I live in California, the third-largest state in the U.S. There is no shortage of things to do here, but I’m embarrassed by the lack of California landmarks I’ve visited. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to get off the beaten path in San Francisco, drive to Monterey, or even explore Costa Mesa, a city 30 minutes from my house. I’ve been to the big cities and some other cool places, but I’ve never been to Big Sur, Yosemite, or even Joshua Tree. Ridiculous, right? That’s because I’m a (reformed?) road trip hater, and road trips are the only way to see most of these places.
To be honest, sometimes I feel like road trips are as American as apple pie. People seem to love road trips and I’m often faced with disbelief when I tell people it’s still my least favorite form of travel. Although nowadays with new #VanLife movement, I’m starting to think that maybe I just need to turn my car into a campervan for road trips instead.
When you live in Los Angeles, you spend an ungodly amount of time in your car. For those of you who aren’t familiar with driving in the city of angels, this SNL skit is a pretty accurate representation. We love to complain about traffic and discuss “shortcuts”…kind of how the British are with the weather. So, needless to say, the idea of spending extra time in my car doesn’t exactly leave me screaming “vacation!”
Recently though, road trips have started to grow on me. I’d still prefer pretty much any other mode of transportation to get me from point A to point B, but I’ve finally learned some tricks to make road trips fun…or, at the very least, bearable. So I present to you 11 best road trip tips for a road trip that doesn’t suck.
Table of Contents
1. Make it about the journey
No sh*t, Sherlock. I know, I know. It took around 20 years of “road trips” between Los Angeles and San Francisco with my family to realize this, though. If the only point of said trip is to get to a specific destination, then of course the journey isn’t going to be fun. It’s looking forward to upcoming stops, seeing the cool scenery, and maybe even staying at a hotel off the freeway for the night that makes it enjoyable (like I did in Ireland). So the first of the best road trip tips is, if you don’t have anything fun planned for the actual driving part, then you’re in for your own hellish version of Are We There Yet?, so start planning now.
2. Pick the right person (or people)
I already wrote about choosing the perfect travel companion for trips abroad, and this is no different. If you’re spending hours in the car with someone, you should have a good enough relationship to be comfortable with quiet time, chatting time, and air-guitar time. Nothing is worse than having your introspection interrupted by your chatty companion (or vice versa). When I did a Puerto Rico road trip, my mom was an awesome travel buddy!
3. Bring good stuff to listen to
I know a ton of people who never get tired of listening to music. Ever. That’s totally fine, but I’m not one of those people. I like to mix it up – music, podcasts, audio-books, and even silence. If I’m driving with a friend who wants to blast music for an entire 8-hour car ride, we’re going to have a bad time. This links up to the previous tip, so it’s two of the best road trip tips in one – pick a great travel companion who shares your taste in music, or lack thereof. I was an excellent DJ on my Oman road trip, if I do say so myself.
4. Be spontaneous!
One of the pros of a road trip is the ability to stop wherever you want, without having to follow a rigid travel plan, like my family and I did in Costa Rica. So I say plan a little, but be flexible. Choose a route that actually has cool stops, but don’t feel obligated to stop unless you want to. Same goes for booking hotels. Hotel Tonight is great for a last-minute booking, although Expedia and Booking.com (affiliate link) offer last-minute deals as well.
5. Set a budget
Gas prices are somewhat out of your control, but food and accommodation are in your court. This is one of the best road trip tips for harmony between you and your travel companions: make sure everyone generally agrees on how much they’re willing to spend per day, and make decisions accordingly.
6. Bring good snacks and water
I’m not here to preach healthy eating or anything, but I never feel great after eating a fast-food meal. If you do, then kudos to you! Either way, in-between snacks are always good to have, and you save money by not spending $3 on a pack of almonds at the gas station. Better yet, plan your entire road trip around the food, like I did while exploring Ireland’s Ancient East.
7. Get off your phone
You’re on the road for the scenery, not to be distracted by the Internet. You can do that at home.
8. Have a GPS handy
Your phone signal will not work everywhere. I’ve learned this the hard way. Bring a GPS (and ideally, a friend with a different phone provider :D). Being lost isn’t anyone’s idea of fun spontaneity.
9. Agree on the driving plan
Are we driving for a certain number of hours or miles per day? Is there a destination we want to hit? How are the driving “shifts” being split up? I doubt one person wants to be driving the whole time, so one of my best road trip tips is to make sure you all agree on this so there’s no resentment.
10. Clean your car throughout the trip
Just because you’re spending most of your day in your car doesn’t mean you need to feel like you’re living in a pigsty. Plus, this avoids the hassle of having to clear out your car at the end of the day when all you want to do is sleep.
11. Set an end date
As a (former) road trip hater, the last thing I want someone to tell me is “we’ll get there when we get there”. This is still my last-resort form of travel transportation, remember? For the sake of everyone’s sanity, set a start and end date. I also recommend keeping the road trip on the shorter side, because at the end of the day, you’re still going to be spending a lot of time in the car.
So, while my preferred choice of travel is still by plane or train, I’ve slowly become more accepting of road trips. I’m particular about my travel companions and about how long the road trip will be, the two most important of the best road trip tips for me, which has made me enjoy them that much more.
What do you think? Are you a road trip lover or hater? What are some of your best road trip tips? Share in the comments below!