Despite the increase of gas prices, road trips continue to be popular. They have a certain kind of romance to them which is perhaps why important details and realistic plans are often overlooked; making the trip go from dreamy to nightmare in only two days on the road. How many people do you know, after having come back from a car trip, have said that next time – they’ll fly!
However, if you prepare for the trip and do a few modifications while on the road, I promise you a successful trip ahead. And trust me – I’ve learned from experience what does and does not work after having driven across Europe and America several times. And in preparing for my upcoming three week drive across Canada, I’m going to take my own advice!
Car safety is one of the biggest issues and often the most overlooked. If you do not know how to change a tire, hook up jumper cables or fix your over-heated engine with a paper clip and rock a la McGuiver, then do yourself a favour and get AAA or CAA or any equivalent in the country in which you’re driving. You want to have their numbers handy in case you have a problem. No one likes to be on the side of the road in extreme heat or rain, wondering what to do. Just make sure your cell phone is charged so you can call or that you have a phone card if you have to use a pay phone. And if your car does break down, make sure you have flares or a flash light (at night) so you can let other drivers know you need help.
But to avoid a mid-trip meltdown, get your car serviced ahead. Make sure your tires have traction and air (and keep checking the air on the trip. Heat and elevation changes can change tire pressure). Make sure your breaks work, you have oil, your wiper blades will do the job and your AC (if you’re travelling in summer) isn’t about to go on the blitz. Think of what you’re asking your car to do – take you somewhere safely and comfortably – so make sure you treat it right before you go.
Then think of gear for your car. For me a must have is a Contour Lumbar Cushion by Relax The Back for my back. I could not believe how much this helped on a three day drive from Seattle to Los Angeles; keeping fatigue and muscle soreness at bay. . You can find them for as little as $35 but it’s a great investment you’ll have well beyond your trip. I also carry a travel blanket in the car for napping or keeping myself warm if my travel partner gets a little AC crazy. A set of comfortable nightshades is perfect for afternoon naps as is ear plugs which can help block out road noise or your driving partners ACDC. For those times when you have to do a lot of driving, anything you can do to make napping easier is great. So bring a real pillow if possible or a neck rest if space is an issue. Make sure you also have a bag for garbage, a travel towel for clean ups and an organiser for your maps and receipts. There’s nothing worse than driving around aimlessly looking for a place after 7 hours of driving. Keeping things organised as much as possible in the car will save you hassle throughout the day.
Food is another major issue and one that isn’t really talked about. Road trip are fun? Right? So bring out the Cheesey’s, the chocolate bars, the fast food along the highway! Right? Wrong! Bad eating habits will contribute to fatigue, irritability and other issues we just won’t mention here. Eating junk and fast food can also cost a lot in money and time – how much time have you wasted in a crappy diner when you could have been picnicking in some beautiful park? I try to limit sugary foods so instead of eating sugar all day long, I choose to enjoy the cake in the afternoon or that world famous ice cream mid-day. This does wonders for energy, for your whole well being and for irritability. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a car for 5 hours with a bulbous belly and nothing to relieve it but antacids and scary rest stops. So don’t take another trip down that road. You want to enjoy your trip? Then change how you eat on it.
I take two coolers; one for the trunk and a smaller collapsible one for the front. To keep the coolers cool on the road I buy a box of 1 gallon Ziploc bags. Each morning I stop as a gas station, buy a bag of ice for $1 and fill up a couple of the Ziploc bags. This keeps the food in the cooler, cool, without having water all over. I just keep re-filling the same Ziplocs for the trip and put other food in the other Ziplocs. Cheap, easy, effective.
In the cooler in the trunk I put food I like; bread, meat, cheeses, some fruit, drinks. In the smaller cooler in the front I put things in there I need easy access to while driving such as a couple of drinks, maybe some nuts or energy bars such as the Larabars. But the most important thing is, all the food I buy is organic and natural – nothing filled with chemicals or that’s junk. It sounds easier and cheaper to just buy junk food but you’ll pay a price.
The difference in picnicking, buying fruit at fruit stands and eating wholesome food has been amazing. It has kept me alert, happy, and energised. It’s allowed me to sit and eat alongside some of the most beautiful rivers instead of a diner. I can keep an eye on money so much easier this way instead of overspending on fast food. I also don’t get that 5’oclock cranky pain anymore – you know when you’ve been driving, you’re hungry but you can’t find a place to eat? It’s right there, in your trunk.
Actually, I do eat breakfast in a restaurant to fuel me for the rest of the day and so I can have a chance to wake up. But I promise you the difference in packing a good cooler will be noticeable – take it from the take-out queen herself. If I can do this and love it – anyone can!
Another tip is for water. I have an REI Canister which fits perfectly into my cars cup holder and has a great spout instead of those wide brim openings. I buy a couple of gallon bottles of water which I keep in the trunk and fill up my canister as needed. And I drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated keeps you alert and full (which helps stave off munchies). If you rely too much on caffeinated drinks you’ll suffer the caffeine crashes and you’ll actually de-hydrate yourself more. Have a coffee in the morning but try to avoid it in the afternoon. Opt instead for a Green Tea Ice Tea from Starbucks (60 calories, refreshing and gives you a little perk) or try a Blue Energy Drink which has vitamins and a bolt of energy without the crash afterwards. But make sure you have lots and lots of water. Which brings me to…
Stop at every rest stop. You might think you don’t need to or it’ll waste time but it will actually save you time. It’ll allow you to stretch your body, rest your eyes, maybe see something interesting and it also gives you a chance to do something with all that water you’ll be drinking.
Sometimes one just wants to hit the open road – driving as much as they can without trying to make it to a certain hotel. This is fine but have an idea of your route and research hotels in that area before you go. If you have certain needs (like Internet, handicap rooms, pool), you’ll appreciate having looked online at hotels that have those features so you don’t have to keep going into hotels asking the same questions over and over. That way you won’t have to try to figure out where to stay after a day of driving. But if you’re travelling in a popular area during high season, I’d recommend reservations. In my drive across Canada, I have two nights in the Prairies in which I haven’t booked anything because I’m not sure how much driving I’ll do during the day. But I have some hotels printed out along the way so I know where to go when I do stop. For last minute reservations,
Last Minute Travel offers some great deals.
Packing right is also going to be top priority. Nothing worse than having your luggage stuffed in the very back of the trunk when you’re unloading at night. Make sure you have easy access to the things you need. On certain trips I use a big straw bag that has just my essentials in it (toiletries and night gown) which I can easily carry in and out of the hotel. During the morning I change out clothes into the bag. This way the big suitcase can remain in the back but I have access to what I need every night. If you have toys and gear you’re bringing, consider some trunk organisers which will help keep things in order.
I also travel with some workout gear despite the fact when, at home, I do not work out. But if you’re spending most of your time sitting and eating this will affect you both physically and mentally – and not in a good way. A little exercise in the form of walking around town, jumping jacks at the rest stop, some Yoga in the evening (I bring my own 20-minute DVD that helps me unwind and stretch) or some resistance straps that require no set-up and pack easily will keep you fit and keep you going. If you have access to a pool or a gym at night, I suggest using it – even for just ten minutes.
And lastly, the most important thing to bring? A fun attitude. They’ll be boring moments in the car, there will be times when you might get on your partners nerves or the kids will scream. But if you prepare, 99% of the trip will be amazing. Get off the major roads, stop at historic markers and view points, try to relax and see what you can and drink that water.
Road trips are the best ways to really see the local areas and if you plan them right, you’ll enjoy what you see. And no, you won’t want to fly next time.