As Aaron Gulley, a seasoned travel writer for The Guardian writes, “a good road trip means more than just getting there and back.” For those of us who grew up in the States, a good road trip will always bring to mind that old American yearning for freedom and adventure, for a reprieve from our responsibilities at the office, a break from domestic routines, a thirst for adventure.
A good road trip doesn’t even have to be long. It can be a leisurely 147-mile drive down the golden Pacific Coast Highway stretched out over five days. But, a good road trip must be a mixture of sound planning and spontaneity.
Here are some essentials to get you started.
Plan for the unexpected
Before you hit the road, get a credit card that covers rental insurance for unfortunate circumstances like accidents, damages, theft and, if you’re road tripping in another country, say Mexico, a break on foreign transaction fees.
Pack an emergency kit for the car
You may already have a first aid kit in the glove compartment but do you have an emergency kit for the car? Pack one that has distilled water, a battery charger, jumper cables, and flares or reflectors. Learn how to use the jumper cables and how to change the spare tire.
Be prepared to get lost
Driving, even when you have GPS, is not a science. There will be blocked avenues, roads too small for your car to pass safely and traffic. There will be detours, missed exits, and misheard directions. Be gentle with yourself and patient with your travel mates. Remember that a planned route is an outline, not a blueprint.
Choose the right crew
Getting lost with people is one of the best ways to get to know them. How do they react when plans have to shift? How about when it rains for three days straight and the roads are too slick to drive out of that small town outside of Seattle?
Layer every day
Everyone’s optimal temperature is different. If you plan to drive for several hours, wear layers so that you can shed them as needed.
Plan a two-night stay
Road trips are great. You’ve got the open road, wind in your hair, sun in your eyes. And yet, you will get tired of being in a car eventually and driving will become a chore. To avoid burnout, plan at least one two-night stay in one of your favorite stops along the route. Slow down, live like the locals for a day, and fuel up so you can enjoy the road again.
Get coffee or tea or...just away
Being together in a confined space for extended hours can be tough, even if you are great company. Everybody needs a little time away. List a few delightful-looking coffee spots along the road that you can pop into to relax and refuel.
Plan every breakfast
There is nothing worse than a terrible breakfast when you’ve woken up in a new place and you have long hours of driving ahead. Skip the terrible free lobby coffee and head to a local gem.
Nowadays, many local businesses have a website or an Instagram account. Look at the menu and prices during the planning stage to make sure you’ll always enjoy the most important meal of the day. This step is especially important if you have any food allergies or specific preferences.
Taste local flavors
For example, how can you pass through Charleston, South Carolina without standing in line for some fried fish and lima beans at Bertha’s Kitchen? How do you find those gems? Do a deep dive online using regional magazines and other media to find where the locals usually hang out.
Bring Your Favorite Tunes
Make more than one playlist because a road trip is a journey of many moods. There will be surprises, thrills, and moans. You may need an Early Morning Boost, a Slow & Steady, or Sing Along playlist. If you are driving with other people, ask your fellow travel mates to bring along their own lists. And, of course, whoever is driving gets to choose the playlist of the day.
Reconnect with old friends
If you’re going to pass through an area where you have family and friends, use the opportunity to reconnect with them. Invite them along on your adventure. Maybe they will be able to spend the day with you and give you a local’s tour of the place.
Take a picture memory first
Yes, of course, take photos of all the things but don’t forget to take a picture memory first.“A picture memory is a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories,” says Ellie, Brené Brown’s daughter.
More than a photo, a picture memory is your recollection of how you felt in that place at that time. They haven’t invented a camera for that one yet so you’ll have to savor the moment!
Stack up on snacks; refill water
Make sure to bring non-perishable snacks like dried figs, apricots, and nuts to curb hunger pangs and ask everyone to carry a reusable water bottle to fill up whenever you make a stop.
And then make sure to check out sitorsquat.com or another app to help you find the nearest cleanest bathrooms along your route.
Pack an overnight bag
When you finally reach your destination for sleep, you won’t want to waste any time digging through a suitcase. Keep your overnight essentials like pajamas and toiletries in a small separate bag so you can get to bed as soon as you check in.
Get off the beaten path without getting lost
The app Maps.me lets you view detailed maps with turn-by-turn navigation even if when you lose internet access! The app is available on both Android and iOS. Use the iExit app to get details on services at upcoming exits, including gas stations, hotels, and hospitals along interstate highways.
Choose a comfortable pillow
And finally, when you’re not on driving duty and the food coma hits after lunch and you’ve run out of jokes and soul-bearing stories, take a nap. You’ll be grateful for it when you have to drive again.
You can use a great twofer like Dream Sling. It’s both a pillow and an armrest. This microbead pillow cushions your head as it tilts to help protect your neck when you fall asleep and the detachable padded sling provides a comfortable place to rest your forearms. The weight of the arms is what actually helps keep the neck pillow in place.
Dream Sling is ideal for long car trips but it’s so light and easy to carry that it’s worth packing even if you’re taking a one-day road trip.
Do something unexpected
A good road trip has to include an incident like the one the Eagles dreamed up in Hotel California: a pit stop at a fantastical place where “the pink champagne is served on ice.”
Visit that quirky museum. Or, if you are going down the California coast, stop at the Madonna Inn where the rooms are decorated according to kitschy themes like Madonna (of course!), España or Country Gentleman. You’ll make some interesting memories and stories to tell.