It’s been a long, cold winter already (at least it sure seems that way, though snow’s only been on the ground for 5 days!), and I’m always eagerly anticipating whatever flight comes next. However, until another transcontinental plan is in the works, I’m thinking frequently about where and when another road trip might take place. There’s so much of our country to explore I have to get used to the fact that buying that plane ticket might not always be the most practical (or cost-effective) option!
I realized that my last road trip post was written before I went on my 3500 mile, three week journey. So, for those of you who are planning cross-country adventures of your own, here are some suggestions to get you started off on the right foot!
- Get your car taken care of before you go–and DON’T wait until the last minute to do so. Don’t put off changing your oil, or replacing that filter, or whatever it may be. Your road trip becomes MUCH more expensive if you need immediate help getting back on the road, and your whole trip could go up in flames if the repairs are severe.
- Use Do Not Disturb and/or Airplane Mode on your phone while you’re driving. It is incredibly easy to pick up your phone to scroll through social media when on a long and boring stretch of a freeway. It’s not safe to do while driving period, but it’s especially dangerous when you’re in an area where the terrain, the speed limit, and the wildlife are unfamiliar to you.
- Bring good music (or good podcasts)–make sure you’ve got a good variety, and make sure there’s A LOT of it. The radio stations you may encounter will probably not be to your liking, so have SOMETHING that you’ll enjoy listening to. Make sure to download the podcasts, rather than using data to listen–I got stuck without my most recent episodes because I failed to download them before I left in the morning! This also keeps you from flipping through stations endlessly, which is a serious buzzkill (especially out west where country music is 98% of what you’ll hear anyway).
- Make sure to also have a playlist specifically for keeping you awake. Even if you’re well-rested and relaxed on the road, doing the same thing for hours on end tends to lull people into a false consciousness. Keep sing-along jams readily available just for the purpose of alertness! (My go-to is the Original Broadway Cast recording of Rock of Ages)
- Think about your route before you leave–are there natural breaks in your drive? If not, find ways and places to plan for stops. I decided that I needed to get out of the car every four hours–sometimes it was to eat, sometimes it was for gas, and sometimes, it was just to not be in the car anymore. It’s even better if you can plan it around attractions that are important or interesting for you. I stopped at a lot of roadside historic sites and local/state parks when I could, and at an outlet mall or two when I just couldn’t read any more about the first stagecoach station in Wyoming.
- Have paper maps with you, keep your rough itinerary on paper, and get a general understanding of your route on the map. In more rural areas of my last trip, my phone wasn’t able to help, and I had to guess/use old-fashioned map-reading skills to make sure I was heading in the right direction.
- Don’t rely on gas stations for overpriced food and drink–bring a variety of things you know you’ll enjoy, and keep a little cooler in your car. Especially if you need fruit, veggies, or non-sugary drinks on a regular basis. Keeping your own in a cooler keeps the stops to a minimum, and saves you some cash along the way!
- Keep your car snacks to things that a) won’t make a huge mess, b) won’t melt if left in the car, c) will stay edible for days at a time. Fresh fruit is great if you’re planning to eat it shortly after you acquire it. Don’t bring things that will go bad if you don’t plan on eating them! Also be careful with things that need to be refrigerated. Ice makers at hotels are not universal, but gas stations can be good options for ice.
- Don’t expect that there will always be gas stations when you need them. The state of Nebraska was devious here–a sign for an exit would indicate gas, which would then be FIVE miles off the freeway! When you have the chance, get gas, especially if it’s cheap, and even if you don’t NEED it at the time.
- Try to research the driving conventions of the places you’ll be driving so you know ahead of time what to expect. In the state of Wisconsin, if you get angry at people going under the speed limit in the left lane, you’ll spend a lot of time fuming. Figure out what you can control, and worry about that (this is PARTICULARLY hard for me to remember, but maybe saved me some road rage).
- Sometimes, those road side attractions you see signs for hundreds of miles prior to your destination are worth it. Sometimes, those stops are Wall Drug. If you have time and desire, always stop and enjoy the kitsch. If you don’t, you’re very rarely missing a unique experience.
- In any case, you’re likely taking a road trip to savor the sights, sounds, and people you’ll meet along the way. Remember that though road trips are not always the quickest, least-stressful, or even cheapest way of traveling, always take advantages of the bonuses driving provides: quick detours for historic sites, stopping on the side of a country road for a sunset photo, seeing bison roam through a state park, and going at your own pace, both on and off the road. Keep an open mind, a flexible itinerary, and some snacks at the ready, and you’ll be good to go!