Update: This article was most recently updated Sept 2021 to reflect US road trip travel tips in 2021 amidst evolving conditions.
The great American road trip is back!
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made international travel difficult to plan in 2021, with evolving restrictions and uncertain policies from one country to the next. Many Americans are instead taking a road trip within the US in 2021.
With the vaccine rollout, there has been some cautious optimism at the prospect of safely traveling again. The great American road trip has emerged as a popular way to travel within the US amidst the lingering Covid-19 pandemic conditions in 2021.
Yet with lingering pandemic conditions and associated restrictions, there are so many aspects of travel that have changed for potential road trippers. So there are lots of new road trip tips to know in 2021 that can help make for a much smoother journey.
Some restrictions remain within certain US localities that road trippers should be aware of before planning a visit, while restrictions are evolving quickly in other locations. As we’ve experienced popular tourism destinations across the US swelling with record-setting crowds in 2021, we’ve practiced a number of tactics to avoid getting caught up in the masses.
With gas prices sharply climbing in 2021, there are methods to mitigate this significant road trip expense too. Travelers should also be aware that 2021 has brought hotel policy changes and a dire need to book early in some destinations. Have you thought about what new road trip items should be packed in 2021? We’ll cover all these 2021 road trip travel tips and more!
We wrote this detailed post to share all our 2021 road trip travel tips we’ve learned along the way. Doing some advance planning can greatly help to avoid unexpected complications while on the road. We hope these 2021 travel tips will lessen aggregation & disappointments among road trippers, while also helping to keep safe.
Planning Tips & Where to Take a 2021 Road Trip
1) Is It Safe to Plan a 2021 Road Trip in the US amidst Lingering Pandemic Conditions?
This is an important question on many prospective travelers minds as pandemic conditions still exist. And there’s no clear answer, as it’s often more a matter of opinion. So we’ll default to the CDC for official guidance as to whether a 2021 US road trip can be done safely in 2021.
As of August 25, 2021, the CDC clearly states:
“People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States.”
Ever since April 2021, the official guidance by the CDC has given a green light for vaccinated Americans to safely go on a road trip! Of course, they still advise taking some additional precautions like wearing masks on public transport and monitoring for symptoms after traveling.
For those who cannot get vaccinated, the CDC further offers advice on how to travel domestically as safely as possible, recommending testing and/or quarantining measures. Read the official CDC domestic travel guidance here.
2) Check for Any US State Travel Restrictions in 2021
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, some US states placed restrictions on people traveling from other states. These states required visitors to complete a travel health form, quarantine upon arrival, show proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test, or proof of vaccination.
Most of the restrictions have since loosened in 2021, particularly so for vaccinated travelers. One US state that has maintained policies is Hawaii. As of September 2021, Hawaii still requires a pre-registration process to include proof of vaccination or negative Covid test with quarantining. Hawaii’s travel restrictions have been changing, so if traveling to Hawaii – be sure to carefully review their policy.
Meanwhile states in the continental US are no longer enforcing restrictions for domestic visitors of other states. that said, a few states do provide recommendations. And of course, this could all change if cases rise. So you may want to check, just in case.
For a glance at travel restrictions for all 50 states, see this regularly-updated CNN article. But it’s always best to check directly with the state for the latest official information.
3) Get Outside during a 2021 Road Trip
Some indoor attractions remain closed in 2021. So outdoor destinations have obvious appeal.
When planning potential road trip stops, the great outdoors can offer great allure. Rural destinations are in vogue in 2021 as more and more people are opting outside. Since many of us have been confined to their homes for much of the past year, America’s splendid outdoor locations can be particularly appealing.
Mountains, beaches, lakes, and forests can make naturally excellent choices during a 2021 road trip. But just understand that much of America has the exact same outdoors ideas as you. So expect to potentially encounter crowds. USe some of the following road trip travel tips to avoid the masses.
4) Consider Off-Season Locations to Avoid Crowds
Consider going against the grain to take a road trip in the other direction from the US destinations that swell with tourists in the summer high season.
During Fall, leaf-peeping destinations, such as the New England area, can get swarmed. Meanwhile popular beach destinations thin out greatly as kids are back in school. Yet temperatures can still be mild. Consider a Fall beach trip!
During winter, warmer southern destinations tend to swell. This can be a great opportunity to grab some warm layers to experience winter up north to beat the crowds.
But summer can be the most popular time for a road trip. For summer 2022, off-season ideas to beat the crowds include:
- Florida’s beaches & Florida Keys
- Ski resort destinations, and
- Arizona (away from Grand Canyon).
Along the East Coast, beaches in the mid-Atlantic and northeast tend to be very popular in the summer. But summer is actually low season for Florida’s beaches, which tend to peak in the winter and spring instead.
Inviting destinations like the Florida Keys have their lowest occupancies and lowest rates during the summer months. Yes, it gets hot. Yes, there is an increased chance of showers. And yes, it is hurricane season. But these are tradeoffs to consider that may successfully allow road trippers to avoid the crowds during a 2021 trip. Our September road trip to the Keys last year had pleasant weather and was void of tourist crowds.
Out west, consider popular ski resorts that fill-up during the winter. Many ski resorts stay open for the summer season, with plenty of occupancy and lower rates, making it a great consideration for a value-oriented summer travel idea.
The slopes may be barren of snow, but there’s lots of great summer outdoor recreation without the crowds that fill the ski lodges in the winter. It comes along with the same great restaurants, bars, and ambiance but with sunny summer weather instead of snow-covered mountains.
Check around the Colorado ski resorts. We recently snagged an excellent 2021 summer deal at a hotel in the notoriously pricy Breckenridge Colorado area. Also look into off-season ski destinations like Park City Utah.
Also consider a summer 2022 road trip to Arizona as the state largely experiences a low season over the summer months, away from Grand Canyon of course. The desert heats up in the summer, driving many away. So it’s a great consideration to go against the grain, beat the crowds and score a deal in places like Phoenix, Tuscon, Yuma, or Sedona. Sure it may be too hot for a long afternoon hike, but you can instead cool off by river tubing or with a cold drink at a luxury spa with off-season rates.
Going against the grain, not only avoids crowded tourism destinations. It also allows road trippers to save by taking advantage of excellent deals!
5) Reconsider Popular Destinations while Discovering Nearby Alternatives
For a 2021 road trip in the US, many of us all have the same idea: seeing the great national parks of the US. Many popular summer beach destinations and notable national parks have experienced their busiest summer travel season ever. It is anticipated that summer 2022 crowds may surpass that!
This is great for those local tourism industries. But it also means that road trippers can expect to encounter crowded situations and high prices.
We noticed this firsthand when we visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Year after year it’s ranked as the most-visited national park in the US. We saw no signs of a slow down during our summer visit. There were crowded parking lots, congested roadways, packed trails, and loads of people congregating in the tourism towns that serve as a gateway to the national park.
To avoid the crowds that swarm the most popular national parks, be sure to consider discovering lesser-visited alternatives nearby.
America’s National Parks are spectacular. But it can be worth looking into nearby State Parks or National Forests too. For example, our visit to the Great Smokies was met with crowds. Yet the nearby Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest remained serene and lightly trodden.
Crowded situations during a vacation can always be a little annoying. Yet during the lingering pandemic times, crowds can feel increasingly irritating or even dangerous. To appease that anxiety, it can be worthwhile to do a little extra research to uncover lesser-visited gems nearby.
Look around on Google Maps to see if there may be interesting park lands nearby, then read travel blogs and guides to see if such alternatives could be worth visiting. You may just find a new favorite destination tucked away just far enough from the masses.
6) Tip to Gauge How Busy a Destination May Be: Check Occupancy Rates
How can you tell if a tourism destination may be susceptible to heavy crowds during the time of your road trip visit?
If hotels are selling out, that’s a pretty good indication you may arrive to crowded conditions. Booking.com, one of the most popular hotel booking sites, shows whenever a searched destination is reaching capacity. After making a search on a computer, a box can appear above the search results to show the percentage of Booking’s inventory that is unavailable. Note, this only shows when a destination is filling up.
So take a quick search on Booking.com and if you don’t see this box with an unavailability percentage, that should help to appease crowding concerns.
7) Consider a Road Trip Close to Home
You don’t necessarily have to drive across the country to enjoy the fun of a road trip. Rediscover your own back yard! You likely have an inside advantage of local knowledge of some lesser-known spots that are within a tankful of gas.
This may be a perfect time to consider checking out that interesting place a few counties over you’ve been wanting to go to.
Not straying far from home has further advantages. With rising gas prices, you’ll save some cash!
Yet from a safety standpoint, if someone were to get sick during a 2021 road trip, then you’d be within easy reach of returning home, quarantining, and/or seeking medical attention at home.
8) Strategically Plan Popular Destinations during Weekdays
Popular US travel destinations are often popular for good reason. They have great appeal.
So if including a popular destination during a 2021 road trip, consider planning the visit during the mid-week. You’ll likely experience less visitors, for a more pleasant experience. Accommodation prices tend to ease too.
During the weekends, plan long driving days or visit lesser-visited locations nearby. Then proceed to popular spots during the weekdays.
We used this strategy during our Florida Keys road trip and it worked great! Rather than going to popular Key West during the weekend, we stayed in less-popular, Marathon. Then we went to the tourism magnet of Key West on a Tuesday. We were delighted to find the often-crowded streets of Key West entirely empty! Bartenders informed us that the weekends were still drawing a strong crowd.
9) Avoid Emerging Covid Hotspots & How Locate Them
As cases rise again in the US, it can be helpful to be aware of risky areas during a road trip across the US.
Don’t unknowingly venture into a Covid-19 hotspot! There’s an obvious danger to travel to a destination where cases are rising fast and/or infection levels are high. Yet in addition to safety concerns, such areas will likely have heavier restrictions and closures in place, potentially making for an uncomfortable visit.
The CDC puts out a map of Community Transmission in US by County. That can provide some guidance of where to avoid.
Another great visualization, showing county-level data of where cases are currently emerging, can be found on the New York Times Hot Spots Map. It shows the share of population with new reported cases during the past week.
This can be a good resource to check while planning. But be sure to check it again before embarking on a road trip, as infection rates change over time. That can help to avoid any stops in potential hotspots along your 2021 road trip route.
10) Cities Have Obvious Drawbacks, but Don’t Ignore Them!
With a desire to avoid crowded spaces and get outdoors, it’s a logical move to cut cities from a 2021 road trip itinerary. Cities have a greater potential of encountering closures of indoor attractions. So it can be a logical move to avoid big cities altogether in favor of satiating the desire to enjoy America’s outdoor locations.
Yet while road trippers have flocked to beaches and national parks in 2021, some US cities have offered a chance to explore them at a time when many other American tourists are avoiding. We’ve included a few short city stops and found some particularly inviting conditions and low rates.
We scored a decent room in downtown San Antonio for a mere $40 that enabled us to stroll the city’s famed Riverwalk, which was nearly empty during our May 2021 visit.
Similarly, Washington DC was virtually empty as we stopped there over the summer. There was almost no visitors throughout the Washington Mall to the extent that we were able to get streetside parking right next the Lincoln Memorial. DC’s outdoor spaces and monuments remain largely open.
Even though some museums and government buildings were closed to the public, it was still special to walk around the outdoor monuments in such an enjoyable crowd-free setting. Most Washington DC museums have since opened in 2021, a trend other museums across the US have likewise followed.
If considering a city visit during a pandemic road trip, just be careful to research what’s open. Think about what activities you’ll actually be able to do.
11) Check Local Mask Mandates
When the CDC issued its May 13, 2021 public health recommendation that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask unless required by law, it initiated a relaxation of mask mandates across the US.
Many states have since dropped their masked mandates altogether. Other states have dropped masking only to have locales reinstate some form of mask mandate for indoor spaces and/or for unvaccinated individuals. It’s a lot to keep up with, but it’s helpful to know the rules in any state you’ll be roadtripping through.
This list maintained by AARP.org, has been updating state mandates as they change. Take a minute to review the current status of any state on your road trip itinerary.
It’s important to note that even if a state doesn’t have a mask mandate, travelers should be aware that masking may still be enforced by counties, cities, or even the businesses themselves. As we’ve roadtripped across half the US states in 2021, we’ve noticed that business’s masking policies greatly vary from one location to the next. So be aware that an area you’re roadtripping to may have a much stricter or more lenient stance on masking than where you’re from.
Whenever we’re in doubt, just check for a sign on a business’s entrance. Most business give a clear indication of their masking policy.
Preparations to Consider Before a 2021 Road Trip
12) Now Is the Time for a Tune-Up
Before you drive off on your road trip, ensure your car will make it the distance. Running into car trouble can lead to even more difficult situations as many policies that changed during the pandemic remain in place in 2021.
For example, if you need a tow roadside assistance may not allow passengers to enter the tow truck. This is something we experienced firsthand when encountering road trouble during a pandemic road trip last year. It made for a difficult situation, stranded on a dark road in the middle of the night.
Thankfully many roadside incidents can be easily prevented. Before taking off, be sure to check your tires, car battery, and engine oil.
Has your car been making a funny noise? Now is the time to get that checked out.
Do you have a spare tire, a jack, and everything needed to change a tire on your own? This is a good time to to ensure you’ll be able to able to change it yourself and hence avoid any uncomfortable situations on the side of the road.
13) Check Timing to Get Fully Vaccinated before a US Road Trip 2021
CDC recommends “delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
The key phrase here is “fully vaccinated,” which can take some time since a waiting period is involved after the jab(s). The CDC considers fully vaccinated to mean waiting 2 weeks after the second dose of a 2-does series or 2-weeks after a single dose vaccine. (Read full details for what’s considered fully vaccinated directly from CDC.)
Keep in mind that this waiting period to become fully vaccinated may have implications on the start of a potential 2021 road trip.
For example, let’s consider someone getting the Moderna vaccine. Since there’s a 28-day wait between the two doses then an additional two-week wait after the second dose, that means it takes a full month and a half after the first dose to be considered fully vaccinated. Road trippers should take this into consideration amidst making their 2021 travel plans.
Also, keep your vaccine card in a safe place during your road trip. Or snap a photo of it with your phone, so you at least have proof of your vaccine while on the road.
14) Checklist: Extra Items to Pack for a US Road Trip in 2021
Before the pandemic, we all needed to remember three basic items before leaving the house: keys, wallet/purse, and phone. Now items like masks and sanitizer are filling our pockets whenever leaving the house.
There are additional items we’ve packed for a road trip that we would have never considered during pre-pandemic times.
Here’s everything we’ve added to our US pandemic road trip checklist:
Travel-Size Hand Sanitizer
Don’t forget the hand sanitizer! For when you can’t immediately wash your hands, it’s great to have some sanitizer on hand (pun intended). The travel size (2 oz) hand sanitizer can be very convenient for travel.
Hand sanitizer has been a hot commodity during the past year. So it’s nice to see this 5-pack of travel-sized hand sanitizer on Amazon for less than $7! It’s 75% alcohol and usually in stock. Check now.
Sanitizing Wipes – So Many Uses!
When traveling in places with unknown cleanliness, it can be nice to have the reassurance of wiping down surfaces. Whether it’s a dirty public restrooms, a questionable restaurant table, or high-touch areas in your hotel room, sanitizing wipes can come to the rescue.
They’re also just convenient to have to clean up messes! This 10-pack of sanitizing wipe pouches is particularly convenient for travel, with 20 wipes in each resealable package.
Masks Are Easily Lost – Keep Extras in the Car
Yet masks are easy to loose. We keep some extras in our car for when that happens. This three-pack of premium 3-fly face masks is a best seller on Amazon.
For those who have been vaccinated, it’s a good idea to add your vaccination card to your 2021 road trip packing list. Some businesses across the US may require proof of vaccine (or negative Covid test) to enter.
So you may need to show proof that you’ve received the vaccine, in the form of your vaccine card. It could also prove wise to have your vaccination card for medical reasons that could unexpectedly spring up.
Accommodation Travel Tips during a Pandemic Road Trip
15) Book Your Hotels far in Advance for Popular Destinations in 2021
This is arguably the most crucial road trip travel tip for 2021 if you’re trying to save money.
Many popular road trip destinations in the US are popular for good reason. US treasures like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are simply unmatched. And you’ll find lodging within those spectacularly popular destinations has been booked up long ago.
Of course, there is still the option to stay nearby. But US road trippers should expect the possibility of arriving to “No Vacancy” signs lit up all around popular summer destinations throughout 2021. And where availability still exists, we’re already noticing sky high hotel rates all across the US, based largely on increased demand.
For example, in the gateway city of West Yellowstone, the lowest summer rates we could find have actually tripled since when we were searching in February.
Book your accommodation reservations as soon as possible.
It’s not just America’s hotels and motels. Short-term rentals like Airbnb and VBRO are also getting scooped up very quickly in popular destinations across the US. If you’re reading this while considering a 2021 road trip and haven’t made any accommodation bookings, NOW is the time to act!
16) Check Cancelation Policies and Consider a Higher Rate for the Ability to Cancel
Hotel cancelation policies changed a lot throughout the pandemic. At the onset, most hotels and booking sites were generous in easing strict cancelation policies for consumers. But they’ve since tightened them back up greatly.
It’s becoming the norm for hotels to charge lower rate for non-cancelable rooms. While we always love a good deal, our advice for a road trip in 2021 is to pay a slightly higher rate for the ability to cancel, given the lingering uncertainty that could effect travel plans.
When booking, be vigilant to carefully check when the cancelation deadline is and if there are any cancelation fees.
17) Know about Changes to Housekeeping Services in 2021
It’s always been standard at most hotels and motels in the US to make up your room each day. Tasks such as changing the towels & linens, emptying the trash, restocking toiletries, and light cleaning have been commonplace during pre-pandemic times. Yet in 2021, road trippers should be aware that this has changed at many hotels across the US.
Many hotels are not making up rooms during a guest’s stay, by default, unless it’s requested. Ask yourself whether you really need someone to make your bed each day. If you do, most hotels will still do so upon request only. But some will require you to request this the night before so they can plan accordingly.
Other hotels may be moving back to servicing rooms daily. For those who are uncomfortable with that, just let the front desk know you’d rather not have your room made up. Just let your preference know upon check-in and any decent hotel should be able to accommodate.
18) Hey, Where’s Breakfast?
Even if you book a hotel in 2021 that includes breakfast, don’t necessarily expect to receive it. We’ve encountered many hotels that still list an included breakfast on all the booking sites in 2021, but don’t provide one, blaming pandemic conditions.
We’ve found some hotels giving grab-and-go breakfasts. Other hotels don’t provide anything in 2021 despite listing it as a perk on booking sites.
If breakfast is important to you, be sure to call the hotel to verify if they’re actually offering breakfast before booking. Have a back-up plan for your morning meal and coffee.
19) Use Motels but Check Their Cleanliness in 2021
The roadside motels across the US are having a moment. Motels have always offered some of the best accommodation bargains in the US during a road trip. Yet during the pandemic, roadside motels showed further appeal since they opened up to the outdoors to limit contact.
Motels have become a popular choice. Yet staffing problems in 2021 in combination with an increase in motel bookings have led to an influx of cleanliness issues.
That said, we stand firm that motels are a most excellent choice for a 2021 road trip. It’s just become increasingly important to check recent reviews. Search around. We tend to find some of the best motel deals on hotels.com and booking.com, which include reviews from verified bookings.
20) Consider a Single-Stop US Road Trip
A classic US road trip often involves many different stops throughout a diverse driving route. Yet as many locations are filling up with limited vacancy and/or high prices, some may find it makes sense to find an attractive destination to hunker down in.
This may also be a great consideration for those still weary to travel and/or those not vaccinated, as it is possible to plan a “quarantine getaway.”
Consider a place where there is outdoor recreation at your doorstep. That way you can enjoy a destination in relative seclusion without further exposure and contact with others.
For example, last year we booked a hotel in the Keys that included free kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, bikes, and fishing gear. That way, we were able to enjoy these activities right on the property with no need to come in contact with others. It was great to fish right from our hotel room, making it a fantastic one-stop getaway during the pandemic that largely avoided contact with others.
Travel Tips for Eating & Drinking on a 2021 Road Trip
21) Understand the Service Shortage and Be Patient
Restaurants have largely reopened across the US for 2021 road trippers to enjoy. Many restaurants have even expanded their outdoor seating, which is a nice trend to see allowing diners more chances to eat outside.
Yet some locations across the US are experiencing a severe staffing shortage, causing long waits and delays in service. It may seem illogical, but restaurants across many popular US travel destinations are having trouble finding employees for the 2021 travel season.
This is occurring primarily from three reasons. When the lockdowns forced lay-offs last years, many service industry employees found other jobs that they’re now sticking with. Others are content with unemployment benefits they may be receiving. Some may have health concerns of returning to work at a crowded restaurant.
So be patient if your dinner is taking excessively long to come out. There may only be one cook in the back of the house. Know that empty tables at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily equate to availability. There may be limited servers, so managers may wisely choose to offer limited seating.
Expect to encounter waits and plan accordingly. Realize that seemingly bad service may be encountered during a 2021 road trip, but don’t let that ruin a good time. Be patient. Plan extra time. Be kind to service industry professionals. It’s been a tough year for many of them.
22) Download Drive-Thru & Take-Out Apps to Save Time & Money in 2021
Fast food is nearly an essential component to any US road trip. Drive-thrus and curbside pick-up can help to limit contact too. To take it an extra step further, you can also eliminate the exchange of money and credit cards by using an app. Since the payment transaction occurs through the app, you don’t have to potentially use a dirty pen to sign a credit card slip or exchange cash.
Yet the added benefits of using an app for a 2021 road trip is saving time and money.
Since a passenger can order ahead while still on the highway, this can decrease wait times. Many apps also offer money-saving deals and promos too, only available to app users.
Nearly all the fast food and quick-serve joints have apps now. Download the associated apps for all your favorite fast food places. Do so before your 2021 road trip, while you’re still connected to your home wifi, so you don’t burn through your mobile data while on the road. So what’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
23) Support Local Restaurants and Get Curbside Pick-Up
Fast food can be convenient while on the highway during a road trip. But local restaurants across US road trip destinations would love to have your business! Restaurants all across America have pivoted during the pandemic to offer takeaway options such as curbside pick-up.
Since it’s possible restaurants in some destinations are experiencing staffing shortages in 2021, creating long waits, it may be practical to call long in advance to order take-away. This is also a great option for those not vaccinated or not comfortable dining out in the pandemic, take-out can be a great alternative to consider while still getting a taste of the local food in the area.
24) Make Picnicking a Priority on a 2021 Road Trip
The lingering pandemic can give us all a perfect excuse to picnic during a road trip. Rather than get mixed up in a potentially overcrowded restaurant, enjoy a lunch al fresco!
When roadtripping to outdoor spaces across the US, there should be no problem finding picnic facilities in places like national parks, forests, recreation areas, and state parks. Even many highway rest stops in the US have some surprisingly clean and scenic picnic areas. Most picnic tables tend to be naturally spaced apart from each other too.
If it’s a highly used picnicking area, you may want to consider having some supplies on hand to wipe it down first. Or bring a blanket and your own picnicking supplies to set up a spread in an open park space or field. Enjoy!
25) Make Sure You Have a QR Reader to Read Restaurant Menus
If it’s been a while since you’ve dined out, you may be surprised to see that some restaurants across the US are no longer using paper menus. Instead, you view the menu right from your own phone, using a QR code. But you must have a way to scan that code.
Those who are planning to visit restaurants should be sure to have a QR Code scanner on your phone before dining out during your a US pandemic road trip. iPhone users should be all set, as the camera already has a built-in QR code reader. Android users will need to search for and download a QR code scanner app from the Play Store.
On the Road: 2021 Travel Tips for the Drive
26) Major Rental Car Shortages in 2021 – Book it NOW
If you’re anticipating the need to rent a car for a 2021 road trip, you may encounter availability issues due to the rental car shortage across the country. With the decrease in rental car demand during the pandemic, rental car companies sold-off portions of their fleets. Now demand is way back up and there’s a lack rental cars to fulfill the increased demand of 2021 road trip plans.
Secure those rental car reservations now to avoid disappointment. When renting a car, there are two types of reservations:
- paid reservations
- reservation to pay once you arrive at the counter.
In the latter situation, your reservation is not necessarily guaranteed. If you don’t pay for your reservation in advance, rental agencies can simply give up your car. It is something that is likely to happen to many unexpecting travelers in 2021. So it’s worthwhile to secure a paid rental car reservation to ensure the agency will actually hold a car for you.
Tips to Mitigate High Gas Prices in 2021
In 2021 gas prices have risen sharply. These higher rates can complicate those attempting to stick to a budget on a lengthy 2021 road trip. There are three ways for road trippers to lower their costs in 2021:
27) Compare Gas Prices Using an App
The popular gas price tracking app, GasBuddy, will quickly give a glance at gas prices wherever you’re road tripping to. The app makes it easy to compare prices and secure the lowest rate nearby. You can download GasBuddy on Android or iPhone.
28) Save $0.25 per Gallon with GetUpside!
GetUpside is a new cashback app that gives users up to $0.25 cash back at over 17,000 gas stations across the US. We just started using it ourselves and have already earned over $10 just in our first week of our latest US road trip.
Here’s how it works. Use the app to see cashback offers at gas stations nearby. (Usually this beats the lowest rates we’ve found on GasBuddy, which we still check to cross-reference.) So claim the best offer you find on GetUpside, then drive to the gas station and “check-in” on the app. Then just pump and follow the prompts to claim what is essentially a rebate on the money you spent on gas.
Within a few days, you’ll see the cashback reward. To cash out, you can use PayPal or even get a check mailed to you.
To save an additional $0.15 per Gallon with GetUpside, you can use our referral code: TEFBS.
Download GetUpside here , use code TEFBS and start saving!
29) Fill Up Using a Credit Card that Gives Cash Back
The nice thing about using GetUpside, as recommended above, is that you can double-dip to get cashback rewards from them and your favorite rewards credit card. There are plenty out there to choose from that will often provide an additional 5%+ for any gas station transactions. Check out this regularly-updated list compiled by NerdWallet of the Best Gas Credit Cards.
Personally we’re using a Chase Freedom card that’s giving a 5% cash back bonus at gas stations from April-June 2021. Perfect timing!
By double-dipping using GetUpside and our rewards card, we’re earning about $5 every time we fill up! That can add up to a lot of savings over the course of a long road trip across the US.
Of course, scoring bonuses like this from credit cards only makes financial sense for those who are planning to pay off the balance each month. Otherwise, the interest accrued is typically not worth the reward.
30) Know that Some Bathrooms May Still be Closed in 2021
Inevitably, you’ll have to “go” at some point during a road trip. Thankfully, bathrooms at rest areas are largely open all across the country.
But if you’re planning to use a restroom at a fast food joint or a gas station, you may not be able to rely on them. We’ve noticed in some locations, fast food joints are still not reopening their interiors – instead relying solely on drive-thru. Additionally we’ve noticed some national parks with limited restroom facilities open.
Meanwhile, highway rest areas remain a reliable place to stop for a potty break during a 2021 road trip.
31) Best Apps to Download for a 2021 Road Trip
There are so many great apps that can be of immense help during a road trip. Here are a few of our favorite free road trip apps to consider downloading.
- Map apps
- Google Maps – great all around map app
- Waze – best for traffic and navigation
- Weather apps
- Weather – good all around
- Morecast – see weather forecasts along a roadtrip route
- National Parks
- Official NPS app – for all 420+ parks has maps, info and more
- Accommodation apps – book and access reservations on-the-go
- We like Hotels, Booking, and Airbnb
- Food apps
- Download your favorites to make take-out easier and score deals
- Music – Give your road trip a soundtrack
- Pick your preference: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora
- Gas apps
- GasBuddy – compare prices
- GetUpside – get cashback (use code TEFBS for bonus)
- Bathroom app
- Where Is Public Toilet – finds nearby restrooms
- Hiking app
- AllTrails – Locate hiking trails and navigate them
- Parking apps
- Best Parking – reveals lots and best rates
- Parking payment apps – varies by city but ParkMobile and PayByPhone are common
Travel Tips for a 2021 Road Trip: Destinations & Attractions
32) Some Attractions are Still Closed in 2021
While much of the US has opened back by summer 2021, roadtrippers can still experience closures throughout the country. Indoor spaces like museums and theatre venues will be the most common casualties that linger. Other venues may have started renovations during shutdowns that are still ongoing.
Whatever the reasoning for the closures, if there’s a specific attraction you want to visit during a 2021 road trip, be sure to check its operation status.
While roadtripping throughout summer 2021, we’ve noticed firsthand many museum closures and most National Park Visitor Centers remain closed. So be sure to check when they’re opening back up to plan accordingly.
33) Make Timed-Entry Reservations for Attractions across the US
An emerging trend we’ve noticed throughout many popular attractions in 2021 is the new ticketing and reservation policies that are popping up everywhere.
Many local attractions are now requiring tickets purchased online in advance. Some walk-up attractions are now requiring reservations at designated time slots, with limited ticketing to help regulate potential crowding.
Even some free attractions are now requiring advanced ticketing reservations, with no walk-ups allowed. For example, San Antonio’s Alamo now requires visitors to have a timed ticket reservation, even though it remains free to enter. DC’s Smithsonian Museums are also implementing free ticketed-entry policies in 2021.
Some National Parks have begun this practice of ticketed entrance too.
34) Which US National Parks are Requiring Ticketed Reservations in 2021?
If you are visiting any of the following US national parks in 2021, be sure to review the entrance policies and possibly reserve a ticket through Recreation.gov.
- Acadia National Park (Maine) – vehicle reservations for Cadillac Summit Road : May 26-Oct 19, 2021
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) – cave entrance tickets must be purchased in advance
- Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road (Montana) – ticketed entry: May 28-Sept 6, 2021
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) – timed entry permit system: May 28-Oct 11, 2021
- Yosemite National Park (California) – reservations required: starting May 21, 2021
- Zion National Park (Utah) – timed shuttle tickets
Note: These national park ticketed entry policies even apply to national park pass holders. So before simply showing up, as you may have been able to in the past, be sure to check the park’s website for up-to-date info.
35) Consider a National Park’s Pass in 2021 to Save
If a few or more national park sites are on your 2021 road trip itinerary, then it should make sense to buy an Annual Pass to all the parks.
The America the Beautiful Pass costs $80 in 2021. Since many national parks charge a $35 entry-fee, it can prove economical to buy a pass if visiting at least three or more national parks during the 12+ months passholders have to use it.
The pass extends to all NPS sites. So that includes national monuments, national seashores, national forests and more. It can add up to an incredible value for those visiting many NPS sites. This pass has already saved us hundreds of dollars during our 2021 road trip.
You may even be able to get a pass for free or discounted! Current military members, residents who are disabled, and 4th graders can obtain a free park pass. Meanwhile seniors, age 62+, can snag an annual national parks pass for a mere $20, or get a lifetime pass for $80. Now that’s a deal!
36) Review Hiking Etiquette
More and more people are discovering the pleasures of the great outdoors during 2021 road trips. With lots of new hikers on the trails, we’ve been encountering lots of people who seem to be unfamiliar with hiking etiquette.
So here’s a quick review of some simple courtesies we can all show to another while on the trail.
- If hiking in a group, leave plenty of space on the trail for other hikers to pass.
- If needing to take a break, find a safe place to step off the trail. Don’t stop in the middle, blocking others.
- Hikers going downhill should yield to those climbing uphill.
- Slower hikers can be mindful of those who may be approaching you from behind.
- Faster hikers can kindly make your presence known when approaching others.
- Keep voices low and music off, so other hikers can enjoy nature.
37) Snap a Pic of Informative Signs and Move On
Throughout National Parks and other popular outdoor spaces, visitors will frequently encounter maps of hiking trails or informative signs. These signs often become a cluster, as people gather close to another to read such information.
Instead of adding to the crowd, use your phone to take a picture. Then read it wherever you want to lessen the gathering at the sign.
During our road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, we ended up with so many pictures of signs that we’d return to our car to read. Just be sure to go back to delete those pics from your camera reel when you’re done to free up space, unless you want to reference it later.
38) Go to Popular Attractions Early in the Morning
Crowds are amassing throughout national parks and other popular attractions in the US. Some entrance stations have queues of 2-3 hours, waiting to get in. Get up early to avoid the wait!
People like to sleep in on vacation. So if you want to beat the crowds at a popular attraction, rising early is a tried-and-true method to accomplish that.
Take a sunrise hike on a well-trodden trail. Arrive at a popular attraction right when it opens. Doing so, you may enter to freshly-cleaned conditions and a lack of crowds.
While on our summer road trip, we were hesitant to visit Virginia’s popular Natural Bridge. Yet going there first thing in the morning, we were delighted to be able to experience this unique natural attraction with very few other people around.
39) Reconsider Crowded Conditions
Crowding will likely be an issue at many popular road trip destinations in 2021, making for uncomfortable situations in places people are seeking solitude.
If you arrive to a road trip attraction with crowded conditions, you may want to reconsider. If a parking lot is full, that may be a good indication to turn away. It’s probably not worth bothering to circle around or park up the road, only to add to the crowded conditions.
When we found hoards of people at a popular trail, we decided it would be in our best interests not to get in that mix. Returning during off-hours helped to alleviate the hoards and made for a more enjoyable experience for us.
40) Be Kind
This should go without saying. Yet it seems more important now than ever.
A road trip in 2021 can be an exciting time to travel again, but it may also be a stressful time for some. With conflicting views on masking, distancing, and vaccinating – tensions may be heightened. Everyone has different sensitivities. So be caring to fellow travelers and locals alike.
Show compassion to the tourism operators who are trying to safely navigate the new and ever-evolving conditions we’re living through. Have some understanding of inconveniences you may face on a US road trip in 2021.
Be mindful of respecting the boundaries of other travelers who are trying to maintain proper distance. While you may be fully vaccinated, others may not be and hence still taking other precautions. If in doubt, we suggest erring on the side of caution just as a matter of respect. Above all else, just be kind.
Enjoy a 2021 US Road Trip
There’s a lot that can be done to minimize frustrations during a 2021 road trip in the US.
For some, the added planning may not be worth the trouble. It’s something that everyone must weigh out, pending their own personal situation.
For us, taking some of these extra measures has given us greater ease to enjoy our road trip journey across the US. As long-term travelers, the ability to get on the road again has done wonders for our mental health with the outdoor recreation giving a boost to our physical health.
Yet it’s not always smooth. And there there’s been lots of extra planning involved in 2021.
So if you’re considering a road trip in 2021, we hope these road trip travel tips may help to navigate these tricky times.
Be safe. Be kind. Be well.