Some of you may remember I have a great love of roadtrips…. especially ones where I can see friends and unique sights along the way. There are lots of roadtrips that get you places on the weekends — I need to do a few more of those too! But it seems that more extended versions like the ones I took discovering Oregon & California or the one when I drove to Montana and soaked up nine other states on the way to and from capture our imagination.
Having done so many of various lengths, I decided to offer some of my tips when I saw a question posed on Quora. Here are a few things to consider.
What will you drive?
If I will drive roundtrip, I love taking my car. There are lots of things that just make it easier to feel comfortable but I also think your comfort can lead to a safer drive. You know the feel of the road sure, but you also know how comfortable the seats are. The blind spot is something you know well, and using windshield wipers, etc is automatic rather than something you have to figure out.
Make sure the car is up for it — especially if your car is older — get it serviced before you are going. Having a breakdown can really screw up your trip. And another plus for taking my car…. I love top-down days!
On my drive from Portland, OR to Fresno, CA, I used a rental. I picked a vehicle on the lot that seemed great for size, it was a hybrid, seemed well laid out, etc but after a couple of hours in the car, I found out was a trainwreck for comfort. I learned to be really critical about the seat and the ability to adjust it to suit me, etc.
Solo or with friends?
Traveling solo can be great — I love the flexibility of it and time to think is also appreciated! But I have to admit it can also get tiring and lonely, unless you enjoy driving and have great friends on the way. Spending lots of time in a car with others can also be great. My sister and I drove from North Carolina to Maine and back last year. We talked and laughed the whole time, deciding on the fly where to go next, etc. But traveling with others can make you wish for alone time if you aren’t compatible! Think about all those hours in the car…. with nowhere to go… I’d be sure I’ve traveled with them a few times before embarking on something so long as a cross-country trip!
Plan Carefully, But Don’t Plan Everything!
Long trips especially mean you should take a little time to plan. Don’t worry though, I agree that flexibility is critical! For me, I like to look at the distance, possible routes and the length of time I have available. With these pieces of information, you can weigh some of the things you want to see and do within the time you have. If the roadtrip is something I plan to enjoy, I need to have time out of the car for seeing the sights, eating great food, etc.
Knowing you will need to cover an average number of miles per day (unless you have endless scheduling flexibility) along with some of the must stop places and estimated time to spend there really helps. I generally give myself goals for where to get to as I start the day but I only book hotels ahead when I have a specific reason — staying over in a town to have breakfast with friends, etc. If you will be sofa-surfing, etc, it may have a better fit for budgeting than scheduling challenging.
Planning can help you get some of the big pieces included on the trip, but some of the great joys of road trips come from happenstance. Things that you simply see a sign for and think I need to go there!
Use Technology to your Benefit
Technology can be a major advantage or it can be such a distraction that you don’t actually find yourself in the moment. The choice is ours on what we want to do. On a recent trip, I actually laid low on social media the full two weeks. That’s just one type of tech to decide on.
Over the last few years, I’ve found it so easy to find truly great local restaurants (like the Cateye Cafe) off the main roads. Not only is the food great, but you get a very different sense of place by eating with locals, especially when it comes to town squares and Main Street. Yelp, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor and other apps can do that. If you want to travel without hotel reservations in place, something like Expedia or Booking.com can help you look up the road a bit for room availability, reasonable rates and particular services if you like.
Everyone’s mantra tends to be pack light and you certainly don’t want to pack heavy. But you also don’t want to be looking for things you need all along the way either.
Packing clothes that you can layer will be appreciated if you will be up in the mountains or in some areas where temperatures drop and those light base layers will be important when you are somewhere hot and the sun is beating through the windshield on you!
Since photography is near and dear to my heart, I always carry my favorite cameras (still & video) though I frequently decide on a stop or two to go low-key with just the phone for a bit. Those always need to be within reach because it is amazing how quickly you have to stop on the side of the road to capture something (don’t forget the moose I caught in Grand Teton).
Think carefully about what you need in the car with you versus in the truck or cargo area. I’ve taken coolers with drinks, etc on some trips, particularly ones which cross areas without services very frequently. I especially like having bottled water with me. Kept those with easy access as I did a hat, sunglasses, and the next layer or two.
Simply enjoy the trip!
Feel free to put all of the tips to the side and simply enjoy the ride, stumbling on whatever you come across! Wandering the backroads is one of my favorite things to do.