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American Road Trips 101

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American Road Trips 101

Ain't that America?

©: Kathleen Crislip

Ready - or buy - a car for a road trip:

Hitting the highway for a road trip? Ensure that your car is in shape before you leave by following a few simple tips. Not inclined toward do-it-yourself car care? Take a list to the local garage and get summer's motor running:

Don't have a road worthy rig? Learn how to buy one:

Where to go - hit the city:

Surveyed students listed their top 10 favorite US cities not long ago -- jumpstart ideas with this list for some surefire student travel spots, including free stuff to do in mega-hit places like Austin and Boston. You could also just head to the big city nearest you and kick it in a hostel overnight.

Nowhere to stay? No friends there yet? No sweat -- go Couchsurfing and meet like minded folks while you flop for free.

Where to go - hit the beach:

Life's a beach, and you need some -- ask the doctor for a prescription and head for the sun. Dr. Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach), reknowned author and professor of environmental studies in Florida, dishes out the gritty goods on the US's best beaches and rewards the country's sweetest sand with a coveted spot on his annual top ten list.

Go car camping:

Car camping is as easy and as close as your nearest national forest, or even KOA. Pack the car and hit the road for a weekend or the whole summer and stay cheap in campsites while you eat cheap with camping food. And the next road trip is as simple as packing the car and leaving camp.

Get maps and guidebooks:

US maps will be crucial to your road trip planning --- find free US maps online, printable US road maps or buy hard copy US maps and atlases before you go. See some esoteric US maps, too: physical, topo, scenic maps, sightseeing maps, driving routes, city maps, US state capitals and maps with city or state by state information. Check out some great road trip guidebooks like Lonely Planet's "Road Trip Route 66" and "The Most Scenic Drives in America."

Going to Mexico? Get some Mexico maps and get going.

Find the best American road food:

You want to see the real core of the country you're traveling through? Eschew the chain on the interstate and hit Main Street for a cafe. It may take some time to locate the goods, but it's worth it to get, say, homemade she-crab soup in Florida. Try real roadside, down home restaurants and cafes on any drive - a slice of Americana and apple pie.

Stay safe on the road:

Travel is as safe as you make it, and travel in the US can be every bit as risky as travel abroad if you're not prepared. Stay safe, but don't stay home!

Be ready for roadside emergencies:

Flats happen -- don't let 'em ruin a day if you haven't got a spare (you will, though, if you prepped your car pre-road trip in step one above). Be ready with a travel club membership and get roadside emergency assistance or towing. Triple A is easy, less than $100 annually, and offers hotel and car rental discounts plus car help; check with your gas credit card company, too -- it might offer a car travel club benefit and discount program. Look on the card's back.

Calculate gas costs:

Almost last but far from least, let's talk gas money. Gas costs are far from fixed: you can save a lot by finding a cheap station -- check out gas costs in advance with a gasoline cost calculator. Takes you to prices at the pumps in towns you'll be touring through. The rest of the road trip budget? Do the road food thing or camp cooking (above) and find cheap hostels or camp to save on sleep.

How to save money on road trips:

Read up on the top 5 money saving road trip tips before you go.

Find free wifi on the road

Finding wifi on the American road is a snap -- Starbuck's is always a sure bet, and even McDonald's has pay-to-play wifi these days. Find it free to stretch the road trip budget, though.

Get the top iPod travel downloads

The top five iPod travel downloads include language courses, which is a good way to while away road hours. You'll also need road music, and learn how to get maps on to your iPod without video, which is needed to transfer web based driving directions to an iPod.

Enjoy the ride!

Check out some road photos (part one east of the Mississippi and part two in Colorado) for inspiration, and get out on the highway, travelers.

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