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Tips for cross-country car trips

Lori Wilson is a SheKnows.com Home & Living columnist, as well as a freelance writer in Los Angeles, who after a lifetime of enduring harsh Michigan winters, relishes the warmth year round.

Before you hit the road

Have you ever wanted to take off for an entire summer driving from one coast to the other? It's a dream of many who often take this type of road trip right after college or after retirement, but no matter when you decide to travel cross country, it's always best to prepare first.

The break in weather often brings with it a desire to hit the road. As many people have time off form work or school, the summer is a popular time for cross country travel in your car. If you're planning a trip for the warmer months, now is the perfect time to start preparing for it. There are many things to take into consideration, but if you plan accordingly, you can enjoy the perfect summer adventure.

Mode of transportation and accommodations

First you have to decide how you plan to travel cross country. Will you drive from campsite to campsite and campout in a tent?

Will you drive coast-to-coast in an RV? Or do you plan to drive your current vehicle and stop at various hotels or motels? Each option has it's own advantages, it just all depends on your budget and resources.

If you're looking for cheap and/or free places to stay, check out hostels, monasteries, college dorms, friends homes or Couchsurfing.com, a site where people offer a free place to stay in hopes you will do the same for them one day.

Car maintenance

Before taking off for parts unknown, have your vehicle inspected to ensure you won't break down while on the open road. This includes checking all vital fluids, such as oil, anti-freeze, coolant and transmission fluid; checking your tires and making sure you have a spare,; replacing windshield wipers and getting back up fluid; and ensuring your battery, headlights and taillights are in good working condition.

While driving, keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. You don't want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where the nearest gas station is.

Mapping cross county routes

After deciding which cities or towns you will be stopping in, you have to figure out how to get there. Since you're out to experience America, you'll probably want to see as much of the country as you can. In order to do this, you should take smaller highways and byways that will take you through all the quaint little towns that make up the country.

Taking off-the-beaten routes will also help you eat better. As these routes often offer up local diners and fruit stands, you'll eat much healthier than if you stop at the fast food restaurants that line major expressways.

Whichever route you take, before leaving, print out driving directions from the Internet to help guide you to your destination. Many mapping sites also often point out hotel and dining locations in your path.

The carefree road trip

Creating an itinerary of when and where you will go is a good idea, but sometimes being too regimented can take all the fun out of your carefree vacation. Since you're taking an extended trip to get away from your overly scheduled life, you are probably looking for a spontaneous experience. So keep your plans loose and stay places you enjoy longer and leave places you don't sooner.

Making reservations at campsites or hotels will ensure you have a place to stay, but find out if you even need one first or check out their cancellation policy in case you get sidetracked on your way there. What to pack on a road trip Prepare for all weather conditions. Even though it's summer, you may hit a cold patch or stormy conditions, so pack rain gear, a sweater or two, and extra pairs of shoes for hiking, walking around town or running. Also, plan snacks for your road trip and pack a first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, CDs (for the long drive) and maps.
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