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The Ultimate Guide To Planning a Road Trip

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Featured Road trip Photo by Averie Woodard

Planning a road trip with friends and family can be an overwhelming task. It may even send you spiraling into a full-blown panic attack. Well, rest assured; this guide will ease the stress by making sure you cover the fundamentals. And yes, I only mean the fundamentals because there is no perfect road trip.  There will ALWAYS BE THAT ONE PERSON WHO ISN’T SATISFIED. You might know who that is already, and if not, you’re going to find out.

A good road trip is one where no one gets hurt or stranded on the side of the road in a desert. That’s it, don’t set your expectations too high and enjoy the time together. So let’s cover the basics to start you off on a good path.

Tips for Your Road trip

Safety checks and precautions. Be sure to check the air, coolant, and oil levels in the car.  Are you due for an oil change? You do not want to deal with being stuck on the side of the highway. Also, make sure you or someone on the trip knows how to change a tire.  Keep in mind that many cars have special keyed lug nuts holding the tire on; make sure you have that key in the car.

Clean your car out before loading it.  It is generally good to clean out your car before you load it up with stuff; this allows you to take inventory and remove what is unnecessary. You might take off thinking, Yeah, I have the lug nut wrench in the car somewhere–and not verify that it is actually in the car. Then you find yourself with a flat tire and no tool to change it. A side note here: many cars have the lug nut wrench by the spare tire, and more often than not, these wrenches are missing, especially if you buy a used car.

Ensure comfortable seating. This is one of the most important things to make your trip fun. If you are uncomfortable and everyone is jammed in with each other, you’ll get frustrated. An excellent way to make enough space is to carefully pack your luggage. Set the expectation early on with people on how big their bag should be so that you all can fit in the car comfortably. Duffle bags or gym bags are ideal since they can take the shape of their surroundings and compress into tight spaces.

Do not transport drugs. This may sound stupid but talk to your friends before you set out on a trip. Drugs that are legal in one state may not be legal in the other, which could get you busted. On the other hand, don’t forget to pack your necessary prescription medications and any over-the-counter medications you may need.

Road Trip planning
Photo By Connor Wilkins

Do not forget to have GPS! Probably the most important thing. Now that everyone has a smartphone, this should not be a problem. But make sure the area you are going to has enough cellular coverage, so mobile data works. If you plan for a hike or trail, or camping, you might not get enough signals. Hence, in that case, a map can come in handy. Yes, I know it sounds old-school but trust me, it will help. You can usually get the local maps at gas stations in the area, although this is becoming rarer.  If you do get lost, just follow the signs to the nearest town, check the other side of the sign as you drive by to make sure the nearest town isn’t behind you.

Be generous on your diet. Long road trips will make you hungry, and you obviously do not have homemade options on the road. So, bring lots and lots of snacks with you. Not only will they give you energy, but they will also make the ride more fun. Make sure to bring a cooler for ice. If you are traveling in summer, you are going to need a lot of cold beverages.

Make numerous stops.  This especially applies to long hauls over 6 hours. These stops will take some of your time but are essential to give the driver rest (and keep the passengers from killing each other). Kids get bored and need a break too.  Check the route you are going and see what exciting things might be along the way. Try to make your stops fun. Take photos, make videos, or even exercise a bit to lighten up. If nothing is interesting, stop at a gas station, fill up (even if you have a half tank), and walk around. This is important in rural areas where gas stations are few and far between.

Kids will be kids. Yes, we all love our kids, but they can be annoying sometimes, especially on a road trip. So, try to have some activities chosen for when they get bored. Download some cartoons or movies on your iPad or phone to keep them occupied.

Don’t be stingy. Don’t be your cheap father. You’re saving money by avoiding plane tickets, so don’t be afraid to spend generously on your way. Eating quality restaurants, stay in nice hotels, let your kids buy souvenirs, shop for yourself. This will make the trip more enjoyable and memorable.

Talk to the locals. Don’t be shy–they know where the good restaurants are and might be able to recommend nearby off-the-map attractions.  Use your head too; If the guy says you have a pretty mouth, don’t accept his invitation to the “party” at his house.

Check the hotel neighborhood.  I can’t count on all my fingers and toes the times my father purchased, as he put it, “an economical option” for a hotel stay. Fearing for your life going to and from the car is not comfortable. Staying awake at night wondering if every little noise is someone breaking into your car is not enjoyable. Here’s how you can pick a safe hotel within budget:

  • Check out the neighborhood
  • Use TripAdvisor and read the reviews
  • Check Google maps street view and look around

In conclusion,

We’ve unfortunately forgotten the pleasure and excitement that road trips used to bring. We don’t remember how our experiences were funny, sometimes embarrassing–strengthened our bonds with family and friends. Road trips provide a whole different worldview and of ourselves. They take us out of our comfort zone and make us engage with our environment and the people in it. So if you are ready for a new adventure, turn off your laptop, pack up the covered wagon, and follow my tips for a safe and enjoyable vacation.

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