It’s almost the Fourth of July.
What better way to celebrate America than by hopping in the car and taking off for destinations unknown?
Taking off during a holiday weekend when you’ll be sharing the road with just about everyone else probably isn’t the best time to take the great American road trip, but it is a great time to start planning.
We recently concluded our own 10-day, 18-state, 3,650-mile trip and picked up a few tips along the way that can help any intrepid road warrior.
The following is a list of 10 ways to help ensure your road trip — be it across the country or across the state (driving across Kansas sure feels like going coast to coast) — is enjoyable, adventurous, and safe all at once.
10 Road Trip Essentials and Tips:
1. Plan ahead.
Sure, it sounds like a wonderful and romantic idea to just jump in the car and take off for wherever the road may take you. Generally speaking? Bad idea — especially if you’re on a budget. You’ll want to know how much gas will cost you, how much food to bring, where to stay, what to pack, and a number of other considerations, especially if you’ll be traveling for more than just a day.
2. Make your route based around people you know.
Take the opportunity to visit friends and family along the way. Not only does this cut down on accommodation costs, it’s much better to see a place when you’ve got a local guide. Plus, you should probably just visit your friends and family that you haven’t seen in a long time because, you know, you enjoy their company and want to see them and spend quality time with them. Right, asshole?
3. Don’t try to cram in too much.
Before we hit the road, we thought we would stop to eat and do some exploring in some of the bigger cities we would be passing through. Driving from New Jersey to North Carolina? Why not stop in Richmond, Va., on the way?
Don’t get caught up in this kind of thinking, unless you have no one waiting for you at the next destination and no time limits. We found that we just wanted to get to the next destination. Pulling off the road to fill up the tank and drain the bladders usually ate up about half an hour, sometimes more if we wanted a quick snack. Plan accordingly. If you want to get to Denver to see your old friend on his one day off, you probably won’t have time to stop in St. Louis for lunch.
4. Pack light.
Remember, your friends and family will allow you to use their washer and dryer during your visit. There’s no need to pack two weeks worth of underwear, or multiple pairs of jeans. Aim to fit everything into a backpack or small duffel bag. Nothing ruins a road trip like a set of luggage.
5. But pack for the just-in-case, too.
Ditch the extra clothes, but do bring a road atlas (in case the GPS signal goes out in the middle of Kansas) and a first-aid kit. Also, a AAA membership is cheap and offers peace of mind in the event that you break down on the side of the road or lock your keys in the car. It also comes with discounts for hotel stays and other attractions. Totally worth the money.
6. Make sure your ride is road-ready.
Get an oil change and tuneup. Rotate your tires, and get them filled to the proper psi. Have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic, especially if you’re taking off in the middle of summer, when over-heating is a common threat.
7. Gas up often.
Don’t let the needle get too close to E. Especially in Kansas, because Kansas hates gas stations — they are few and far between. Plus, your car gets better gas mileage if you keep the tank more than half full (or half empty, depending on your perspective).
8. Make sure you have plenty of listening material, like an awesome road trip mix.
But don’t limit yourself to just music.
We listened to all of John Steinbeck’s famous travelogue, Travels with Charley, but other audiobooks also help pass the time quickly.
9. Pack a cooler.
Bagels, deli meat, cheese, tomatoes, etc. It saves money and is healthier than most roadside options.
10. Use the restroom every time the opportunity presents itself.
When you stop for gas. When you stop to eat. When you stop to check the map. Seriously, every time.
And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Remember to appreciate the road, too, and not just the destinations. Road trips are a great time to reflect, to get to know your traveling companions better, and to take in the natural wonders and man-made oddities that fill the wide expanses of our great country.