When you think about a road trip, what’s on your mind? Is it the big blue sky, the blur of the road, wind in your hair? Friends, music, laughter, the world's biggest stamp, or a giant ball of twine? These images of Americana and open road adventure elicit a feeling of appreciation for the journey. And a thrilling or relaxing destination is only the icing on the cake.
While these romanticized views drive a whole industry of roadside attractions and provide ample work for mechanics, there are some things to consider to help these escapades go off without a hitch.
This article is by no means an exhaustive list (and what you need varies on each trip), but this information will serve as a good template to cover the main things to address. Here are factors to review while planning a road trip:
Before you go:
- Firstly, you should plan it! Determine when you are leaving and what you’ll need. This sounds easy enough, but many considerations exist with driving a far distance.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to pack.
- Have your car thoroughly inspected; you wouldn’t go for a run dehydrated, would you? Make sure your vehicle is full of all fluids and is free of any mechanical issues. At the same time, review the owner’s manual to see if the car is due for recommended maintenance.
- Mechanics are often very busy, and inspections are a free courtesy. So, don’t assume a mechanic will check everything. Aid the process by describing any unusual noises or symptoms and expressing any concerns. Advising the technician that you’re headed on a road trip is useful, too,
- It’s best to rely on something other than the DC charging port to charge a phone. This put’s a strain on the car battery and isn’t ideal for your phone's battery health. Instead, get a backup battery that can not only charge your phone but jump the car battery in a pinch. Some of these devices can also check battery health.
- No matter how new the tires are, one errant nail can ruin the excursion. So, be sure to have a spare tire that’s in good order (along with the necessary tools for a tire change).
- Studying your primary route, without the benefit of GPS, is a good idea to avoid getting lost (especially if technology fails). This also applies to learning about attractions on your must-visit list.
- If your travel plans involve bringing along a firearm (whether for self-defense or hunting), know the laws of your travel through and destination states.
See the end of the article for helpful reminder lists of items to bring with you.
Book any hotels, tickets, or rentals ahead of time.
- Buy tickets earlier to save money and reduce the risk of popular attractions being sold out.
- Look for hotel and ticket deals on discount travel websites, but read the fine print. Of, low prices mean you can’t cancel a booking.
- Use a credit card with primary insurance coverage for renting a car. It’s an excellent perk that means you won’t have to buy extra insurance from the rental agency. Otherwise, any accident claims will have to go through you’re standard automobile insurance.
- I suggest checking Atlas Obscura for interesting sites along the way if you aren’t in a rush to get to a destination. There are unique and strange places to visit in every state.
- You should consider the time of the year and how it relates to the popularity of your destination. Hotels are cheaper when less active and less crowded.
Establish the roles of driver and co-pilot, and assign ancillary duties to other passengers.
- Having a co-pilot to chart the course, check for blind spots, act as a DJ, and hand out drinks and snacks is borderline mandatory for long drives. If you are going a distance farther than 3 hours away, please make sure whoever sits in the passenger seat understands the importance of this role.
- Resist the urge to play games like punch buggy and I spy. These activities may keep a driver mentally engaged but subject to distractions.
- Adjust for any time zone changes and establish a driver rotation schedule—a driver should be fresh and alert. Solo drivers should resist the urge to drive through to keep travel time to a minimum. In this situation, take a break every two hours and limit behind-the-wheel time to no more than eight hours a day.
- Make a playlist, and download music and podcasts ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on cellular service. This is also safer and less distracting than trying to decide on the fly.
Do an inventory to limit unnecessary baggage. Extra weight decreases gas mileage which adds up to a lot more spent on fuel!
After all this advice, most importantly, have fun!
It’s wise to plan ahead so too much isn’t left to the last second, but don’t get too bogged down in the details. Remember to appreciate the views, and don’t be afraid to alter your course or adapt the itinerary on the go. The best road trips are often a balance of organization and whim.
Of course, have safety and other essential issues nailed down, but be flexible. Any journey will have surprises and that is what makes road trips fun and exciting. There’s something to be said for organized chaos. You generally know where you’re headed but don’t know what you will see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
Don’t hedge all your expectations on one destination. Heck, don’t have any expectations—just appreciate the journey!
Now, as stated above, here are some lists of items you will thank me for reminding you to bring along!
A list of essentials you should have:
- Shoes appropriate for the occasion (don’t bring flip-flops to a hike)
- A backup hardcopy map
- A blanket
- An umbrella and/or rain gear
- Healthy snacks and water
- A working flashlight with rechargeable batteries
- A first aid kit (or at least bandages and disinfectant)
- Extra socks
- Tell your family where you are going
Here is a list of gear I recommend you bring with you:
- A backup battery for your phone
- A can of fix-a-flat, spare tire, and tire-changing tools
- Extra water and food
- A compass
- A money strap to minimize lost or stolen funds
- Chewing gum (to promote alertness)
A list of recommended non-safety-related gear:
- Binoculars for sight-seeing
- A pair of walkie-talkies for hiking
- A pocket knife
- A standalone camera that’s better than your smartphone
- A travel journal
Now get out there and explore the open road!