I'm getting geared up for my next road trip, you guys. In March, I drove alone from Portland to Vegas and back. I was basically just trying to save money, so I did the drive each way in one day. I don't know that I'd recommend it, as it's very long and much of it is boring and out in the middle of nowhere. Next year I'll be flying, but only because it'll be snowy in February. I like my alone time and had fun on my own, but it would have been nicer to spend less time in the car and more time checking out stuff along the way, but that would have defeated the purpose for this mostly business trip.
So, when you want to take a real road trip, to save money and also see more than you would on a plane, you're going to want to make it more fun than frantically looking for a place to pee along the road when one side is a cliff and the other is a rocky beach, hoping you don't have to use your empty Starbucks cup. I wasn't proud of that either, but I was lucky enough that the beach had a public restroom and I didn't get murdered. Here's how to make your road trip awesome.
I love a good road trip and have done my fair share of them in my life. The first thing you should do to prep for your trip is to get your car checked out if you are driving your own and not renting. Make sure your tires are good, your brakes don't need replacing (because stopping is really important), you get an oil change and everything else is in good order. Got AAA? Then don't forget to keep your card handy. If one of your credit cards has roadside assistance, make sure you know all the details and know the numbers to call if you need them. Keep an emergency kit in your car, just in case, and a spare gallon of water to avoid overheating. It happens.
Once you've made all the boring and necessary checks on your car, it's time to start packing. Even though I have plenty of room in the trunk (and backseat), I still try to pack light. I don't want to drag a ton of bags in and out of hotels everyday and it's nice to have spare room in your car for any purchases your may make along the way. On my way to Vegas, I kept it to one small carry-on for my clothing, the small cooler you see here and the insulated Trader Joe's bag for other food, goodies and disposable plates, utensils and paper towels. I definitely came back with more than I left with.
If you're traveling as a family, space is at a premium anyway. Don't bring your whole closet. One carry-on per person is enough. A cooler with drinks, snacks and sandwich fixings is a must, especially if you're trying to save some money on your drive. Plus, if you go with kids, they always seem to be hungry at different times throughout the day, so having healthy snacks to keep them satisfied is important. Toss a back-up carry-on bag in your trunk for rounding up purchases in one place, and a few reusable shopping bags for grocery shopping, dirty clothes and other miscellaneous things.
The best part of a road trip is the stops along the way. Know some of the fun, obscure, interesting and popular things to do on your route. I plan at least one or two of these per day to break up the monotony of sitting in the car and staring out the window. A great app to use for finding these things on main highways is iExit. It's free and will give you everything from places to eat, attractions, shops, rest areas and even animal hospitals, if you're traveling with a pet. I like that you can plan ahead by using the app without actually being on the road, but you can use it on-the-go.
If you are a AAA member, you can order free travel books for states you'll be traveling in. These will give you maps and suggestions for where to stop and what to do as well. I've used these in the past and stopped at cool and kitschy places. You'll also find hotels and motels along the way that offer discounts to AAA members.
Sometimes you just need to get out and stretch your legs. Being in the car for long periods of time can make your legs cramp up and make you feel blah. See an interesting turn off? Stop! Run around, take a quick walk, take some pictures, check out a tourist attraction or make yourself a sandwich to tide you over until lunch or dinner. You'll be glad you did.
Keep your eyes open for rest areas, because if you have to wait 126 miles until the next one, you may just want to get out and make yourself go. iExit can help you find the next stop, so you don't give up and pee behind a bush (if there even is one). When you road trip alone, it can be really important to know what's coming up for your safety. I've got a thing against rest stops in general, because they can be scary, especially at night.
I look for stops that are large, bright and clean. I've been known to make my husband stand in the doorway or go in with him to the men's side if the place is deserted. As a solo road tripper, I won't stop at a place when I'm the only car or if almost all the vehicles in the lot are semi trucks. If there are fast food locations available, I'll choose to go in and buy a drink or some fries and use the restroom there.
I always send a message to someone every time I stop, which means you should keep your phone charged while you're traveling. I like to be safe and cover all my bases. One of the ways I do this is by using the Voxer app on my phone. It works independently of your texting and doesn't use data. It's free and you can send text messages of any length, photos or voice messages to anyone else with the app. You can see when it has be delivered to the other person, when they've read it and they can see where you sent it from by clicking on the message details.
If you're out of the country, the app works on WiFi and lets the recipient know when the message was sent, instead of when they received it, and sends any backed up messages once WiFi is available again. Did I mention it's free?
Looking for the cheapest gas available along your drive? Put the GasBuddy app on your phone. If not, iExit can tell you which gas stations are coming up. There's nothing worse than running out of gas...especially if you're in the middle of nowhere.
Pack activities and a map. You may have a GPS in your car, but I can tell you there are places where it won't work. Make sure to keep a map in your car for that reason. I also like to print out full directions for my trip, in case I can't use my technology. Bring your iPod, your phone if it's got music downloaded on it or a selection of CDs that will make your time more enjoyable. I like to listen to audio books when I road trip. It's fun and makes the time fly by. It's the people in the backseat that need activities. Bring a notebook, a tablet for books and movies, magazines, games and toys to keep them busy. If you need ideas for the kiddos, check out my Pinterest road trip board.
Now you're ready to have a fantastic trip. I'll be packing soon for my trip to Montana, which will include my mom and dog, so it'll be quite interesting and probably really fun (and a bit challenging). What are your favorite road trip tips?