15 Simple Road Trip Hacks for a Safer and Saner Travel Experience
By Dejan B.. Published on April 27, 2017
So, you've decided to cash in those vacation days for a long-distance road trip. What do you do now? You have a couple of choices, road nomad: channel your inner Jack Kerouac or read these incredibly helpful travel tips.
- Be less civilized. Don't plan your trip around touristy parts of major cities and other trendy trip destinations. The whole point of driving is to experience real places at slow paces. Use this opportunity to stay off the beaten path for a while and explore the little things life has to offer. It's amazing what you'll see and what you might learn about the world – and yourself.
- Don't prepare too much. Technology teaches us to find information on everything. The best road trips have a sense of serendipity. Planning a general itinerary is a good thing. Planning every minute of every day... not so much. Leave yourself some time to linger, or even to get purposefully lost. That, my friend, is adventure.
- Freeways don't pay. See what we did there? Face it, freeways are boring. They're, well, civilized. You see nothing and miss everything. Be brave! Get your butt and your old Beamer onto the back roads and open your eyes to the world. It's perfectly okay to slow down. You're on vacation – all you have is time.
- Theme your trip. Most travelers organize their trip planning by knowing in which hotel they will stay at the end of the day. That's not living, that's purely logistics. Anchor your vacation in a more creative way. Plan your trip around botanical gardens or beaches along the route. Taste your way through key lime or peach or pecan pies, blogging the best of them. Take a picture of every "Welcome" sign at every town you encounter along the way. Talk to one person at every stop just to ask them "What makes you happy?" Be inspired by Lovelle Drachman, who said, "Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures".
- Don't forget to recharge the batteries. With all the technology that you'll likely be toting – phones, laptops and tablets – you'll need a charger. Rather than pull power from your car battery, a portable solar recharger or lithium ion battery can make sure you're energized wherever you are. A lithium-ion battery can also serve to emergency start your car.
- Download a gas price app. Fueling up will be one of your biggest expenses and most important road trip responsibilities. Use a gas price app to find service stations along the route and save yourself a few cents on every gallon.
- Change is good. While plastic is the preferred way to pay in many places, carrying small amounts of cash is still smart. You might find yourself in small towns where parking meters still require coins, in a big city where you may want to tip a busker or bellman, or at a cash-only fruit stand at a rural farmer's market. You could miss out on a fuller life because of your empty pockets, poor you.
- When it comes to emergencies, prepare too much. Plan for emergencies like your lives depend on it because, well, they do. Whether you're traveling alone; at night; in urban, rural or backcountry areas; or in extreme altitudes, weather conditions or temperatures, things can go wrong. A good emergency kit contains the critical tools you need to repair basic mechanical failures and keep occupants safe until help arrives.
- Technology can suck. Bad navigation has driven people over the edge – literally. Inaccurate GPS-based navigation can be inconvenient and downright dangerous, and it happens more often than you might think. Depending on your travel destination, you may also experience spotty cell phone connections. So, do yourself a favor: get printed maps and double check your routes along the way. You can even make it a fun activity by tracing the route you take with a marker or highlighter and adding the paper map to your travel scrapbook.
- Find the hole in the wall. Nobody likes a poseur. We're not telling you to look like the natives, act like the natives and speak like the natives. That would be rude and, frankly, disrespectful. But if you're going to be a stranger in a strange land, at least get the lay of the land. Forgo the visitor bureau brochures, fast food franchises and social media apps, and ask locals for their recommendations on things to do and places to eat. A great road trip should reveal regional flavors – savor them!
- Cars for canines. Let's face it. Your best friend isn't really the person sitting in the passenger seat singing badly out of tune with the headphones on. It's your dog. Pet-friendly vacations are easier than ever. They also give you companionship, force you to take healthy breaks for food and exercise, and help you to build social connections with people you meet along the way. Remember to pack a blanket, food, water, a spill-proof water bowl, toys and other pet necessities, and secure your pet using a travel crate, seat-belt harness, pet barrier or other secure car restraint).
- Exercise and eat healthy. When it's time to plan your road trip, it's easy to let childhood nostalgia convince you that cheese puffs, fast food and sugary soft drinks is the travel cuisine of choice. Not so fast. Staying in a good, safe frame of mind and focused on the road means maximizing your comfort and minimizing fatigue. Snack on healthy, filling foods like fruit and trail mix that won't give you sugar highs and caffeine crashes. Drink plenty of water. You can even keep your cardio up by doing "rest stop workouts" and light stretches at fuel station fill-ups.
- Let the games begin. If you are travelling with others, games can be a great way to pass the time. They can also be effective at turning potential conflict into collective fun. If discussions get heated or start to turn to uncomfortable subjects, introduce word-related car games or conversation-starters like "Would you Rather". For everybody's safety and comfort, agree to table valid arguments until the next rest stop or hotel/campground check-in and restore a positive vibe as quickly as possible. Life's too short to fight, and the road is way too long.
- Pack destination bags. A two-week trip requires one big suitcase or duffel bag, right? Maybe not. Consider packing a small bag tailored to each stop or general region rather than using bulky luggage. This way, you'll have everything you need without having to unpack and repack your whole wardrobe each time. This also gives you a way to easily keep dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes. This is especially helpful if you'll be traveling to different altitudes or changing seasons where wardrobe requirements might be quite different.
- Avoid the pain in the neck. We're not talking about people here, people. Most vehicle ergonomics still haven't quite caught up to the unique needs of long distance travel. In other words, car manufacturers assume that car occupants will be awake and alert for the duration of a trip. That's why everyone – adults and children - needs a comfortable neck or seat belt pillow. Whether a quick "cat nap" or sleeping through a nighttime driving marathon, a good pillow will prevent sore, stiff muscles and pinched nerves in the shoulder, back and neck. If you're taking a long trip as a passenger or sharing driving duty, stick your neck out and get the best pillow you can afford.