I don't know about you, but Fall always seems like road trip season to me instead of Summer. The leaves are changing and you don't necessarily have to bundle up to get out and enjoy a picnic on the side of the road, but stopping to get pie and coffee at a diner to warm up in the early evening is a welcome break, too. My family was the master of road trips. Granted, there were only three of us, so fighting was often short-lived and I had the backseat all to myself. Most of the time. We sometimes brought friends along, so I would have someone to annoy and ride roller coasters with. As I got older, I still had a thing for road tripping. I attribute it to my younger years and how we learned to make them as fun as possible.
Road trips aren't for everyone, but I just think people hate being trapped in the car with their family because they don't plan, set ground rules or know how to make them fun along the way. Let's talk about how to make them enjoyable and as pain-free as possible.
Don't drive straight through! The number one rule of road trips is we don't talk about road trips! Wait. No. That's another post for another blog maybe. The real golden rule of road trips is that you stop along the way and stop often. Driving for 4+ hours straight is BORING. Even if you play games or sleep, people will get grumpy, your legs will get stiff and you won't be happy. Plan a route that has interesting stops - a funky diner, a cool cave, the largest ball of twine. Something. Your stops don't have to be expensive, just fun and memorable.
On our many road trips, we've stopped at sea lion caves, a gift shop in a tree, oceanfront viewpoints, the world's largest thermometer and a mystery spot where things roll uphill. We never had dull trips, even if we were low on cash.
Bring foods! Eating out frequently is really going to take a bite out of your budget and totally ruin your diet. I don't know about you, but I also don't want to come back from vacation hating chicken strips or cheeseburgers either. Sure, eating out is fun, but choose your stops wisely and bring a cooler stocked with homemade stuffs – like fried chicken, potato salad and muffins – along with fixings for sandwiches, sides, drinks and snacks to nibble on in between stops.
Make reservations. We've learned this the hard way several times. You'd think we would have it all figured out by now and listen to our own advice. Though the fun of road tripping is spontaneity, you can't always just pull over and stay wherever looks good. We have been screwed over by unknown conventions and sporting events more than a few times. Now we plan our endpoints and make reservations for destinations we can reasonably get to each day. Trust me. You do NOT want to end up eating a Subway sandwich in your car in the dark and finally stopping at a campsite at two in the morning because it's your only option for sleep.
If you DO decide to go with the flow, when you get close to when you want to stop and you see an affordable hotel/motel with a vacancy, STAY THERE. Don't listen to the voice that says, "We can make it further..." You may either have to double back or drive way further because there are no vacancies for many miles afterwards.
A paper map is a must. Yes, you have a smarty phone and your fancy GPS, but batteries die and not all roads show up on satellites. (Just ask those kids from Cabin in the Woods - "This road isn't even worthy of global positioning.") You never know what might happen, so an old-fashioned map is great for those unforeseen circumstances. If you don’t buy one before you leave home, pick one up at a gas station, convenience store or rest areas.
Stay tuned for more road trip tips next week where I’ll discuss more ideas to keep you sane and from killing your friends or loved ones. In the meantime, you can read about how to spend 48 hours in San Francisco in our next post from STC editor/proofreader/marketing guru, Nancy, and also give me your best tips for a successful road trip.