When you do a quick search for “road trip planning,” the typical results include vague suggestions like bringing healthy snacks, saving money on gas, and fun car games for kids. That’s all well and good for a nice little drive in the country for a few hours. But what about a real road trip? 5,000 miles plus? In the throes of planning our next great adventures, here are my personal “tried and true” tips for planning a successful extended road trip.
1. Don’t overschedule.
This seems a bit conterintuitive, especially when you consider that you’re reading a post about planning. Some of my favorite memories involve the most spontaneous moments! I learned this lesson the hard way when I booked 4 nights in Las Vegas before a trip and the stay seemed about 3 nights too long! Unless you are traveling to a very popular destination on a busy holiday weekend, campsites and cheap hotels are pretty easy to come by. Hotwire and Priceline often offer the best deals at the last minute – I’ve booked many hotels day-of without any troubles. You can often extend your stay by talking to the check in folks when you arrive – they can sometimes match the rate you found on Hotwire if you simply mention it!
2. it’s not all fun and games
Unlike a relaxing beach vacation (which I looooove), a long road trip is a little more ho hum at times. There will be grocery runs, hours wasted at the local laundromat, lots of sandwiches and granola bars, and your life’s quota of questionable showers.
3. take it slow
Enjoy the simplicity of staring out the car window. Don’t feel guilty about hanging around to read a book instead of sightseeing. Sleep in when you’ve splurged for a nice hotel. Spend an hour using the Starbucks wifi. You’re not going to be able to see everything anyway, so don’t try!
4. Talk to strangers (and maybe even get into their van…)
This is one of those things your mom warned you never to do, but I promise it’s worth it. To me, travel is about the stories. Put yourself out there – I’ve had Spam for breakfast with a retired couple we met at the hotel pool, toured a stranger’s new camper, and taken ice cream suggestions from a few probable hoodlums in an In N Out.
5. pack half of what you think you’ll need
Frequent travelers live by this advice and it is true! Find a laundromat once a week (they have wifi now, so catch up on your email while you wait) and wash your wardrobe. I think it is kind of freeing not to have to choose your outfit – you wear whatever’s left! This applies to food as well. Get some essentials before you leave and stock up along the way. Fresh stuff only lasts a few days in the cooler anyway, so you have to do frequent cooler clean-outs if you pack it with more food than you can eat. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at America, there’s a WalMart pretty much everywhere. You can buy what you forget.