Our country has so much to offer in the way of stunning natural beauty and enriching experiences, and there’s no better way to enjoy all of this than by setting out on a road trip. Road trips are the modern individual’s great expeditions, enticing us across a broad and diverse landscape and bringing us in touch with equally diverse cultures.
In a world of technological advancements and ever-expanding social media, it’s hard to imagine that there are still mysteries left to uncover and tangible wonders to behold all throughout the nation. That being said, for those wishing to strike out on their own adventure, preparing for success is, of course, paramount.
To help you create the best road trip experience possible, we’ll give you a comprehensive crash course in how to plan and execute your expedition and what to expect once you’re out on the open road.
The Journey Is Your Goal:
Road trips aren’t your typical vacation endeavors. Rather than focusing on a final destination, road trips are meant to be destinations in and of themselves. We don’t really live in a journey-oriented society anymore – something that’s truly regrettable because the world we’ve made for ourselves tends to keep us at arm’s length from the meaningful things in life. It can be hard to disconnect from work responsibilities and our need to stay glued to social media, all factors that keep our priorities and our focus directed elsewhere.
So, the first thing to do in order to lay the groundwork for a successful road trip is to commit yourself to the idea of slowing down, focusing on the new things around you, and remembering that itineraries should be flexible.
When you’re setting up your road trip, do your research regarding everything that’s going to lie along your path. This doesn’t just mean the direct route, either, as a lot of the fun found during a road trip comes from detouring off of your main route and checking out towns and scenic spots that are a little out of the way.
A good rule of thumb is to pick out one or two main things to check out each day – things that you really don’t want to miss – and then have a good selection of possibilities to choose from in the moment. Wait to see how you and your road trip companions feel each particular day for a better idea of what you might like to do. This kind of mindset also keeps you prepared for surprises along the way that you didn’t know about before but really want to check out now that you’ve heard of them.
What Are You Looking For?
Before you plan your route, you need to figure out what it is you’re wanting to get out of your trip. Do you want to experience all of the unique culture that different cities and towns have to offer, or are you looking to reconnect with nature and distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of urban life? Knowing these kinds of priorities obviously helps in planning what you want to see and do along the way, but it also helps define the kind of routes you should be picking from.
There are all kinds of highways and scenic byways throughout the country, but not all of them may be for you. Some are very much about scenic landscapes and jumping from one park to another, while others will put you in direct contact with a string of major cities.
Who’s Going with You?
Whether you’re planning a family road trip or you’re looking for the right friends to take along for an adventure, it’s important to really have a mind for the people that will be with you on your journey. Not only are you going to be in a vehicle with these people for a long period of time, but you’re also going to be sharing your experiences with them.
If you’re taking kids along with you, make sure they have entertainment options in order to keep them occupied once their attention begins to waver from what they can see outside their window. However, if you want them to really take in what they’re seeing along the way, engage with them about what you’re passing, as such conversations can be a good way of ensuring they’re getting more out of the trip than what the tablet or gaming device in front of them offers.
If you’re picking adult friends to go with you, then keep in mind different personality traits and different interests. Not everyone is a road trip kind of person, no matter how hard you try to get them to get into the spirit of things. You might find it easier to get a group of friends together who all have similar interests and want to see the same kinds of things and take part in the same sort of activities, as this will likely make for a less contentious trip.
Of course, a lot of times it’s just about getting your favorite people together and seeing what happens – in which case, make sure you’re including everyone in the planning so that there’s something for everyone on the trip.
Knowing Accommodation Preferences:
Going on a road trip doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to rough it the whole way, as many of the best routes in the country for road trips will always bring you in touch with somewhere comfortable to stay. Whether you want to camp your way across the land or want a hotel room or cozy cabin to stay in at the end of the day, the accommodations that you decide on will play a deciding role in the makeup of your trip.
For one thing, you’re certainly in store for different experiences if you choose to camp in a tent in a national park or designated campground as opposed to staying at a hotel.
Both can be enjoyable experiences, especially if you make an effort to change things up a bit. If you’re always one to stay in a hotel, then maybe try camping one night or two during your trip, letting yourself have the experience of being in the midst of nature without the outside world coloring what it has to offer.
If you can’t do without your creature comforts, then you can still create a more memorable and unique experience by trying to stay in B&Bs and small inns as much as possible, as opposed to major hotel chains. Staying somewhere more personable takes you away from the cookie-cutter experience and places you in an opportunity to make stronger memories.
Plus, staying at a smaller establishment may give you the chance to mingle with other guests – something that can help enrich your road trip experience. Not only will you get a chance to interact with people that may be quite different from you, you’ll also have the opportunity to exchange information with one another. This is good chance to find out about destinations and activities you weren’t aware of and would like to take part in.
Be Mindful of Money:
Deciding on a budget before you strike out is obviously important, especially if accommodations and particular sites require a good degree of money. Take into consideration how much everything will cost per person, including food, and budget for a little more than what you come up with. Having some cushion for essential expenditures will make it less likely that you run out of money at a crucial moment.
To save some money, you might consider taking a large cooler with you where you can store deli meats and cheese for sandwiches, drinks, and other items you know you can keep fresh with a tub of ice. Use this food for lunch and snacks to save your money for more important dining opportunities. Also, be sure to look for group rates wherever possible.
Inspect Your Vehicle:
Your vehicle is going to be your greatest resource on a road trip – after all, you can’t really trek across the country without a car and still call it a road trip. More to the point, the very last thing you want is to experience a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. Having to pay for a tow truck and the subsequent repairs is a bad enough prospect, but having to possibly be stuck somewhere remote – even somewhere without cell service – isn’t something anyone wants to set themselves up for.
Before you head out, you need to make sure that your tires are in good condition and that you have everything you need to replace one should it go flat. Unless you’ve recently had your oil changed, this is a good time to go ahead and have your old oil replaced and perhaps your oil filter replaced as well. Check your transmission and coolant fluids to make sure that levels aren’t low, and have your brakes, engine, and anything else checked should the corresponding lights on your dash indicate this need.
If you haven’t done much long distance traveling, and you feel that your headlights aren’t quite up to the task, consider having them replaced with LED options. These will create a brighter, larger field of vision that can keep you safe and help prevent you from missing important signs or road marks.
You might even consider adding some ambient lighting with an LED light kit in order to create a more inviting nighttime atmosphere. It’s a worthwhile investment for the future, in any case. It’s a simple enough task to have a mechanic give your car a cursory inspection before hitting the road, so don’t begrudge spending the money for it.
Plan Your Luggage Carefully:
The biggest bit of advice concerning your luggage – and, indeed, your entire road trip – is not to wait until the last minute or just casually throw a few things together and call it good. We’ve talked a lot about going with the flow and remaining open to different possibilities, but there are certain things you want to make sure you have whenever you’re undertaking a road trip. Most important are the essentials like toothpaste, soap, and shampoo – even toilet paper if you plan on doing some wilderness camping.
Check out the weather forecasts all along your route for the entirety of your trip and plan your clothing accordingly. If you’re going to be visiting areas that are known for rapid changes in weather, then you might want to pack one or two items separate from what you expect to typically encounter.
For example, if most of your trip is going to be in the midst of warm weather but you plan on visiting a mountain parkland where temperatures can suddenly drop or rainstorms blow up, then you might want to bring a heavier pair of pants and a jacket.
As mentioned before, the sights outside your window aren’t going to hold everyone’s attention all throughout the drive, so make sure that everyone packs enough things to keep them entertained. Bringing along a couple of books and a few magazines is a good idea, as is making sure you have plenty of music to listen to. Car chargers are definitely a must to keep phones and other devices at the ready, and you might want to bring along a GPS device, even if your car and/or phone has such capabilities. Having a backup device for navigation purposes never hurts.
Packing a first-aid kit is also a smart idea, especially if you’re planning on taking part in a lot of outdoor activities or know you’ll be in some remote areas at some point. You don’t have to get extremely serious about it – just make sure you have some pain/fever relievers, some rubbing alcohol, bandages, antibiotic ointment, and some tweezers. If you or someone in the group is allergic to anything, then it’s probably a good idea to bring along some kind of antihistamine as well.
No matter what you choose to bring or where you choose to go, just remember that some careful planning and an adventurous spirit are all you need to have a great road trip.