Road trips! Some people love them, others dread them. We happen to love them. For us, there’s little more thrilling than hitting the open road with a full tank of gas, two cups full of hot coffee, and an iPod loaded with our favorite music. For various reasons, road trips are a significant part of our lives. We travel often by car to visit new places, to see family, or even for work-related purposes. We actually enjoy road trips so much that we took a two-week road trip for our honeymoon!
Our two-week honeymoon took us on a driving tour of southwestern United States. We visited nine national parks in that time and also visited seven different states outside of our home state of Louisiana. The trip clocked in at over 4,000 miles. Since then, we’ve taken many more road trips. We drove nearly 10,000 additional miles of road trips over the course of 2013. We even just recently returned from a weeklong road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With all this driving under our belts, we’ve learned a bit about road trips and how to execute them. Here’s what we’ve learned/experienced:
Pack your car smartly: The best road trips start when you’re still at home. Sure, the planning is quite important, but what’s also important is making sure you’ve smartly packed your car. Place bigger or more valuable items in the trunk and out of sight. The last thing you need is someone spotting your laptop case at a gas station and breaking in while you’re in the restroom. The more you can make the cab of your vehicle look like it’s just any old day out on the road, the more secure you make your vehicle. Also, be sure to pack to where you have things handy. Put snacks and drinks in the backseat along with whatever else you might actually need while out on the highway. It’s always quite a pain to have to pull over to fish something out of the trunk that’s needed but was buried. Pack the car deliberately and think about where you put things.
Be flexible: This point cannot be stressed enough. It’s so important to be flexible when on a road trip. Highway travel comes with so many unknowns because there are so many variables outside of your control. On our honeymoon, an interstate accident had us stopped and parked for three hours on the highway. Thankfully we had reading material with us, but we simply had to sit there and wait. Then, when we were able to move, it was because we were ordered by state police to cross at an emergency crossing, head the opposite direction, and then figure out what our next move was. There was no way for us to keep moving on our planned path. So we did it, happily. It was better to move than to continue to be stuck there. Sure, this meant that we lost most of a day on our trip, but we didn’t let it upset us. It was out of our hands. We were flexible, found another route, and continued on our way.
The same can be said for being flexible with happenings inside of your car. Say you wanted to drive 500 miles in one day, but after 400 or so, all the available drivers in the car are wiped out and can’t continue on. What do you do? You stop. Be flexible. The road will still be there tomorrow. There’s no sense in pushing yourself beyond where you feel comfortable. That’s just dangerous and not very smart. So be flexible with your plans. Plan to accommodate the lowest common denominator in any situation. You’ll feel better and be a bit safer in the process.
Thematically organize trips: This is a fun one! Just as we did with our honeymoon and the national parks, thematically organizing trips gives the whole thing a bigger sense of purpose. It’s common for people to do tours of wineries or baseball stadiums. You could visit breweries, Civil War battle sites, or different natural wonders. It really just depends on what you’re into. Imposing a theme on the trip helps to organize activities and bring a sense of continuity to the trip. It also always gives you something exciting to look forward to at the next destination. When we visited the national parks, we actually found additional ones along the way. We’d originally planned to visit five (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arches, Mesa Verde), but along the way we discovered four more (The Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, Capital Reef, Canyonlands). Since we were on a national park tour anyway, it was easy to add these other stops. They were along the way anyway. Why not visit as many parks as we could?
Always be prepared: This tip is up there with being flexible. Make sure your spare tire is filled and in working order. Keep a paper road atlas in your car. Pay for an AAA service membership. Stash a couple gallons of water in your trunk. Basically, when you’re venturing out on a road trip, take the proper precautions to be prepared. This is especially important if you’re planning to be in rural or remote areas. Make sure that you know how to and are capable of fixing small problems that might arise. We’ve paid for AAA every year since we went on the honeymoon road trip. We’ve never needed it, but the money we pay for that each year is peace of mind. It’s cheaper than a single tow would be and can be used for so many more services.
Also, being prepared as other, more light-hearted applications as well. Always be sure to have a few snacks in the car with you and charging cords for your phones and iPods. Often, you’ll find yourself out in the middle of nowhere on a road trip with no decent radio stations to passively listen to. You may also stop at the only gas station in town that has nothing but crappy junk food. Being prepared with snacks you like and want to eat is key. Having that iPod and all its cords will save you from the utter boredom (or torture) of commercial radio. Think ahead. A road trip provides lots of flexibility so take advantage of that.
In closing, I’ll say this: when planned well and executed properly, road trips can be a ton of fun. But the opposite is also true. A poorly planned trip with people who don’t enjoy being out on the open road can be pure torture. Make sure you’re up for any road trip you endeavor on. It really makes all the difference. If you hate the idea of eight straight hours on the road, maybe you’re better off paying a bit more and flying. It’s typically faster and is a much more passive form of travel. But if you’re like us, and you love the open road, do your preparation and make that trip the best one it can be. No sense going through life living halfway. Seize the day and roam the highways!