So often, we love going places but we often are in such a hurry to arrive at some fabulous locale that we think nothing of savoring the process of getting there. That’s where road trips come in.
Despite oft-increasing gas prices, ditching the skies for the roadways can be surprisingly cost-effective. On the road, you can bring more of what you need, set your own schedule and plan carefully for expenses. Driving also allows you to take in the topography, the changes in flora and fauna, the charm of small towns and to spend time with good friends.
Road tripping is not for everyone, though. If you’d rather tear out your hair than be on a multi-day car ride, take a plane. But if you’re game to slow down the pace, then here are some tips to make it fun, frugal and as safe as possible.
Vehicle: If you’re taking your own car, get a tune-up. The bill may hurt, but not as much the pain you’ll feel if the car conks out in the middle of nowhere.
You can also rent a car. Most places have discounted weekend rates, ideal if you’re only going for a few days. Some things you should check beforehand:
- Find out the mileage limit for the car.
- If you’re abroad, find out if you can drive the car internationally.
- Choose who can be the authorized drivers.
- Find out what ID is required to rent the car (for you and any other drivers).
- Review the insurance polcies for the rental company, your car and/or credit card. Sometimes your individual insurance extends to rental cars. Sometimes your credit card covers you and private insurance may be back-up in case you get in an accident. In any case, know your policy and don’t buy what you don’t need.
- Finally, gather important phone numbers on a notepad in case you have an accident or car trouble. AAA or another roadside assistance service may work in your own country but if you’re going across borders…not so much.
- Google Maps or the like is obviously the best way to get step-by-step directions and a visual guide for your route.
- If you’re abroad and the data charges are too high, there is an alternative. A map. Like an actual one made out of paper. Go old school with a folding paper map, preferably with street-specific view.
- Plan and study your route ahead of time. See if there’s a scenic route you can take, at least for part of the way.
One word: Strategize.
- What time you want to leave/arrive? Which times are best to avoid traffic? If your navigator says the trip takes 9 hours, factor in stops for gas, meals, sightseeing and rest.
- If you do make overnight stops, figure out exactly where those should be. You don’t want to find yourself driving around late at night and having to take the first hotel room you can find because you’re tired and desperate.
- Decide who will drive when, and for how long. Some people are more alert at certain times of day and some people are more comfortable driving local roads rather than highways.
- Hey, Driver: Stay alert, keep your eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel, follow the traffic rules, be safe. Listen to your body. If you feel yourself getting tired or cramped, stop. Use cruise control when you hit long, stretches of road.
- Yo, Front-seat passenger: Navigate and be the driver’s assistant. Get the driver snacks and beverages. Pay attention to the driver and see if they’re getting tired. Control the radio and air.
- Oi, Back-seat passenger(s): Be the entertainment, tell jokes, go to sleep, take photos. 🙂 Avoid being the back-seat driver.
Bringing your own food is a great way to cut expenses. You can buy a nice cooler online or a disposable one at your local grocery store for next to nothing. The night before, pick up a bag of ice and stock up on healthy travel foods .
None of this means that you shouldn’t occasionally stop for a sit-down meal at someplace called The Greasy Spoon. A fun part of road tripping is eating at mom-and-pop diners and other local eateries you wouldn’t see back home. (Avoid chains you can go to anytime!). But sometimes you will be so grateful to be able to stop, throw together a sandwich and some muchables, and keep going.
Road trips are looooonng. No matter how long you think you can talk to your friends, you eventually will need some type of diversion to keep the fun going.
- If your car has an AUX outlet, you can get a cord (for cheap) that will connect someone’s phone to the car. Then load up your player with on-the-road playlists, audiobooks, and podcasts (I love This American Life and Stop Podcasting Yourself). Don’t forget a charger that can plug into the car.
- If there is no AUX connector, there are attachments which use cassette tapes (seriously) or let you play music over a radio frequency. In my experiences these are often jittery, unreliable and too expensive to justify the cost.
- You can always roll the dice and have fun with local radio. Who knows what you might stumble across?
Even music and podcasts may get tiring. Time to break out the road trip games. Some of our faves are the Cow Game and the License Plate game but do a Google search ahead of time to see what other games are out there. Bring out the oldies from when you took family trips or just make up your own.
ON THE ROAD
You’re not walking the red carpet here. Nix the stilettos in favor of flats/tennis shoes, especially when you’re driving. Yoga pants or similarly flexible pants are very useful. Layer your clothing. The temperature will fluctuate as you drive, and not everyone in the car may agree on the heat or air conditioning.
Basic rules of the road:
Follow them. You’ll be in unfamiliar driving situations so err on the side of caution. Pay close attention to the road signs and to what other drivers are doing. (Look, we know that you’re a really good driver, but not everyone else is.)
Once you hit the open stretches of highway, set your cruise control and just go. Frequent stops and starts use more gas than going at a constant speed.
- Plan where you’re going to stop. Outside of major cities is best because gas rates are usually cheaper.
- NEVER top off the gas tank. It could cause spillage and that is very bad. Always squeegee the front and back windows.
Again, use cruise control. Pressing a gas pedal for several hours is more tiring than you might think. Using cruise control can help you drive longer.
- Take time to get out of your car: get some fresh air, stretch, take a quick walk or try a little yoga. Just like on an airplane, sitting in a car can make your muscles tense.
- Stay hydrated, for all the reasons we already know it’s important.
- If you are tired, STOP. Pull over into a parking lot or rest stop. Or consider getting a hotel. It’s better to spend unexpected money at a hotel than to get seriously injured.
Keep your valuables on you or out of sight when you leave the car, even if for a minute. Thieves often target cars without local plates because chances are your whole life is in that car. Secure your luggage in the trunk.
If you’re crossing a border, remember that it’s just like at the airport: Stay calm, be honest, don’t get flustered if they start searching your car. Save yourself some grief by researching what you can and cannot bring into another country. You have nothing to hide, right? So don’t sweat it.
- Record your trip. Take photos. Post on Facebook. Tweet. Blog. Make silly videos of yourselves. Write down the funny things you and your friends say. It’s okay to make your Facebook friends jealous.
- If you’re splitting the costs of the trip, tuck a small notebook into the glove box and use it to keep track of what everyone spends for food, gas, lodging, supplies, etc. It will make it easier to settle up at the end of the trip.
Remember, road trips are not for rushing but rather for enjoying the parts between point A and point B. If you see a town with a funny name, take your picture in front of a sign or shop for souvenirs. If you see signs for a wacky little museum, go for a visit. Take the scenic route. Take the side roads. Sure it will take longer, but what’s your hurry?