There’s a lot of appeal to car travel, and few modes of transport that will offer the same control and freedom to explore. On the other hand, most people who like to road trip will eventually run into some common pitfalls, like traffic issues, car trouble or general tension with your companions. A road trip can be spontaneous, but if you’re itching to light out for more than a few days, good planning will make all the difference between fond memories and a frustrating experience.
1. Clean Your Vehicle
Sounds simple, but it often takes a back seat to all your other road trip plans, and you’ll soon regret the extra mess. Things tend to pile up quickly, so make space for them by cleaning under the seats, emptying out the glove box and removing any unnecessary items from the trunk before you hit the road. Once you’re on the road, get in the habit of cleaning up now and then. The more litter in your car, the more dirt and grime can collect, and the less comfortable everyone will be. Keep at least one bag for garbage in the front and one in the back, and it’s a good idea to pack some extra-large resealable bags to keep dirty or wet stuff separate.
2. Be Flexible Where it Counts
A strict schedule is out of the question, since you’re bound to run into delays and detours. On the other hand, playing everything by ear can leave you in some tight spots, especially if it’s tourist season: your carefree attitude will fly out the window when you’re competing for hotel rooms, having to settle for dirty diners, or backtracking through rather busy country roads.
Instead, reserve hotels in advance, but give yourself more time than you think you’ll need between each and every stop. It’s better to arrive early and take some down time than to miss out on the sights (or reservations) you had planned on.
3. Pack More Maps
It’s fine to lean on your GPS for direction, but be careful not to rely too much on that one resource. Pack more maps for backup, but also for some extra information.
A detailed road map is always a good idea, but consider bringing along trail maps, scenic driving routes and local guide books in case you get the itch to go a bit off your pre-planned course. This way, you’ll have the freedom to explore areas further without having to stop at every gas station or roadside stand for directions.
4. Create a Road Trip Survival Kit.
You hope you won’t have to use it, but you’ll sure be glad you have it if things go wrong. Besides the standard lanterns and blankets, include a phone card (in case your cell coverage isn’t quite good enough), extra water, toys (if you’re traveling with kids) and maybe a bit of cash. Ensure another passenger has a second set of keys, in case something happens to yours. And don’t forget the wet wipes – they’re the best way to clean and refresh when you’re living in close quarters with no running water. If you’re driving through a foreign country, be sure you have all the necessary paperwork an official may want to see. Do your research well before you hit the road, since some documents can take quite some time to get in order.
5. Budget Appropriately
This relates to the flexibility issue: be reasonable with your budget, so you can get through the road trip comfortably. Before you leave, work out your hotel costs (since you will have reserved in advance, this shouldn’t be much of a problem), and calculate your miles and approximately how much gas you’ll need to buy along the way. Give yourself a daily food budget rather than trying to work out how much you’ll spend at each restaurant and grocery store. Finally, be sure to include a little extra in case you find a neat souvenir or come across a festival or event that’s worth seeing.
6. Pack Light
It’s tenet of overseas travel, but it applies to car trips, too. Consider that you’ll be spending lots of time in a tiny space with other people, and the more room your suitcase fills, the less room you have to stretch out and move around. Unless you’re using a big van, cut your traveling closet down to a few full outfits, and then throw in a couple of extra versatile pieces. Laundromats aren’t so hard to find in most cities, so plan to do some laundry on your way.
7. Know Your Crew
Whether traveling with friends or family, it pays to give some extra attention to their individual personalities, expectations and abilities. Road trips work best when tasks can be delegated and people are happy to pitch in where they can, which means it’s important to respect what people are able and willing to do. If a companion tends to get carsick, they may not be your best choice for navigator. If there are kids coming along, stock up on toys and car games, and factor in frequent stops. If you can predict the needs and abilities of the crew, there will surely be more laughing and less moaning.
There’s a bit more to a road trip than piling in to a car and putting the petal to the metal. Luckily, a few straightforward preparations are all you need to stay happy and comfortable the whole way – in the end, you’ll only need to devote a few extra hours to this basic checklist before you can hit the road, worry-free.