My husband and I have done too many road trips to count. For about three years, we attended school in Idaho while our family lived in Illinois. We made the trip back and forth so many times we lost count. Along the way, we discovered 10 tips for a successful road trip.
Of course, it didn’t take us long to get tired of all the states between Illinois and Idaho. In addition to our various routes between the two (some of them pretty out of the way to avoid snow or see cool things like the Mall of America), we have traveled from Idaho to Reno, NV, Idaho to Los Angeles, CA, and Illinois to Washington DC (with Annan’s family). All while we were living on student incomes (so basically nothing).
I’ll be talking more about how to save money on road trips and travelling in the future, but today, I just want to cover 10 tips for a successful road trip.
1) Figure out who is going.
A road trip is only as awesome as the people you share it with. [<—Tweet this.] I love travelling with my hubby. We make a great team in the car. He likes to do the driving. I like to do the Yelp’ing, hotel booking, sandwich-making, and navigating. Make sure that the group is compatible by doing a mini road trip before embarking on something longer. The last thing you want is to deal with grouchy people and contention for hours a day with no room to hide from it all.
2) Determine the level of spontaneity.
Every person vacations differently. Some people like to go with the flow (my husband). Others like to plan everything out months in advance (me). Figure out the level of spontaneity for the trip before you leave. What things are absolutes (dates, locations, etc.), and what things are flexible? This will save you from arguing or scampering while on the road.
3) Have way more music than you need.
Our car only plays CD’s and the radio, so we have had to burn A LOT of CD’s in the past few years to keep things fresh. We always run out of new music (that we agree on) halfway through the road trip so take more music than you think you need. Of course, taking turns picking music can be fun, but if your friend(s) or spouse HATE the music you LOVE, it can cause headaches. TIP: I am a total cheapskate, so I would much rather purchase used CD’s (especially from the nineties and early 2000’s) on Amazon than pay full price on iTunes. (Example: Backstreet Boys CD for $3.98 + free Amazon Prime shipping) Plus, if you have a pre-iPhone car, you won’t have to burn the CD’s either.
4) Know your navigation style.
We use the GPS (this is the one we have) and Smartphone (iPhone 5S all the way, baby!) for most of our trips, but we have taken an old-fashioned Atlas trip too. Determine your navigation style and plan for backups. Have extra phone chargers and backup maps. You never know what will happen.
5) Don’t forget your first aid kit.
You need over the counter pain medication, nausea medication, allergy medication, feminine hygiene products (if you are female, of course), and all of your prescription medications for the duration of your trip plus a few extra days. I personally recommend some chloraseptic spray and nighttime medicine as well. Being sick on a road trip is terrible. I’ve done it twice. You pay through your ears for medication at a gas station, but you may be too yucky feeling to make it to the nearest Walmart. Yes, there are areas of the country where there isn’t a Walmart on every corner. [<—Tweet this.] Check out this travel first aid kit that can help you get started.
6) Refill your water bottles.
Don’t waste room in your vehicle with cases of water. Get a nice water bottle (this is mine) and refill it at every gas station. Some gas stations only have hot water for coffee and tea. Just fill your bottle with ice and then add the hot water for a wonderful icy water. Drinking water is a great way to stay refreshed and energetic on a road trip. Stay hydrated.
7) Wear comfortable clothes and slip-on shoes.
My favorite road trip outfit is black yoga pants, comfortable shoes (my Okabashi flip flops or Uggs, depending on season), and a t-shirt. My shoes come off whenever I am in the car. Don’t forget that you will be in a lot of pictures on a road trip, so try not to dress in your pajamas… unless you just don’t care. Then, go for it.
8) Go off the beaten path.
Follow the random road signs that lead to outlooks and overviews. Stop at the 50’s style restaurant with a dinosaur sculpture garden. Never settle for ordinary on a road trip. Unique places (and pictures) are what make a road trip memorable.
9) Use your smartphone!
We always use Yelp! to find great places to eat on our road trips. We had a unique Cuban sandwich in Denver and the best gelato in America in Los Angeles. Seriously. That gelato. But our best find was an authentic taco place in Nebraska called Super Taco. They were so good that we intentionally routed through Lincoln on a different trip just to eat their Tacos Al Pastor again. We also use our smartphone to find free campgrounds, cheap hotels, and unique places of interest. The options are limitless. TIP: I’m a frugal living ninja, but I pay each month to have my fancy phone and good data coverage. The added value to my life, and the money we save through different apps make it worth it to me.
10) See with your eyes. Remember with your camera.
Some people say you should put the camera down and just revel in the moment. I guess I can see where they are coming from, but travel pictures are some of my most prized possessions. I rarely put the camera away when we are travelling because I don’t want to miss a great shot. Still, it’s important to balance photography with experience. I usually take pictures as we experience things but wait to edit them until we have downtime in the car or after the trip. And if you aren’t going to pull out your fancy DSLR (love my Canon Rebel T5!) for each photo, make sure that your phone has a decent camera. I used my iPhone 4S to take front-facing selfies during our entire roadtrip one time and didn’t realize they were all blurry until after I got home and looked at them on the computer. That’s one of the biggest reasons I upgraded to the iPhone 5S.
So, what about you? What are YOUR tips for a successful road trip? Tell me in the comments below.
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