Road Trip Planning Tips (for when we can travel again!)

As most of us are sheltering in place, and definitely not traveling for fun, it’s a good time to think about where we’ll go when it’s safe to take a trip again. And a road trip seems the perfect first outing, once restrictions are lifted. Here are some planning tips from TRED correspondent Ronald DiMaggio, from his pre-quarantine road trip earlier this year.

When you think of a road trip, there are likely a few things that come to mind. Sunshine, hair blowing in the wind, loud music, a pleasant feeling of freedom, etc. What you probably don’t think about, however, is back pain, traffic jams, and eating nothing but cold cuts for two days straight. 

Sadly, the latter list is the one that you’re more likely to encounter on your road trip… but it’s not all bad news! Back pain and traffic jams aside, I still had a great time on my last road trip, and the unpleasantries actually added to the charm of adventure in their own unique ways. That being said, I won’t knock you for trying to minimize them, so in this article, and with the power of hindsight, I’m going to go over some of the things that I learned from driving from New Jersey to Florida in one shot, and then back a week later.

1. Know your route

Knowing where you’re going is one thing, but really knowing your route is another. In my case, I traveled along I-95 for almost my entire trip, and that was about as much as I knew about the route. What I didn’t know, that I wish I had, was the sheer amount of famous attractions that I’d be passing by. I didn’t do much research before leaving, and simply assumed that gas stops would be the only ones we’d make, completely disregarding the potential for making stops at places much more interesting than Exxon.

So, my advice to you is this: do some research and find some cool attractions to stop at, whether it’s a national park, museum, or historical landmark. I would plan to stop at one every few hours or so, depending on how long your trip is. Stopping at cool places will mean you’re traveling to more than just the destination, and it will make the trip much more rich, in an adventurous sense, than it would be if you didn’t. It also gives you more chances to get out and stretch your legs, which is always a good thing.

2. Don’t stop for food, pack it

Stopping for food seems to be everyone’s go-to for road tripping, but I decided to go a different route. Instead, my co-pilot and I packed food in a cooler, which saved us both time and money. What food you bring is up to you, but I do suggest incorporating as much variety as you can, because we didn’t. We brought about a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches, granola bars, and a case of water. And that was it. The first two sandwiches were good, the last ten were a chore. So, learn from my mistake, and pack with variety in mind.

Plan to bring fun and varied snacks and meals! (image credit: REI)

4. Choose your car wisely

If you’re riding solo, then your only choice is to take your own car, unless you have generous friends and family. However, if you’re riding with a friend or two, take some time to determine which of your cars you’d most want to spend hours at a time in. The best advice is to choose the most reliable, and importantly, most comfortable car available.

3. Make sure your car is up to the task

Besides your co-pilot, your car is your absolute best friend on your journey, and it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s doing okay. If you have any scheduled maintenance coming up soon, do it before you go. Also, take a second to look at your brakes and tires, as these aren’t things you’ll want to have to get replaced midway through your trip. If you’re not confident enough to do this yourself, run down to your local mechanic and ask them to look everything over for you: the last thing you want is to be stranded.

Be sure your tires and brakes are in road-worthy shape. (Image credit: Allstate)

5. Don’t be in a rush

If there’s anything that you take away from this article, let it be this: don’t rush it. If you’re choosing to drive instead of fly, you’ve already thrown travel efficiency out the window, so don’t worry about getting to your destination as quickly as you can. Instead, don’t be afraid to make frequent stops, don’t try to drive too fast (because that’s both dangerous and tiring), and don’t constantly check how far you are from your end destination. Enjoying the journey is part of the charm of a road trip, and if you rush through it, you’ll turn what could be a fun adventure into just another day of traveling. And to top it all off, taking it slow will make arriving that much more satisfying.

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