Tips for Driving Your First Solo Trip Alone Cross-Country

Headed for your first solo road trip cross-country? Don’t leave home without having read this article. Learn how to avoid traffic, save money and more importantly, how to stay awake and arrive safe on your first solo trip.

Before Setting Off

Before setting off cross-country, the first thing you must do is be certain your vehicle is in prime condition – tires are properly inflated, all fluids are at suitable levels and your gas tank is full. If you are uncertain how to check your cars’ current condition, it may be a good idea to make an appointment at your local mechanic or simply ask a friend.

If you don’t already have roadside assistance, call your insurance agent and sign up for the roadside assistance program.  You won’t regret having AAA or CAA when your car unexpectedly breaks down on a lonesome back road.

When driving the back roads, make sure you are checking your gas gauge as you go. Especially when you are unfamiliar with the roadway, it’s important to start looking for a gas station when your gas gauge hits a quarter of a tank. Fill up and don’t wait for the cheaper gas station to show up, or before you know it your gauge could be sitting on empty and leaving you stranded.

To save money on gas, avoid sudden start and stops, empty your car of unnecessary extra weight and slow down.  Driving at a constant lower mileage per hour uses much less fuel than driving at top speed.

If you are driving a rental, familiarize yourself with the vehicle and all of its equipment (brakes, hazard lights, fuel, etc.) before leaving the rental facility. If you have any questions, ask the lot attendant.  You can also save money by considering the fuel efficiency of the vehicle you are renting and using apps like GasBuddy.com (available in the U.S. and Canada) to check gas prices.

What to Pack

So what should you pack, should you encounter an emergency? I suggest a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket, a set of jumper cables, food (granola bars and water) and your USB phone charger cable.

Always have a backup plan, should your GPS fail or your phone battery die. Bring a road map, and use a smart phone app such as Google Maps or Waze to avoid traffic jams and road blocks.

Include some spare change for tolls and/or a public phone. Yes, I did mention a public phone; those are still around and may unexpectedly come in handy.

Any valuables should be locked away in the trunk or glove box compartment and your bags stowed away in the trunk. This prevents break-ins and theft when you need to walk away from your car. You shouldn’t wait until you arrive at the location where you will be parking your car, to stow your bags. You never know who is watching.

All packed and ready to go?

Before the long drive, make sure you are well rested. This means a good night’s sleep and/or a nap. You should also grab a snack or meal and avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeine initially gives you a boost and makes you feel alert, but eventually wears off and your attention could begin to drift. Also obvious, is to avoid alcoholic drinks. Not only is it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, but alcohol also impairs driving and makes one sluggish. Some medications (such as hay fever tablets) may also cause or increase drowsiness. If you are taking a medication, make sure you read the precautions that are printed on the label. If at all possible, avoid taking the medication or change your travel dates.

Since you’re driving solo and won’t have someone to share driving responsibilities with, make sure you pull over before you start to feel tired.

Don’t drive for more than eight hours a day. In journeys over three hours, it is recommended you take a fifteen minute break. Aim to stop every two hours or so. Use this time to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.  This is especially important if you are not used to driving long distances.

If you do have to pull over, always move your vehicle off the road. Do not park on the shoulder or in the breakdown lane for any reason other than a real emergency.

Have a Safe Trip!

Vania Silva is an automotive writer at KeepHighwaysSafe.org.

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3 Responses to “Tips for Driving Your First Solo Trip Alone Cross-Country”

  1. seenmuch says:

    On a long drive in the vehicle at arms reach it’s a really good idea to at least a couple of good bright flashlights, snacks & close pins to keep them shut, a cooler with something cold to drink along the way, paper towels or napkins, a few packs of wet wipes, pretty much anything that you might need over the period of time needed to cross desired distances….

    And in the trunk for emergencies in case you are faced with a problem in an area where nothing is around(which is a good description of much of rural america), a pack of fuses of varied amps to deal with a failed fuse(of the design you vehicle uses), a can of tire repair along with a plug kit for a flat in the middle of nowhere, a good screwdriver kit with varied sizes & types, a good wrench & socket set, a set of vicegrips(varied sizes) to deal with the unexpected that will likely happen when you least expect it……..

    Even if you have only minimal mechanicing skills on a cross country drive A few $$ spent to have a bare minimum of tools at your disposal can save your life or at the very least save you from a night along the side of the road waiting for help to deal with a minor issue which can put you on the side of the road…..

  2. John Carr says:

    One thing that may surprise coastal dwellers is how far apart gas stations are between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. I was headed out of Death Valley into Nevada and I saw a sign telling me next gas was 90 miles. No problem, I thought, I’ve got more than that. It turned out the next gas along my route was 134 miles away — I turned left where the nearest gas was to the right. Good thing I had 150 miles in my tank.

    If you know you’re on the main roads, like following I-70 to US 50 west across Utah, then the signs should be accurate. But do pay attention, because for some of you the gas stations will be more than half a tank apart.

    • Vania Silva says:

      Exactly! Better be safe than sorry. And even when there is a gas station, not all gas stations are open 24 hrs.