Daniel and I were roadtripping for about six months. Here are some of our tips and suggestions for making a long car journey comfortable and fun:
1. Come up with a plan for food. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself eating from the McDonald’s dollar menu every day. You should always pack some kind of food — even if it’s just granola bars and apples. There are lots of areas without any restaurants where the only prepared food you can buy is from a gas station, so unless you want to eat gas-station hotdogs whenever you get hungry (you don’t), it helps to pack snacks. Daniel and I bought a cooler that we used to store some basics (milk, lunchmeat and cheese, etc) and it made a big difference. We’d also bring cereal, bread, fruit, and crackers.
We found that the best road food is pizza, because you can eat it cold and with your hands. You can make your own pizza pretty easily with the prepared dough and sauce that Whole Foods and most other grocery stores sell in their refrigerator section. Whenever we left an AirBnB we would bake a batch of pizza to eat over the next couple of days. I will say that neither Daniel nor I are foodies, so your strategy might look different if you want to arrange your travels around what you want to eat.
2. Bring some of your own basics. AirBnBs have the worst knives you’ll ever see. After trying to chop an onion with a cleaver that cut like the dull side of a plastic picnic knife, Daniel and I bought a little paring knife off of Amazon which we packed wherever we went. We also brought our own cutting board (I don’t know why so many people use those decorative glass cutting boards, but they are really horrible), baking sheet, salt, pepper, and oil. Outside of kitchen supplies we also packed our own shampoo, conditioner, soap, and pillows.
3. Take breaks. Driving is tiring. I don’t know why, but even just sitting in a car as a passenger for six hours is exhausting. I recommend a rule of thumb to only drive up to six hours in a day, for at most three consecutive days. Whenever we’ve exceeded this amount we’ve regretted it. After three days you should have a longer stay somewhere to recoup. Also, make sure you budget in time to pull the car over and check out anything you pass that looks interesting. If you aren’t stopping on the road you aren’t doing a road trip, you’re a long-haul trucker where you are the cargo, and that’s no fun.
4. Have something to listen to. Daniel and I did a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. If you limit yourself to the radio you’ll have many days where all you get is local news and “Christian Rock” music. Don’t subject yourself to that—drive prepared. I have an Audible subscription, but you can also check out audiobooks online from most public libraries if you are a member. Daniel and I spent the entire east coast listening to The Name of the Wind (it was awful, if you like this book please explain) and the drive across the Great Plains listening to The Godfather. Be careful not to choose an audio book where the narrator’s voice is too soothing, or you’ll risk dozing at the wheel. (We had that issue with A Wrinkle in Time, I recommend it for insomniacs.)
5. Download Google Maps so you can use them offline. Lots and lots of this country has no cell service and those are also the areas where you really, really don’t want to get lost. If you use your phone for mapping, do yourself a favor and download the day’s route ahead of time so you don’t need signal and you can save your data.
6. Get a National Parks annual pass. They’re almost always worth seeing, even if you drive through quickly. If you visit even two parks the pass pays for itself.
7. Take the scenic route! Highways all look the same. Do yourself a favor and take smaller roads, you’ll see more of the countryside and it will be prettier. It helps to look at a map and plan a route roughly between where you are starting and ending and then finding a series of back roads that will get you there. A good rule of thumb is that if it only takes 15% longer to go the scenic route then it’ll probably be worth it. (Unless it’s the Southwest, then stay on the freeway and power through. Not much worth seeing there, haha.)
8. If you’re only staying in a place for one night, drive until you get tired, then look for a town to stop for the night and book a place when you arrive. Most of the time we booked our hotel for the night a few minutes before we checked in by looking for vacancies on Expedia. This strategy lets you stay flexible and avoids pushing when you’re tired. Plus, prices are sometimes cheaper if you book last minute since hotels with vacancies want to book up for the night. If you’re nearby we do recommend at least driving by the hotel before booking it–lots of places that look just fine online look like dens of iniquity in-person.
9. Reach out to people you know along the way. We got to meetup (in a socially distanced manner) with a bunch of friends and family who we normally only get to see around the holidays. This is nice because you get to see people in their “natural environment” and also gives you a break from only interacting with your road trip partner. While Daniel and I were bummed that this year didn’t really work out for international travel, it was wonderful to see so many family members.
10. Try eating in local parks. We’ve had great luck even in small out of nowhere towns with finding a pleasant place to stop and have a picnic for a while. This gets you some great scenery, a break from the road, and a chance to walk around and stretch your legs.