Everyone should experience a classic all-American road trip. The open road, the ever-changing scenery, the unexpected stalls at the side of the road, the possibility of having an epic experience right around the corner are just a few things that give road trips their unquestionable and eternal lure. With less than a month left until I embark on another adventure from Los Angeles to Chicago, I would like to share a few helpful tips I’ve learned throughout the years as a road trip enthusiast having traveled to over 23 states.
Create a realistic itinerary
Planning is definitely the first basic step in preparing for a road trip. Select a destination(s), research attractions, and create an itinerary that outlines how many days you have for travel and where you want to go. Make sure your itinerary is realistic and not overly ambitious. Driving 15 hours straight to cover “x” many states may seem doable on paper, but avoid overestimating your energy level when it’s time to put theory into practice.
Do NOT make hotel reservations in advance
Unless traveling during the busy peak season, making hotel reservations in advance is something I don’t advice. Although it is essential to have some sort of planning done, I also want to reiterate the importance of being loose and flexible! Delays such road blocks, flat tires, getting lost (yes, even with a GPS!) can happen unexpectedly when it comes to road trips. Last year, I traveled with my family all over the Northeastern Seaboard for two weeks. Not having made lodging accommodations in advance, we eliminated the unnecessary stress of constantly chasing time and worrying about being in a certain place at a certain day. I remember spending half of that trip literally sleeping in a different state from the night before. Pretty darn cool.
Have a hardcopy map along with a GPS
Even the latest newest GPS devices can malfunction, so bring a hardcopy map as backup.
Have your vehicle thoroughly serviced
Check the tires, air pressure, fluids, brakes, wiper blades, belts, hoses, horn, headlights… and so on! Having a safe reliable car is the easiest way to ensure a pleasant car ride.
My rule of thumb is to pack with the mentality as if you’re traveling by air. At best, stick to one carry-on sized luggage. To maximize mixing and matching opportunities, bring neutral clothes with pops of color. Also, make sure to leave extra room in your luggage for travel souvenirs. Watch this Youtube video to learn how to pack like a pro!
Check the weather beforehand
I learned this the hard way. My most recent road trip was a brief 4-day excursion from Los Angeles to Big Sur to Lake Tahoe this past April. Thinking that it’s Spring, my brain somehow assumed that the weather in ALL of California would be comfortable, where it would be warm during the day while cool at night. Boy, was I mistaken. It was downright snowing at Lake Tahoe (think 12 inches!), and I did not pack a single item of clothing built for snow. Cue emergency shopping for snow shoes! Unplanned spending, even for shoes, is never fun especially when you know that your perfectly good pair of SOREL boots are sitting unused at home.
Pack a cooler with nutritious foods and snacks
With miles and miles of open road, eateries that offer healthy and nutritious foods are few and far in between. To prevent gaining weight while traveling and resisting the temptations of fast food, pack a cooler with cool water and healthy snacks such as fresh berries, apple slices, baby carrots and celeries with hummus for dipping!
A lot of things can go wrong when out on the road, especially for long distance driving. Stock your car with basics like water, snacks, medication, flashlights, sharp knives, and a first aid kit. Click here for a list of additional items to bring for roadside emergencies.
With hours and hours on the road ahead, it’s important to keep oneself entertained. I suggest creating a mixed CD/playlist or loading up your iPod/MP3 player with songs. Don’t forget to bring all the essential power cords and chargers while you’re at it! Another way to stay amused would be to have “road trip games.” During a mini-road trip from North Carolina to Virginia last year, my travel buddy and I invented a game where we would try to come up with as many names as we can about a particular category. The only rule is to name a thing/person/place whose name starts with the same letter as the last of the one before. For example, under the Fictional Characters category, one person can start with “Spongebob,” and it can be followed by “Bon Qui Qui,” which then can be proceeded by “Indiana Jones.”
You’re on vacation! Enjoy every minute!
Feel free to share YOUR road trip travel tips in the comments section!