Thoroughly preparing for a road trip is essential if you want to have a stress-free adventure in your car, van, or RV. Road-tripping entails a lot more preparation and responsibility than air travel, but getting ready for a big drive across the country is part of the fun and excitement of seeing the world by car. If you are ready to start preparing for a road trip, check out this all-inclusive guide to help you plan.
Is Driving the Best Option? Yes? Awesome!
The first order of business in planning your road trip is to decide upon a method of transportation. Just because your car has four wheels doesn’t mean it’s the best vehicle for the job; safety and reliability are the most important factors to consider when you are deciding what to drive on your trip. When you are going on a road trip, you can travel in your own car, hire a rental car, or take an RV. Here are a few tips for selecting the best option for your trip.
Taking Your Own Car
Is your daily driver the best option for your upcoming road trip? There are a few questions to ask yourself before loading up and hitting the road.
- How far am I driving roundtrip?
- How reliable is my car?
- Can I afford to have my car repaired/towed?
- Do I want to put miles and wear on my daily driver?
If you have a relatively new car with low mileage, you may not mind taking it a few hundred miles. If you have service engine lights on and unsolvable mechanical issues, consider this your green light to cruise in a nicer whip on your trip.
If you decide to take your own vehicle, be sure that you take all of the necessary precautions before you leave town. A few things to check include lights, liquids, leaks, and wheels.
Renting a Car
If you decide to rent a car for your trip, there are several important things to note. I recently rented a car for a three-hour drive to Hampton Roads and was unpleasantly surprised by my renting experience. If you are under 25 years of age, be prepared to pay an extra daily fee. Even if you have a clean driving record, most rental car companies tack on an “underage driving fee” to your bill if you don’t meet the minimum age requirement. This fee can be between twenty-five and fifty dollars per day, depending on the company and other factors.
Another extremely important thing to note is the importance of having a credit card if you plan to rent a car. Some rental car companies, like Avis, require you to show the credit card that you paid with when you pick up the rental. I still remember the horror of finding out that I would not be able to pick up my rental that my partner had paid for because I did not have their credit card in hand at pick up.
After canceling that reservation and booking a new one on my credit card, I thought I was in the clear to pick up my rental car on Friday morning, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! If you are new to credit cards and don’t have a very high credit limit, you need to be very careful when booking a rental car. To my horror, I was informed that a one-hundred-dollar security deposit would need to be held on my credit card before I could leave with the car. After booking the car on my credit card, I didn’t have enough credit available for the security deposit.
Several hours, tears, phone calls, and trips to Western Union later, I was able to create enough room on my card for the deposit and drive off with the car. Moral of the story, make sure you have plenty of available credit before going to pick up your rental car! Aside from the nightmare at pickup, I loved driving a brand-new car for the weekend, and I felt much safer in the 2016 Elantra (brand-new at the time) than my 1996 Pontiac.
Rolling in an RV or Camper
If you just bought an RV, or if you are renting one for the first time, driving an RV or camper comes with quite a learning curve. Driving an RV or pulling a camper behind you is a big responsibility, and it will put your driving skills to the test. If it’s your first time driving an RV, you will want to make sure you know how to operate it properly and what to expect. Be sure to go for practice drives before heading out on your road trip. Driving an RV is slightly more natural as it operates the same way as any standard vehicle, but if you plan to pull a camper along, it is definitely recommended that you get comfortable reversing first.
Taking an RV or camper is a nice option if you want to go camping or avoid hotels. Your RV can be a home away from home, making it perfect for road trips that last a few weeks or more.
The Road Home
Solo travel is a fun way to learn about yourself and the world around you, but road tripping with a partner will reduce the amount of time you have to spend behind the wheel, allowing you to rest and take in the sights.
One of the benefits of renting a car is that you can opt to return it at a different airport than you picked it up from. This is a great option if you want to drive a long distance to see the sights and then fly home.
Whether you choose to tag-team your road trip or rent a car and fly home, just be sure to travel within your limits. Exhaustion will creep in after days of incessant driving and people do fall asleep at the wheel. Don’t cram too many miles into one day and always give yourself time to recover when you return home. Sleep is your friend when you are road tripping and there is usually somewhere to stay for the night that’s closer than you think.
Plan Your Route
After you have figured out transportation, the next step is to plan your route.
Do you want to take the direct route, the scenic route, or a combination of both? If you are taking a road trip to reach a final destination by a specific time, you may be better off taking the direct route. If you are traveling just to see the sights, you never know what you might see on roads less traveled. You don’t have to stop in every quaint little town, but taking a road trip is a great time to support small businesses as you pass through and see things you’ve never seen before.
Next, figure out where you will be stopping overnight. If you are driving a car, Airbnb is becoming the preferred choice over hotels. Not only does Airbnb offer unbeatable rates, but you also have the opportunity to meet new people and stay in boutique homes that are pretty unique. Not every Airbnb listing is good, but in my personal experience, I have always been 100% satisfied with my hosts and the places I have stayed. If you choose to stay in a hotel, try to stay in one that’s close to the highway and a gas station, and breakfast included is always a great option!
If you are traveling in an RV, you will need to book campsite reservations ahead of time. Camp spots can be very competitive, especially in National Parks. Don’t wait until the last minute to reserve your spots. If you plan to explore the National Parks, you’ll want to make reservations as early as possible to ensure you get to spend as many days as you want in the park.
When you are on a road trip, there is always something to see along the way. Make a list ahead of time of the cool things you want to stop and see. Be prepared for spontaneous stops and also be prepared to not check everything off of your “must-see” list. Find points of interest along your route and go from there, keeping as close or as far off course as you are comfortable with.
Find What You Need Along the Route
Things you can’t book in advance like gas and bathroom stops also have to be factored into your trip. Taking the direct route will likely land you close to gas stations and rest areas, but it is nice to know when and where you will be able to stop for breaks. There are several apps and websites that can help you find the cheapest gas stations and best bathrooms along your way.
If you are traveling off of the major highways, be mindful of your gas tank and always be sure of where the next gas station is located. For safety, you may want to stay away from back roads at night if possible. Being aware of the weather along the way is also important so you can divert your route in the event of unexpected inclement weather.
Find Where You Want to Eat Along the Route
Whether you want to chow down on local fare along the way or try out the restaurants you’ve only seen on TV, going on a road trip is the best time to splurge on food, try new things, and support local eateries. You may want to consider making reservations at busy restaurants to ensure you get a table that evening.
If you want to go the cheaper route, you can load up the car with drinks and snacks before heading out to combat hunger between stops. Trail mix never fails to hit the spot!
What to Bring
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are a few things I have found to be necessary for road trips after years of travel experience.
- Neatly-packed luggage
- Food and drinks galore
- Several downloaded playlists
- First-aid kit
- Tissues and paper towels
- Garbage bags
- Any chargers you need
Don’t forget to bring along an extra dose of kindness, your last bit of patience, and most importantly, an agreed-upon driving schedule if you are traveling in company. You may also want to download any apps you may need to help you find hotels, points of interest, food, and the like.
Before You Leave
The last few days before your big trip will be filled with excitement and maybe a healthy dose of stress. There are a few final things you need to do before you head out. A week before your trip, you should get your car inspected if you live in a state that doesn’t require an annual safety inspection. You may also want to get a tune-up, oil change, and alignment.
Go ahead and go for a practice drive on the highway if you don’t drive on it regularly. Clean out your car and make a plan to keep it organized and trash-free on your trip. If you don’t have AAA, now is a good time to sign up. They will be able to help you if you run out of gas, lock your keys in your car, or pop a tire on 66.
Last, fill up your car with gas and start catching as many z’s as possible the night before! Sleep is one of the most valuable commodities you have when traveling.
Taking a road trip requires a lot of forethought and preparation, but it is well worth the trouble. You will learn a lot about yourself, develop resilience and problem-solving skills, learn how to plan ahead, and get to see some of the country’s most famous landmarks. Make a plan, pack your bags, and be prepared to meet new people and try new things.
One final thing to remember when you are taking a road trip is to be flexible. Don’t try to squeeze too much into each day, and always be sure to take your time. Enjoy the scenery, drive respectfully, and have fun!