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Optimize Your Cross-Country Driving

By Greg | January 5, 2016

So you’re planning to go home for the holidays. You’ve been looking forward to that free week off all year, and eagerly put your search dates into Google Flights. The page loads, and you’re shocked to be looking at a choice of small fortunes to be able to visit your own family.

For whatever the reason, sometimes the costs of flights aren’t feasible, or maybe just not sensible, to commit an entire paycheck to. So with no other alternative aside from not traveling, you decide to save your money and drive. Here’s how to make the most out of it.

Step 1: Plan, and Review the Plan

Planning your trip ahead of time will save you money and stress while on the road. The few things you must do are:

  1. Get the oil changed in your car
  2. Check the air in the tires
  3. Make sure you have a spare tire
  4. Pack snacks for the road
  5. Determine which route you’ll take

For cross-country driving, it helps to look at which route is easiest to drive (avoid mountains and bad weather) along with the length of time each route will be, and make the best choice for you and your travel companions.

Step 2: Start Early to Avoid Peak Traffic Times

Starting the drive before everyone else wakes up can save you hours of cross-country driving. If you are driving through a major city, do everything possible to get through the traffic madness before 5am or after 8pm.

The problem with starting late rather than early is that as the night goes on, driving gets harder and harder because your mental clock begins getting ready for bed. However, if you start early in the morning your brain will typically automatically begin to wake up at around 5-6 am and allow you to drive without fatigue the entire day.

Step 3: Use GPS

GPS is a wonderful tool that almost everyone should take advantage of it. Using Apple Maps on iPhone and Google Maps on Android can help you avoid accidents, find faster routes, find the next gas station and even navigate you through the never ending construction zones.

Waze, a popular community driven iPhone and Android app, can tell you if police are waiting right after a speed limit drop. Use GPS when you can, shut it off during long 100+ mile straight-a-ways and DON’T FORGET YOUR CHARGER. The last thing you want is your GPS giving you a faster route and then having your phone shut off. Trust me, I know.

Step 4: Pack Snacks, Not Drinks

This rule is simple: eat everything except super salty foods. Salt dehydrates you and causes your body to want water. When you drink anything you typically have to use the restroom an hour later, which  just adds time onto your already long cross-country driving adventure.

Each stop on average takes about 15 minutes because you have to get off the highway, find a restroom, park the car, go to the restroom, grab another pack of beef jerky and mosey back onto the highway so you can pass that 18-wheeler for the 7th time. It’s ok to drink liquid, just do it 1-2 hours before stopping to get gas. You go to the bathroom when you refuel. It’s that simple.

Tip: This does not mean relieve yourself on the side of the highway. If Jimmy the cop drives by and is having a bad day, you just became a registered sex offender.

Step 5: Cruise Control

Cruise Control is key. Not only does it save gas, but it keeps you moving and can prevent traffic tickets. You can always tell when someone is driving long distance without cruise control because they go back and forth between 50 and 70 miles per hour. The tortoise won the race because he was consistent with his speed.

Step 6: Optimize Your Stops

You are going to need to stop every 4-6 hours or 300-600 miles depending on the car to refill the gas tank. Begin looking for gas stations when you have 1/4  tank left. The last thing you want to do is end up between El Paso and San Antonio where there’s nothing but desert because you thought you could make it to the next gas station 150 miles away.

Plan your gas stops with your bathroom breaks to maximize time. At each stop, make every travel companion throw out their trash, get out to stretch, and use the bathroom.

Step 7: Follow the Group

If traffic is going 80 and the speed limit is 70, stay the speed of traffic. It is safer to drive the same speed as everyone else, and on the plus side you can make up some time. If a Corvette zips by you going 90 in a 70, do not try to catch up. Cops pull over chasers before speeders. Last, if traffic is going slower than the speed limit but the driving conditions allow you to go the speed limit, do it.

Step 8: Stay Awake

We can all agree that it’s far better to make it to your destination alive than dead. There are rest areas scattered all along the highways and you can even doze off in Walmart parking lots for a few hours if you need to.

Listen to music, drink some coffee, play the A-Z travel game, but above all stay awake and alert. When you start blinking a lot and your eyes get heavy, get off the road! Even the greatest of men enjoy sleep. Get off and give your eyes a rest. The road will be there tomorrow.

Hopefully these cross-country driving tips help you prepare for your next great road-trip. We’d love to hear what your craziest road trip story is! For more tips on travel by air, train, bus, and car, check our 6 Transportation Websites for Budget Travel.