The key to a successful road trip is being prepared. It’s important to plan ahead, take your time, and if something bad happens, know how to handle it.
We gained a lot of experience after road tripping across the country for 5 months. When we first started traveling last year, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being stuck in a car for hours on end. After a few weeks though, I actually looked forward to our travel days. Packing up the car and hitting the road became a fun part of the process. It was always a little sad to leave an area we were staying in, but exciting to get to the next destination.
If you’re planning to take a road trip soon, here are 10 tips, in no particular order, that will help you not only survive but have fun along the way.
- Remove Half of What you Packed
- Plan Before you Go
- Download Podcasts/Audiobooks
- Bring Food & Snacks
- Drink Water
- Schedule Extra Time for Breaks
- Keep Your Car Clean
- Have Cash on Hand
- Get Gas Before It Hits Empty
- Prepare for the Worst
1. Remove Half of What you Packed
Packing is hard for a lot of people (us included!) because you want to be prepared for everything. More often than not though, you end up packing your suitcases with a bunch of things that you don’t need or don’t end up wearing. When traveling by car, space is always an issue, so it’s important to pack lightly.
When we set out for our road trip, we packed 4 suitcases total – 2 large and 2 small. That was essentially every item of clothing that we owned. That doesn’t seem like a lot for 2 people, but over the 5 months that we were on the road, a lot of that clothing never left our suitcases. I packed dresses, jackets, and shoes “just in case” we needed them for something or somewhere. All of that stuff could have been left in storage because they never left their bags and took up precious space in the car. We wore the same stuff over and over again, doing laundry about once a week. Looking back, we could have gotten by with so much less.
My advice: Pack for what you plan to actually do, not what you might do. No concrete plans for a fancy dinner night? Don’t pack a dress and heels. If you do have those plans, decide what you’re going to wear beforehand instead of packing 3 different dress options to decide on later.
I also always recommend packing clothing that you can easily layer. Things like cardigans or hoodies are always a good idea. That way if it gets too hot or too cold, you can easily add or remove clothing to be comfortable.
Related article: 14 Packing Mistakes to Avoid
2. Plan Before You Go
It sounds exciting to just hop in the car and go, but it’s really better if you have some sort of plan in place before you hit the road. A little bit of planning goes a long way and will make for a smoother, less stressful trip.
The night before a travel day, we always liked to get a rough plan of our route, so we knew what roads we were taking and approximately how long we’d be in the car. We’d look at the towns we’d be passing through and determine good places to stop along the way. This would help us determine what time to head out and if we should avoid certain routes at certain times.
A lot of people love leaving early in the morning, but we found that wasn’t always the best. Depending on the location, sometimes leaving a little later in the day was better because we’d avoid things like rush hour or construction work. Of course, things didn’t always go exactly as planned, but simply having a plan in place made our travel days a lot easier to manage.
3. Download Podcasts/Audiobooks
Music can get boring quickly, which is why we loved listening to podcasts or audiobooks while we traveled. They are much more engaging than books and made the drive go by fast.
There are thousands of podcasts and audiobooks available to listen to on any subject, so no matter what you’re into, there will be something that interests you. We like comedy, true crime, and documentary style podcasts, so we’d listen to a lot of those. A great free resource for audiobooks is Hoopla app, part of the free library system. Enter your library card to gain access to free audiobooks.
The night before we’d hit the road, we would figure out how much time we’d be spending in the car and download accordingly. We’d always download more than enough, just in case we ran into traffic or delays. It really did help pass the time.
4. Bring Food & Snacks
Food and snacks are essential for any road trip. While it is fun to stop and get things you wouldn’t normally eat at home, eating only those things will make you feel like crap. Try to keep the treats to a minimum to avoid feeling sluggish and bloated.
Before we hit the road, we’d pack a cooler bag with sandwiches, drinks, and snacks to eat while in the car. It was much healthier, saved us a lot of money, and allowed us to drive longer without stopping. Getting a treat every now and then made our trips fun, but we didn’t do that all of the time.
When coronavirus first hit and we drove back home across the country in 3 days, our only options for food were gas stations and fast-food drive-thrus. By day 3, we couldn’t wait to have a normal, home-cooked meal. Keeping some food and snacks with you on the road really makes a difference.
5. Drink Water
Not coffee, not soda, just plain water! I can’t stress this one enough. You’ll feel so much better if you stay hydrated.
I’m not saying you have to completely eliminate everything else, but along with any other drinks you might have, make sure you have plenty of water too. We always kept water with us in the car and made sure to refill our water bottles whenever we stopped somewhere.
Coffee, soda, and energy drinks can make you feel jittery and bloated and generally have tons of sugar in them, which leads to a sugar crash. Drinking plain old water will help you feel much better.
6. Schedule Extra Time for Breaks
As a kid, whenever we took road trips as a family, it always felt like we were in a big rush. My Dad was obsessed with “making good time”. We always had to be on the road super early, breaks felt like less of a break and more like a nuisance, and we’d push the gas until we physically couldn’t drive anymore, making everyone in the car miserable and exhausted.
When we were planning our road trip, I wanted things to feel different. Instead of rushing to the next destination, I wanted to actually enjoy the journey. We always added a little extra travel time for breaks so we could get out of the car, stretch our legs, and not feel rushed.
I think allowing some time for breaks is a really important factor in making a road trip fun. If you see a cool roadside attraction, you should be able to stop and check it out without having to worry about getting to your destination on time. If you want to sit down and be served a meal instead of quickly going through a drive-thru, you should feel like you have time to do that. Those unexpected moments are what often make the best memories, so don’t be so rigid and stop worrying about “making good time”. Enjoy the journey!
7. Keep Your Car Clean
Having a clean car makes the road trip a much more enjoyable experience for everyone. Especially when there is limited space, it’s nice to have your area clean and tidy. I recommend cleaning your vehicle before you leave for your trip so you start out nice and fresh. On the road, whenever you make a stop, take some time to throw away any trash that you may have accumulated along the way.
Along with keeping things tidy, it’s important to make sure that your car is “clean” on the inside. That means getting the oil changed, filling any fluids, and making sure things like headlights, windshield wipers, and turn signals are all working properly. You want to make sure your car is in great shape before you hit the road.
8. Have Cash On Hand
It’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand just in case. You may need money for things like tolls or parking and credit cards aren’t always an option. We always kept some change in our cars for parking meters and a few small bills in our wallets.
9. Get Gas Before It Hits Empty
Do not wait until your car is running on fumes to stop at a gas station and fill up. Sure, you might be able to make it another 50 miles on your tank, but there may not be any options for gas once you get there. Do you really want to be stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere? I recommend that you start looking for gas stations when your vehicle hit ¼ of a tank.
Not filling up the car caused more than a few arguments while Mark and I were on the road. Mark always liked to push the car as far as it would go, while I would be scared that we’d run out of gas and be stranded somewhere.
One day, while we were driving through Arizona, that almost happened. I suggested that we stop in a small town off the highway to fill up, but Mark wanted to keep going. As we kept driving down the highway, we got deeper and deeper into the desert where there was nothing but tumbleweeds insight. After driving several more exits than I would have liked to, we finally found an open gas station to fill up and ended up paying double what we would have paid if we stopped in the small town. It was a definite wake up call that what you need on the road isn’t always readily available.
10. Prepare for the Worst
We never start out expecting bad things to happen, but unfortunately, they sometimes do. If you’re prepared for the worst, then you’ll be able to deal with these situations without it affecting your trip too much
Make sure your car insurance and registration are up to date and the documents are stored in your glove compartment. Create a car emergency kit with a full spare tire, jack, jumper cables, water, a flashlight, and maybe even some tools if you have space. It’s also not a bad idea to have a small first aid kit in the car with things like bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes, and sting relief cream. Being well prepared for unfortunate circumstances makes all the difference.