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How to Plan a Cross Country Road Trip: Finding a Balance Between Good Planning and Spontaneity

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Classic American media often romanticizes the idea of the cross-country road trip: stopping in little towns, driving through miles of fields, visiting the iconic national parks, and seeing everything “from sea to shining sea.” I always loved road trips growing up, and I often dreamt about driving across the country with my best friends.

When it came time to plan out my summer, I suggested to one of my friends that we drive cross country, knowing it was a long shot. She loved the idea and we began planning. This was an ambitious idea, so I didn’t get my hopes up too high as we looked for the best routes to take and the best places to stop on the way.

After our first bout of planning, we took a long break as our schoolwork picked up. I thought that ideally, we would just take a car and drive our route of choice, stopping when we got tired, hungry, or when we saw something appealing we wanted to see on the side of the road. Unfortunately, though, we realized that in order to make our trip as economical as possible, we would have to make some bookings.

First, we found a turnaround point: where we would meet our friend from California and begin our trip back to Massachusetts. After this, we had to find the most time-sensitive route across the country — later we would figure out how to change our route based on the stops we really wanted to make.

The most difficult part of the planning process was figuring out how to balance spontaneity with responsible planning. Not being very high maintenance (and wanting to sleep under the stars as much as we could) we looked on several websites to find state or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land to camp on since it should be free. Selecting several camping spots as options gave us much freedom when it came to stopping. Since we weren’t reserving any campsite, if we wanted to stop we could, but if we wanted to continue the drive, that was also an option.

As for food, we planned to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, snack on easily-transportable fruits, and other snacks refilling our supply just before we ran out. Our desire to see the country “spontaneously” made it easy to “plan” a road trip without too many constraints, but with the knowledge that we would have a place (be it a tent) to sleep in every night.

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Lily Krivopal

U Mass Amherst '24

Lily is a senior management and Spanish double major who is passionate about community service. You can always find her in the pool or outside running, hiking, or reading in a hammock.