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48 State Road Trip – Tales from the Road

In 2022 I had the opportunity to go on a solo 48 state road trip. Post-pandemic we had sold our family business, and I could take some time out before returning to look for other employment. I’ve done some big solo trips before – a month in New Zealand, 2 weeks in Canada etc. But this was the biggest one yet.

My family and friends were a combination of thinking I was crazy to do it alone, but also not entirely surprised given previous adventures. After all, I had moved to New Zealand alone for a year after university.

My travel motto for many years had been this – better to go alone than never go at all. And so, I was determined to go. After 2 years of not being able to travel anywhere, I wanted something big.

I’d never done road trips for longer than a week in the past. I’d never driven on the opposite side of the road. I didn’t even know if I would like driving in the US. But it was happening.

I spent many hours plotting out a rough route that would get me to every continental state and include a few things I knew I wanted to do. I applied for a 6-month visa, went to the embassy in London for an interview and finally booked my flights.

So, for anyone planning a road trip through 48 US states, here are some tales and lessons learned from 5 ½ months and driving more than 22,000 miles. Some states were only on my list to hit the 48 state check list, but sometimes it was the states I didn’t expect much of that became real highlights. It would take a book to describe it all, so here are some of the best bits.

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New York City

New York Skyline. The first stop on my 48 state road trip.

I’d never been to New York before and I picked it as my first stop as I knew I wouldn’t want to drive there. I was expecting to be overwhelmed, even as a Londoner used to big cities, but I loved it and would happily go back. I explored Central Park, walked around Manhattan and got a spectacular view from the Top of the Rock.

Check out the Stardust Diner to be entertained by servers who show off their singing skills as they pursue their Broadway dreams. Discover the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA). View historic documents at the New York Public Library.

I did go to Times Square, but mostly because it was on the way to Central Park. It was relatively empty when I was there, but as it’s basically London’s Piccadilly Circus on steroids I didn’t feel a need to stop for more than a minute. I can only imagine how crowded it must get at peak times. It might be iconic but it’s not really a necessary sight.

As a self-described ‘directionally challenged’ person who frequently and confidently sets off in exactly the opposite direction to where I was aiming for, I found New York very easy to navigate. Given that the streets and avenues are numbered, even I can’t go very wrong there.

Like London, there is so much to see that a few days would never be enough. My list for next time includes the Staten Island Ferry for views of the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show, Brooklyn Bridge and Greenwich Village.

I also visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum which even as a non-US citizen was very moving. Seeing the victims memorialised with individual pictures, videos of stories from their loved ones, and an art installation with an individual tile for each victim in different shades of blue makes the scale of the attack far more real than just a number on a screen.

I highly recommend it, although exercise discretion with small children as it does include footage of the attack and moments of impact.

Boston, Massachusetts

From New York I took a train up to Boston. It’s a great city to explore on foot, with a walking route that goes past many of the major landmarks – the Freedom Trail. I drank coffee at the Thinking Cup, ate babkas from Bakey, slurped oysters at the Union Oyster House and generally explored the city.

The only thing I was sad about was that I didn’t discover Boston Public Market until my last day – I would definitely have tried more of the stands there if I’d known before. Although it does leave something to try out on the next trip.

I stayed at the HI Boston hostel, which had a pretty good location, felt safe and was significantly cheaper than other options around.

Boston was the start of my actual road trip, and thankfully I quickly discovered that I enjoyed the driving!

New England

For most of my time in New England I didn’t focus too much on which state I was actually in at any given time, but more on the driving experience as I settled into life on the road. However, seafood in Portland, Maine and Burlington, Vermont were particular highlights.

I was surprised in Burlington at the number of independent cafes and restaurants. I noticed very few, if any, chains which made my goal of getting coffee at independent coffee shops much easier. Check out Cosmic Grind Coffee Shop – it’s got limited seating but a big range of flavoured lattes and mochas.

A lot of accommodation that I looked in Vermont was fairly expensive – a lot of boutique hotels and guesthouses. My choice for staying near, but not in, Burlington was Courtyard by Marriott. Close enough for convenience but far away enough to save some money.

Cleveland, Ohio

I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect much of Ohio. Obviously, I had to go to hit the 48 state goal, but before arriving I had a fairly bland impression of it. When I tell people now that Cleveland was one of my favourite stops I do get some surprised looks.

Grab a coffee from Copper Moon, check out the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and watch the sunset over Lake Erie. I also took a bus from downtown over to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Unlike many other museums I visited in the US, this one is free.

Cleveland Art Museum

Ann Arbor, Michigan

My initial plan for Michigan was to visit Detroit, but I was persuaded by a friend to choose another option. Without realising it, I arrived in Ann Arbor the weekend of its annual art fair.

The entire town gets taken over, with many streets closed to traffic so the road can be lined with stalls where artists can show and sell their work. It wasn’t planned, but it was a great time to be there. I picked up a coffee at Lab café, and wandered through the streets looking at sculptures, photographs and paintings.

There were several things I would have been tempted to buy if I didn’t have to then cart them around for 5 months and squeeze them into a suitcase for my return flight.

Lexington, Kentucky

I think Kentucky doesn’t have a great reputation so I wasn’t expecting much, but it was a very pleasant surprise. After a previous road trip around Scotland I started trying Scottish whisky, and decided that while in Kentucky I should check out the local bourbon.

My AirBnB host discovered I was from the UK and as she had family there she decided to be extra friendly and take me on a tour to a local distillery.

I also managed to get free drinks at a bourbon bar (but I won’t specify which one!) When I arrived, I was the only person in the bar so the bartender had plenty of time to make recommendations about which bourbon I should try, and ended with him making a list of all the places he thought I should visit on my road trip.

A couple who came in bought my second drink while we discussed our favourite travel destinations, and then when I tried to pay for my first drink the bartender said it was on the house. Never happened to me before, but it ended up not being the only time some very hospitable locals bought me food or drinks!

Another fun thing about Lexington are the horse sculptures. As Kentucky is also known for horse racing, the city is full of horse sculptures in various colours and patterns.

Overall my experience of Kentucky was friendly locals, good food, and great bourbon.

Horse Sculptures in Lexington Kentucky

Indianapolis, Indiana

I was only in Indianapolis for 1 night, but I knew it was the place I wanted to stay in when I saw a hotel in a former train station that included rooms in old train carriages. Most rooms at the Crowne Plaza Union Station are normal rooms, but there are 26 rooms in converted 1920s train cars. Booking in advance is necessary if you want to secure one of those rooms, but the hotel itself is still a good option (but not the cheapest) as it’s an interesting building to walk around.

✅ Book your stay at the Union Station hotel here!

The hotel is centrally located and an easy walk from Tastings, a wine bar in which you add money to a card that you then put into tasting machines that dispense a small amount of your chosen bottles. It’s a fun way to try wines that you wouldn’t normally pick. The staff were very friendly and there is also a bar serving cocktails and other drinks if that’s more your thing.

One of the most unusual hotels on my 48 state road trip - rooms in a converted train car.

Omaha, Nebraksa

Cat café. Need I say more? Ok. I spent an hour at Felius Cat Café and Rescue with a coffee. You aren’t allowed to pick up the cats, it’s dependent on them to approach you to make sure they are comfortable, but my experience was that they are keen to interact and play with visitors.

Most of the cats and kittens aren’t there for more than a few weeks while they wait for adoption, but they appear to be well cared for in the meantime. It was great…

More broadly, when I first arrived in Omaha I thought I’d made a mistake in my choice. It felt more industrial than I expected as I drove in, but as I explored the following day I discovered the Old Market area with independent shops and cafes.

It would have been even better if that part of the city was pedestrian only, but even still it was a reminder that many American cities are not what they appear to be at first glance.

Check out Plank Seafood Provisions for dinner – I was hesitant at first to try oysters in a city that is nowhere near the ocean, but they were excellent.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

My first experience at a National Park, and one of the early examples I had of landscapes that are nothing like the ones in the UK. The main road loops around the park to give you amazing views of the layered rock formations. It’s especially beautiful if you get there before sunset to watch the rocks take on a more intense pink hue.

Badlands National Park - the first of many National Parks I visited on my 48 state road trip

One thing I hadn’t expected on my way to Rapid City, was that I was arriving during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly surrounded by bikers as I drove through Sturgis, trying very hard not to hit any of the bikes or people crossing the road without much concern for traffic. Despite that encounter, generally driving around South Dakota gave me some amazing views of the Black Hills as well as Badlands itself.

If you are passing by Badlands, make a detour to Wall and visit Wall Drug Store. It’s the world’s biggest Drug Store (pharmacy or chemist for the rest of us), but it feels more like individual shops in one building than one single shop. Nevertheless, it’s something of a tourist attraction and the only place where I’ve seen patriotic popcorn.

Cody, Wyoming

Anyone who is a fan of Beauty and the Beast will know the song Gaston well (this is relevant, I promise). After my first few moments in Cody, I found it hard to get one particular line out of my head. “I use antlers in all of my decorating!” Several shops and restaurants had antlers in the windows, and I had that one sentence circling in my mind.

In some ways Cody felt especially unfamiliar, a place where rodeos still happen and the Wild West is not so far away.  The Buffalo Bill Museum provides further insight into the legends of Pioneer era.

Throughout my visit I found the best way to start a conversation with locals was just to sit at the bar at a restaurant to eat and start ordering. The American fascination with the British accent seems to be real based on how quick they were to start chatting once they heard me speak.

Sitting at a Cody restaurant bar for dinner, I ended up next to a local woman who had recently married a British guy and had actually spent a year working about 10 minutes away from where I live in London. She also happened to be a tour guide at Yellowstone National Park, so drew me a map on a napkin of the highlights of Yellowstone and how best to explore it.

I’ll probably never see her again, but Maddie – thanks for your help! It was one of several coincidental encounters that alleviated some of the occasional loneliness that crept up during 5 ½ months of solo travel.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

It’s an icon for a reason. With geysers, hot springs and coloured pools Yellowstone is a showcase of some of the marvels of nature. You need at least two days to see everything, partly because it takes quite a while to actually drive into the park.

If you want to see Old Faithful, get there as early as you can. By the time I made it to the right area on my second day, parking was impossible and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to a viewing.

Yellowstone National Park, an American icon

Also, be warned – bison cross the park as they please, and if they choose to slowly cross the road in front of you it’s both wonderful and also after a few minutes quite frustrating! My exit took an hour longer than my entrance as a herd meandered over the road, apparently oblivious to the cars and motorhomes until a ranger showed up to help move them on.

To the Northeast of Yellowstone, you can find Beartooth Pass, a road that zigzags through mountains and reaches a height of almost 11,000ft. It’s only open for a few months of the year and definitely not one to do in the dark as there are tight turns on steep parts of the road.

It’s a great drive but leave plenty of time to do it. I stopped for lots of pictures and started to become very aware of the sun starting to go down as I was still ascending.

If you exit Yellowstone to the south you’ll get the bonus of Grand Teton National Park. Stop for views over the lake with mountains in the background.

Glacier National Park, Montana

There is a stunning road that goes winding up through mountains to get some spectacular views – Going-to-the-Sun road. It’s perhaps not one for people nervous about heights as the road is narrow with a big drop, but it is well worth visiting for the views.

Book in advance as there are a limited number of visitors allowed per day, and also check whether the road is actually open as it does close in Winter and in bad conditions.

Parking was next to impossible so I only stopped briefly a couple of times to take some pictures before getting back on the road, but it was definitely worth it for the experience.

Glacier National Park

After experiencing the Glacier NP and Beartooth Highway roads, I started looking for as many similar roads as I could, both for the fun of driving them but also for the views.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle’s reputation has gone down quite a bit in the last few years. I can’t deny that they have some major socio-economic problems. However, it’s still one of my favourite places to visit and as a tourist you are less likely to encounter the problems facing the local population.

If you like coffee, food and wine (as I do) it’s a great place to go. I had coffee made by a robot. I had a very expensive coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery that was more like a cocktail than a normal coffee. I got (accidentally) a little drunk at a wine-tasting bar near Pike Place Market. And I visited for the 3rd time Chihuly Garden and Glass. I love it, the colourful glass makes my heart so happy.

Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle

Several people that I met in the first half of my journey told me not to go to Seattle, but I’m glad I ignored them. I think it’s still a great tourist destination with lots to do.

The Space Needle might be the most famous point in the skyline, but for better views got to the viewing deck at the Columbia Centre. Pike Place Market is also a must see, with a huge range of stalls and shops to choose from.

I’ve previously done a wine-tasting tour from Seattle which was a great way to explore the area and take advantage of someone else being the designated driver while you get try wines from different vineyards.

For accommodation, try Hotel Theodore or Hyatt Regency. They are both within walking distance of the downtown attractions and restaurants. Seattle is a pretty expensive city so it’s also worth booking early and shopping around for the best deals.

Bend, Oregon – the last Blockbuster

For a significant part of my childhood I would walk to the local Blockbuster each weekend to borrow a film. It was just part of my routine. I won’t deny that streaming is far more convenient, but there was something about the experience of going and browsing to see what was available.

So, when I found out about the last Blockbuster in the world, I knew I would be making a stop there to mark off Oregon on my 48 state road trip. Given that I’m not local I obviously couldn’t rent anything, but I did take a lot of photos and come home with a Blockbuster cup and magnet.

Aside from Blockbuster, Bend is a great city to visit and I wish I’d stayed for another day. Head to Bend Mountain Coffee for your caffeine fix and take a walk by the river.

Pacific Coast Highway, California

Also known as Highway 1, this is one of the world’s great road trips. You need to leave a few days to do it, and if possible, avoid the weekends when it gets busier. Getting stuck behind an RV both slowing you down and blocking your view is not the ideal way to experience it. It’s also best to drive north to south so you are on the side of the road closest to the ocean.

Take regular stops to watch people parasailing on the ocean, marvel at the towering redwood trees and try seafood at some of the many restaurants you will pass. Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Take a side trip to Sonoma or Napa to enjoy the famous wine regions.

I drove the PCH in September – the weather was ideal and the roads were not too busy.

If you ever have the chance, it is one of the world’s most scenic roads, and if you are planning a road trip make sure you include this particular road.

Pacific Coast Highway, one of the world's most scenic roads

Crescent City, California

I can’t say this was a highlight exactly, but it was memorable. While I was staying in Crescent City the news broke about the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It was the morning in California and rather than heading out to explore I chose to watch the news coverage before the announcement was made.

For several hours the reports were just that she was unwell, but as time went on the real headline seemed inevitable.

It felt very strange to be out of the UK at such a significant moment. It wasn’t until the following day that people started to comment on the news. Once they heard my very obvious British accent, they started asking me how I felt about it and offering condolences.

To be shown sympathy for the death of someone I had never met was somewhat surreal, but it will remain a moment that stands out in the memory of my trip.

Las Vegas, Nevada

I’ve never been much of a gambler, but Las Vegas seemed like a necessary stop as part of this trip. I walked the length of the Strip to check out most of the main casinos.

From the ‘canal’ at the Venetian, to the famous fountains outside the Bellagio, walking the strip is a great way to see the landmarks and also walk off some of the food and alcohol you will inevitably be consuming.

To get a taste of the gambling experience, I took out $100 in cash to use at a few different casinos so I could play on some of the slot machines without going overboard. Once the $100 was done, that was the end of my Vegas gambles.

For anyone who wants to experience a casino without losing a lot of money, set yourself a cash budget. You will inevitably lose it all, so try not to be swept up in the endorphins from any small wins that encourage you to spend more. I treated it just like paying for an entrance ticket, accepting that it would eventually all be gone and it was just the cost of some entertainment.

I also went to a performance of Cirque Du Soleil which I would recommend. There are a few different shows at different casinos. I went to Mystere at Treasure Island, but there are several options to choose from.

Overall, Las Vegas is a bizarre, over-the-top, sometimes overwhelming, but ultimately fun place to spend a couple of days.

Utah’s National Parks

Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. All are worth visiting but if I had to pick one I think I would go for Arches National Park, simply because the red rock arches seem like they couldn’t possibly exist on planet Earth.

Arches National Park, a Utah Highlight

Until I was planning my road trip I didn’t know anything about Utah apart from the location of Salt Lake City, and the existence of Mormons. I would have budgeted more time for Utah if I had known how incredible the landscapes are. The geology is so unfamiliar to me as someone who has primarily travelled in Europe and New Zealand.

It was only a few weeks between my visit to Washington State and my time in Utah, and the contrast is astonishing. From the beautiful green forests of Washington’s Olympic National Park to the rock formations of Utah, it’s hard to believe they are in the same country. It demonstrates the vastness of the USA and just how different each state can be.

If all you know about Utah are the Mormons, don’t write it off as a state to visit.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

It’s spectacular. There are two parts you can see, the Upper Canyon and the Lower Canyon. The canyons are on Navajo land and you can only access them through a tour. It is extremely popular so you must book in advance. I took the Lower Canyon tour, which is slightly cheaper and also less busy than the Upper tour.

There are certain famous photography shots that have been taken in the Upper Canyon which make it more popular for the perfect Instagram post, but the Lower is also beautiful. For anyone with mobility issues, stick with the Upper Canyon which is flatter and easier.

Antelope Canyon

You could even do both in one day if you are careful with your timing, but if you only choose one you won’t be disappointed with whichever one you choose.

✅ Book your tour of Lower Antelope Canyon here!

Four Corners Monument

I’m not sure I would say it’s worth making a massive detour, but if you are in the vicinity consider stopping by and being in 4 places at once. It’s the point where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet.

Given that there is only one point where they meet, there can be big queues for a photo opportunity and you can’t take more than a couple of shots before you need to let the next person have their chance.

There isn’t much else around and there are very limited facilities on-site, but if you have some spare time and fancy that particular photo it is a fun thing to do.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Colorado ended up being one of my favourite states. I spent a day wandering around Durango (where I managed to get another free meal by finding out that the couple I’d been chatting to in a restaurant had paid for my meal when I asked for the cheque)!

I drove up through mountain roads to Leadville, the highest-elevation city in North America. I spent several days in Denver, partly because I needed a break from moving every 1-2 days.

Rocky Mountain National Park is definitely worth seeing. There is also a particular road in the park that makes for a good drive if you aren’t afraid of heights. Old Fall River Road is an unpaved, one-way, uphill-only, steep winding road without any guard rails.

It’s another one that is only open for part of the year, and it’s not open to RVs. Make sure your car is up to it – you don’t need 4-wheel drive, but the surface is uneven and there are several steep tight turns.

The majority of visitors take the far more accessible Trail Ridge Road, which is also how you return to the main park if you take the Old Fall River Road uphill. The Trail Ridge Road hits a peak of over 12,000ft, and I felt the effects of the altitude at the top, with a headache and slight dizziness (not ideal for driving on mountain roads).  

Nevertheless, the views are pretty great, and worth the altitude headache which dissipated pretty quickly once I got back down to about 8,000ft. Drink lots of water and if you start to feel unwell head back down to lower ground.

I found Rocky Mountain NP was the most difficult one to get tickets for. Make sure your account with the National Park Service is set up and you are logged in before the tickets are released for the following day.

I wasn’t prepared on my first attempt so by the time I logged in they were all gone. On my second try, I was ready to go and managed to snag a slot.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Also, if you are using sat nav make sure it takes you to the correct entrance. Sat nav might direct you to an entrance that doesn’t provide access to the main park, just a small hiking area, and it can take a while to find your way back to the actual park entrance. Not that I’m speaking from experience…

Route 66

I only drove a very small portion of Route 66 as it didn’t fit so well with the rest of my plan, but the bit I did do was a lesson in the contrasts of America. From big cities to driving through abandoned towns, it showcases some of the extremes.

The road combines with interstates at several points, but where the roads ran parallel I left the interstate as often as possible to join the original route. This did backfire on one occasion when Google Maps was telling me that the proper Route 66 road was an unpaved, dusty track that only one other car was using.

I could see all the other drivers on the interstate while I slowed down to avoid rocks, holes and what looked implausibly like a tortoise crossing the road…

Perhaps one day I’ll go back and do the full road. It’s the road that most people think of when they consider a USA road trip, however, I would say it has its limitations and there are perhaps some better options.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio’s famous river walk felt surprisingly European to me – very unexpected in Texas. There are lots of restaurants to choose from with bridges over the river to explore both sides. I just enjoyed meandering around by the water. San Antonio is also the home of The Alamo, which may not mean much to those of you outside the US but is the site of a famous battle in 1836.

New Braunfels, Texas

During the pandemic, I’d been bingeing YouTube travel channels to get my fix, and especially on Kara and Nate’s channel. One of their videos was 24 hours spent at the world’s largest gas station – Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels.

From freshly made brisket sandwiches and fudge, to Buc-ee’s themed clothing and homeware, it’s almost more like a department store than a place to get fuel.

Whenever I went past a Buc-ee’s I always stopped in for peanut brittle, coffee and a sandwich. In most parts of the country, I found Love’s to be a good option for rest breaks, but Buc-ee’s was my preferred option when in the South.

I was generally pretty strict about buying souvenirs, but I did go home with some Buc-ee’s themed magnets for a friend and a reusable coffee cup for myself.

New Orleans, Louisiana

There are some classic things to do in New Orleans. Coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde. Listening to live jazz in Jackson Square. Exploring Bourbon Street. My best experience, however, was a swamp tour. The experience takes a few hours, and you can either make your own way there or meet a shuttle at a few different points in the city.

✅ Book your swamp tour here

I paid to go on one of the smaller, but more expensive, airboats. It allows for a better view and access to some parts of the swamp that the bigger boats can’t access. It was definitely worth the extra money. To get so close to the alligators with such a good view was amazing.

The swamps themselves are also surprisingly beautiful, surrounded by cypress trees covered in Spanish moss. We even saw a bald eagle on the way back to the dock.

New Orleans Swamp Tour

There aren’t many places like it, so if you are visiting New Orleans I would highly recommend a swamp tour. And coffee and beignets at Café du Monde…

I stayed at Hotel Lafitte, on Bourbon Street. Close enough to the action without being too noisy. It’s also unusual in having its own (limited) parking spaces which was a major plus point.

I was careful about not being out late on Bourbon Street, so the fact that the hotel also has its own bar helped me experience a bit of the nightlife without wandering around after dark in an area that isn’t always so safe for solo women.

Nashville, Tennessee

I’ve never listened to much country music as it isn’t really a thing in the UK. I decided I should try it out while I was in the American South, so I downloaded a country music playlist to Spotify. I can’t say it’s my preferred choice of genre, but it did prepare me for my time in Nashville.

Knowing absolutely nothing about country music, I still chose to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame (which gets extremely busy and you need to pre-book), followed by a live music bar.

One of my favourite moments was watching a lady who was probably in her late -70s dancing away to live music in a Nashville honky-tonk with 2 guys in their mid-20s. She was clearly thrilled to have their attention and they were delighted to make her smile. A truly wholesome moment and heart-warming to watch.

There are loads of bars to choose from, so just look for one that takes your fancy and head inside. The ones I checked out were loud, lively and crowded but I still felt pretty safe on my own.

Great Smoky Mountains – BEARS!

In many places on my USA adventure, the road signs gave me false hope about the chances of animal encounters. No matter how many signs I saw to indicate moose may be nearby I never managed to see one, even when in one place there was an active sign saying they were on a nearby road.

But the Great Smoky Mountains did not disappoint. There was a very slow-moving line of cars that would come to a complete stop whenever anyone saw a bear in the distance. By the time I got there the bear had inevitably disappeared. I was starting to expect another wildlife disappointment until I started driving out of the park.

Suddenly, 3 bear cubs scrambled down a hill by the side of the road and ran out in front of me. Thankfully I was far away enough to be able to stop and avoid hitting them. I’ve no idea where mama bear was, thankfully not close enough to be a threat although obviously I stayed in my car. But it was a magic moment, only lasting for a few seconds, to see three bears run across the road directly in front of me.

Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains

Even without the bear sighting it’s a beautiful place to park to explore, and maybe you’ll be lucky on the bear front as well.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is a very picturesque city to visit, with trees covered by Spanish moss, cobbled streets, a river walk and several small parks.

It’s a very walkable city, so just take a wander through the historic district, and check out whichever independent shops and cafes take your fancy.

Key West, Florida

This is one of the roads I was determined to find time for. I stayed in Florida City, south of Miami, and drove down to Key West and back on Thanksgiving Day. The road over the water was unlike any other drive during my trip. You can stop to explore the individual keys, but the ocean views from the sections of road between each key are the real highlight.

Key West itself is notable for being the southernmost point of the USA, but I only spent about 2 hours there. It was all about the road.

Washington, DC

Washington DC is home to some of the most famous buildings in the world. Obviously, the White House but also the US Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It’s also home to the Smithsonian, a collection of museums for art, history, culture and science.  

To see these places in person rather than just on a screen was a real highlight of my trip. Grabbing yet another coffee and walking for several miles around the Washington landscapes was something I’d looked forward to for months.

Alaska

Ok, I did this as a side trip. I didn’t actually drive to Alaska so it’s not an official part of my 48 state road trip. I flew from Seattle to Anchorage, took the 12-hour train journey up to Fairbanks and then flew back to Seattle to get back onto the road. If you ever have the chance to take that train journey, go for it but book early as it will sell out quickly.

There’s no telling what you’ll see as it is very weather dependent. The train goes very close to Denali but whether you will see the mountain depends on how cloudy it is. You might be lucky and see a moose, but there’s no guarantee. What I can say is that the views from the train are incredible. 

The train from Anchorage to Fairbanks. A detour from my 48 state road trip

Lessons Learned

Check for events

In Chicago, Portland (Maine), Ann Arbor and Syracuse I ended up unintentionally arriving during an annual event. Lollapalooza in Chicago made driving terrifying, and surprisingly affected my ability to find open coffee shops.

The National Governor’s Association in Portland, Ann Arbor’s annual art fair and the Syracuse Nationals made booking accommodation and restaurants much more difficult. Check for annual events that might make things more expensive or just outright chaotic.

National Parks – you may have to book

I didn’t know this was a thing until I was checking directions to Glacier National Park and found out I couldn’t just turn up. Different National Parks have different rules. Check before you go. Rocky Mountain National Park was extra difficult and took me 2 days to get tickets as they first time I tried they were all gone within 15 minutes of release.

Also, if you are visiting more than 3 National Parks, get an annual pass when you arrive at your first park to save money.

Check the weather

I was incredibly lucky with the weather on my 48 state road trip, but it is important to keep checking the weather. This is especially true if you are planning to drive through rural areas or the National Parks.

You might encounter closures or get stranded somewhere, so make sure you are aware of what’s going to happen a few days ahead and plan accordingly. It’s also a good idea to keep a case of water in your car just in case.

Keep an eye on your fuel gauge

If you are taking the road less travelled, make sure you don’t run out of gas.

For most of the trip it was easy to get fuel, but there were a few times when it became a potential problem.

Some roads are marked with distance until the next gas stations, but on one road in the middle of nowhere in Nevada I started to realise I probably wouldn’t have enough to get to the next town. I had to turn around and drive about 30 miles back to the last town I had driven through to get more fuel.

Take the scenic road

Unless you have a limited amount of time to get somewhere, consider using smaller roads. You can get a much better view of the landscape away from the interstates if it works for your route.

There are some places where it may not work – I think I would have been better off sticking to the interstate rather than driving past what felt like 2000 miles of corn fields on rural roads in Iowa. But generally, I found that some of the best scenic views were just normal roads through areas I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

FAQs

How Long Do I Need For A USA Road Trip

You could spend a year on a road trip around the US and still have more to see. Work out how much time you are able to spend there and plan your route from there. To get to all 48 mainland states you would need at least 2 months, and even then that only allows for less than 1 1/2 days per state. It’s not an experience to be rushed.

Do I Need A Visa To Visit The US

This will depend on which country you are visiting from and how long you intend to stay. If you intend to be in the US for more than 90 days you will almost certainly need a visa which can take several months to arrange including an interview. For less than 90 days from a Visa Waiver Country you will need to complete an ESTA before travelling. Check your requirements on the USA government website.

Is It Safe To Travel In The USA?

Relatively speaking, the USA is a fairly safe place to visit. You should exercise precautions and if travelling alone avoid being out after dark. In 5 1/2 months of travel I only felt uncomfortable on 2 occasions, and if in doubt trust your instincts and move on to another location.

Final Thoughts

My 48 state road trip is likely to be the biggest travel adventure of my life, and with very few changes I could happily do the whole thing over again. If you have the opportunity to explore America’s roads, I hope the suggestions above provide some inspiration.

Other posts you might like

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How To Plan a USA Road Trip

Best Travel Apps

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