While many drivers want to get to their destination as quickly as possible, road tripping is a horse of a different color – a journey that should be enjoyed driving through back country roads, small towns, and the lesser-known corners of the nation. This will unveil a more authentic and unique experience – for instance, that time you stopped into that quirky town for lunch only to end up talking with one of the most intriguing people you’ve ever met. It’s these memories that will stick with you forever.
While it’s a time-saver (and easy on your wallet), stopping at any and every drive-thru diminishes the true character of a road trip, which is meant for exploring what makes the US so special. Resist the urge for Taco Bell, and head into an unknown town instead – here, you’ll find down-home cuisine specific to the region; who knows – you may just find your favorite new dish. Have some reservations about this? See tip #1.
While it’s always smart to have a rough sketch of where you’re going and how you’ll get there, sticking to the plan too much prevents spontaneity from peeking through – and spontaneity is essential to a memorable trip. Don’t be afraid to make a pit stop (not on the original plan), or switch routes or destinations – travelers should always be open to changing plans, especially when adventure is involved. Pro tip: should you get lost, fight the panic and calmly reorganize yourself before looking at a map and getting back on track; remember, sometimes getting lost is the best worst thing.
Being spontaneous also means accepting challenges when they come, should it be to face your fears or take a chance – such as bungee jumping off a bridge or taking a helicopter ride over the valley. Many travelers make the mistake of conserving funds too much, missing out on an experience that could potentially change their life in some way or another. While being conscious of what you spend, and where, is essential to a successful road trip, it’s important to always keep an open mind when opportunity comes your way.
This is an obvious tip for many – always pick a good travel partner as this, more often than not, will ruin your trip. While opting for your best friend or college roommate can be a safe route, try to coordinate a trip with someone you know you can stand being in a car with for eight hours at a time (you know, that person who enjoys belting tunes while driving just as much as you do).
Research and planning is a key part of organizing an epic road trip; there’s no need to plan every detail, but it’s always a good idea to make a few hotel reservations along the way. Don’t expect to drive into a town at 10 p.m., and book a room no problem – especially during busy holidays, weekends, and in small towns with less lodging available. Book rooms in a select few cities for a solid plan, but with enough room to make changes along the way.
Safety first, people, safety first. Always be wary of strangers – absolutely do not pick up hitchhikers – and don’t stop on the side of the road in the middle of the night (if you can help it). Traveling across the US can bring drivers into questionable areas, so be sure to think first, carry a smartphone and charger, and be prepared with information on roadside assistance should you need it.
It’s a habit for many people these days to wait until you’re nearly empty to fill up the gas tank, but this isn’t your average rodeo. Sometimes there are hundreds of miles between towns, especially in the Midwest and rural areas of America, and less access to refuel stations, so fill the tank at every chance you get – this will prevent mishaps along the road, and keep drivers safe (see #7). Plus, take these pit stops as opportunities to grab water for the ride – an essential for those long-distance trips.
One of the biggest mistakes road trippers make is filling the car with bags on bags, tents, games, and other random gear. It’s best to bring as little as possible to allow for a comfortable ride (hey, even a makeshift bed in the back would be ideal); the last thing you want is a plant on your lap, or a duffle bag jetting into the back of your head while commuting for hours on end.
At the end of the day, a road trip – no matter how far – is an experience nonetheless. A word to the wise: it will not be easy, things will go wrong, but if you keep an open mind, stay calm, and learn to go with the flow (even when plans change), you’ll find that it was all worth it.