Ah, the open road. There’s truly nothing like it. Riding in the car with your windows down, the wind blowing through your hair while Springsteen plays in the background… It’s an experience only to be had on a cross-country road trip.
But before you set off on this superlative journey, it’s vital to first make sure you’re fully prepared for any sort of bend in the road.
Below is a list of useful tips for planning a road trip, detailing everything from advantageous GPS apps to friendly reminders that will make for a smoother ride.
After all, tramps like us were born to run!
1. Don’t rely on technology
How awful would it be if you’re hundreds of miles away from home, halfway through your road trip, driving down a dusty dirt road and, all of a sudden, the GPS on your phone completely stops working? Now you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and have absolutely no idea where you’re going. You look around and there appears to be no one in sight; not a gas station, motel, nor restaurant. You have officially reached full panic mode.
Even though it’s 2018 and we tend to rely heavily on technology, doing so on a road trip could lead to disaster. If you’re traveling through rural areas with small populations, you could get weak signals and lose the ability to navigate maps on your phone or GPS device.
Before you head out on your road trip, make sure you have hard copies of maps, brochures, and print-outs of any addresses and directions to hotels, motels, or campsites. Having hard copies of maps with your route outlined will help you in any sort of technological bind you may encounter.
2. Download some apps
Ok, we know we just told you not to rely on technology during your road trip, but it also wouldn’t hurt to download some traveler’s apps before embarking on your journey that will help with pre-departure planning and mapping along the way.
Weblog Lifehacker suggests downloading Roadtrippers, a service that uses Google Maps-based directions to plan your route. With this app, you can save and edit your trips and calculate fuel costs, time and distance.
Along the Way offers travelers a new way to search for hotspots while exploring the open road. This app works anywhere in the world, using your route to provide interesting places nearby, such as pubs, cafes, landmarks, and restaurants.
Remember how we told you not to rely on technology during your road trip? Luckily for travelers, there are new mapping apps out there that don’t require a data plan or service to work, just in case you find yourself off the grid or without signal along the way.
According to Wired, an emerging technologies magazine, there are now various apps that feature GPS with offline map support. These offline maps require your phone to use its built-in GPS radio, working independently from your data plan. Download these apps before your road trip and use them if you accidentally venture into no man’s land!
Click here for Wired’s review of four GPS apps that work offline.
If you’re interested in learning more about optimizing your phone for travel, check out 4 Must-Have Travel Apps And How They Work.
3. Bring some entertainment
Don’t forget to stock up on new music, games, DVDs, podcasts, and playing cards, especially if you’re traveling with the grandkids.
Having that recently released third season of Unexplained on your iPod will help keep you awake when driving through the night, and kids will stay entertained while watching their favorite episodes of Peppa Pig throughout the trip.
If you’re renting a car for your road trip, don’t forget to have the right technology with you in order to access your entertainment, i.e. a cigarette charger, USB port, charger cables, etc.
4. Have your car checked before departure
Get your tires rotated, change your oil, and make sure your car is fully-equipped for a lengthy road trip. Head to your local mechanic about a week before your trip and have them check the vehicle’s fluid levels, brakes, and anything else your mechanic sees fit to make sure there isn’t a problem with your vehicle that you weren’t aware of.
Also, make sure to have all of the appropriate documentation with you, such as drivers’ licenses and proof of insurance.
5. Make reservations ahead of time
Though being out on the open road provides travelers an ultimate sense of freedom and the temptation to just “go with the flow” and plan along the way, it’s also not very fun to find yourself stranded without any place to sleep due to lack of preparation.
Make hotel or other accommodation reservations ahead of time. If you’re going camping in certain areas, just make sure you know how to get there and that you plan ahead enough to arrive during daylight with plenty of time to set up your campsite.
6. Purchase a gas card
One of the biggest expenses while road tripping is, of course, gas. Purchasing a gas card will result in a ton of free fuel points, discounted groceries and cash back on hotels.
7. Have a coin purse handy
Though some states in the U.S. have ditched their toll roads, many still remain, so carrying a change purse to pay for tolls along the way isn’t a terrible idea.
Missing tolls and having to pay for them afterward is a huge pain; avoiding this situation altogether will be in a traveler’s best interests during his or her road trip.
8. Bring a spare key
This may seem like an obvious tip, but bringing a spare key is a must-do for a road trip. Put it in your wallet, purse or backpack and carry it with you at all times.
You never know when accidents may occur along the way, and having a spare key handy could save you lots of time and trouble. Plus the slapstick embarrassment of locking yourself out of your car. (We’ve all been there.)
9. Consider joining AAA
If you do in fact lock your keys in the car and didn’t bring a spare, having AAA (Automobile Club of America) will be your life saver.
AAA offers not only roadside rescue, but they are an excellent resource for travelers, offering planning assistance, destination guidebooks, and more.
10. Have a plan, but not a definite one
Living out your ideal road trip is a combination between going with the flow and having a plan before setting out on your adventure. It’s always smart to have an idea of where you want to visit, and to reserve a majority of your accommodations in advance.
At the same time, road tripping is about spontaneity, and you don’t want to have a jam-packed schedule with little time for impromptu adventure and exploration. Our advice? Balance. Balance your time between structure and spontaneity, and you’re sure to enjoy your road trip to the fullest.
11. Embrace the journey!
Going on an extended road trip will inevitably lead to some unexpected bumps along the way. You might get lost, run out of gas, book the wrong date for your hotel, or get a flat tire. Don’t panic! These hiccups are all part of the journey. These are the “mistakes” that lead to great stories you go home and tell your family and friends.
So, embrace the journey, roll with the punches, and you’ll set off on an adventure that will give you memories to last a lifetime.