The classic road trip has made a comeback. More Americans than ever are taking to the roads for vacations and family visits. According to a survey completed in May 2020 by the GasBuddy app, nearly one in three Americans said they planned to go on a summer road trip.
Road trips are a fantastic way to make memories and see new places and things. Whether you are staying local for day trips or hitting the road on a long bucket-list trip across the country, there are a few things you can do to make your trip better and memorable for the right reasons.
These tips will help you experience less stress and fewer arguments if traveling with others, and help keep you safe.
1. Outline Your Itinerary
Planning where you want to go, what you want to see, and how long you will spend at each place is important.
Otherwise, you could spend your entire vacation at your first stop, or rush through important visits and then have too much time at other less-important sites. You don't want an hour-by-hour plan but a general idea of what you want to see and do and how much time you think each activity or stop will take.
Be sure to build in some extra time for that last-minute thing you want to stop and see.
2. Determine Must-See Sights
I often ask everyone who is traveling together to make a list of two or three things they want to see or do and to share a few things that would be fun but don’t need to go at the top of the list. When everyone traveling together combines their items, you can usually hit at least two of everyone's top choices. Yes, everyone gets to do a couple of things they have their heart set on if you plan accordingly.
Pro Tip: As you plan your trip, don't plan too much driving in a day. Scenic routes are fun, but decide in advance the most time you want to spend driving and stick with it. Few people enjoy days on end in the car.
3. Know Who’s Traveling With You
Determine who will be making the trip. The success or failure of a vacation often depends on who you are traveling with and how compatible you are. If you are driving for hours and one of you likes complete silence and the other thinks you have to have a constant conversation, it might not be fun for either of you. Similar tension can ensue if one of you wants to just get to your destination as quickly as you can, but the other wants to stop at every other town to see new things along the way. Know who you are traveling with, how each person likes to travel, and how you will make this road trip work. Hopefully, you can meet in the middle or take turns with your preferences.
If spending the night, determine the sleeping arrangements in advance, too. When traveling with another couple, make sure everyone is on the same page. Some couples think sharing a room is cozy and fun; others want more privacy and want separate rooms for each pair.
4. Create A Budget
Some people feel a vacation is a time to splurge a bit, while others want to stick to a strict budget and do everything on the cheap. So this is something you need to discuss before hitting the road. Even if you are making a solo trip, you need to plan a budget. You will need to budget for gas, meals, lodging, activities, snacks, admittance fees, turnpike tolls, souvenirs, alcohol, and other drinks.
I usually determine how much I want to spend and then break down the costs from there. If you are traveling with someone, you need to discuss what type of places they desire to stay, the kinds of meals they will eat, and the total budget they can afford.
5. Join AAA Or Another Road Assistance Club
No one wants to be stranded somewhere. Whether you lock your keys in the car, have a dead battery, or encounter some other car malfunction, being a member gives you peace of mind and a 1-800 number to call to get the help you need. It saves you money and hassle. I've been a member of AAA for 36 years, and every time I have called them, I have been pleased with the service and the money I saved.
6. Make Reservations
If you know where you will be each evening, make reservations in advance. You will know you have a room and it eliminates the stress of worrying if you will find something.
7. Check Inspections
Make sure your car has all the proper inspections before you leave for the trip. If possible, have your car serviced a week or two before the trip as well. Ideally, you will check on this a week or two in advance so you have time to make an appointment. According to AAA, most breakdowns can be prevented by having your car serviced before your journey.
8. Check Your Tire Pressure
I know this sounds silly, but before you leave, you need to make sure all your tires have the correct pressure. You will get more miles per gallon of gas if your tires are properly inflated. Also, your tires will last longer. This is especially important when you have weather extremes. Not sure how much pressure your tires should have? Check the door of your car; it is usually listed there.
9. Check Oil And Wiper Fluid
Make sure you have sufficient oil and an extra quart of oil in the trunk in case it is needed. This is important because you can't always find the type of oil you need when traveling. My car takes synthetic oil and a strange blend. The first time I needed oil and was traveling, I had to go to five different places before I found the correct oil mixture. I wasted time I could have been having fun. Since then, I always make sure I have extra in my trunk before heading out on a trip. If you aren't sure what kind you need, it is in your owner's manual.
Pro Tip: Bugs, dirt, and other debris can inhibit your vision. Wiper fluid levels should be full when you begin your trip.
10. Stock Emergency Items
Double-check to be sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have a set of jumper cables and extra wiper fluid on hand in your trunk. I keep these things along with the extra oil in a trunk organizer. I also keep a blanket, an extra bottle of water, and a granola bar in case of emergency!
11. Clean Your Car
Before heading out on a road trip, clean your car.
Remove all trash. Clean the windows and mirrors. Run the sweeper on the carpet and wipe off the dash. You will feel much better about traveling in a clean car. When you stop for breaks, take empty bottles and other trash and properly dispose of them.
You might want to wash the outside of your car as well. In our family, I usually clean the inside, and my husband washes the outside the day before our trip.
12. Verify Your Passports And Drivers’ Licenses
If you are traveling out of the country by car, be sure you have an up-to-date passport. If your passport is scheduled to expire within six months, you may have a problem. So be sure to check this in advance and be sure you pack them.
13. File Confirmation Numbers And Addresses
If you have a hotel or other confirmation numbers, keep them all in one place. You can print and put them in a file folder or keep them on your phone.
I put them all into a note on my phone in the order I will need them.
Like the confirmation numbers, I keep a note on my phone of addresses and phone numbers for each hotel or destination we plan to visit.
This way, if we need to, I can quickly look them up on GPS or call the hotel and let them know we are arriving much later than expected, et cetera. This is especially important if you are staying at an Airbnb.
14. Get Some Cash
Credit cards are great! But there are times when you need to have cash for tolls, a soda, or whatever you need.
Always make sure you have a bit of cash on hand before you travel.
15. Download Helpful Apps In Advance
There are a few apps that make a road trip easier. Download them in advance so they are ready to use when needed. I recommend Google Maps, the iExit app for info on amenities available at exits, and diaroogle.com or the Flush app (for Apple or Android) for the lowdown on the nearest toilets and their conditions.
16. Pack Nutritious Snacks
Pack healthy snacks for the trip. Think fruits, protein bars, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, celery and carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and other veggies. Junk food can lead to fatigue, so don't blow your diet while on the road. Also, pack plenty of water. Or, better yet, have a reusable glass or stainless-steel water bottle for each person and refill it along the way. Dehydration can lead to headaches and crankiness. Be sure to pack these in an insulated bag or cooler.
Try to avoid sugary beverages while traveling. We often buy a case of water and keep it in the trunk. We put a few bottles in a cooler to drink as we go and then restock the next day from the trunk supply. It is less expensive to purchase a case of water than individual bottles.
17. Don’t Forget The Sunglasses
Be sure to pack sunglasses, even in winter. Driving while looking at the sun can cause headaches and make your trip unpleasant.
18. Don’t Forget Hand Wipes and Disinfection Wipes
Pack a tub or cylinder of hand wipes in the car. These are great for spills and sticky fingers.
The disinfection wipes are great for cleaning anything your hands will touch. Think gas pumps, credit cards after someone else has handled them, et cetera.
They can also be used to clean doorknobs, faucets, et cetera at your hotel.
19. Be A Smart Packer
Pack as lightly as possible; after all, you will have to transport the luggage several times during the trip. I also usually take a small bag or duffle and fill it with daily essentials, such as pajamas, toiletries, and one change of clothes to take in for just a night when we don't want to unpack everything.
20. Fill Your Tank
Nothing puts a damper on the start of a trip more than having to stop for gas a half-hour after starting. So fill up the tank the day before your trip. Also, as you travel, if you see an area with low gas prices, stop and fill up even if you still have half a tank. Keep the tank full an do it as economically as possible.
21. Remember The Cell Phone Charger
Be sure you have your cell phone charger and cord in the car. I have one that has multiple outlets, so I can charge several items at the same time. This is a lifesaver when traveling. (How did we survive before cell phones and GPS?)
I also make sure I pack a cell phone charging bank. While I rely on the car charger, emergencies do occur, and having a backup always makes me feel safer.
22. Start Early
Like many people in their 50s, my eyes aren't as sharp at night, so I prefer to drive during daylight hours. If you can get an early start, you sometimes beat the heavy traffic, and it is usually safer to travel during daylight hours. I always try to arrive at my evening destination before dark.
23. Pick Some Tunes
Whether it is your favorite tunes, a book on CD, a radio station, or a podcast, plan something to listen to in advance. Make sure you have headphones in case each of you enjoys different things.
24. Take Breaks When Driving
Plan to take a break from driving every hour or so. Don't just stop for restroom breaks and gas. Get out and walk a bit, and do some stretches. This helps with circulation and keeps you from getting sleepy when driving.
I’ve read that experts suggest a 15- to 20-minute break every two hours of driving.
25. Plan For Downtime
While I advise a planned timeline for traveling, be flexible, and don't schedule every minute of the day. You never know when you will come upon an unexpected place that grabs your attention. Stop at the roadside stand; spend an extra hour picking up seashells; make an unexpected stop at a museum. Sometimes these stops make the best memories, and they break up the drive. Allow time in your schedule for the unexpected.
26. Skip The Chain Restaurants
Eat local grub at bistros and cafes. If you want to get a flavor of the local community, find a restaurant that isn't part of a chain. Ask the locals where they recommend eating. Locals are more likely to give you their favorites, and they will be better than any online review.
27. Prepare To Have Fun!
Remember the trip's goal is to enjoy yourself, take in some beautiful scenery, learn new things, experience fun adventures, and make memories.
Editor’s Note: GasBuddy app’s findings, reported on by MarketWatch, are accessible here.