The idea of a road trip tends to sound exciting. Simply getting into a car and driving. Images of sunsets, mountains and long open roads are often associated with road trips but I’m a realist so I see all the planning required to make a road trip happen. Mind you, I tend to be the overly organizational type of person bordering on OCD which means that I will plan way more than necessary. However, the important part to remember is that a road trip is meant to be a vacation which means not stressing. Whatever happens, try to go with the flow and make the most of your vacation! 🙂 When planning a road trip, there are several factors to consider:
The first thing to decide is what you want out of this trip. Is it a trip to the beach? Are you looking for adventure? Are you looking to just get away and see a different place? Is there somewhere you went and wanted to revisit? Do you have a specific end point in mind and just want to take the scenic route there? The length and destinations of your trip are largely dependent on the purpose you have in mind. What are you driving? I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a safe and sturdy vehicle. Regardless of how long or short your trip will be, getting stuck on the side of a highway is not going to be a welcomed experience. Take the car in for a check up about a week or two before starting your trip so there is enough time to get any problems fixed. Of course there is always a chance that something can go wrong en route. For those situations it is important to have some DIY roadside “fixer-upers”on board with you. Good things to have are a working spare tire, a compact car jack, battery jumper cables, a lug wrench with a pry bar on one end and socket on the other, a tire pump, a strong flashlight, and a couple of thermal blankets. Having a spare set of lights (headlights/taillights) is a good “just in case” but they are also relatively easy to come by at the nearest Walmart type store so it’s not a dire necessity. It’s always a good idea to have two keys made for your car. Try to have the spare in a bag that you always remove from the car or give it to another person travelling with you just in case you accidentally lock one in the car. Having some sort of roadside assistance such as AAA/CAA is also helpful because you can never be too prepared when it comes to car trouble.
Making sure your car is protected is not nearly as important as making sure you are covered! As a Canadian, I always get Blue Cross travel insurance wherever I go. It’s relatively cheap and covers medical expenses into the hundred thousands. There are others you can get through various banks and organizations so ask around as you plan your trip and get a few quotes before deciding on one.
Food really depends on the traveler. Personally, I’ve learned that it’s best to pack for 1-2 days in advance with meals and about 1 week in advance with snacks. Anything more than that will either spoil or you’ll just get sick of eating car food. Pack a cooler! Even if you don’t have ice in it, you are better off storing your food in there for any amount of time especially for summer road trips because it tends to get hot in a parked car! It’s also handy for driving around town all day with groceries before you get back to your hotel/campground/wherever you’re staying.
This might be the most important factor of planning a road trip! Come up with a REALISTIC amount that you are willing to invest into this trip before you start planning where you want to go. A good way to make sure you stick to the budget is by reserving hotels and campgrounds in advance and know where they are (which also takes care of wandering around a new city later) and buying at grocery stores more than eating out. Of course you’ll want to go out for a nice meal when you get to your destinations, but you’d be surprised how much money you can save by not eating out at roadside diners and fast food stops along the way. Check the price of gas along your trip. Gas prices tend to fluctuate greatly from one city to another so make sure to consider that in your budget. Also, don’t forget to keep an emergency fund on the side for anything that could go wrong on your trip (i.e. your car breaks down and you need a flight home or you need to stay at a hotel for a few extra nights). But most importantly, make sure to budget for some extra excursions or shopping because after all, this is a vacation!
Just because you are driving doesn’t mean you want to pack your car to the point of exploding. Personally, I like to keep the back seats as empty as possible, with the exception of the cooler, overnight bag for stops between destinations, and my backpack with electronics and such. There is usually another snack bag nearby. Organization is the key for the trunk. I like to layer, starting with flat things like tarps for camping and placing less used things in the bottom back and the more used things (i.e. suitcases) on the top where they are easily accessible. Seems logical and pretty straightforward. However, in terms of general cleanliness throughout the trip, pack a few plastic grocery bags to use as car garbage bags to dispose of each night. It’s pretty difficult to keep the car in perfect order throughout the trip but the best you can settle for is promising yourself a major detailing job when you get home.
So there it is. Pack wisely and have a great time!