crosscountry road trip | Call It Adventure

The Trip of Your Life: USA Cross Country Road Trip Itinerary

Thinking about making a cross country road trip? Here is a perfect three weeks USA cross country trip itinerary and expert tips.

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The year 2020 is very interesting, and particularly in terms of traveling. Have any of your planes been canceled? I know that my plans have been canceled and that’s very disappointing because I was very much looking to implement them.

The majority of countries’ borders are closed, the travel abroad seems to be a huge headache. But the desire to wander pushes to explore the options.

If you do it right and follow the safety measures, here is a great, extraordinary, challenging experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life: cross country road trip.

Yeap, a cross country trip is probably something everyone was thinking of but didn’t think it is easy and real.

Well, I did a cross country once, and it is probably the best trip I ever had in my life! You’ve got to see many amazing places that you didn’t think exist. You meet people that enrich your life and experience. You see the magnificent beauty of nature. Finally, you understand the country and people better.

Honestly, I made a trip once, and I think that everyone should do it at least once.

Now my dearest husband offers to make another cross country road trip, and I’m hesitating. Do you think I should go?

On the one hand, I’m sick and tired of staying at home, and we are very responsible people towards our and other people’s health safety. Plus the ship is safer in the harbor, but it is not built for it. But on the other hand, the trip is not essential travel.

So here is a cross country road trip itinerary that I will use if we decide to hit the road.

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USA 3 weeks cross country road trip itinerary

I live in the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. Therefore the starting point for this cross country road trip itinerary is Washington D.C. But you can adjust the itinerary to almost any city in the USA where you’d like your cross country trip to start.

USA Cross Country Road Trip Itinerary | Call It Adventure

Moreover, I intentionally skipped some parts of the USA, because I believe that some regions  need longer exploration. For example, the state of Utah has five national parks in which you can spend a couple of days. Or New England and New York City, or Savannah and Charleston, or Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Nashville. All of these places deserve a separate road trip to enjoy the beauty of these places.

Week 1
Day 1

Goal: Washington D.C. to Chicago

Things to do and to see: we’ve visited Cincinnati and Indianapolis on our way from Washington D.C. to Chicago to have a lunch break and rest.

When you’re in Washington and have one day, spend it on the National Mall. It is a central part of the city where all the landmarks from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol and some of the country’s best museums are located.

Cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
The White House, Photo by René DeAnda on Unsplash

In Cincinnati, I really liked the Washington Park with gorgeous Opera House and Findlay Market and its  surrounding area.

Central Business District, Cincinnati, Ohio, Photo by Robert Conklin on Unsplash

In Indianapolis, we had a lunch near the Monument Circle that is simply amazing.

Time on the road: 11 hours

Night stay in Chicago: La Quinta by Wyndham Chicago Downtown

Day 2

Things to do and to see: Chicago tour

I suggest exploring Chicago and the main attractions with a Chicago CityPass.

Get Chicago CityPass and save up to 50% on combined prices for admission to must-see attractions!

usa cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Chicago Bean, Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Night stay in Chicago: La Quinta by Wyndham Chicago Downtown

Day 3

Goal: Chicago to Rapid City

Time on the road: 13 hours

Night stay in Rapid City: Super 8 by Wyndham Rapid City Rushmore Rd

Day 4

Things to do and to see: Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park.

Even though I was Mount Rushmore a thousand times on the picture, I was amazed at how beautiful it is in real life.

USA cross country road trip
Mount Rushmore, Photo by Heath Hughes on Unsplash

As for the Badlands National Park, this is one of the underrated National Parks that is very beautiful. I strongly suggest visiting the Badlands NP to enjoy the colorful layered canyons.

USA cross country road trip
Badlands National Park, Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Night stay in Rapid City: Super 8 by Wyndham Rapid City Rushmore Rd

Day 5

Goal: Rapid City to Yellowstone National Park

We spend a day in the Yellowstone NP and in the evening headed to the Glacier NP.

Of course, one day for Yellowstone is nothing, but it stayed in our hearts forever, and we look forward to returning.

Here is a great Yellowstone first-timer’s guide. We’ve used it to explore the options and plan the day. The must-see is Norris Geyser Basin with colorful pools and Old Faithful Geyser area with active geyser.

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Photo by JT Ray on Unsplash

Time on the road: 7 hours

Night stay in Yellowstone NP: Bridge Bay Campground

Day 6

Things to do and to see: Yellowstone National Park

Goal: Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park

Time on the road: 6 hours

Night stay in Glacier NP: Emery Bay Campground

Day 7

Things to do and to see: Glacier National Park

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Glacier National Park, Montana, Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

We were unlucky to skip this step and head toward Seattle the last time we did a cross country due to fires. But from what I know, Glacier is a breathtaking place that deserves to be on the cross country itinerary.

Night stay in Glacier NP: Emery Bay Campground

Week 2
Day 8

Goal: Glacier National Park to Seattle

Time on the road: 9 hours

Night stay in Seattle: Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle-Downtown

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Pike Place Market, Seattle, Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash

Day 9

Things to do and to see: Seattle tours

I just love Seattle, because I have a lot of friends dear to my heart, who live there. It is a very unique, weird, unusual, and vibrant city.

There are so many places to see and to do in Seattle. Here are my top suggestions: do a food tour of the Pike Market, visit an underground tour, go to Kerry Park to enjoy the Downtown.

Night stay in Seattle: Hampton Inn & Suites Seattle-Downtown

Day 10

Goal: Seattle to Yosemite National Park

Things to do and to see: the road is pretty long, so I suggest making a couple of stops to stretch legs and grab a coffee. Visiting Portland and San Fransisco can be a great choice.

Time on the road: 16 hours

Night stay in Yosemite NP: Upper Pines Campground

Day 11

Things to do and to see: explore Yosemite National Park

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Yosemite Valley, Photo by Oleg Chursin on Unsplash

Night stay in Yosemite NP: Upper Pines Campground

Day 12

Goal: Yosemite to Los Angeles

Things to do and to see: Death Valley, Sequoia National Forest

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Death Valley, Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Sequoia National Forest, California, Photo by Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash

Time on the road: 5 hours

Night stay in Los Angeles: Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles

Day 13

Things to do and to see: LA city tour

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Hollywood, Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Whenever you have a day in a city, I suggest taking a hop-on hop-off bus to see the best attractions.

In LA personally I’d like to visit Venice neighborhood and universal Studios.

Night stay in Los Angeles: Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles

Day 14

Goal: Los Angelis to San Diego

Things to do and to see: Joshua Tree National Park and San Diego evening scroll

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Joshua Tree, CA, Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash
USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Mission Beach, San Diego, Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash

Time on the road: 2 hours

Night stay in San Diego: Holiday Inn Express – Downtown San Diego

Week 3
Day 15

Goal: San Diego to Silver City, New Mexico

Things to do and to see: Gila Hot Springs

Time on the road: 10 hours

Night stay in Silver City: Holiday Inn Express Silver City

Day 16

Things to do and to see: Gila Cliff Dwellings

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Photo from official Bandelier National Monument Instagram account

Goal: Gila Cliff Dwellings to Austin

Time on the road: 14 hours

Night stay in Austin: Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites Austin Parmer/Tech Ridge

Day 17

Goal: Austin to Houston

Things to do and to see: Austin city tour and Hamilton Pool Waterfall

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Austin, TX, Photo by Carlos Alfonso on Unsplash

The perfect day in Austin would be to grab a coffee and walk around the downtown and head outside the city to enjoy the gorgeous Hamilton Pool Waterfall.

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Hamilton Pool, TX Photo by Thomas Brushel on Unsplash

Time on the road: 2 hours

Night stay in Houston: Hampton Inn & Suites Houston North IAH, TX

Day 18

Things to do and to see: Houston

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
2112 Leeland St, Houston, TX, Photo by Felipe Galvan on Unsplash

Houston is known for the NASA center. Therefore, I suggest taking NASA’s Space Center plus Houston’s Official City Tour to visit Houston’s most iconic places.

Night stay in Houston: Hampton Inn & Suites Houston North IAH, TX

Day 19

Goal: Houston to New Orleans

Time on the road: 5 hours

Things to do and to see: French Quarter

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
New Orleans, Photo by Aya Salman on Unsplash

I’m a foodie. So my main reason to visit New Orleans is to eat, eat, eat. Maybe I’ll explore some landmarks, but most probably, I’ll just crawl from one restaurant to another all day long.

Night stay in New Orleans: French Market Inn

Day 20

Goal: New Orleans to Atlanta

Time on the road: 7 hours

Things to do and to see: I have a great one-day itinerary for Atlanta. Of course, you’ll be exhausted from the road, so I suggest to visit Ponce Market for dinner.

Night stay in Atlanta: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Atlanta Perimeter Center

USA cross country road trip | Call It Adventure
Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Day 21

Goal: Atlanta to Washington D.C.

Things to do and to see: Atlanta

Atlanta would be the last stop on the cross country road trip itinerary before heading home. In my experience, it is time when you’re ready to skip all the attractions and go home. But if you decide to explore Atlanta, I suggest going to a Coca-Cola museum, The Georgia Aquarium, and CNN Center.

You can get Atlanta CityPass and save up to 50% on admission. Get it here.

Time on the road: 8 hours

Approximate cross country road trip budget

Here is approximately how much a cross country trip will cost for a party of two:

Gas: $340
Food: $420 per person
Accommodation: $2,200
National Parks Pass: 
$80

Total: $3,460

Gas

I used this fuel calculator to estimate the costs: Fuel Economy. Keep in mind that I have a Toyota Prius with pretty good MPG. For less efficient gas cars, the gas expenses will be bigger. Hybrids or electro cars’ expenses are close to zero.

Food

For the food expenses, I took one cup of joe, one Kirkland nut bar and one banana from Starbucks for breakfast; one subway, and an apple for lunch; and a Chipotle chicken burrito bowl for dinner. Probably not everywhere you’ll find Chipotle, Subway, and Starbucks. But it is a good starting point for preparing a budget. Plus, there are many alternatives to coffee shops, panini places, and fast food places to please any taste.

Accommodation

As for accommodation, I calculated a mix of 4-5 start hotels in big cities and campgrounds in national parks. But again, you can choose whatever is convenient for you.

America the Beautiful

National Parks annual pass costs $80, and it is called America the Beautiful for a reason. Every National Park is a unique place with amazing landscapes.

Of course, it is an estimated total for a couple who’s on the budget. Think of it as a starting point and adjust the numbers to your personal situation.

Tips for a cross country road trip

Here are some helpful tips to make the trip better based on my cross country experience

Prepare the car

The whole trip depends on the car. You don’t want to fix the car in the middle of nowhere (like we did in the middle of South Dakota). Therefore, have a car checked and do thorough maintenance before a cross county road trip.

Prepare yourself

Making a cross county road trip is not that easy as it seems. You have to drive long distances, check the weather in different zones, pack a lot of things to last a month, and so many other challenges. Therefore think twice about every step of the way to properly prepare for anything that can go wrong.

Listen to the audiobooks or create playlists while on the road

The road is long, and you need to entertain yourself. Talking is good, but sometimes one person rests (sleep) while the second is driving. I like listening to music, and my husband likes podcasts (I don’t). When we are both awake, we listen to audiobooks on the way.

Here are some of books we’ve enjoyed while on the road:

Drive in 4 hours periods then change

It is a perfect period when one driver can have a rest, and the second can cover a decent distance.

Exercise while filling the tank

While making the trip, try to do 50-100 small jumps, 20-30 squats, and some stretches to help our body survive the long hours in the car.

Be flexible

Stick to the plan, but be open to any changes and opportunities. For example, some of the best experiences that happened in the last cross country road trip happened unexpectedly. We stopped for dinner and saw a great show or visited a unique shop. But on the other hand, we had to skip one Glacier NP because of the fires and had to drive a night to the next stop.

Make a lot of photos and videos

If you decide to make the cross country road trip, believe me, it will be the best time of your life! Therefore make as many photos and videos as you can.

Final thoughts

Do you have any trips that have been postponed? Let me know in the comments. I feel your pain.

Therefore, hitting the road and making a cross country road trip can be a great and fun alternative!

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