How to Beat the Downsides of Winter Road Tripping!

So I did it. “Cross country road trip” can be checked off my list.

Here’s a list of every major stop from start to finish:
Charlotte, NC
Nashville, TN
St. Louis, MO
Kansas City, MO
Kansas City, KS
Denver, CO
Boulder, CO
Vail, CO
Salida, CO
Carlsbad, NM
Las Cruces, NM
San Diego, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Big Sur, CA
San Francisco, CA
Larkspur, CA
Humboldt County, CA
Banks, OR
Vancouver, WA
Portland, OR

The opportunity came during an atypical season, the winter. Winter road tripping is tougher than other seasons, but it can be a great time to travel. Now that it’s over, I’ve summarized the downsides followed by one or more ways to beat it with a positive! At the bottom is a list of tips.

Downside: Too cold for the same summer activities

On a cross country road trip, you picture swimming in lakes, hiking the tallest mountains, and enjoying many ice cream cones. In the winter, it’s too cold for that.

Beat it! Take advantage of winter sports

Ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or go winter hiking. Renting isn’t that expensive in certain areas. Taylor and I went hiking all over the country. Appreciate the year round beauty of the mountains!

Beat it! National Parks and Forests are wide open


This campsite is usually packed in the summer. We were all alone!

Winter is off season. No need to reserve campsites ahead, just stroll on in. No cattle-like crowds of annoying tourists, the place is all yours. Get the peace and solitude you want in your National Park/Forest experience.

Beat it! Drink beer

Instead of ice cream, get a toasty buzz on with craft beer. Tour the country’s diverse brew spots in every city.

Beat it! Head to warm places


Ocean Beach, San Diego

In the winter, warm places are vacation land. Heaven on earth. San Diego is a beach town all year round.

Downside: Too cold to camp

This one was tough for Taylor and me. We ended up speeding through the cold in Arizona to get to sunny California, and spending more money on Airbnb in general.

Beat it! Stay with family/friends


Visiting Emily in Salida

Those cousins that live across the country? Friends you haven’t seen since college? Road tripping is an excuse to hit ’em up! Visiting a place is more meaningful when you have a guide; they took the stress off navigating and showed us around. Second to that, it’s free to stay.

Downside: More expensive

This is true. Winter road tripping is more expensive. Since we couldn’t camp, cook, or sleep outside most nights, than the costs of Airbnb, beer, food, and indoor activities added up.

Beat it! Get creative with free, indoor activities


Free live show in Boulder, CO.

Are you a history, art, or music buff? See museums, galleries, shows, open mics, and more. Look for events free of entry or with a small cover charge. TripAdvisor can help.

Downside: Short days

The sun set every night at 5:30. If we were camping, there was pretty much nothing we could do except make dinner and go to bed. The fun came and went with the sun.

Beat it! Cover ground before sunrise


Getting an early start

If you want to cover ground, do it in the morning before sunrise. That way you’ll arrive at your destination without wasting daylight hours. When camping in Las Cruces, NM, we fell asleep at 7 PM but hit the road again at 4 AM. We were in Arizona by sunrise.

Final Tips:

1. Be careful driving in snow covered states and mountain passes. If your car isn’t great in snow, stick to major highways that are maintained well and heavily traveled. Or, choose a southern route to avoid snow in general, and take your time in warm places. Check weather daily.

2. Have a loose plan. Some days will have a more solid plan than others, but when it comes to road tripping, things don’t always go as expected. Your plan shouldn’t be perfect because it won’t play out that way. Be open to change.

3. Make sure your car is in good condition before hitting the road. Get it checked.

4. Have some money saved. Since winter road tripping is more expensive, make sure you won’t go broke mid-trip.

5. Budget. I wrote down everything we spent and kept track of weekly spending. That way it forces you to be aware and your money won’t disappear into thin air.

6. Remember to have fun. The whole point of taking time off work to road trip is to take a break from worrying about life’s stresses, money, and time. Make sure you do that! If you are worried about money the whole time than it won’t be fun. Relax, treat yourself from time to time, let go of guilt, and enjoy the moment!

7. A truck/sleep-able car would be ideal! Remember, you can park and sleep in almost any Walmart parking lot!

8. Travel light. For the love of being stress-free, travel light. Also, unless you plan on spending all your time in classy hotels and top-notch cuisines, don’t pack anything nice.

9. Bring your passport. My passport unexpectedly came in handy many times. In southern Arizona/California we went through THREE border checkpoints. None gave us any trouble, but I was glad I had my passport, the most official ID. You passport is good to have if you want to jump into New Mexico or Canada, which we considered doing. It also served as my backup ID when I left my wallet/driver’s license in Denver (don’t worry, I got it back!)

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