Road trips can be one of the most fun and most enlightening travel experiences. Whether you've decided to take the long way to your planned destination, or you've mapped out a scenic route from state to state, or you've simply decided to drive west (or east, West-Coasters) and see what happens, you're sure to stumble upon amazing, humbling, annoying and fascinating surprises.
But gas is expensive and hotels are expensive and you want to be able to spend money on the experiences you find, not on the places in which you only spend eight hours sleeping. Are there other options? There are several, and they might make for an even better experience than a week of cross-country hotel hopping.
Bed on wheels
We're going to skip pretty quickly over this one because if you're reading this guide, you've probably already decided against sleeping in your car. However, it's certainly an option and we have tips on how to do it comfortably. Your first thought might be: can I sleep in that much space? It depends on your vehicle. But a less obvious but more important concern for someone sleeping in their car and avoiding hotels is washing. There's no shower in any car on the market, unless it's an RV, in which case you definitely don't need to read on.
Some of your stops might let you jump in a lake or stand under a waterfall with a bar of soap (both very fun ways to wash). But in a colder climate, bring baby wipes to freshen up in between opportunities to shower. Also bring a bin to store wet things in until you can dry them, and decide if you can build a bed of blankets or fit an air mattress on the folded seats of a larger vehicle if that's what you're driving.
Blanket of stars
Don't want to sleep in the car? Explore the campsites along your route. There are many options for car-camping, some free and some not, that let you spend the night and offer various amenities. State maps list campsites at state and national parks, and you can also look for private sites. You might not find one with bathrooms, but that's not really the point of camping, is it? So pack toiletries and toilet paper. Find a tent with enough room to sleep comfortably, either for yourself or for the people with whom you'll be sharing it.
Try to book a reservation for a spot. If that's not possible, arrive as early as possible to grab the best area. Invest in campfire cooking equipment so you can start the day with a delicious breakfast, hot coffee and hot water to wash dishes. Of course, pack flashlights and batteries—it's going to make any problem much worse if you can't see how to fix it.
Bed & breakfast
If you're looking for homestyle comfort instead of a night under the moon, try a local Bed & Breakfast. They're usually a private home offering overnight accommodations plus a morning meal. Plus-plus: showers! Enjoy a night on a real bed, in a cozy home environment, for less money than a towering hotel. The key to staying at a B&B is to communicate with the innkeepers. They're not hosting hundreds of guests, so the service will partly be tailored to you. Let them know if you don't eat meat, if you can't do stairs or if you'd prefer to try a restaurant in the morning.
One of the best perks of a B&B is the ability to talk with the owners and the other guests. They'll have local information, travel tips and fun stories that you can take with you or share on that blog you're keeping about your adventures.
A B&B in the air? No, it's the online version of a B&B, where you can find thousands of rooms, apartments and homes available to stay in. The website lets you search easily through the listings of people offering vacant spaces to guests and you probably won't have to spend a lot of time before you've found options. It has all the perks and potential downsides of a regular Bed & Breakfast but with the convenience of the internet and all the latest, simplest online tools. While booking last minute isn't recommended, Airbnb can also be a valuable tool for an unexpected stopover without breaking the bank on the nearest hotel.
Family and friends—it's like a B&B, except (probably) free and (probably) more comfortable. Have family near your route? Stop in along the way. Warn them, of course, unless it's your parents, and even then, probably give them a heads up. It's also a great opportunity to catch up with an aunt, a grandparent, a sibling, and to enjoy surprise time together, relaxing comfortably in the home of someone you know.
Maybe you don't have family in the area but you noticed an old college roommate and Facebook friend lives there. Even if you were the best of roommates, call them. #1: they might not have room. #2: they might not want a visitor. #3–100: a plethora of other reasons to, first, ask how they're doing, and second, ask for permission well ahead of time. It could be a wonderful experience, rekindling an old, valuable friendship.
Whatever option you choose, each one offers excellent opportunities to experience the world outside of the easy and expensive hotel system. Check out Roadtrippers, a website dedicated to planning the best road trip possible. Explore, experience, make friends and share your travels with people who are interested.