Taking a road trip is more than just a drive, it’s an entire experience that’s filled with memories and exploring hidden areas on the way to your destination. You can blast your favorite music, take in the beautiful scenery, and stop at numerous roadside attractions. To me, the drive itself is just as much fun as vacationing at my destination. This summer, my boyfriend and I will drive to Joshua Tree. Although our trip is short when compared to some of the other adventures I’ve embarked on, I’m still using the same tools to plan for this voyage. Whether I’m driving a few hours away or crossing multiple states, here are the various tactics I use to prepare for a successful road trip.
Choose your destination.
Are you looking for a getaway that’s only a few years away or are you looking to explore the country? Depending on how far you want to travel, it will impact how you plan for your road trip. Even though my trip to Joshua Tree is about two hours away from Los Angeles, there’s a ton of things to see along the way there. I’m looking forward to making these stops just as much as exploring the desert.
Book your hotel or AirBnB.
If you’re preparing for a cross-country road trip, or heading to a destination that’s more than a few hours’ away, you’ll want to make reservations for a place to stay while on the road. Start by figuring out how long it will take to get from point a to point b. Then, think about how many hours of driving you wish to do each day. For example, if you plan to drive eight hours before taking a break, research what state and town you will be in as the evening approaches and book a hotel or AirBnB, and do the same for your trip back home. (Don’t forget to factor in time spent on sightseeing and stops for dining.) Another option is to look for locations to camp under the stars. These areas are often found at various national parks and campgrounds on most major freeways. Here’s a list of the best places to stargaze in the U.S.
After you’ve planned for hotel stops on your way there and back, choose a place to stay for once you arrive at your destination. Try to find a location that’s central and has plenty of things to do and see all within a few hours distance. Once I get there, I like to do as little driving as possible since I was just on the road and will be again for the drive home.
Make reservations a
head of time
Discover things to do in the area by referring to travel books, talking with friends and family, reaching out to guest services at your hotel, and searching the Internet. After I’ve made a list of places I’m interested in visiting, I’ll break it down into five categories. Well-known attractions (locations that are all over Instagram), unique experiences (places that are usually under the radar), adrenalin defining adventures (hikes, water sports, zip lining, etc), restaurants (quick and easy to fine dining), and shopping (from retail areas to must-see stores). From there I’ll plan out specific days where everything is close by, and I’ll make reservations well in advance.
For my upcoming trip, I’m doing things differently because of the Covid-19 restrictions. While most are being lifted, there are still a ton of businesses that would have normally been open and either closed, or their hours have changed. Also, many are operating at 25% to 50% capacity which makes getting a reservation a little trickier. Because of this, I’m trying to book everything a lot sooner than previous trips I’ve planned.
Plan your route.
There may be multiple routes that offer completely different experiences. Do you want to get there as soon as possible, or would you prefer a scenic drive with numerous stops? Whenever I’m planning a road trip, I’ll do a quick Internet search by entering my location and my destination to see what others say about the various ways to get there.
Once that is narrowed down, research attractions along the way. I recommend the app Roadside America, where they feature offbeat and odd landmarks all over the country. I’ve been using it to help plan my trip and I can’t wait to stop at the metal dinosaurs, the party cat, and the desert art museum.
Next, decide on the best time to leave. If you’re traveling on heavily trafficked freeways, a good option is to leave early in the morning or late at night. If you don’t mind the traffic, driving during the day will be your best option for sightseeing. As you plan the route, don’t forget to look for rest stops and research where they are so you’ll know ahead of time. Using the iExit app is a valuable roadside companion because it lets you know about upcoming gas stations, food stops, and hotels.
Discovering places to dine at can be one of the best parts of a road trip since you’re able to sample the local cuisine. If you’re traveling through multiple states, I recommend stopping at restaurants that serve what each state is most famous for. For example, if driving through Nevada I’ll Google “best shrimp cocktail” near my destination and see what comes up. After reading reviews on travel websites I’ll do one last search and that’s on Yelp. If the restaurant has great reviews then I’ll add it to my itinerary.
Make sure your car is
ready for the open road.
Before you leave, check that you have enough oil, gas, windshield wiper fluid, and coolant. Then, have your tire pressure, battery, belts, brakes, and engine looked at. Keep a spare tire and a roadside safety kit (this one comes with jumper cables) stored in your car, just in case. Inside your glove box, store necessary documents like your registration and insurance and always have your license on you.
You never know when you’ll be driving and suddenly there’s no Wi-Fi. This is common when you’re traveling through the desert, mountains, or a rural area. Before I leave, I download anything important like directions, maps, and music so if I lose my Wi-Fi connection I won’t get lost. If you’re concerned you’ll be without an internet connection for a long period, invest in a mobile hotspot like Skyroam Solis X Mobile Wifi HotSpot/Power Bank. It actually does a lot more than just keeping your devices online. You’ll be able to take photos, use your apps, GPS, check your email, charge your phones, and more…without contracts for SIM cards. Plus, it has Bluetooth.
Stock up on snacks
It’s not a successful road trip without a cooler full of snacks and drinks. After all, you never know when you’re going to have a craving and not be near a place to stop. I like to bring a mix of things from candy (Peanut M&Ms, Reece’s minis, and Snickers minis) to salty snacks (sea salt pita chips with Trader Joe’s Spicy Hummus, Limon Lays, Korean BBQ Kettle chips, and vegetable chips), and plenty of drinks (bottled water, energy drinks, and canned coffee).
Use travel apps.
Roadtrippers—Discover, organize, and book your trip easily and efficiently through the app. You can also save and organize the places you want to visit by category.
Waze—Plan your vacation with live updates from the road and get faster routes. The app also lets you know about toll roads, roadblocks, accidents, checkpoints, and any disturbances to traffic.
Google Maps—Enter the time you’re going to leave, and it will give you an estimate of how long it will take to arrive at your destination. There’s also live traffic updates, delay times, verbal instructions, and you can create your own map with places you want to stop at.
Spotify—From pre-made playlists ranging from moods to decades, artists to vibes, you can also make your own to stream on the road. P.S. Download your playlists before you leave in case you go through an area with no Wi-Fi.
Star Walk—Lets you find stars, constellations, and planets making it the perfect companion for a night time road trip.
GasBuddy—Find the nearest and most affordable gas, receive discounts, and get a gas card for cash back rewards. Some other unique features are their gas trip cost calculator, power outage tracker, gas price map, fuel insights and logbook, and even vehicle recall information.
iExit Interstate—An interactive exit guide that lets you know where rest stops are, where to eat, or get gas.
For an even more comprehensive guide check out Kristie’s list of road trip travel apps.
Make a road trip playlist.
There’s nothing better than singing along with windows down as you drive through gorgeous scenery. Some of my favorite Spotify playlists for the open road are Good Vibes, Roadtrip with Friends, and Bring Back the 2000s. You can also make your own like Kristie did. If you do, create one that’s filled with songs that everyone will know the words to like Juicy by Notorious B.I.G, Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, and Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.
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Photo credit: Kristie (taking in Jerome, Arizona)