

Tips

Arby's in Roswell, New Mexico

  1. Take the Scenic Routes: The US is a country that seems to be built for cars. The entire purpose of the highway structure is to be able to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. However, that it not the “point” of a roadtrip. Personally, I only took the Interstate highways when I needed to. Stick to the roads designated with US, as in US Route 66, and you’ll have a much nicer time.
  2. Go Camping: Obviously you can’t camp year ’round in parts of America, but there are definitely some places to camp if the season is right. I found that the best website for camping was recreation.gov which gave a list of nearby sites that suited your need. You could book online, see the availability and even see a photo of your site in some cases.
  3. Get a fuel efficient vehicle: The prices of fuel in the United States are so low it might have you shaking your head. In most cases the prices are the equivalent of between 0.85-0.95 cents a litre. However, the cheap cost of fuel is mitigated by the fact that distances between places is so great. Get a nice little car that pulls its weight without costing you a fortune
  4. Good music: If you don’t have some sort of music playing device to hook up to the car you will go crazy. The majority of the radio stations only play a loop of a dozen or so songs. If you listen to the radio the entire time, as I did, you will go crazy and you will know the words to every Katie Perry song whether you like it or not.
  5. Grocery Shop: It is easy in America to simply eat cheap fast food everyday, however you’re likely to put on about 10 pounds in a month like I did. Pack a cooler your trunk and go to the grocery stores to pick up snacks and sandwich making materials. It will save your waist and you’ll have the luxury to stop anywhere you want for a picnic lunch.
  6. Stop and Smell the Roses: On a road trip it is so easy to focus on the destination and simply drive. However, the best part of the road trip is usually the interesting things that you find along the way. If you see something interesting road side that’s not on your plans don’t be afraid to stop and check it out.
  7. Become a AAA member: Roadside assistance is going to get you through any challenges.  If you’re a member of AAA or one of its affiliates getting roadside assistance because much easier and cheaper than otherwise.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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19 Comments

  1. 6000 k’s, well done, that’s a genuine road trip. And..good tips! Another one is, don’t drive when you’re tired, and make sure you get some sleep each night. I almost got killed driving across the US, a friend who was driving was falling asleep at the wheel. But, that’s another story 😉

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    • That’s a good point Nate. I used to drive as a tour bus driver/guide in University so I got pretty good at knowing my limits although still good advice for others. When I’m tired I chew gum, sing, talk to myself, etc. to keep busy.

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  2. I really liked this summary Brendan as it is interesting to read the perspective of someone traveling through the US that isn’t from here but isn’t so foreign that they are shocked by our culture.

    People are panicking these days because the price of gas is going up so much. Guess we need to keep things in perspective.

    As for sports, it’s one of the reasons I LOVE living here. We have LOTS of sports all year long. My love of sports is what inspired me to start my College Football Travel Tour.

    Very interesting to read your other observations about poverty, going green, and general travels through the US. I guess so much of what we see we are used to so it’s interesting to hear it from another perspective.

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    • @Jeremy – It’s always good to hear an outside perspective. I really wish I had more money and time to go through the rest of the states I haven’t visited. Someday.

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  3. I’d love to do a road trip in the US – I’ve driven Australia which is a similar size – so the distances don’t scare me. Petrol is cheap – but what I think is the sticking point for non-residents is that it seems to be impossible to buy a car? I’d want about a 6 week trip – and renting for the length of time would be far too expensive. But it seems that you have to have a local license to buy, but to get that license you need a SSN# – know anyway around this?

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    • Lissie – Yeah, I had a rental car but I always had a bit of a sponsorship for it. If I didn’t have the sponsorship it would have cost me about $1400. I am a Canadian and buying a car is quite easy. It can be done for others too I’m sure. I’m fairly sure that you don’t need an american license to do it.

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  4. Love your insight and the courage to take on this trek! And yes, you can cut the tension here with a knife…we are a divided nation, and I don’t see that changing ever again…

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    • Thanks DJ – Here’s to hoping there can be some coming together in the US… it’s a shame to see so much divide

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  5. Great article! Is AAA membership necessary though if you are renting? Just wondering because we are about to do a similar thing and the NZ AA have a reciprocal agreement with the AAA which we could look in to.

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    • Anita – I have AA Canada and it works even if you’re in a rental car.

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  6. Nice breakdown of stats here. My personal favourite: Rednecks met who had just gotten out of jail: 1

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    • @Sam – I wish I had it on film… it was so funny.

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  7. Roswell!? You were only another 6 hours south of me! 🙂 sounds like a great trip. I especially agree with the parts about the poverty and division. We are a very divided nation at this point and part of that comes from the severe income inequality we suffer. Two different Americas.

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    • @Jim – I know, I got close. If I didn’t have such a tight time restraint I would have gone farther north. There’s nothing wrong with being a nation of different types of people, but division is a scary thing.

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  8. The roadtrip looked like real fun! I enjoyed our trip in Hawaii, though that’s a bit smaller as compared to going around south America.

    I agree with sticking to more “scenic” routes, it’s more fun and you get to see better views. Looking at the cars all around you at the highway ain’t really fun – it only makes you sleepy!

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  9. I can’t tell you for how long and how hard I have dreamed of doing a trip like yours!Since I read “Travels with Charley” many moons ago probably, fueled in later years by “Blue Highways.” I could never get anyone who could come with me, though. What do you think about a woman doing this trip or similar on her own?

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  10. Interesting that you found the US to be environmentally friendly – we thought exact the opposite when we road tripped through the States last year after spending two months in Canada. We wished that the US would do more for the environment, we saw so many signs of pollution and had the impression Canada was by far more environmentally friendly.

    Also – happy to hear that we’re not the only ones who put on weight while road tripping – the abundance of fast food was unbelievable. In some areas in the South we actually had difficulties finding some fruit and vegetables and other healthy food and understood where the term ‘food desert’ comes from…

    Post a Reply
    • Dani – I think part of it is that Canada looks cleaner. But a big part of it is that we have so much room to hide things. I felt like the US could be doing more as well, but at least it seems they are making an effort.

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  11. We spent more than year road tripping around the US in the early days of our ongoing Trans-Americas Journye 200,000 mile working road trip through North, Central and South America, so we know good US road trip advice when we see it!

    Thanks for sharing your tips and your observations. It’s always nice to see the US through fresh eyes.

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