Summertime is finally here, and with that, our thoughts turn to vacation and leisure time. One popular way to travel, especially in good weather, is by way of automobile. But how do you plan and execute your perfect road trip? If you’ve never hit the road before, there are several things to consider before venturing out. After making many enjoyable trips across the country by car, I’ve included my best advice here in hopes that your experiences traveling this way will also be satisfying and memorable.
Envision How Your Perfect Road Trip Will Look
It’s easy to get caught up in daydreaming about the romance and adventure awaiting you on the road. But in order to make those dreams come true, some advance planning is necessary. To ensure that your trip is stress-free and fun, begin by doing some basic research and brainstorming. What kind of experience do you wish to have? Do you want to travel to urban areas where you can visit museums, attend concerts, and tour historic sights? Or would you rather focus on outdoor spots where you can hike on trails, swim in a lake, or zipline through a forest? Combination of the two? Whatever the case, all travelers should have an opportunity to express how they’d like to spend time while away. Lack of communication and agreement in this key area of planning can easily spoil your perfect road trip.
Determine a Good Driving Strategy
Once you’ve determined the type of getaway you desire, it’s time to map out distance and estimated driving time. Granted, part of the fun of a road trip is the serendipity so often involved. But it’s important to consider how long everyone can tolerate being confined to the insides of a car. This is especially true when young children are traveling. Because face it, most kids have limited ability for remaining still for extended periods. Set a reasonable amount of time to drive each day, according to the distance of your final destination.
Don’t Risk Safety on Your Perfect Road Trip
Before you venture out, make sure that your car is in good working order. If possible, get an inspection of your tires, brakes, and cooling system beforehand. If you have a spare tire, make sure it’s inflated and you have proper equipment to change a tire. Remember to have your insurance card and roadside assistance numbers in the glove compartment for quick reference. Always carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, paper towels, and hand sanitizer in your car. Refillable water bottles are a good idea and are more environmentally friendly than packaged water in plastic.
In general, try to avoid driving at night — especially if you are unfamiliar with the route. It’s tempting to make time by motoring after dark. But it’s not really worth the risk of having an accident or getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. Plan your perfect road trip so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep and awake refreshed and ready to go.
Finally, once you begin your perfect road trip, you should keep a close eye on your gas tank. In fact, to avoid running short of fuel, get into the habit of filling your tank whenever it reaches the 1/2 mark. If you do that, you’ll probably eliminate the possibility of running out of gas. I remember a time when we were traveling across Kansas and needed fuel. But there were no service stations for miles around! I was sweating bullets as I clenched the wheel with worry. After the gasoline gauge had displayed “Empty” for several miles, I spotted a gas station and managed to avoid calamity. Never again will I travel an unfamiliar road and blindly expect frequent gas stations.
Use Reliable and Beneficial Sources of Travel Information
Even though with current technology, we have numerous tools such as Google Maps available to us, it’s always a good idea to have an old school paper map in the car when you make your perfect road trip. As I’ve learned the hard way, Internet and Wi-Fi connections are not always available when we need them! Use apps on your smartphone to help you locate nearby gas stations, restaurants, and hotels– but do have a backup reference.
When my kids were younger and we made family road trips, a popular travel service provided us with maps pointing out detours, road construction, and traffic delays. We also collected travel guides to use along the way. These helped identify points of interest, places to eat, and rest areas where we could stretch our legs. Nowadays, GPS in our cars and apps on our smartphones can accomplish much of this. But it never hurts to have a physical resource to supplement your digital technology.
Anticipate Fun and Be Flexible
Just as life itself is not so much about arriving as the experience of getting somewhere, the greatest joys of road trips are the people, places, and things you get to witness along the way. Make a list of interesting activities that everyone can enjoy as you travel to your final destination. This includes games and entertainment in the car, as well as short stopovers to check out interesting sights — or even a break for ice cream at a local sweet shop. Stay flexible, but do have a rough plan to prevent boredom and keep things stimulating.
While it often saves time to have an agenda, too much planning can lead to frustration and take away from any sense of adventure. Some of my family’s most memorable experiences on road trips were totally unplanned. Take, for example, when we stopped at a rest area and discovered an observation tower we could scale to get a spectacular view of the countryside. The kids found it exciting to climb to the platform, and we all marveled at the perspective that we couldn’t have gotten at ground level, much less if we had just stayed on the road in the first place! We probably wouldn’t even have noticed the tower in fact.
Focus on Comfort and Enjoyment
Your perfect road trip should be a happy and relaxing affair. Just because you’re traveling, there is no reason for anyone to be uncomfortable. So pack your favorite pillow, lots of healthy snacks and drinks, something to read, good music to listen to (hooray Spotify!), a camera (or your smartphone) to snap photos en-route, and anything else that brings joy as you travel. Because I’m a list maker at heart, I find it handy to jot down items to bring. I then check them off as I pack them into the car. Whatever you do, make sure all travelers help decide on items to bring and fun activities to share during travel.
Record Your Experiences on Your Perfect Road Trip
It doesn’t matter whether you write in a journal or take a series of photographs, you will want to remember your perfect road trip. I seldom go anywhere without my camera, and I never regret carrying a notebook and pen to record names of places I visit while traveling. Later, it’s fun to share key memories with your fellow travelers. Oftentimes, they might recall some detail that you might have totally missed. When everyone makes note of their experience on the road — and tells about it — suddenly the trip comes alive and you can look back on the good times you had together. And that’s the greatest gift of your perfect road trip — good times and great memories. Happy trails!