All you need to know about road tripping in the USA

30/07/2014

USA road trip, image by Thinkstock/iStock

There are few things more iconic that taking to the open road in the USA to follow one of the country’s infamous highways, such as Route 66. For many people on a multi centre holiday in the USA, driving from place to place is the only way to travel, as this in itself is a quintessential American experience.

While it’s fantastic to hire a car and drive off into the sunset, it pays to make sure you’re aware of the practical side of driving stateside. Check out our tips to make sure you have the perfect road trip that is memorable for all of the right reasons - we’ve even put together a suggested itinerary to help get you in the mood for the drive of your life. 

Be prepared for an automatic car

Automatic car, image by Thinkstock/iStock

One thing you will certainly need to get used to if you’re planning to drive in the USA is automatic cars. The majority of Americans drive these rather than manual vehicles and it’s what you’ll find on most car hire forecourts. However, the good news is that they’re easy to get to grips with, especially when you’re also having to contend with being on the other side of the road.

Remember that the gear stick will be on your right, rather than your left, and that you won’t have a clutch pedal (just the accelerator and brake). The best way to avoid accidentally pressing the brake is to keep your left foot tucked out of the way when you’re driving.

Driving on the right

When it comes to actually driving, the biggest difference is that the Americans drive on the right rather than the left. If you’ve never driven overseas, this can seem like a daunting prospect but in reality you’ll get used to it quickly, especially if you’re travelling around areas with lots of traffic.

Be aware that many US roads have a left turning lane in the middle of the road that can be used by cars travelling in either direction. If you want to make a left turn, indicate in plenty of time and check to make sure that there isn’t another vehicle coming from the opposite direction that wants to use the lane. 

Basic driving rules

Stop sign, image by Thinkstock/iStock

The legal rules of the road can vary from state to state, something to bear in mind if you’re planning an epic journey like the Route 66 road trip. However, there are some common regulations to be aware of. For instance, you need to completely stop at a ‘Stop’ sign or risk being pulled over.

When it comes to traffic lights at junctions, it’s worth noting that you can always turn right on a red light unless there is a sign specifying otherwise. There is usually a traffic light for each lane of traffic - only keep an eye on your one, as these can all be set to go green at slightly different intervals. 

Also stick to the speed limit, safety first, but also if you get caught they have some extremely high fines!

Sat-Nav or not Sat-Nav

The good thing about driving in the US is that the road network is quite straight forward, so it’s quite easy to get around without a sat nav. When you’re driving around cities, most have a grid system so it’s actually quite difficult to get lost. Then when you’re driving between cities, there tends to be much fewer roads than you’ll find in the UK, so again it’s quite easy to find the correct route to drive on, everything is also clearly signposted. Getting a sat-nav though it still worth considering as you then don’t even need to think about directions, you can just enjoy the drive. Something to note though is that hiring them for a car rental company can be very expensive, sometimes dearer than the cost of buying one. If you have a sat-nav already, look in to downloading suitable maps and take it with you. If you don’t it may be worth considering investing in one, you can always sell it on your return if you no longer need it.

Travelling on Route 66

Route 66There are few roads that conjure up such a picture of romance as Route 66 - that iconic American highway that so many travellers are keen to drive along. A self-drive tour on this road can easily be fitted into a two-week holiday, so you don’t need months to enjoy a quintessential US road trip experience.

Starting out from Chicago, you’ll head south and west through Illinois to the likes of Springfield and then St Louis, which is on the border with Missouri. From here, it’s on to another Springfield, then Oklahoma City.

As you head further west, you’ll pass through numerous well-known cities, including Amarillo, and Albuquerque, before you reach the likes of the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Then it’s just another stretch of open road until you hit Los Angeles, the end of your epic journey.

Oklahoma CityThe wonderful thing about this route is that it introduces you to various aspects of US history and culture along the way. For instance, in Oklahoma City you can learn about the Wild West era, when cowboys and prospectors set out to explore new and inhospitable territories. 

Springfield, Illinois, meanwhile, offers an introduction to American politics, as this was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln - you can, naturally, visit several sites related to the former US president. 

And then, of course, you have the spectacular natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, not to mention the neon dream that is Las Vegas. All in all, this is one of the best all-round road trips you can embark on if you want a flavour of various aspects of the States. 

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