Hitting the open road in your car is one of the best ways to enjoy gorgeous scenery and local culture. But a road trip can go off the rails in a hurry if you aren’t careful, which is why you’ll want to take a little time to plan a disaster-proof excursion.
Road trips can have an awesome “spur of the moment” feel to them that sparks enthusiasm and adds to the excitement. However, it’s important to think about the basics before you go so you don’t end up spending extra money on redundant items or services. A little forethought will make your vacation that much more exciting and memorable.
Whether you’re headed across the country or across a municipal border, here are a few dos and don’ts to make sure your next road trip is the best yet.
Nothing puts a damper on a road trip faster than breaking down on the side of the highway. Before you venture into the great wide open, visit your mechanic for a tuneup so you know everything’s in proper working order. This may include replacing an old car battery and changing the oil in your car.
You’ll also want to stash a car emergency kit in your trunk and consider getting a membership with a roadside assistance service just in case you do run into trouble. Don’t forget to fill up the gas tank, either. Some stretches of your route may not have any gas stations, so you don’t want to get too low on fuel.
Road trips are more fun with the right co-pilot(s). Make sure your vehicle-mates are people with whom you’re comfortable spending hours in the car. That may sound like a simple task, but it’s easy to frazzle each other’s nerves when you’re covering miles and miles of territory. You’ll have even more fun if you bring traveling companions who share your taste in music and road trip games.
The real fun of a road trip is being able to go wherever the road takes you, making unexpected stops when attractions or vistas catch your eye. But that doesn’t mean you should take off with no plan at all. Come up with a loose itinerary of the locations you want to hit, when you expect to arrive, and what you plan to do when you get there. An itinerary is especially important to if you plan to stay in hotels or motels along the way because you’ll likely need to make reservations.
Although you’ll be on the road, you likely won’t be going completely off the grid. Don’t forget to bring along portable chargers for the devices you plan to use — smartphone, tablet, laptop, and so on.
While road trips usually cost less than airfare travel, the expenses can still add up. Create a budget to cover anticipated expenses including gas, tolls, food, lodging, and entertainment. It’s a good idea to bring a generous amount of cash along in case you visit a restaurant or attraction that doesn’t take credit cards and you can’t find a convenient ATM. You may also want to invest in a money belt to keep your money and cards safe and out of sight.
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re packing for a road trip because you may not always know what type of clothing and supplies you’ll need along the way. But to avoid taking up too much backseat or trunk space, it’s usually best to limit yourself to a single duffle bag or carry-on luggage bag. And if you’re staying in hotels, you won’t want to lug a bulky suitcase in and out of the car at each new destination.
Trying local cuisine makes for serious fun on a road trip, but you don’t always know when you’re going to find a restaurant or convenience store where you can grab a bite. That’s why you shouldn’t hit the road without at least a few snacks in tow. Pack both salty and sweet treats to satisfy any craving, and don’t forget beverages like bottled water or canned soft drinks. Throw a cooler in your backseat, and fill it with ice to keep drinks and perishable foods like fruit, veggies, and sandwiches cold while you drive.
If you’ll be stopping off at a public park or campsite, you might decide to dine al fresco for a meal or two. A small, portable grill won’t take up much space in your car, and you may prefer using it over a public grill that has been handled by hundreds of other people.
On a road trip, there are probably going to be plenty of sites — and moments — that you want to capture for posterity. Capturing photos is a great way to memorialize your trip. You could always use the camera on your smartphone, but for photos of the best quality, you might want to bring along a solid digital camera.
If you prefer to use your smartphone, we recommend investing in a selfie stick. That way, you won’t have to ask strangers to take photos of you and your traveling companions.