Before 2020 I hardly ever planned a road trip. I believed that flying somewhere is the fastest way to get from point A to B, so why bother with the car. But that has all changed, and I admit I’ve come to enjoy road tripping now. I love the flexibility to leave when I want and not be a stress case about flight times. So in the past eight months Jason and I have taken several road trips and had a marvelous time exploring the West Coast. We frequently found ourselves saying, “Why haven’t we done this before?”
So here are my ten road trip tips that you need to know.
Table of Contents
Get Your Car Serviced First
I had been driving around with the “service needed” light on for several weeks. I knew that the car was due for it’s 10,000 miles service, but it didn’t seem urgent since I typically just drive to the grocery store and back. But when my 1200 mile trip to Utah and Arizona was approaching, I knew it was time to take the car in.
Before heading out for a long road trip, be sure to take stock of your car’s condition. Is it due for service? When was the last time the tires and brakes were checked? Has the oil been changed recently? Take care of your car before you go and you’ll decrease the possibility of any troubles while traveling.
Make Sure Everything At Home Is Settled
You'll enjoy your trip more if you know that everything is taken care of at home. So a few days before you leave, spend some time attending to these things.
Anytime we travel the first thing to consider is who will take care of our dog, Todd. Sometimes it's one of our adult kids, but other times we need to make arrangements for boarding. And if boarding is needed, that requires advanced reservations. The same will apply for any other pets you may have.
Here are few other things to take care of at home before hitting the road;
- Someone to take in your mail, newspaper, or packages
- Turn off heat or air conditioning
- All windows and doors are locked, and alarm system activated if you have one
Keep A Close Eye On Your Gas Tank
Two years ago while driving to Las Vegas, Jason and I failed to notice how low the gas gauge was. Living in an urban area, we rarely worry about finding a gas station, but on this trip we found out just how far apart gas stations can be. We were running on fumes when we finally pulled into a station. I swore I’d never let this happen again.
Once you hit the road, you’ll want to keep an eye on the gas tank. As busy city roads become long, open highways, gas stations may become less frequent. It’s always better to fill-up when you have the chance.
Plan Some Entertainment
Whether you’re traveling alone or with others, the time in a car can get boring. Decide in advance what type of entertainment you’ll bring along. Jason and I really enjoy listening to podcasts, so when we’ve run out of things to talk about, we turn to our favorites like This American Life, Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell, or TED Radio Hour. If you prefer listening to music, have your favorite playlists ready. Anyone not driving may enjoy watching videos on their phone or tablet, so be sure to have these downloaded before leaving home.
Have A Plan, But Be Flexible
I’m a planner. Before embarking on any trip, I’ve done so much research that I’m practically an expert on our destination. And while a general plan is a good idea before a trip, road trips are a great opportunity to allow flexibility. I’ll admit that I struggle with this, but road trips have really given me a chance to let go of the schedule, enjoy the ride, and leave room for a previously unscheduled stop.
Our family has been visiting Palm Springs, California, for years, and for most of that time we drove right past the Cabazon Dinosaurs, life size replicas of a T-Rex and Brontosaurus located right off the 10 Freeway. However, during a recent trip with my brother and sister, we decided to hop off the freeway and take a closer look at this funky roadside attraction. I must admit, this fifteen minute stop was far more fun than I ever imagined.
Flexibility is also required for road trips since traffic jams happen. Thanks to technology, a new route may be possible, but sometimes you’ll just be stuck in traffic for a while. When our kids were young we regularly drove from Southern California to Northern California to visit my parents during the holidays. The traffic coming back into Los Angeles can be awful, so there were a few times when we got off the freeway for a snack or meal to give ourselves a break.
Have A Roadside Assistance Membership
Many years ago we took the family for a two week trip to Vancouver, Canada. And somehow, twice in two weeks we managed to lock the keys in the car. Fortunately, our AAA membership was accepted in Canada and a locksmith rescued us both times.
Needless to say, in the event of any car trouble, a roadside assistance program like AAA is crucial. Prior to your trip confirm that your membership is up to date and that your card is in your wallet.
Pack Food And Water
Just like gas stations can become less common, places to stop for food or water may also be harder to find, so we always pack a cooler filled with water and snacks. If you’re traveling in the summer, having water available is especially important.
I like to bring along my own food so I’m less tempted by unhealthy options at convenience stores and restaurants. Some nuts, fresh or dried fruit, and granola bars are typically my go to snacks for a road trip. Personally, I head to Trader Joe’s before any road trip to stock up.
I think this is my most common piece of travel advice--leave early. It applies to almost anything. If you want to avoid traffic--or crowds--then get up early. Along the way, as you spot places to stop, you’ll likely be ahead of everyone else.
I do understand that some people are allergic to early mornings. So consider having the early bird drive and allow others to sleep in the car. This can be an option if you’re traveling with kids or grandkids. Allow them to start the road trip in their pajamas, bring along a pillow and blanket, and allow them to go back to sleep.
Eat Local and Support Small Businesses
One of the reasons I travel is to eat. In fact it might be my favorite reason for traveling. One of the many benefits of road travel is to eat at small, locally owned restaurants along the way. This is worth taking the time to research. Instead of searching for the exits where the road is lined with fast food joints, find something local instead. Fortunately, there are plenty of blogs, vlogs, and review websites that can help you find these places.
My sister and I were returning from a trip to Sedona, Arizona and were getting hungry. Beth Googled, “restaurants near us” and discovered Rock Springs Cafe, a 100 year old establishment famous for their pies. This kitschy stop included a jerky shop, rock store, and even a Jean Harlow Museum (she was a movie star that began her career in silent films). The decor was eclectic and the food very tasty.
Don’t Forget To Make Reservations
Many roadside attractions and restaurants are perfect for impromptu visits, while others are popular enough to require advanced reservations. If you’ll be passing better known and more popular spots, research if advanced reservations or tickets are required. The same will certainly apply to sites you want to see in your final destination. For example, several national parks including Yosemite, have recently implemented reservation systems. If your trip was supposed to include this, you’d be very disappointed to be turned away. As social distancing has become the norm, reservation systems have become common. Take a few minutes before your trip deciding what the most important sites are for you and determine if reservations are needed.