After a couple of weeks of weighty topics I thought it would be fun to discuss something I love-– ROAD TRIPS. I have already taken several this summer, so I am going to share my fool-proof tips to make sure you have a great time when you hit the open road. Feel free to share your recommendations with me as well!
Note: After reading this you may think that I am completely neurotic based on my travel set-up, but hey maybe it will help you think of something next time you’re packing up!
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Ok, so first decision is where are you going? Are you going to pick a random fun destination and head there with friends? Did you finally decide to drive to see family? Is it bachelorette weekend with the girls or spring break on the beach? Do you just need time on the road alone to explore?
- Depending on how “free spirited” you want to be, Step 1 is to decide where you are going and map out your route and timeline.
- You can either do this online (recommended: because it will tell you time to destination and alternate routes) or you can get nostalgic and use a road atlas.–Yes I still have one but mostly for when you are in West Texas or central Kansas with no cell reception!
- For those who are directionally challenged or cannot read a map (certain family members, you know who you are), now is the time to brush up (pre-travel).
Sidestory on the importance of knowing basic cardinal directions: I tend to leave very early in the morning for road trips (i.e. before sunrise), and it is important to note that I do not have a compass in my car. This is something that still irks me and honestly, I could remedy. My dad even bought me one for my dashboard one year for Christmas, but who knows where it ended up? Nonetheless, I was leaving from Missouri and headed to Texas (for those who are not familiar with geography, that is pretty much straight south). Long story short, the highway I got on had been under construction for a while, so I don’t believe the signs were clear, or it may have been that it was 4am? Either way, I drove for about an hour in the dark on a highway in Missouri before the sun started coming up on my right For those who are getting it at this point-good for you! So yeaahhhhh….. sh*t I was headed North! (because the sun always rises in the East. Don’t need a compass for that one!) This prompted a quick turn around, some mild self-rage and cursing, and a little speeding before I decided to calm down. So yes, directions are important!
PACKING AND LOGISTICS
You would laugh if you saw my passenger front seat when I am driving! It becomes my command center, my control station, the hub of all things important. Maybe this is also a little why I like traveling alone. I can have my alone time, my set-up is perfect; I can put my music on, reach my snacks, and just GO!
I have become less neurotic about packing as I have become a more experienced traveler. Maybe this is because I trust myself to not forget things because I have my system down. It may partially be because I realize that I can either do without or buy almost anything that I would need. Packing for longer trips used to commence at least several days to a week in advance (probably shocking to those who know me as a procrastinator). Don’t even get me started about the TETRIS game of packing for college or other “cram it all in your car” events. Now a simple checklist created a day or so in advance, possibly even a mental one or scrawled on scrap paper (ghastly I know!), will suffice. Basically as long as I can do laundry and run to local drug store the day before I am good to go.
My struggle regarding road trips that I am working on–I always overpack. Compared to almost any other form of travel where your baggage is limited, with car travel my mentality is “well I’ll throw it in, I miiiggghht need it.” Lately my go-to method has been packing a medium size suitcase and a weekender bag. I then shuffle clothes in and out of the weekender bag when I go places so I don’t have to lug my suitcase into each friends house I visit. The key to this is organization-make sure you have underwear, socks etc in both bags and then just move your toiletries bag and grab outfits that are pre-stacked/rolled together. Yes I know, this requires effort, but there IS a reason my sister always asked me to pack for her.
It may sound silly but WHERE to place items in the car is also important to me. I don’t want to be digging around in my purse in the back seat trying to get change for a toll and almost crash.
Items that must be within reach:
- snack bag (usually passenger seat depending on size)
- purse and trash bag (passenger floorboard)
- tissue box (passenger floorboard)
- chapstick (weird little cubby thing in console)
- ipad and iphone, plugged into chargers or aux cables (passenger seat or cupholder)
- drink (cupholder, obviously), but usually also have a waterbottle in passenger seat/snack bag
- Pillow and blanket/jacket (rear floorboard or seat in reachable area)
- Atlas (pocket on passenger seat back)
- Paper towels, hand sanitizer and trash bags (glove box)
- small bills and change (center console)
- chargers (center console)
- paper and pen (passenger seat to jot a quick note if inspired listening to audio book or by some fleeting thought lol. I would normally do this on my phone, but it’s not safe while driving. (On second thought, maybe writing and driving is not safe either, but I can write without looking. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done.)
As you can see everything has its designated location so that at any given moment I can reach my hand out and find it without taking my eyes off the road, which is the point!
This is usually one of my main concerns when driving for 12+ hours in a day. Sorry, but you wont find me decked out in makeup, a dress, and wearing heels. In the years I have spent driving, I have learned that if I am in the car for more than about 5 hours I feel kind of gross when I arrive at my destination. It is similar to the way I feel when I walk off of a longer airplane ride. So, following are my top tips:
- Layer comfortable athleisure wear, adaptable to various temperatures. This is particularly helpful if you are driving cross country from a hotter place like Texas to say, Wisconsin. Outfit planning will save you if someone you are traveling with likes to blast the air or you get stuck sitting in the sun.
- I usually wear a pair of athletic capris and a T-shirt or tank top and bring a light jacket (heavier jacket and blanket to cover my legs if winter). Some type of slip on shoe like flip flops are what I wear. I also have socks within reach.
- I also bring a blanket and a pillow. And no, I do not sleep in the car. (Well ok, I stopped once for like an hour to do that because I was super tired–If you get “blinky” STOP!) The blanket is actually multipurpose: I either fold it and use it for lumbar support (because my car isn’t fancy and doesn’t have that), or I use it for its intended purpose when I get cold. The pillow makes a great arm rest on my center console to keep my posture better.
- Sunglasses are also a must because 1. I get blinded, particularly when driving at sunrise or sunset, and 2. it’s just good to protect your eyes. I do find that sometimes I have to take them off for a while when I get sleepier.
- Do not wear makeup. I always appreciate the fact that when I stop at gas stations/rest stops I can quickly splash or wash my face to freshen up. If you need to look fancy when you get there, and give the illusion that you travel in glamorous style, stop 30 min to an hour outside your destination, find a nice restroom (like one with a real sink countertop and that doesn’t smell), change your clothes, apply makeup, and glam up there. Also, don’t forget to throw out your trash and dismantle your pillow and blanket cocoon, so you don’t look nuts when you pull in. These things almost never matter to me, I usually pull the sorry not sorry but I’ve been the car all day. My friends and family know what I look like!
So this is a personal choice, but decide what will keep you awake and entertained for the duration of your trip. I have explored several options and always travel with a variety because when I get bored I switch it up.
- My all time go to favorite is my Spotify playlist (make sure you have downloaded to your device beforehand so you aren’t using data). I like this because I can vary the music depending on the mood and usually end up singing, dancing and keeping the blood flowing to all my parts that are sitting stationary for hours. Shaking my butt while stationary so it doesn’t fall sleep–PERFECT!! Press cruise control and get my salsa on to move those hips and feet, WHY NOT? A lot of shimmies, shoulder movement, and head bobbing to the music will for sure keep you awake. I will mention that if you are not a good driver, this is probably not the best option and maybe you should just occasionally pull over and have a little dance party!
- If I get tired of music or just really interested in the newest book I downloaded from Audible, I will pop that on for a few hours and be surprised how quickly time flies. I am a very visual person, so I did not think that I would like audio books, but it is very easy for me to listen to them while driving. Every once in a while I zone out and have to push the skip back button to hear the last thing they said, but overall I stay engaged. It also helps to have an engaging orator. The last book I listened to was Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and him narrating kept me thoroughly entertained.
- Podcasts, like audiobooks, are also a great option to pass the time. For how long they have been around, this is the medium that is the newest to me, but once I was introduced I have been hooked as well.
EFFICIENCY VS SCENERY
So this is something that has evolved over time and also changes depending on the circumstances. In general I enjoy the more scenic routes, but when I am driving for 12 hours, I “feel the need for speed” so to say. I just want to get to my destination, so as not to make the day any longer. However, any chance I get, I definitely take the more scenic route. I have found lots of little gems along those beautiful country roads practicing this method.
I was someone who was raised on road tripping efficiency. “We are pulling out of the driveway at 3am” my dad used to say, “make sure your bag is loaded tonight.” We used drive all day, with minimal stops, save for “pee breaks” and gas, and even those were optimized. I have grown quite accustomed to the ways of my childhood, and often have been grateful for my hardiness and ability to handle long trips on the road. However I am now beginning to better appreciate the art of wandering and the humor in getting lost. It’s all a balancing act. I will give up a little efficiency if it means I get a beautiful view along the way, versus a gray horizon clouded with semi-trucks. Ultimately driving is my happy place and my time to think and reflect, so I want a pretty view when I can afford it. What I have driven of this country is exceedingly beautiful and I intend to see more of it, how about you?
In case you skimmed to the bottom, or just want the summary of my must have items:
- comfortable clothes and shoes
- phone, ipad (because sometimes one dies)–also in case I want larger maps
- music, audio books, podcasts
- aux cord for above ^
- car phone charger and externally charged battery
- water and snacks (in soft cooler)–no coffee or caffeine for me because–>pee breaks
- trash bag (for said snacks)
- paper towels (because inevitably I will make a mess)
- road atlas (yes there are areas with no service)
- paper and pen
- small bills/change for toll roads
- hand sanitizer (for snack time after gas stations-yuck)
- pillow and blanket (lumbar support, better armrest, etc)
*Pre-departure oil change and tire pressure check
Best wishes for your travels, wherever they may take you. Maybe we will meet on the road!