How to do Road Trips Right: 12 Road Trip Tips For Your First Time
August 20, 2020
There’s nothing that sparks a sense of adventure quite like a road trip. From European cross-country adventures to notching up different home states, chasing waves and beautiful beaches, or just looking to discover something delightful on your doorstep, road travel is pure unadulterated freedom when done right.
If the idea of a long car journey has you breaking out in hives just thinking about sweaty seats, multiple bathroom breaks, and static radio sounds, then these road trip tips could be just what you need to put a positive spin on the promise of turning wheels.
Take a look at how to do road trips right, because as Gloria Steinem says…
“The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories — in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.” — Gloria Steinem
Check Your Vehicle
Whether you are taking your trusty car, a rental car, or packing up a campervan, make sure that you check, check, and check again to make sure your wheels are in good working order.
If you are heading out on a long trip it makes sense to get a once over from a mechanic and even to invest in an oil change. If your tires haven't been changed or rotated in awhile, then it's a good idea to take care of that as well before hitting the road.
If not, don’t sweat it. Just make sure you take care of these:
- make sure that your tire pressure is good
- check that your water and oil levels are hitting the right marks
- make sure that you have a spare tire
- have your brakes checked so that you know they can handle the distance
- invest in some jumper cables and possibly a jump pack in case no other cars are around when you need a jump
- have bungee cords and trusty lug wrench ready to join the party
Pack Survival Style Basics
It may not be a very exciting road trip tip but having all those basic travel accessories tucked up in your trunk is sure to make that car ride experience so much easier. Be sure to stash a first aid kit, a basic break down kit, a bunch of paper towels, plastic bag, as much hand sanitizer and wet wipes as you can get your mitts on, extra water bottles, a sleeping bag, and camping gear (you never know), and have all your information (like maps and travel insurance details) as a paper hard copy rather than just relying on your phone and what could turn out to be a dodgy wi-fi connection.
If traveling with small ones on a family road trip, then it’s also a great idea to pack some remedies for car sickness. Crystallized ginger cubes can be a great alternative for those who don't want to take medicine.
Make a Playlist
Modern technology is a wonderful thing and there’s no better companion for a long road trip than your trusty phone loaded up with playlists and podcasts to keep you entertained. Make a road trip playlist to match your every mood – from a lively driving day to summer moods and upbeat tracks for those times when you feel sleepy and need a little pick me up. Picking a podcast you love is another great road addition for when you need some audible company along the way.
If there is anything worth investing in prior to a road trip, it’s a good roadside rescue service. Nothing will halt that anxiety in its tracks quite like knowing that if your engine decides to splutter and stop in the middle of nowhere, or even if you get the dreaded flat tire, then help will be there. Seriously, towing is expensive and being in a situation where your car won't start and you are far from home is a level of stress that no one needs.
Popular roadside assistance plans include:
Check Your Cell Plan
While it may sound super romantic to hit the open road and cut off from the digital world, data plans and cell networks can actually take so much stress out of a trip. Being connected to WI-FI (or just having the option) means that you can check travel tips for your destination along the way, book into hotels last minute (no more dodgy motels), and also ensures that should you break down or need assistance, you are able to get in touch with roadside assistance.
Download Google Maps
Having access to the internet can help you out of plenty of jams. It's great for google maps and real-time traffic updates (making sure you don't sit in bumper to bumper traffic for hours), it shows you where the nearest gas stations are, and it can correct any mistakes when it comes to finding yourself on bumpy gravel roads thanks to a few wrong turns.
Mix it Up
Spend some time studying your map and mix up your day so it's not endless highway driving. While it can be tempting to be overly ambitious about your driving ability every day, the last thing you want is to burn out when road tripping. A good system can be driving a couple of hours, stopping to see some quirky roadside attractions, and taking lunch and driving another couple hours, always with the aim to stop mid to late afternoon so you have lots of downtime before hopping back in the driver’s seat the next day.
Get Some Entertainment Ideas
If you are hitting the road on a family vacation, you may want to think up some entertainment ideas and road trip games to keep everyone busy while driving. Books and DVDs will take you so far, but you can also use this time to play games like road trip bingo, having a scavenger hunt for things you see along the way, and even the classic I Spy can keep everyone occupied for a while. Once those ideas get tired and the kids get twitchy in their car seat, you can play a kid-friendly podcast or have a good old singalong.
Snacks and Local Food Stops
Endless coffee and gas station sugary snacks are a quick route to sugar crashing on your road trip and getting cranky. If you really want to keep your energy levels high and to stay alert and feeling fresh behind the wheel then be sure to pack lots of great snacks rather than relying on fast food. Grazing can be a great way of avoiding that driving zoned out feeling. This is especially important for those taking a road trip with young kids as the last thing you want is everyone getting irritable because of hunger.
Pack crackers, granola bars, fruit, energy-boosting nuts, lots of bottled water, and smoothies for a healthy snack. This could also be a great chance to get off the beaten track and check out all those one-of-a-kind roadside dining spots when you are ready for a pit stop. Part of the allure of a road trip can be to embrace local culture and this all starts with choosing to dine local.
Clean the Car
While it's far from the most exciting tips for road trips, we suggest spending five minutes at the end of the driving day clearing out the junk from your car. Filling a trash bag isn't fun, but honestly, there's nothing worse than starting long drives with the sticky scent of warm soda and a rotting banana from the day before. Keeping your car clean and fresh can help each day feel like the first again and keep your morale high.
Plan to be Spontaneous
Some people love to plan, others need to fly by their seat – whichever kind of traveler you are, try and keep an open mind and make room for both in your schedule. While having a rough route and daily itinerary will certainly help keep you sane and heading in the right direction, it also helps to leave a little wiggle room for a spontaneous adventure. Sometimes, you may meet people along the road who change your journey, you could find yourself falling hard for a city and wanting to stay another day, or you could find yourself just needing an extra rest day.
Collect Some Camping Intel
Those who are heading out on a solo road trip may at least want the comfort of knowing where they are going to sleep after a long drive.
Studying google maps and doing a little research to map out which rest stop looks solid and safe along the way can help you to feel more at ease. There are a ton of great apps and sites that have insider advice, recommendations, and reviews from other road-trip experts on which rest stops, truck stops, and parking spots in cities are good for car camping.
Sites like HipCamp and RVshare frequently update their lists of free camp locations throughout the US.
What are your top tips for a road trip? Share with us in the comments.
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