Road Trips. Love ‘em. It’s my favorite way to travel, and I have a number of road trips under my seatbelt, from short 1,500-mile jaunts to amazing 3,000-mile voyages.
Through trial and error, I’ve learned a thing or two about what you should and shouldn’t do to have a good road trip. The following are, in my personal opinion, five of the most important things about road trips that can make or break the experience.
Flat Tires and Other Car Issues
This is an obvious one but a big one, so I’ve put it up top so we can address it and move on. Don’t begin a road trip before you’ve had a tune up (oil change, fluids, new wipers, etc.).
Something like new wipers may not seem like a big deal. But add some pouring rain and unfamiliar surroundings and yeah, being able to see where you’re going is a big deal.
As for your tires (yes you know I have to talk about tires), you’ll need to check three things:
- Are your tires getting down to the wear bars?
If so, replace them before you leave. You’re gonna put a lot of miles on them, and putting it off could land you in an accident because of tire failure or lose of control.
- Are your tires properly inflated?
Overinflated tires make for a bumpy ride and are more prone to damage. Underinflated tires waste fuel, and more importantly they’re at risk of tire failure. Inflate tires to your vehicle’s recommended pressure.
- Is your vehicle’s alignment correct?
So you took my advice and got a new set of tires. Good! Alignment too, right? I sure hope so. Misaligned wheels can make your tires wear down fast and unevenly. Even if your tires aren’t new, an alignment can help them last longer.
Overreliance on Google Maps, GPS, Etc.
My first few road trips were completely old school: giant accordion-folded maps and over-sized atlases. And it was amazing. Just by not knowing 100% where I’m going, I’ve discovered cool little towns, beautiful scenery, and more.
Using navigation devices or apps on road trips does two things.
- First, you lose any sense of exploration.
GPS dictates your path. You’re not discovering somewhere new anymore—you’re following instructions to get from point A to point B. Now it doesn’t hurt to check every now and then to see if there’s traffic or construction issues. But once you’ve done that, don’t use turn-by-turn directions. It’s okay to go a different way or even get a little lost. That’s part of the fun.
- Second, you now have a set time duration — a deadline you’re racing against.
You’ve entered your destination, and you’ll arrive at your destination in 5 hours. So you start thinking of what you’ll do at your destination in 5 hours. And you look more at that time estimate going down with every mile instead of enjoying the ride. Only 4 more hours. 3 more hours. It makes the whole trip feel longer by watching the clock. And, you won’t want to stop to see a silly tourist trap, stretch your legs, or even pee. All because you don’t want your expected arrival time to get later. Dumb.
This follows the Google Maps tip nicely. When you use GPS, you’re usualy getting the fastest, most direct path to wherever you’re going. That means interstates. Booooooring. If semi trucks and a complete lack of scenery is your style, go for it. But I prefer finding smaller highways that can get me to where I’m going.
Often the speed limits are just as high as interstates except for when you go through towns, and going through those little towns you never see from the interstate is one of my favorite things about road trips.
U.S. highways and state highways are much less monotonous than interstates. Besides giving you an opportunity to see more of the world, it also helps you avoid fatigue and tunnel vision.
Speeding or Driving through the Night
I was at Mongolian Grill with some friends a few years back, and we were comparing stories of going to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This cocky guy bragged about how he can make it there from Cleveland in less than 8 hours (it’s almost 700 miles, so that’s like, 88 miles an hour).
Whether he’s a reckless driver or just a liar, there are so many things wrong with driving this fast.
- Fuel Economy.
When you’re going that fast, you’re just burning through gas like crazy. And to be totally honest, the guy bragging wasn’t exactly rolling in dough. And this was when gas was expensive. Dumb.
- Speeding Tickets.
You’re crusing with the windows down, the music’s turned up, the sun’s shining… life is good. One glance at red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror and that high-on-life buzz is extinguished. Add a speeding ticket and it ain’t coming back any time soon. Just don’t.
Look, I get it. I’m a born-and-bred Michigan driver, lead foot and all. I like driving fast, and I don’t mind driving far. But on road trips, it’s just no good. Driving fast for too long can wear you down mentally and make you anxious. And it’s not exactly safe.If you’re not quite to your destination and don’t know whether to stop on the way or power through, I almost always choose to stop early. If you keep driving into the night, you’ll not only be fighting drowsiness and reduced visibility, but you’re also messing up your body. What’s the point of getting somewhere “sooner” if you’re going to sleep past noon the next day because you’re wiped? Instead, go to bed early, wake up early, and you’ll get where you’re going with the whole rest of the day left.
Food (More Specifically, Food that Ruins Your Health, Budget, or Both)
The first road trip I ever took was just after high school, and I didn’t plan at all. Wasn’t sure where I was going other than “to the ocean”. Didn’t even plan on brining a friend until I swung by her house on the way out to drop something off and we decided she should come with. For the most part, all of this worked out just fine. But oh my god, did we eat so much fast food.
I hadn’t packed any food, snacks, water, anything. So breakfast was fast food, lunch was fast food, and it seemed like every other dinner was fast food too cuz we were too cheap to go to an actual restaurant. And if you think sitting in a car for several hours can wear on you, try it bloated, dehydrated, and with hands covered in Doritos dust because you’re still hungry. Not a pretty sight.
Consider brining a cooler for sandwiches and things. You don’t even have to make them ahead of time—just swing by a grocery store every other day. And buy fresh fruit. You have no idea how gratifying fruit can be until you’ve spent a few days subsisting on McWhatevers, beef jerky and Red Bull.
Trust me. Food matters. Or don’t trust me. Just imagine me saying “told ya so” as you walk through the drug store looking for Immodium…
So, those are my road trip tips! I’d love to hear if you agree, disagree, or have tips of your own! Gimme a holler in the comments.