There really is nothing like a good road trip. Give me a fun playlist, the wind in my hair, some good company, and an endless reel of scenery unfolding before my eyes, and I am a happy camper.
Road trips have long been an American pastime, but it definitely feels like they’ve exploded with even more popularity in recent years. And why? Well, they’re pretty easy to plan, they’re relatively inexpensive to execute, they’re more accessible than plane travel, they’re pretty safe, and there is just SO DANG MUCH to see. From the rugged coastlines of California, to the red rock deserts of Utah, to the rolling expanses of the midwest and beyond, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a USA road trip.
But of course, every good trip starts with a solid plan. If you want your road trip to be as unforgettable, epic, and disaster-free as possible, you’ll want to keep some key things in mind before hitting the road.
Read on for 12 road trip planning tips to help you stay sane on long drives. With these tips in mind, you’ll be road-tripping like a pro in no time!
Road Tripping Like a Pro: Planning Tips To Help You Stay Sane on Long Drives
Determine Logistics, Like Driving Responsibilities and Gas Payment, Ahead Of Time
Regardless of whether you’re hitting the road with a friend, a significant other, or family, make sure you discuss driving responsibilities and how you will be splitting up the drive. Before starting your trip, determine who will drive when. That way, you won’t run into any disagreements about it once you’re on your way, and everyone will have a fair amount of time to rest up in between shifts. You’ll also want to do the same for gas payment!
I usually volunteer to put gas on my credit card and have everyone pay me after the trip is over. That way, we keep our receipts all in one place, and I get to score some extra rewards points along the way.
Decide Where You’d Like to Stop (And Stretch) Along The Way
You know that saying, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? Well, that definitely applies here. What fun is a road trip without planning some epic stops along the way?
Spend some time before your trip planning out a wish list of places you’d like to stop and check out, and space them out along your route. This allows you to maximize your overall road trip experience, while breaking up the long and often monotonous drive with something you can look forward to. As a word of caution, note that I said ‘wish list.’ You might not get to stop at every place on your list, and that is okay. The worst thing you can do (and I’ve been guilty of this in the past) is to become so fixated on an itinerary that when something doesn’t go according to plan, you end up getting devastated by things beyond your control – like unexpected traffic, or road closure. Keep your options open and your mindset flexible, and you’ll be happy with whatever unfolds.
Adding detours doesn’t have to be reserved exclusively for long road trips, either. Check out how I sprinkled in 5 epic stops during a 2-hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona here!
Have the Number for Your Auto Insurance Provider(s) Ready
Of course, you’d hope nothing bad happens during your trip, but it’s always a good idea to be well-prepared in case something does. Do a quick check before your trip to make sure you have your auto and/or travel insurance information easily available. Know what number(s) you can call and keep that information stored on your phone or in your glove compartment in case of emergency.
You might be thinking ‘well, we’re just going somewhere close by, so we don’t need to worry about this.’ But even something as small as a flat tire could cause a serious delay, if not a full cancellation, of your trip if you’re unable to get roadside assistance quickly! Better safe than sorry 🙂
Pack More Snacks and Drinks for the Road Than You Think You Need
Even if you are planning lots of stops along the way, be sure to include snacks and hydration in your packing list so no one goes thirsty or hungry on the road (you don’t want to listen to your friend nagging about snacks in the middle of the drive, do you?).
At the bare minimum, I always try to bring the following along if I’m driving for more than 4 hours:
Granola or protein bars
Grapes or sliced apples
Skip Past Rest Areas and Head Towards Truck Stops
Unlike rest areas, which are usually just parking lots with bathrooms, truck stops tend to provide access to food and other road trip conveniences, like toiletries, gas, and occasionally, even some chain restaurants. In case you run out of snacks or forget to pack something for the trip, truck stops can hopefully provide some relief.
Also, I have to say – rest areas usually feel a little creepy to me, especially after dark, because of how isolated they are. Truck stops are usually well-lit and busy at all hours, so especially if you are road tripping solo or in a small group, I’d suggest sticking to these whenever you need to pull over and refuel or stock up on supplies!
Fill Your Gas Tank Often
On that note, I also suggest filling up your gas tank often! You never know where the next gas station will be, or what detours you might want to make along the way, so I’d always suggest keeping your tank at half-full or higher especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Carry Cash With You
You might not need it, but it’s the worst when you run into a situation where cash is required, and all you have is a card. Smaller towns, gas stations in the middle of nowhere, and side-of-the-road diners might only accept cash, and it’s best to be prepared.
And, depending on the type of trip you’re taking, it’s also important to call out that national parks and campgrounds often require cash-only payment for campsites, entrance fees, parking, and other facilities you might need to use throughout your trip.
Make Playlists, Download Podcasts, Bring Books, and Pack Other Distractions To Break Up The Long Drive
It can be a huge headache if you don’t plan your entertainment in advance, especially if you’re not driving! Imagine hours and hours of time ahead of you, crammed into a car with your friends, and nothing but static blasting on the radio. Yeah, it doesn’t sound that appealing, does it?
Small talk only lasts so long before everyone starts to settle into the drive. Download podcasts, books, and/or other distractions to keep yourself busy when the conversation lulls. And, to keep spirits high, consider collaborating with your group on a playlist ahead of time so that everyone has a say in the music that gets played!
Download Offline Maps and Share Your Location with Friends
Getting a flat tire and enduring a long drive without music are both bad, but I’d argue that getting lost without any clue what to do about it is probably my #1 way of ensuring insanity on a road trip. Honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse! The best way to prevent this is to download the offline map for whatever area you’re planning on traveling to, so that even if you lose cell signal, you can still reference the map you saved to help get you where you need to go.
Check out a step-by-step guide to downloading offline maps on your iPhone or Android here. And, when your trip is done, be sure to delete any maps you’ve downloaded to free up space on your phone!
Additionally, it’s also a good idea to share your location with close friends or family when traveling, especially to remote areas, in case of an emergency. You can do this directly on Google Maps, or using Find My Friends.
Wear Comfortable Layers
Skip the jeans and the dresses. Long car rides call for cozy layers, sweatpants, yoga pants, and whatever else you might need to keep you comfortable while sitting in one place for hours on end. Check the weather, not just at your destination but also along the way, and be sure to have whatever you need accessible (not shoved into your suitcase at the bottom of the pile of stuff stashed in your trunk!). If it’s going to be really chilly by the time you reach wherever you’re headed, have a jacket, some gloves, and a beanie stowed within arm’s reach so you can layer up quickly and easily when you finally get out of the car.
If you’re planning on arriving at your destination and immediately going hiking or heading somewhere nice to eat, have a change of clothes planned out in advance so you can get ready quickly and be on your way!
Get On the Road Early, And Avoid Driving at Night
There’s so much to do and so much to be excited about on a road trip, one of the worst things you could do (and easily one of the biggest things you end up regretting) is sleeping in. Sure, it might feel good in the moment, especially if you had a long stint driving the day before, but I promise you’ll thank yourself for waking up and getting an early start on your day. You’ll get to where you want to go faster, you’ll usually beat some traffic, and you’ll likely have more time to cross off some of those cool stops from your wish list along the way.
Also, driving at night is not all that safe when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Dark roads can make it easier for you to get lost, lose visibility, and potentially even hit a wild animal while trying to navigate your way forward. All of this is stressful and anxiety-inducing, and just not worth it in my opinion. Try to schedule the bulk, if not all, of your driving in broad daylight if you can! Plus, you’ll want to admire all of those epic road trip views along the way, won’t you?
Understand That Things Won’t Always Go According to Plan (And That is Okay!)
I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating again. Things won’t always go according to plan when you’re on a road trip. There are lots of variables, and no matter how well you plan out your trip, there are so many things outside of your control that you couldn’t possibly account for, like the weather, or traffic, or road closures, or what your friends will / won’t feel like doing.
Of course, having a plan will help you know where to go and keep you moving in the general direction of a ‘successful trip,’ but try your best to be open to spontaneity and adventure along the way. Random detours? Sure! Hilarious billboard for a restaurant you just gotta check out? Why not! Allow your itinerary to ebb and flow with situations as they come, and allow yourself to have fun in the process of it all unfolding. As long as you have your map, your gas tank is full, your companions are in good spirits, and you’re prepared for any scenario, you’re in good shape for whatever comes your way. Often times, detours and happy accidents make for some of the greatest stories, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that by sticking too firmly to a plan you formed in your head about how your trip has to go in order to be perfect. Travel is never perfect. But it always has a way of working out in the end if you let it!
Where are you planning on road tripping to, and who with? Tell me below!