Bags of snacks crinkle against your legs as you adjust the position of your feet and recline back in the passenger seat. You take a deep breath of hot desert air as brick-red mesas race past the window. Road trips are a great way to end the summer with a bang, and for many they mark the start of a new chapter of life as incoming and outgoing college students eagerly relocate to new cities. There are many ways to make a road trip experience go smoothly, from finding a suitable driving partner, to careful packing of the vehicle, to strategic planning of stops.
Finding a suitable driving partner is crucial, since a good partner can make the experience great with interesting conversation and funny jokes, while a bad partner can lead to squabbling throughout the trip, and seemingly lengthen the duration of the drive. A first step is finding common ground in music or books. If your partner loves rap and you love classical music, there’s likely to be some tension over who gets the aux cord. If music can’t be agreed upon, perhaps there’s overlap with taste in books. Audio books can be a great resource during long road trips, especially since they’re a good way to stay awake at night while your passenger sleeps. It’s also a good idea to travel considerately: avoid wearing strong perfumes and check ahead to see whether your companion may have any food sensitivities to snacks you’d like to bring.
Careful packing and preparation of your vehicle can also make your roadtrip go more smoothly. It’s a good idea to have water, lip balm, and sunglasses on hand where they are easily accessible while driving. It’s also helpful to pack a bag (a backpack or a canvas tote works well) with toiletries, pajamas, charging cords, daily medicines, and a change or two of clothes, depending on how many nights the journey will take. Keeping this bag accessible and sorted separately from the bulk of your luggage is super handy to have for overnight stops.
I like to stuff my toiletries into a zippered makeup bag, so they can be easily transferred from my overnight bag, to my duffle bag, to the bathroom for easy access.
For children, it’s a great idea to also pack them each an activity bag filled with favorite books, activities, or entertainment devices (and extra power banks). I also like to keep a stash of snacks close at hand.
A case of emergency water is essential (and a bag to collect bottles in for recycling upon returning home, as not all regions have widespread recycling programs). Any sort of emergency can occur, from a flat tire (and no tow truck) in the Mojave Desert to becoming carsick in the Rocky Mountains and requiring emergency teeth brushing.
Along with water, it’s a smart idea to keep a reserve of medicines on hand. Good ones to consider include dramamine for carsickness (along with a spare gallon-sized Ziploc bag), imodium (paired with a spare roll of toilet paper, in case the only gas station restroom for miles is out of it), allergy medicine (along with tissues), ibuprofen, alka seltzer, lactase, eyedrops (staring at the road for hours is a good way to get dry eyes), and electrolyte tablets (it’s very easy to get dehydrated while driving, and nobody wants to be stuck in the car with a migraine). When traveling, I also like to bring Emergen-C to avoid having a cold ruin my trip.
Along with careful packing of your vehicle, preparing it ahead of time is also vital. It’s a good idea to have your oil changed, to have any balding tires swapped out for new ones, to replace worn out windshield wipers and brakes (steep grades in Utah or the Rocky Mountains are not the time to remember you haven’t changed your brakes in years), and to top off fluids. It’s also smart to ensure that your climate control is working correctly, since many highways across the country run through long stretches of desert.
Another vital consideration for road trips is strategically planning stops. It’s a good idea to stop and swap drivers or rest at least once every three hours, or when you become tired. When caravaning, plan the next stop each time you meet up, as you may encounter extended durations without cell service. Every three hours is also a good rule of thumb for eating and for finishing a bottle of water. Truck stops are a great place to take a break. My favorite is Love’s. The bathrooms are always clean (I’ve seen staff actively cleaning the restrooms on multiple occasions), there’s often a dog run, they are well-lit, and the interior layout appears to be very similar at many locations, making it easier to find snacks and get back on the road.
Vegetarians and others with special food considerations should plan ahead with extra care, as there are often long stretches of highway with few plant-based food options. A safe bet is usually Starbucks, as they often carry a couple vegetarian sandwiches. Some fast food locations such as Carl’s Jr. and Freddy’s may offer plant-based burgers as well. Another great option is to order a cheeseburger without the patty, to make it a veggie-filled grilled cheese sandwich. Before leaving for a trip, I like to make sure I’ve packed snacks like protein bars as a last resort.
There are many ways to prepare for a successful road trip ahead of time to set yourself up for success such as securing a suitable driving partner, packing the vehicle well, and planning ahead. Proper preparations can make the difference between a smooth trip and one that drags on for seemingly ages.
Are we there yet?