Tips & Advice / Travel

Road Trip Ready: 10 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Adventure on the Road


Golden Gate Bridge

brb, SF.

I almost never put off buying transportation until the last minute. As a budget-conscious traveler, I can’t afford the price spikes that I encounter when I want to go somewhere on a whim. Sometimes I run into a deal and jump on it without planning much, but for the most part, I purchase my transportation in advance.

Last weekend I was planning to go to Los Angeles. It was going to be one of my last chances to see my boothang before leaving for Burning Man, one of my friends had a gallery opening that I wanted to support, and it’s always a treat to catch some of that LA heat. For whatever reason, I kept putting off and putting off purchasing my airfare, and when I finally hopped online to buy a flight, they were over $175 one way (usually I spend about $65 one way).

The next day, when I decided to look at Bolt Bus fares to LA, I started feeling kind of gross. My throat was hurting, I was coughing, and I was sniffly. I couldn’t tell if things were getting better or worse, and by the time I could tell that they were improving, the bus was sold out. I then considered a rideshare, but something about it seemed like too much of a stretch for some reason. I just kept thinking, “Why is getting to LA this weekend such a pain in the ass?”

Because it didn’t really feel 100% right to me to try and line up a ride last minute, I decided to put off my next LA trip until early September. I was pretty bummed, not only because I wouldn’t get to see my dude but also because I’d never failed to make it down there when I’d said I would. I kept imagining if it were me in his position, and that just made me even sadder.

Luckily, my roommate and a few other friends were planning a trip down to Los Angeles this weekend. When she mentioned it to me again this weekend, it was like the stars had aligned perfectly. And just like that, with barely any trouble at all, I snatched myself a ride to LA.

Now, Los Angeles is pretty dern close to the Bay Area, but far enough that I’d rather fly there than take a bus or ride in a car. I’ve only ever driven down once, and it was with a couple of friendly strangers I met on Zimride. But I have to say, I’m pretty excited to go down with some good friends — it’ll be our own little LA road trip.

As far as road trips are concerned, this one is simply a day trip, but I’ve taken week-long ones, couple-of-day ones, and have heard great adventures from others who have driven around for even longer. It’s such a cool way to see the scenery and get from Point A to Point B. But like any trip, you need to do a little bit of physical planning and mental prep to get yourself ready and in the right headspace, no matter how long or short the ride may be. Here are ten ways to get yourself ready for your next road trip!


Where to?

1. Be realistic.

Google Maps will show you the most efficient way to get from place to place, but that might not necessarily be what you’d like to do on your trip. I, for one, enjoy taking side roads–it’s more interesting and keeps me more alert when driving. Obviously, this tacks on not only extra driving time, but I might also get distracted by a spooky ghost town I come across or a scenic waterfall overlook along the way. And even if I did drive the quickest route, I’d still have to stop for gas, food, and stretch breaks along the way.

It’s better to err on the side of caution and allow yourself a little extra time to get places than it is to feel like you have to rush to get somewhere. Not only is it completely impractical to schedule only driving time (when will you eat!? when will you pee?!), but you won’t get to actually enjoy your trip at all.

Of course, the amount of extra time you’ll need to factor in will depend on the type of road trip you’re wanting to have, and it requires a bit of trial and error. During a solo road trip on the east coast I was driving on smaller roads and stopping frequently, so I allotted extra hours to my trip. To get to Washington state with some friends, we drove through the night and only stopped for food and bathroom breaks, which meant we only needed a bit of buffer time. Start out with your best guess, and as the trip progresses adjust as you see fit.

2. Make sure the car is in working order.

I don’t own a car for many reasons, and I never did. Even when I lived in South Carolina in high school, the car I used to drive to and from school was my parent’s. I know my dad will shudder when he reads this, but I drove a little Civic around for probably two years and never once did I take it in for an oil change. Not once! I know, what a punk.

If I were to get a car today, I’d certainly have to be much more responsible about caring for it–which is probably one of the big reasons I do not own an automobile. I just couldn’t deal with it. I’m an incredibly intelligent person, but I do not have the brain space to deal with all the maintenance a car entails. My cat is enough responsibility, and even then sometimes he’s too fussy for my taste.

Now that I’ve completely convinced you I’m the absolute worst person to loan your car to, let me say that while I don’t desire owning a vehicle in my day-to-day life, I do take it very seriously when it comes to using other people’s cars and to staying safe while traveling. So to avoid major problems on the road, take responsibility and make sure the car you’re driving isn’t going to fall apart on you. It’s better to take care of the problems before the trip than to have to deal with them on the go!

3. Have some goals.

You don’t have to plan out your entire trip — in fact, I highly discourage you from doing that! — but even having an end destination in mind can help you figure out your route each day. For the short drive down to LA this weekend, we have three main things we want to accomplish: stop by Casa De Fruta for snacks (it’s evidently an experience), get In-N-Out for lunch, and make it to LA by the early afternoon.

We’re obviously less interested in exploring side roads or taking longer routes (like Highway 1) because the big goal of this trip is to get to Los Angeles, and everyone is clear on that. If I were joining everyone this weekend thinking we’d be taking a lot of lovely side roads, I’d be sorely disappointed.

So, with everyone involved, decide on two things: the must-see stops and the overall vibe you’re going for. The must-see stops can help you map out a route and keep you excited about hopping in a car (which, after a few days in a car with the same people, can be difficult). And the vibe you’re going for will help you figure out how important it actually is to see all those stops. Want a super-chill, laid-back road trip with your closest friends? Having a detailed itinerary of places to stop each day will probably drive them crazy. Stay focused, don’t miss out on something you know deep down you’d regret missing, and have fun.

VW bug

So…who’s paying for gas?

4. Decide what expenses will be shared (and how you’ll share them).

It goes without saying, but whenever you travel with someone or a group of someones, you should all agree on what expenses will be shared. On top of that, you should determine how to make sure everyone can contribute equally to those costs. Resentment over money is a surefire way to make sure everyone has a less-than-stellar trip.

How will you deal with filling up the gas tank? What about snacks that the car shares? What if the car needs any kind of maintenance along the way?

Once you’ve agreed on what qualifies as a shared expense, then just make sure everyone keeps receipts. Take some time either at the end of the trip, the end of the day, or at a few stops along the way (depending on how long you’re gone) and see how things add up. Then whoever needs to can pay the difference.

The best tool to do this is Venmo. I’ve been insanely happy with how easy it is to pay friends for even the simplest things. Additionally, when I get paid, I only have to wait 1 day for the money to show up in my bank account, instead of 3-4 with other similar services. This makes dividing up expenses, even small ones, a no-brainer.

I know that talking money is never the funnest part of trip-planning, but it certainly helps in avoiding unpleasant surprises! That little bit of time everyone takes to get on the same page will make the trip better for everyone.

5. Share responsibilities.

There’s never an opportune moment to come down with strep throat, but I have to say that right before I hop in a car with two other people so we can perform in Seattle the next day is less than ideal. Seriously, I felt like death, and on the ride up all I could do was whimper and chug water mixed with honey, apple cider vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Because I was in a Nyquil-induced coma most of the way up, I didn’t help with the driving, but I did pick out CDs to play and help with directions when needed. On the ride back home, I happily picked up my fair share of driving hours and gave my friends a break.

Sitting in a car for hours on end can be super boring, even with the funnest and coolest of friends, and not to mention stressful. One of the best ways to battle the boredom and the worry is to switch things up. Alternate playing DJ, acting as a navigator, and driving. My butt gets sore just sitting in the car for longer than an hour, so if anything, take frequent stops to stretch and offer to switch responsibilities. Unless everyone agrees and on a different situation, everyone should be prepared to chip in however they can.

Car on the road

Note to self: do not try to read a map and drive at the same time.

6. Drive safe!

During my solo road trip from Massachusetts to South Carolina, I decided to travel without using a GPS system. I had one, but I really wanted to get myself there the old-fashioned way. It was actually a wonderful experience. Instead of just mindlessly listening to Siri spout out directions, I knew exactly where I was and where I was going every moment of the trip. I was so incredibly proud of myself when I reached my destination.

However, since I was alone, there was no one to help me navigate, and I am ashamed to admit that I engaged in some pretty dangerous driving that trip. I specifically remember driving around a windy, mountain road with an atlas in my lap, looking up at the road, down at the map, and up again. Just…no.

Seriously, it’s not worth it. Take the extra 30 seconds and pull off to the side and figure out where you’re going next. The same goes for heated arguments, car selfies, or for when drivers start to feel sleepy. Just. pull. over.

I wish I’d done that, and if I’m ever in the same situation again I will make sure to. It’s safer for everyone on the road!

7. Snack hard.

As a vegetarian, traveling can be frustrating. Unless I’m in or near a major city, I can run into serious issues finding a decent meal that isn’t just a grilled cheese sandwich with greens on the side. Road trips are especially problematic — when I’m traveling through little towns it sometimes feels like all I can find is BBQ or a burger joint, so then I’m stuck relying on gas station snacks like Cheetos and Gatorade to get through the day. Woof.

Get snacks you like beforehand and have plenty of them. The chances of finding a gas station with a bunch of your favorite, health-conscious snacks in stock is slim, so bring them along from the start. My first choice is always fresh fruit, but I also love dried cherries or strawberries, cashews, and fruit leather. This way, if I’m stuck with a questionable veggie burger at a run-down roadside diner, I’ll at least have a little somethin’ extra to keep me happy until the next official meal.

Driving through Seattle

Games for the car ride are a must.

8. Don’t be afraid to get stupid.

To pass the time, you may want to engage the entire car in a few road trip games. Fun! Only problem is, you do have one driver who has everybody’s lives in his or her hands, so the game can’t be occupy too much of that person’s attention. This is where stupid games to pass time become your best friend.

My favorite of all the games, hands down, is Would You Rather? I play it regularly, even when I’m not on a road trip. Seriously, it’s a hit at parties, bars, anything. It’s just that good.

The game is simple: one person asks, “Would you rather ___, or ____?” and everyone in the car answers. Hilarity ensues.

I’ve had some pretty epic rounds of this game, but I think the question I came up with that I’m most proud of is, “Would you rather only be able to express yourself by yelling (“YOU LOOK NICE TODAY,” “I’M GOING TO RUN TO THE BATHROOM,” “I JUST WANT TO BE FRIENDS,” etc etc etc.) or would you rather only be able to express yourself through interpretive dance (*insert smooth dance moves here*)?


9. Prep playlists.

I go absolutely crazy in a car with no music. How do people do it? I’ll never know. Music while I’m driving keeps me awake, alert, and it gives me a great chance to practice belting some of my favorite songs. Yup, I’m that girl when I drive — the one who literally gives no craps about how weird she looks as she drives around singing her heart out. Even if I’m alone. Especially if I’m alone.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right songs to keep on truckin’. Relying on the radio is a fine idea, but you’ll have such a better selection and more reliability if you create a few playlists beforehand (if you need help with that, go here). Play them from your phone, a CD, or whatever works best for you, and you will be so thankful to not have to deal with flipping through channels only to hear the ends of every song you want to hear. That is just the worst!


Accept life’s detours.

10. Be flexible.

One of the most valuable life lessons I’ve learned so far is to let go.

You can spend all the time you want planning and plotting, hoping, and wishing, but when it comes time to really live it, let it all go.

Don’t be afraid to let the unexpected happen on your trip. Definitely do research, pick spots you want to see, and plan things, but also let go of the reigns from time to time and see what you might encounter. There is no amount of planning and prepping for a road trip (or any trip, really) that will make you have the “perfect trip.” You’re going to run into problems, there might be arguments, and things are guaranteed to not go as planned. But just take a deep breath and admire the beauty of that!

What have your road trip experiences been like? Where did you go, and what lessons did you learn along the way? And, most importantly, would you rather only be able to express yourself by yelling or would you rather only be able to express yourself through interpretive dance?

Photo credits:
Death to the Stock Photo

7 thoughts on “Road Trip Ready: 10 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Adventure on the Road

  1. I am new to your blog. But, reading this post brought back memories of when my parents used to load up the car, and take my siblings and I, and drive cross country. What a great experience it was. Something I plan on doing in the near future.

  2. I’m really becoming a fan of your writing! Reading this I can see myself in planning a trip! Just set a destination and the time to get there is secondary. Sometimes the most unexpected thing waits around the corner and being in a hurry just might make you rush by …

  3. Pingback: Wanderlinks 12.18.14 | Tremendous Times

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