Road Trip Survival Techniques

December 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Taking a road trip has always been exciting for me. I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the destination, and I like driving, so that makes car vacations a lot more fun for me than hopping on a plane to get where I’m going.

However, I’m also the first to admit that while road trips are fun, they get dead boring after the first hour. You pile in with your friends or family, chants of “Road trip! Road trip!” fill the car, and you play your favorite songs on the radio.

The Great American Road Trip - Death Valley

The Great American Road Trip – Death Valley

After about an hour, when everyone has (hopefully) quit chanting and you’re tired of the music, you realize you’ve got another 18 hours and 900 miles in front of you.

So how do you survive — both literally and figuratively — a long, multi-state, many-hour road trip? As a road trip veteran, I’ve got a few ideas, but I also checked with Lily Brooks-Dalton, the current Kerouac House writer-in-residence, world traveler, motorcycle road tripper, and author of Motorcycles I’ve Loved, about some of her suggestions.

1. Get your vehicle checked out

“Get your vehicle serviced before you leave,” Lily said, “and know how to handle it if things go awry.”

That means get the oil changed, get the fluids topped off, check the tires, check your battery life, and make sure your spare is properly inflated. Also, make sure your AAA card is somewhere handy.

Also, make sure you know how to handle a few basic maintenance items, like adding oil to your car, changing the wiper blades, jump starting the car, and changing a tire. There are plenty of YouTube videos that can show you this if you’re not sure, but try to practice in the weeks and months leading up to your trip.

“Don’t get stuck in the middle of Death Valley with a flat you don’t know how to change and not enough water,” said Lily.

2. Plan your route

I love Waze as my wayfinder when I’m on the road, but it’s not a good idea to just hop in the car, fire up Waze, and start driving in the general direction of your destination. Check out potential construction bottlenecks, weather patterns, and possible traffic patterns before you ever leave.

When we made our annual Florida trek every February, I always kept a close eye on the weather around Monteagle, Tennessee and I-40 running through the Smoky Mountains, as well as construction in and around Atlanta. We’ve had to adjust our route more than once based on a snow and ice storm, or traffic jams that could be 10 or more miles long.

The day before you leave, plot your route out on Google Maps, and look for construction markers. Next, check the AccuWeather Road Trip Planner to see what the weather forecast will be for your trip. The trip will only show weather for about 36 hours in advance, so you should recheck every 12 hours. Even if you have to take a different route, or leave earlier or later, it beats sitting in a traffic jam for three hours, wondering if you’re ever going to see your home again.

3. Plan your stops

You don’t have to plan every single stop on your route, but you should at least have a formula. We used to stop for gas and a stretch every half tank of gas, but realized that was only getting us 150 miles down the road, which was barely two hours of driving. We started stretching that to three-quarters of a tank, and that shortened our entire trip significantly.

More importantly, plan your stops for the night, so you can make reservations ahead of time. There’s something to be said about being flexible and hoping to find a decent hotel on Trip Advisor, but you never know when you’re going to run into conventions or special events that take up all the hotels.

4. Add some extra time.

“Think about how much driving per day you’re in for,” Lily said. “Five or six hours is pleasant enough, with room for stops. But if you’re expecting to put in eight or nine hours behind the wheel, it’s going to get old fast.”

Lily recommends leaving an extra day or two in your itinerary for emergencies, but also for a “‘say, this national park is really gorgeous and I want to see more of it!’ day.”

Since road trips can be very taxing, it’s definitely a good idea to leave yourself an extra day at the end to recover from the drive. But it may be a good idea to have a light first day once you arrive at your destination. Trust me, the last thing you’ll want to do after an 18 hour drive is to walk around a theme park for 14 hours the next day.

5. Download any and all media via your wifi

Every road trip needs music, or at least some good podcasts to listen to, while you’re driving. Make some playlists of your favorite songs so you can find them in an instant. Download all those podcasts you’ve been meaning to listen to. Rearrange the podcasts to play in a desired order, so you’re not hunting for each episode. And if you download some audio books, make sure those are all queued up and ready to play as well.

If you’re traveling with kids or someone who just wants to watch movies, download your movies or TV shows to your mobile device for watching in the car. Netflix now has a download option for certain TV shows and movies, so you won’t chew up your data watching shows in the car. (And please, do not watch movies on your phone while you’re driving. Keep your eyes on the road!)

What do you do to get ready for a long road trip? Do you make any special preparations or do you just wing it and hope for the best? Share your experiences and ideas with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: CCP Gray (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)


Erik Deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

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