June Destination of the Month – USA on the Road

On the Road, (photo by David Dunai)
On the Road

The American road trip

There’s no better way to experience the United States than by taking to the open road and exploring the country’s varied landscapes, vibrant cities, and quaint small towns. A network of highways and back roads crisscross the nation like an elaborate web, leading to endless possibilities for adventure and discovery.

As a country, the US is founded on the principles of freedom, democracy, and individualism. These ideals are also reflected in Americans’ love of driving and the open road. On a road trip, the possibilities are endless. Driving is an individual pursuit, one that allows for spontaneous decisions, without being limited by the restrictions of other forms of travel (such as trains or planes). There are no security checks or boarding queues, no transfers or waiting rooms. If you want to stop somewhere along the way, you stop. If you want to leave, you get in your car and hit the gas. And best of all, if you don’t like where you’re going, you can change direction at any time. It’s the recreational version of the American dream.

Road trip basics

The United States is a big country. That may seem obvious, but many people don’t quite realize the distances involved. From north to south, the state of California is roughly equal to the distance from Antwerp to Rome. The distance from Boston to Washington, DC is similar to traveling from Munich to Marseilles. And the state of Texas is larger than the whole of France.

It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew – it’s better to see a small piece of the country well than to see a lot of it in a hurry. Be realistic about the number of miles or hours you can drive in any given day, and always leave spare room in the schedule for the unexpected.



It’s a good idea to stop at local grocery stores or truck stops to pick up some snacks to keep your stomach from growling while you’re roaming, or buy some picnic items from a local produce stand and find a scenic spot to enjoy lunch with a view.

One note of caution: if you see a sign that says, ‘Last gas for 100 miles,’ take it seriously. Don’t risk getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with an empty fuel tank or, arguably equally important, an empty stomach.

From cities to scenic byways

As far as the major cities are concerned, there’s a classic American joke that applies to just about every one: there are only two seasons: winter and road construction. In other words, be prepared for delays and detours ­wherever you may be traveling.

Outside of the main cities, options for crossing the country include Interstate highways and other such major roads marvels of infrastructure that will take you to many wonderful destinations. However, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you limit yourself exclusively to these larger roads. Venturing onto the scenic byways and rural routes will give you a totally different view of the country, at a much slower pace than if you just blow by at highway speeds of 65 or 70mph (104–112kmph). Many of these roads are famous in their own rights, from the historic Route 66 (sometimes dubbed the ‘Main Street of America’) to California’s stunning Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a good idea to pick up a detailed local map to help you on your way.

Themed tours

Picking a theme for your road trip can be a fun way to plan your route. There is a multitude of options, from following in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (who led the first expedition from Washington, DC to the Pacific Coast) or exploring the ghost towns of the Wild West. Or what about visiting great baseball stadiums, or sampling your way through California’s wine country? You may want to visit the national parks of the Southwest, trace musical history from Nashville to New Orleans, or just meander along the back roads of New England to see the spectacular foliage displays in autumn.

Pick your route

There are many ways to travel across the country, but it's usually a good idea to choose a region and focus on that area. Are you looking to explore the bayou and jazz legends of the South? Or are you more interested in the wine country and ocean scenery of the Pacific Coast? Don't forget that you can see lots of interesting roadside attractions in America's Heartland. Throughout the month of June we'll be highlighting some of the best driving routes to explore this great country.

Capturing the road trip experience

The quintessential American road trip can best be described as ‘meandering with a purpose’. Although you probably have your start and end points figured out, how you get to your destination and what you do en route are entirely up to you. Just be prepared that a road trip can easily take you off the beaten path, either by design or accident. Detours are expected – in fact, they often prove to be the most memorable part of the entire experience.


Plan your US road trip


To read more about what to see in the United States, visit Insight's USA destination pages. Or choose from one of our fantastic USA travel guides, including US on the Road...


Northern route – east coast Boston to west coast Washington state

Atlantic route – New York City to Key West, Florida


Pacific Route – from San Diego to Seattle

• Tips on renting a car for your journey

• Road trip survival skills

• A tour of the best locations from US road movies


• A guide to eating your way across America


• Hotels, motels and wigwams – planning where to stay on your road trip