Top Ten Tips for Road Trips

Nicole Dial shares her Top 10 Road Trip Tips.

The lure of the road has pulled people across countries and continents offering a sense of freedom and fun that doesn’t come with an airplane ticket. Maybe you just want to escape your day-to-day life or maybe you want to see some brand spanking new place and get away from the same old, same old.  Whatever the case may be, here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of your road trip!

1. Solo vs. Companions

There’s a lot to be said for hitting the open road alone. You’ve got the freedom to make all the decisions; where to stay, when and where to eat, what to do. No one is going to be upset if you don’t stop at that roadside destination you know is a tourist trap and no one is going to make you get up early. On the flip side, having another person or a group along for the ride can be part of the fun. There’s always someone to talk to, someone to take over the wheel when you get tired, and someone to split the cost of gas with. Just make sure you’re not squished in the middle of the backseat.

2. Packing

When it comes to packing for a road trip, the key is to pack light- especially when there are other people in the car. There’s only so much room in the trunk and the backseat. Definitely pack any camping gear you’ll need if you’ll be roughing it and make sure you have a few essentials tools in case the car breaks down and you might need to change a tire. Some useful items to pack are: duct tape, pocket knife, flashlight, maps or GPS -unless you’re feeling adventurous and want to wing it.

3. Budgeting

Road trips can be very cheap if you put a little planning into it. There are plenty of different options for places to stay, food and things to do. Having a rough idea of what you’re going to do can make sure you don’t use up all the money in your bank account.

4. Gas

Road trips are an ideal time to see some place completely new, unfortunately gas prices have gone up in the past few years eating away at people’s budgets. Good news: if you’re traveling with someone else or with a group there are other people to slip the cost with. When it comes to splitting the cost, the best advice I ever got was to each put in a hundred dollars or so in a pool so that no one is paying more at one pump then someone else at another. When splitting the costs, it’s best to make everything fair to avoid any drama or resentment; you’re going to be stuck in close quarters with them for hours on end.

5. Places to Stay

There are plenty of different places to stay while you’re on the road. There are the usual hotels and motels, and even hostels in some places, though in the USA they might only be in the major cities. Camping is one (cheap) option. Some campsites even have legit showers and rest stops for the weary traveler. Couchsurfing is another way to meet people on the road and have a free place to crash for the night. It takes a little bit of planning ahead of time, but it’s worth it. And while couchsurfing is free, always bring something for your host- they are letting you stay in their home after all. There’s also calling on long lost relatives too. And though I don’t recommend it, there’s always sleeping in your car in a pinch. This can be dangerous and not to mention illegal. If you do decide to sleep in your car, make sure you park it somewhere well-lit and in a safe neighborhood.

Bonus Tip: Walmart actually likes it when you sleep in your car or RV in their parking lot. The lots are generally safe (always use common sense, kids!) and sometimes they even have a security guard on site.  Walmarts are everywhere, especially in middle America, so if you’re doing the cross-country road trip, and need a free place to rest up, point your GPS to the local Walmart! They actually like having overnight guests because they assume that in the morning, you’ll head inside to use their bathrooms and end up buying a coffee and any other supplies your might need for your trip.

6. Food

Life on the road can be either very cheap, or very expensive. If you eat out every meal, it starts to add up and pretty soon you’ll have blown through all your gas money. Before leaving town, stock up on some snacks and some meals you can prepare in lieu of eating out. Pick foods that fill you up and don’t need lots of preparation like sandwiches. A cooler and a portable camping stove can come in pretty handy and save you a fortune.  That way you can eat out and enjoy any interesting local cuisine without breaking the bank. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

7. Music

A great playlist can be as gratifying as an interesting companion.

Music is an essential of any road trip. There’s nothing better than cruising down the road with your windows down and the music turned up. A great playlist can be as gratifying as an interesting companion. The radio can be fun with new and different stations from back home, sometimes the stations aren’t always clear and you might have to endure stations with music you don’t like. Ipods, mp3 players, and cd’s are your best bet for some great music plus if you don’t like the song, you can always change it. Just make sure to charge the batteries on the mp3 players and bring a battery charger with you. (On one road trip, a friend’s ipod ran out of batteries and we had a two hour long karaoke session in the car.)

8. When things go wrong…

With any trip there is the possibility of something going wrong.  The best thing you can do is not to panic. Before leaving, make sure you know the insurance policy for your car and what to do if there is a car accident and where you can get your car towed to. Car accident experience isn’t one that needs a try, but when it happens no time reversal is possible. So it’s also handy to have a spare tire in the trunk, in case of a flat tire. And a first aid kit wouldn’t hurt either.

9. Transportation

Road trips don’t have to be all about cars. There are plenty of other ways to get around without on. Between trains and buses, you can get to pretty much any major city and even lots of the small ones. And since you’re not driving, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. With gas prices so high these days, traveling by bus and train are pretty much the same price as traveling by car, as long as you don’t mind being surrounded by strangers. Some trains even have sleeper cars with beds and showers. For those of you without wheels that still want to rock the road trip in a car, there’s always regular car rentals and alternative such as Zipcar if you’re going on more of a day trip and don’t want to pay the price of a regular car rental. You also have the option of renting an RV which can provide you a place to sleep as well as transportation. Just make sure that you have rv storage at all of your stops. Consult with an RV park broker to make sure all your spots have RV accommodations. 

10. Destinations and Stops

Having an ultimate destination can be great motivator, but it’s not essential. That said, a road trip should be enjoyed and savored. Stopping at places that strike your fancy can really add some flavor to your trip and can lead you to some of the most interesting adventures. If you have an end date, make sure to allow some leeway to act on a whim or two.  Allow yourself time to explore. The giant ball of twine isn’t going to photograph itself!

Nicole Dial is a freelance writer and photographer by night and a starving artist by day. You can follow her at @nicolemdial.

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