With the Canada-US border finally opening up for travel again – adventurers, vanlifers, and snowbirds alike are heading South for a USA adventure. We personally are headed on a cross-country road trip across the United States and we couldn’t be more excited to share the journey with you. In the meantime, we’ve had many questions like – how to prepare for a USA road trip? Where do you start when planning a road trip? How to plan a road trip across the USA?
While we are still getting prepared for the trip of a lifetime, we wanted to share our learnings with you.
Prefer to watch, not read? Find our YouTube video on the topic below
Making sure ID and passports are up to date
It’s been a long time since any of us have travelled, we know – and that’s exactly why it’s so important to double check that your passport is up to date. Not only should your passport not be expired, ensure that it won’t be expiring any time soon. A good rule of thumb is to ensure your passport is still valid for six months beyond your return date + more if possible.
We were so lucky to get married this year, but it added the extra step of changing our names on our passports and ensuring all of our ID matches. Having your ID sorted out is essential before booking any accommodation, if you are choosing to do so.
PCR Test & Vaccine Passports
At the time of writing this, Canadians must be double-vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine before crossing the border. You currently don’t need a PCR test going entering the USA by land but you do need one coming back into Canada . Please note that these rules are changing all the time and our information will not be valid forever. That said, make sure that you have are getting the correct information from the official USA and/or Canada government websites.
Incorporating the cost of the PCR test is very important as it could add a huge chunk of change to your travel budget at this time.
Understanding visas and how long you can stay
Canadians entering the USA are not required to get a visa for up to six (6) months at the time of entry. If you were to want to stay longer or extend your trip, you’d have to do that with US Citizen and Immigration services and you’d have to disclose that before your trip. We think we’re pretty darn lucky that we can travel the US for so long visa-free!
All of the information regarding visas for Canadians in the USA can be found at this link here.
Finding and/or discussing the “WHY” of your trip
Is it normal to become a jumbled mess when planning a trip? YES! We can relate. The reality is – a lot of travellers get so excited after the initial ‘let’s do it!!’ conversation that everything after that becomes a blur. We recommend that you really sit down and think: ‘why are we doing this USA road trip?’.
Is it to see national parks? Spend time in cities? Will you be camping on public land or will you be booking camp sites? This is something you need to sit down and think about.
This exercise will help you narrow down what you want to see / where your trip will take you well before you even make your itinerary.
Preparing an itinerary
The next step is actually preparing an itinerary for your cross-country USA road trip. We are believers in using a combination of maps, blogs and trip planners to come up with the ultimate itinerary. You can begin by writing down all of the main points of interest / bucket list items. From there, you can Google the distance between each of your bucket list destinations to get an understanding how long it will take to hop to each place.
From there, I dig deeper. If I’ve allotted a few days to get from Phoenix to San Antonio – I will Google “Phoenix to San Antonio” road trip and read all of the blogs to see what main attractions or hidden gems I’m missing in my itinerary.
We will be doing an entire video and write up on how to build an itinerary for an epic USA road trip. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel and be the first to see it when it’s posted.
Leaving enough time in your itinerary for changing plans
If you were to ask us, you would know that we are strong believers in leaving blank space in your itinerary. If your USA road trip (or any trip for that matter) is too jam-packed, you may miss out on the magic of spontaneity! Some of our favourite memories during our past travels were in those blank spaces where we could just get up & go! Who knows – you could meet someone and they could ask you to join them on an epic day trip. You don’t want to say no just because you’re sticking to a strict schedule!
Our advice? Leave some space in your schedule for the “hey, why the heck not“s.
Packing for a USA road trip is – erm – a diverse task
No matter what time of year you’re going, if you’re planning a cross-country road trip across the United States, you’re going to be running into a whole lot of different weather. The climate in the United States varies because of a number of reasons, including a change in geographic features across the country.
Be sure to research what the weather will be like in each city/state before you get there and prep for the proper emergencies. For example, you want to make sure you’re bringing tire chains and a shovel if you’ll be encountering winter climates, as well as bug screens and sun cream if you’ll be hitting the desert. Google will be your best friend for this specific part of the planning period.
Finding travel insurance
Travel insurance is one of the biggest investments to make before travelling and one of the most important decisions you will make before your trip.
For this trip, we used Travel Insurance Master to get an estimate on what the plans would look like in terms of pricing.
Sorting out your car insurance
We live in British Columbia where we have a mandatory insurance company called ICBC. This isn’t the same for all Canadians, as in most Canadian provinces/territories, there are private insurance options to keep you covered. ICBC isn’t always our favourite company to deal with, we will admit it. However, we’re lucky in this case that ICBC will cover you for your road trip across the USA. Always be sure to call ICBC and confirm that your insurance policy will be valid for the duration of your trip – as well as ask them any questions regarding the specific states you plan on visiting. Each state will have different rules and regulations, and it’s essential to talk to your insurance company about this before heading down south.
In addition to general car insurance, we also are strong believers in purchasing roadside assistance, especially before a big long road trip. We are from BC (as we mentioned) so we have an annual BCAA membership. I highly recommend getting roadside assistance before your USA road trip as it can be useful to you in almost any vehicle-related emergency. We learned a pricey lesson regarding the cost of getting towed or pulled out of snow banks after a tough van life winter. Skip the mistakes and learn from ours – an annual road side assistance membership is a lot cheaper than getting towed even once.
Taking your vehicle to get it serviced
Before taking off on your adventure down south, it’s important to ensure that your vehicle is in tip top condition. Every 5,000 km, we take our van to get serviced and will definitely be doing an extra check up before crossing the border. Our vehicle is our travel adventure buddy as well as our home, and keeping her in the best shape possible is paramount to us.
My mother-in-law called me worried sick that we wouldn’t be able to find accommodation as the campgrounds have been packed since the border opened up. I guess some family friends crossed the USA-Canada border on the Monday that it opened, and many campsites are already at full capacity. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re planning on staying at campsites.
We don’t plan on booking accommodation since we live in our van full-time and prefer to either boon dock, stealth park or camp on free land. That said, it’s still very important to have an address to write down on the customs form. We already have that information planned and logged in our phones since I have family right on the other side of the border that we will be visiting.
Bringing emergency items – like water & paper copies of maps
There is always a 5 gallon water jug in our mini kitchen and a 5 gallon water jug under our bed since we live in our van full-time. We highly recommend carrying water in your vehicle even if you don’t live in it full-time. In addition, we always keep paper copies of maps so that we will still feel safe in the case that we are out of service. Bringing food is also essential, as well as emergency blankets, a flashlight, and a first aid kit.
We like to prepare for every possible emergency.
The point is – come prepared and the rest of your trip will be a breeze.
Most Canadian service providers have a ‘roam like home’ plan or something similar. This is when you can use your Canadian data in the US for a small charge. We evaluated the prices for our trip and will be scrapping our Canadian phone plans completely. I recommend that you spend time researching your options as American phone plans can be much cheaper. That said, you may be better off just sticking with your current plan if your trip will be shorter than ours.
Additionally, phone plans in the USA often have a ‘service map’ online to evaluate how good their coverage is. We landed on Verizon after doing our research. After all, our Telus plans in Canada are not cheap and we’re pretty ready to leave them behind.
The last tip we have for preparation is taking the time to make amazing playlists! This tip is just for fun but necessary. Sometimes preparing for a trip can be daunting and you have to keep the excitement going. Don’t let the draining tasks like ID and phone service research ruin the vibe. Your USA road trip will be amazing, so get your Spotify playlists ready! You are going to go see amazing sights!!
We hope that this USA road trip check list will help you for your future planning. The country is waiting for you to explore it and you only have a few small tasks to accomplish before heading south. If you have any questions, please add them to the box below. We are so excited for your trip!
Have you ever wondered how cheap van life *actually* is? Find your article on van life vs. city living.
Before your road trip, take a look at our van life essentials list after one year of van life.
Are you coming from another country? We made a list on surviving a North American winter here.