The world is slowly starting to open itself up again after months quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak and things are starting to look brighter, a new normal. But the one that has a lot of people being hesitant on is air travel. Small confined space, hundreds of strangers, elbow to elbow with a pandemic still looming? No thanks for a while at least.
What about those who are still suffering from travel bug but can’t just hop on that plane just yet? Pack up your car and head out for a road trip! With WFH (working from home), quarantine bans lifting in most places, it is the best time to get out and see your part of the world.
Looking back to 2012 when I drove to California and back post-grad I had learned so much during those two weeks on the roads. From what to bring, the roads to take, meeting up with old friends in new places, the experience of that road trip still lingers today some eight years later. I amassed some ten, but surely there are more, tips I picked up from those 14 days out on the open road that’ll help yours go over smoothly!
Get a Rental
I learned this the hard way when I took my less than eco-friendly, gas guzzler of a V6 across 8,000 miles of the American road. Before we even left there had to be maintenance done to the car seeing how it was almost at 100k on the odometer. We barely got 24 mpg during a time (2012) when gas prices were $3.50/gallon on a good day. Couple in the added wear and tear from the drive and you’re PRAYING that nothing breaks down, a tire doesn’t get punctured or a belt doesn’t rip away.
There are plenty of car rentals out there that provide unlimited mileage upon request when renting their vehicles. Not only can you pick a vehicle with better mpg, but something roomier and more reliable. A good peace of mind to have also is knowing you’re not putting your own car through the rigors. I highly suggest you go this route.
Pack Light – No Really Go Light
I can’t stress this enough! On my trip I allotted everyone a duffel bag worth of clothing needs, but alas no one ever listens. My trunk was filled to its brim with luggage, plus a personal bag, camping gear, and nicknack. Somehow my car turned into the overhead bin of your local Spirit Airliner.
Over the years I learned that packing light is the only way to go. You’ll have more space for things to pick up along the way like trinkets and souvenirs, but most importantly all the memories. Also, you end up not using half of the stuff you brought with you in the first place! You know the old rule of measure twice cut once? Here it is look at what you’re bringing and take only half of it!
Have Cash On Hand
In our world of cashapps, venmo this, PayPal that, having money, actual paper money, on hand seems a bit prehistoric. But having cash on hand still proves to come in handy on road trips. The occasional parking meter than doesn’t take credit cards or payment through apps, the diner running it old school to avoid card fees or bargaining at the local swap meet. I always keep a few bills on hand for emergencies, when an ATM (who withdraw fees are outrageous if out of network) isn’t nearby, or the dreaded minimum requirement forces you to spend a little extra. That little extra over the long haul adds up.
Stay with Friends on the Road
One of the best things about road trips is crashing with friends throughout your route. If I were honest some parts of my route were planned to see some friends along the way. Why not if you are already out on the road. Staying with a familiar face brings you many pros in the way of little cons.
- A tour guide who knows the area
- Couch quarters that is homier than another dingy hotel mattress
- Cheaper lodging at the rate of a good dinner
OK maybe I sold the pros a little too much and came up with only a few examples, but these examples ARE WHY YOU CRASH WITH THEM! During this trip, we spent half of our time in motels and the other half waking up on couches to the smell of waffles being cooked. The latter is certainly always a better mood booster than the former in the morning.
Split Up Driving Turns
Quite a no brainer when it comes to driving cross country as you’ll be spending a ton of time sitting inside a metal cage. No one likes doing all the driving, I certainly don’t. The oh’s and ah’s coming from passengers looking outside the windows is enough to make me want to murder those who didn’t sign up to drive. OK angst out of the way it is best to split it your driving so everyone stays sane.
I have done multiple 12-hour long hauls and overnight stints to know it isn’t the greatest. With some basic math, you can figure out the optimal drive time. Take however many people and split up the days drive into equal parts. Fewer people? Rotate frequently but always split among four slots, for four people. Basic math.
12 Hours Of Driving / 4 People = 3 Hours stints of driving
12 hours of Driving / 2 People = 6 Hour stints of driving.
6 hours of Driving / 2 People = 3 Hour stints rotated frequently and so on and so forth.
Stop & Get Out – A Lot
Probably the most important rule here is to stop and get out when you see something that interests you. There were countless times when we were driving that I saw something pretty wild and just HAD to stop. The biggest truck stop in the world in Illinois, Native American handmade jewelry stands in Arizona, the Colorado River through a valley in Denver, and the loneliest road in America that stretches for a desolate 160 miles with no gas stations in Nevada.
This will certainly add time to get to your destination but the destination is seldom the end. It’s how we get there that matters and if that meant exploring along the way to fill the soul then so be it. Also, you’ll need to stretch the legs after all that driving.
Play Games on the Road
When you drive for 12-16 hours a day getting from one destination to the next it can be a bore. With nothing on either side of the highway besides cows and corn, you run out of entertainment quick. It’s key to play some games in the car, keep it entertaining, talk and get to know your friends some more.
You’re on a trip some consider once in a lifetime! Make it worthwhile.
This is the perfect opportunity to dive into someone whom you may have never gotten the chance with before. Bonding happens on long haul drives from coast-to-coast. Don’t sit in the car for the whole ride playing video games and not engaging with your friends.
Load The Playlists
Once you leave the dreaded circumference of your familiar towers you’ll be greeted with lovely radio static. In this day and age with Bluetooth, Spotify, Pandora, Google Music, whatever you’re using, you best make sure to create a jam list. Music is such a great proponent of life, it’s our rhythm, the soul speaking, time markers of life to a certain song. It’s prom, your wedding night, even your road trip.
Making a good playlist will remind you of that time you took a road trip post-COVID-19 and the feeling of being back out in the world. We yearn for that, so load up the list and make sure a good few Britney Spears classics make its way onto it.
Plan Your Route – WISELY
Marking your route is easily the hardest thing to do. That is such an oxymoron thing to say when I think about it, but alas it is true. Where to go, how to get there, and what to see all end up being viable questions. In the past, I would always opt to see the most in the least amount of time. Fast forward to now and my mantra is about the quality of time spent no matter how much you can fit in.
We used Google Maps to plan our loop of the United States. The program made it easy to plot cities one after the other and have a visual. Plus you can share the map with others and they can make changes to it. Wonderful when you have many people wanting to see different things. I will suggest coming together a few times before the trip and plan out what you WANT to see and route out that way.
Choosing The Right Travel Buddies
I am a big proponent of solo travel these days but when it comes to a road trip you want to experience it with some of your best mates. Choosing your companions can prove to be a more difficult task than one had imagined. Why? Remember when people tell you how you won’t really know someone until you lived with them? That same thought process carries over to being in a car for days on end with someone! Imagine being stuck side by side all day, all night, sleeping in the same hotel room, eating the same meals for days on end.
On the flip side this is an opportunity to really get to know your friends on a more intimate level. Some of the conversations I had during my road trip opened a window into the people I was traveling with, been friends for years with for that matter. It helped foster longer lasting relationships among some of my friends while the opposite is also true.
Looking back on this cross-country road trip I can only foster good memories. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, camping out in Yosemite, driving through the Grand Canyon, stopping off the highway in Louisiana for my first taste of cracklins, and more. The night drives into the early morning, immense sunsets, long desolate roads, we had it all. I learned a lot about a lot during those two weeks away from home, but the biggest thing I took away was that America is indeed a beautiful place.
Load up your car and explore your neck of the woods. There is no better time than NOW.