Plan for a Solo Road Trip: The Expert Tips

Want to get out and see the USA, but have no one to go with and wondering how to plan for a solo road trip? Here are my expert planning tips as a female, solo traveler who’s covered tens of thousands of miles across America.

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Is it Weird to Go on a Road Trip Alone?

Not at all!  I’ve been doing it for decades and clocked well over 30,000 miles across my country.

Road trips aren’t just for taking a vacation.  There have been numerous reasons I have taken a solo road trip across America, or just across a state.  Mainly because I wanted, or needed, to see family or friends, go to concerts, get back and forth from college, or relocate permanently (I’ve lived in seven states).

Pedestrians and cars at Venice Beach 3418_1024
Venice Beach, California

Where Can I Go for a Solo Road Trip in the U.S.?

Anywhere!  We don’t have check points between states so that makes it easy.

I’ve been to 46 states, so using any of the above reasons to travel alone in the U.S. has also been a great opportunity to see and do new things, like visit national and state parks or go to an annual music festival or holiday celebration in a new city.

Being solo has never stopped me from road tripping in the U.S.

Is it Safe to Drive Cross Country Alone?

Yes, just as long as you are smart about it.

Overlooking Valley Durango Country_2046
Valley outside Durango, Colorado

How Do You Do a Long Road Trip Alone?

You do a successful long road trip alone with very good planning. The more time you have to plan, the better. 

If you don’t have much time to plan, focus on the items involving safety first, like planning your route and making sure your vehicle is up to snuff. 

Plan for a Solo Road Trip: The Expert Tips

Here are my tips to plan a long solo road trip (more than one day), but they can also apply to shorter road trips (less than a day).

These are tried and true tips I still use today. If you are a female or novice road tripper, this post is ideally for you. If you are not, these are still good solo road trip tips to know.

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, so should you make a purchase through these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my Disclaimers & Disclosures and Privacy Policy for more information.

Picking Your Road Trip Destination

I’m not going to take you through how to pick a road trip destination. This post is here to help you plan for a solo road trip that you’ve already decided on. If you still need assistance you could see my How to Choose Your First Solo Trip Destination

Or, you can use some of my expert tips to work backwards to find a road trip destination.

Route 66 signs at night Williams AZ
Route 66, Williams, Arizona
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Build a Solo Road Trip Itinerary

It’s important to do as much research in advance as possible for a long road trip. Safety is always your first consideration. Top things to consider in planning your route and itinerary are:

  • Stop Locations
  • Weather / Time of Year
  • Terrain
  • Road Types
  • Accommodations

Stop Locations

Once you know where you want to go to, find overnight stopping points by knowing you’re not driving too much in one day. You want to stay fresh and alert for continual days of driving.

Within each driving day, calculate how many times you’ll need to stop for gas. If you want to make good time, it’s best to incorporate bathroom and eating breaks in your fueling breaks.

Always check your fluid levels, including oil, every time you stop for gas and never let your car get below a quarter of a tank.

If you’re feeling uber-cautious, document your mileage covered at each fueling stop so you know your car’s gas mileage is consistent. I do this when I’m driving really long distances.

People walking on Hollywood Blvd at dusk
Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

Weather / Time of Year

Depending on time of year, it’s best to route your travel to avoid routes that will be more impacted by weather (i.e., avoiding extreme heat the South or summer and avoiding the extreme cold or snow in the North or winter).

I definitely plan my trips around the weather, not just for safety but also for enjoying activities and sites along the way.

Keep an eye on the weather report, in advance and while traveling, of your upcoming locations so you can mitigate being stuck in bad weather, or traffic, and cause problems for your vehicle.

Remember, time of year impacts how much daylight you have. It’s always safest to drive during the day. These days, on long solo road trips, I stick to driving only during day light. I didn’t always use to do this.

My record longest stretch of solo driving is 17 ½ hours from Boulder, Colorado to San Antonio, Texas. Straight. Only stopping for gas. Yah, I don’t do that anymore. I get up earlier, if need be, if I know I have a particularly long day of driving.

Terrain

Will you be driving across terrain you are unfamiliar with, like the desert or mountains?  If so, it is a good idea to brush up on the rules of the road and tips for the area you’ll be in. 

Seward Scenic Highway and mountains Alaska
Seward Scenic Highway, Alaska

Road Types

When mapping out your route, you could consider smaller highways than just traveling on the interstate. Interstates have the advantage of getting you to your destination quicker and usually provide many rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, and the like.

Smaller highways, however, provide more opportunity to see more of the countryside, quaint towns and off the beaten path attractions you may not initially consider.

The smaller the highway, however, the more of a chance you could be without any services close by. They also require longer the drive times – you could constantly be slowing down for town speed limits and lights – so, take that into consideration when planning your itinerary.  Google is a great way to calculate this!

Accommodations

Make your hotel reservations as soon as you know your itinerary to get the best deals.

I personally would not bother with Airbnb to get to my final destination. I recommend getting a hotel reservation that includes late check-in and a free cancellation option just in case you have an emergency or decide to take do a diversion that delays your hotel arrival.

If you’re traveling with a pet, definitely make a reservation. Not all hotels or motels will allow a pet. Even if they take dogs, they may not take cats.  You must specify your pet and get the confirmation in writing (email).

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Before you book your accommodations, review the establishment’s images and do a Google street view to get a better understanding of the building and its surroundings. This will help you know if you need to request a room on a higher floor (which is always safer), or nearer the street, which is more important in an establishment in a sparsely populated area than in a city high-rise hotel.

If you’re unloading a lot from the car, you may want a room closest to the main door and your parking spot. Always try to park in a well-lit area of the hotel.

Remember how I said I only drive during the daylight on long road trips?  That daylight time includes arriving to my hotel, checking in, unpacking the car, and eating dinner before it gets dark. As a female solo traveler, it’s just safer than doing all of that in the dark in a strange location.

Also, try to pick a room that’s quieter where you’ll be apt to get a good night’s sleep. Driving long distances can be tiring.

Grand Canyon Arizona_0635
The Grand Canyon

Share Your Itinerary

When your details are nailed down, share your full itinerary, with all contact information, with family and/or friends.

Make a plan on how you’ll contact them daily so they know you’re on schedule.

If traveling in the U.S. is a domestic trip, there is no need to copy your ID or anything for your family and friends. 

If the U.S. is an international trip, provide your loved ones a copy of all of your travel documents and ID in case of emergency. Also see my USA Travel Guide if you’d like more travel tips!

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Road Tripping with Pets

If you have a pet, pack all pet essentials as if you could not make a stop to buy more.

Consider planning your stops for them to take a pee break as well.

Budgeting for a Solo Road Trip

Budget for all hotel, gas/oil, food necessities, and attractions you’ll see along the way, if any.

Build in at least a 10% emergency fund, bring a back-up credit card, and ensure you have a card you can get cash from. You never know if you run into one of those places that don’t take credit cards.

People on Beach at Carmel CA_IMG_1928
Carmel, California

Know Your Car Insurance Coverage

I’ve been with the same car insurance company ever since I bought my first car at the age of 20. I’m fully knowledgeable on what my policy provides and doesn’t. 

Make sure you know your policy well also.  Have full 24-hour roadside assistance that includes long-distance towing.  If you’re in the middle of nowhere, coverage for towing 100 miles is not going to help you if it takes 200 miles to get the closest mechanic.

If your car insurance does not cover such things, consider getting AAA for your solo trip.

Of course, have your car insurance policy and car registration in your car.

With the appropriate car insurance coverage, I’ve NEVER purchased travel insurance for a road trip in the U.S., no matter how long it is.  Over the past 30 years, I’ve never needed it.

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Using a Rental for Solo Road Tripping

It’s possible your vehicle is not long road trip worthy or you just don’t want to put the miles on your vehicle. In any case, you do have rental options that can take your long road trip to a whole new level.

Camper Vans, RV’s and Motor Homes

These are a great way to do more off the beaten path road tripping and enjoying state and national parks, especially if you don’t like sleeping in a tent.

I loved traveling in my VW bus that I could sleep in. It was very convenient!

If you do decide to rent one of these larger vehicles, ensure you get the full vehicle review with the rental professional so you know how to use it.  You may want to also practice driving it a bit before your trip if you’re unfamiliar with such a large vehicle.

Close up of VW Bus
Concert in North Carolina

Regular Vehicle Rentals

No matter what type of vehicle you rent, check that your car insurance policy covers the vehicle no matter what your destination. This avoids unnecessary rental insurance through the rental company and saves you money.

If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to get rental insurance through the rental company. 

Use a credit card that covers any damages to your rental. This saved me when someone hit my rental car once! I didn’t have to pay a dime to get it fixed nor have a ding on my car insurance premium.

Get familiar with the vehicle before leaving the rental lot.  Know how to pop the hood; how to operate the mirrors; know where the owner’s manual, spare tire and jack are; and, know where all of the basic fluids go. 

Can you get satellite radio and online roadside assistance? Great. Get them.  These options can make or break a long solo road trip.

Last, don’t forget the full inside and outside check of any rental with the rental agent, and get a signed copy of the inspection before you drive away.

Grassy Knoll_Dallas TX_1cb4
The Grassy Knoll, Dallas, TX

Preparing Your Vehicle for Your Solo Road Trip

Get Your Vehicle Inspected

If you haven’t had your oil changed or car serviced in a few thousand miles, do it before you go to be better safe than sorry.

At minimum, I always get my tire tread and pressure, fluids, windshield wipers, and lights checked.

Prepare Your Roadside Emergency Kit

I also keep the following car kit items in the back of my car, which I also recommend for your long road trip:

  • quart of oil
  • coolant
  • gallon gas can
  • water (for drinking and battery)
  • pen and paper
  • jumper cables
  • flares
  • flash light
  • blanket and rags
  • tarp
  • bungy cords
  • ice scraper
  • folding chair
  • first aid kit
  • basic tools (including Leatherman, pocket knife and tire pressure gauge)
  • spare tire and jack
  • hiking boots and rain shell
  • umbrella
  • gloves
  • reflective vest
  • extra trash bags
  • U.S. and regional folding maps
  • bag of sand or kitty litter (in winter)
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USA Folded Road Map

If you already have these items in your car, go through them to make sure nothing’s too old or inoperable.

If you don’t already know, get your mechanic to help you identify where all fluids go, how to check your tire air pressure, and, by all means, how to change your own tire!

In-the-Car Essentials

With your travel gear and roadside emergency kit safely tucked away in the trunk (or in the back covered by your luggage visor), keep only the essentials in the vehicle cabin with you on your road trip.

When I set off, I only have my day bag, phone, phone charger, packed cooler, pocket knife, water bottle, coffee mug, reusable utensil set, maps, itinerary, and entertainment in the cabin.

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Road tripping with out-of-state plates and a lot of belongings in view screams, “Hi, I’m not from here!”, and can invite quick grab-and-go break-ins, which can be a huge bummer. 

Also, always bring your purse/day bag and other non-replaceable essentials with you when you stop at a restaurant, gas station, rest stop, national park, or other attraction. It doesn’t matter if it’s well populated or not.

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Navigating Solo

For navigation, I will use GPS on my phone periodically, but I find it’s best to write down (or take screenshots of) the main travel roads and directions before I take off to have as a back-up in case I don’t have cell phone/GPS service.

Always pull off the road if you’re fishing for directions. Best not to do that at high speeds road tripping solo.

Welcome to Nevada sign
Nevada - Arizona border

Solo Road Trip Entertainment

One time driving from Washington, DC to Colorado with a roommate, we had a Cosmopolitan magazine that got us through three states. Alas, when you’re solo, you don’t have anyone to read you good articles or love quizzes.

Like directions, having your road tripping entertainment picked out and handy is a must before driving alone long distances.

Whether you choose the radio or satellite radio, CD’s, a play list on your mobile device, or an audio book, just have it ready. Again, it’s possible to lose cell service in isolated areas so have a back-up so you’re not digging around for entertainment while driving.

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Know the Driving Rules and Etiquette

I’m not going to preach here but simply point out some key driving issues I have seen, and still see, when road tripping. This is for your safety. If you already know this, just ignore it.

Be Prepared

The last thing you want to do is be involved in an automobile accident simply because you didn’t know the road rules or weather conditions of any terrain you’re unfamiliar with. If you have to, peruse a DMV handbook before your solo road trip.

Be Alert at High Speeds

Use your mirrors at all times.  Don’t just always look ahead – always be looking around you.  You never know when that crazy person appears out of nowhere driving 100 miles an hour and weaving in and out of lanes to pass slower traffic.

“Slower Traffic Keep Right”

Contrary to popular belief, they do not make these signs because they’re pretty. They make them for a reason.  Especially when going up steep inclines. 

Nothing can cause an accident more than by people driving slower than the flow of traffic in the left hand (i.e., passing) lane causing others to have to pass them in the righthand lane (where the on and off ramps are).

Driving slowly in the left lane also causes traffic congestion, which can increase risk of accidents. For the love of all that’s holy, if you must drive slower than others, do it in the righthand lane.

Emergency Stops

Always try to stop in a public, well-lit area for safety. If you are being pulled over by a cop, here are some good safety tips for solo female drivers to know.

If you can’t wait for a rest area or highway exit, pull off as far to the right of the road as possible, even if it’s in the grass.  You do not want your vehicle to be near that white line.

Downtown Chicago Buildings_2677-v2
Chicago, Illinois

Know the Driving Rules and Etiquette

Let’s talk hitchhikers and emergency assistance.  My advice on this will always be do not pick up a hitchhiker for safety reasons pure and simple. 

Driving alone, I would also advise not pulling over for road side assistance. Now that we have cell phones, make note of the nearest mile marker and call to 911 so a professional can provide them assistance.

That’s it! Now that you have my expert tips on how to plan for a solo road trip, you should be set to hit the open road.  Happy trails!

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Gwen

Gwen

Gwen is the Founder of CORR Travel and a global traveler and photographer with over 25 years of solo travel experience. She is also the Founder of the www.CORRConcepts.com sustainability blog. Travel is her passion and environmental sustainability and biodiversity protection is her "religion".

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