I love a good road trip. The 12-day, 10-state road trip we took through the Southern U.S. is one we talk about (fondly) often. And I still dream about the three-day road trip I took down the Oregon Coast. Road tripping is a great way to see this country as well as many others. In my opinion, there are four elements of a good road trip: planning, entertainment, sustenance and safety.
(Looking for a checklist? Download my Road Trip Checklist and get planning your next road trip!)
Road trip planning
I am all for spontaneity, but too much of it could result in running out of gas or missing an important event. You have got to have some sort of plan as to which direction you are going to go, where you might want to stop, restaurants to try and which towns have the best attractions and/or supplies. If you do not have some sort of plan, you might pass by a National Park after it has closed for the day…resulting in a very sad travel companion.
Pack a map
Smartphones with GPS and map apps are the way we navigate nowadays. But having a map is still a good idea. Maps provide more than direction. They can tell you the name of the mountains you see in the distance. A map offers up alternative routes if you do not want to take the interstate. Maps also do not run out of battery and are especially good if you do not have any cell phone reception.
Give yourself some wiggle room
Try not to plan your road trip down to the minute. You will want time to explore and stop at random places. I remember driving through Maine on my birthday. On the way to Acadia National Park, we passed by this giant chicken barn that had been converted into an antique store. Who can resist that? I found a lovely antique hair comb at that place. You always want to leave time for the fun stuff.
In addition, there is always traffic and/or construction to contend with. These are my two least favorite aspects of a road trip. But it is almost impossible to avoid them altogether. So make sure you give yourself a little wiggle room and you will save yourself a lot of stress and frustration.
Find a good app or two
There are some really great road trip apps out there. Some are useful, like GasBuddy, while others help you find interesting places to stop, like Roadtrippers. Just make sure you download and test them before you go. (And remember, do not text and drive!)
Road trip entertainment
If you are going to be in the car for several hours or days, entertainment is a must.
Get your music ready to roll. If you are planning on driving a rental, pack some cable options for your electronics. The radio is great until you lose reception or it stops playing anything remotely palatable to your ears.
Podcasts and books-on-tape
Can you still rent books-on-tape? Regardless, you probably will not have a vehicle capable of playing a cassette tape. But the concept still applies. Music is great for a while. Maybe it keeps you entertained for the entire road trip. But sometimes it is nice to switch things up and podcasts and books are great for that. Just make sure to download them before you go.
Literature on the local area
Both R and I like to keep the Idaho Highway Historical Marker Guide in our vehicles at all times. There are these historical markers all over Idaho and although it is sometimes nice to stop, take a stretch and read them, other times we just want to get on down the road. In these situations, we bust out our trusty guide and read up on the area’s significance.
A few years ago, our friend C gave us a copy of Idaho for the Curious: A Guide. Although it was written in 1982, much of the information is still accurate and makes this book a treasure trove of facts about our great state. It is especially useful for areas of Idaho we are not very familiar with.
I have no doubt one can find similar books for other states and countries. Just do a little research beforehand and pick up (or download) some interesting information about the area you will be road tripping through.
If I come across an interesting story or article a few days before a trip, I will save it and share it with R as the miles pass by. This doesn’t work so well if the road is winding (nobody like to get car sick), but on the flats it passes the time nicely. I have also been known to print off old journal entries so that we can laugh about some of the crazy times we’ve had.
Random road trip entertainment
Not all entertainment happens in the car. Make sure to pack important items for the stops you will make (e.g. National Parks passport).
Road trip sustenance
Most of the time, you are not going to find yourself on a road trip far from food and water. Still, packing some snacks and drinks is the smart thing to do. It can also be fun if you pack things you do not normally eat.
I always over pack when it comes to snacks, especially when you consider that there is always a convenience store along the way and I know we will have to stop for gas and bathroom breaks. Oh well. I still think snacks are an important element of a good road trip. Something salty and something sweet (usual Swedish fish) are my bare minimum. Some fruits and veggies would not be remiss either.
Drinks are tricky. You want to stay hydrated, but you do not want to have to stop every 30 minutes for a bathroom break. I try to always bring a refillable water bottle and have that on hand. Then I usually stop for a fountain beverage because I love fountain beverages.
If I am in full road trip mode, I usually pack a cooler to keep perishables from perishing and my drinks cold.
Road trip safety
Our safety is often the last thing we think about when planning a road trip. But it really should be the first. There are certain precautions one should take before and during a road trip to remain as safe as possible.
If you are taking your own vehicle, check your oil, fluids and tire pressure. Also, make sure you have an emergency kit on hand and maybe an empty gas can. Some key things:
- Check tire pressure and tread depth
- Check oil
- Check fluids, particularly the windshield washer fluid
- Check headlights, turn signal and brake lights
- Check spare tire and jack
- Check/restock car first aid kit
- Fill up the tank
- Clean out the car and vacuum
On the road
Find out what the local traffic laws are and obey them. Do not drive places that make you feel uncomfortable or that your vehicle is not capable of handling (i.e. beaches = 4×4). DO NOT TEXT AND DRIVE. Pull over if you get tired. These are all things we know, but sometimes forget to do. Getting in a car accident is the quickest way to ruin a good road trip. So be safe!
Download a PDF copy of my Road Trip Checklist.
Elements of a good road trip conclusion
Road trips are a great way to explore and see the world. Just keep the four elements of a good road trip in mind: planning, entertainment, sustenance and safety. With a little planning and preparation, you can hit the road knowing fun times, and views, are in front of you.