How to Survive a Road Trip

By Jessica Harp on 3 July 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 12 comments

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when you pack-up the car and depart on a summer road trip. Unfortunately, it is also the time of year when relationships are tested. As we all know, road trips always begin on a high note, but by the end even Mother Teresa would be willing to shove her grandmother out of the car. So, how do you not end-up single or friendless at the end of a road trip? Here are a few tips:

1.) Do maintenance on your car before you leave. Get your oil changed, fluids topped off, and tires inflated. Half way through the road trip is not the time to remember that you need an oil change or to realize that you have no windshield wiper fluid to clean the bug guts off the windshield.

2.) Do not be radio nazi. I can guarantee you that not everybody in the car shares your love of polka music. Decide ahead of time who will control the radio. Will the driver have control of the radio? Will you split radio time 50/50?

3.) Negotiate pit stops. If you decide ahead of time that unplanned pit stops are authorized, remember that your stop at the “World’s Largest Prairie Dog” might mean your carmate gets equal time at the “World’s Largest Golf Ball”.

4.) Discuss driving time. Some people are content to drive the entire trip. Other people can only drive for a few hours at a time. Decide ahead of time if and when you will change drivers. Keep in mind whose car you are driving and each person’s level of comfort regarding different driving conditions. If you are hesitant about your carmate driving you car, then you should expect to do most of the driving. Likewise, if your carmate hates driving at night, then you should expect to do most of the driving if you are traveling after dark.

5.) Splurge on a GPS. No matter how great you think your navigation skills are, there is nothing that can bring a road trip to a screeching halt quicker than being lost. Even worse, the biggest arguments during a road trip tend to relate to directions and someone’s inability to read a map. Splurge on the GPS and you will not have to worry about being lost. If for some odd reason the GPS gets you lost, you and your carmate can bond while mutually hating the GPS – instead of each other.

6.) Add an extra 20-30% to your budget. Nobody ever stays on budget during a road trip. Fluctuating gas prices, last minute side trips, and outrageously priced t-shirts to commemorate your journey always put you over budget. Emergencies can also put you further beyond your initial budget.

7.) Don’t plan on eating fast-food the entire time. First, it is nice to get out of that 4’ x 4’ box every now and then. Second, just because you are on vacation does not mean that the basic rules of metabolism and caloric intake do not apply. You cannot eat 4,000 calories per day and not gain weight. Well, unless you have the metabolism of a teenage boy…

8.) Do not have overly high expectations. If you have been planning a trip to the Great Salt Lake for the past year, you might be crushed to realize that it is well below its normal water level, it smells like dead fish, and it is infested with red gnat-like creatures that love to swarm you. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, the higher your expectations the more likely you are to be disappointed.

9.) Remember, road trips never go as planned. Do not be idealistic while planning your road trip. There will be traffic, road work, and unplanned pit stops. Your hotel reservations might be canceled, and Yosemite might be closed. There might even be a flat tire or two. Stay flexible and your road trip will be a much better experience.

Finally, remember that everyone will be irritable after a few days in a 4’ x 4’ box on wheels. But yelling will not get you there any sooner or get you “un-lost”. Also, do not say whatever comes to mind in the heat of the moment. Your carmate’s plan might be the “stupidest idea” you’ve ever heard, but don’t say it in the heat of the moment. If you must say it, say it later. At the end of the trip. Over drinks.

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Guest's picture

We just fished packing for our month long road trip when I came inside and read your post. Wonderful! You explained exactly why no native Utahn *visits* the Salt Lake. :)

Guest's picture
arjune

Nice blog! Well, summer is one of the most anticipated time of the year. It is the time when most people plan for a road trip and vacation. If its going to be a long travel, it is necessary to ensure that car and its parts like for instance gmc fuel pump is checked and maintained well. This is to ensure that all parts are in good condition so as to avoid mishaps when traveling. A well maintained car gives us confidence when driving and we are sure that we are safe. I am so excited to have my vacation next week and also preparing my car for the said travel. Happy driving and have fun. :)

Guest's picture

Great list! Might I suggest that travelers try not to overpack the car? I recently moved from Vermont to Edmonton. It was way out of our budget to hire a U-Haul, so I sold or gave away all of my furniture and larger items and mailed what wouldn't fit into my car, and then drove from Vermont to Toronto to meet my boyfriend. We drove from there to Edmonton, and while the move went pretty well overall, it would have been much less stressful if the car hadn't been stuffed to the gills, leaving very little room for us and my cat. It wasn't fun to have to repack the car every morning and curse because things wouldn't squeeze in like they did the night before.

Guest's picture

Being a huge fan of the road trip, I loved your article. I managed to marry someone with opposite road trip expectations, from reduced driving hours, completely different music preference, and oh yeah, a vegetarian. The chances of us ever having a successful road trip just get less and less every day.

However, once before we were married, I drove all the way from Phoenix to Yosemite with plans to head on through to Oregon. When I got there, the road through the park was closed - due to mudslides.

Great post.

Guest's picture
TJ

Great article. I'd just emphasize: as we learned last winter, don't leave the highway to drive into a mountain wilderness in a snowstorm -- or anyplace else you don't have the survival skills for -- without thinking "Could I survive if I get stuck?"

If the answer is no, please -- lose the schedule, and don't risk it.

Guest's picture
Latham

Great tips! Here's a few more, from years of vacation driving with two young sons frm Vermont to D.C. on a budget:
• Don't drive when drowsy or tired...pull-off the road. It's not worth the risk;
• Lot's of breaks (every 1-1.5 hours). It seems like a pain to stop so often, but you get to your destination much less drained;
• When you take a break, get out of the car, stretch, race each other (park at the back of the rest-stop parking lots, where there's little traffic). It gets the road glaze out...amazing how this builds-up, makes you more alert;
• For restaurant meals, eat your big meal at lunch time, as luncheon menu items are cheaper than supper items;
• Plan something fun to do each day (it doesn't have to be expensive);
• Monitor everyone's mood and take spontaneous stops to blow-off steam...every town/city has parks, elementary schools have swings;
• Ahead of time, scout attractions along the route. This way, you'll know when and where fun stops are if you need them;
• Stay off of the high-stress interstates if you have the time (e.g. take the blue highways). If you do need to drive the interstates try to do it at night, when traffic is lighter, kids should sleep, and summer temperatures will be cooler;
• For traveling during winter in cold climates, plan for emergencies: carry sleeping bags or blankets, snow boots, gloves, hats.

Guest's picture
Guest

great article.. for more on road trips check out..

http://www.frommers.com/podcast/article.cfm?articleid=4417&t=Frommers%2E...

Guest's picture
Guest

I think When you plan to go for a long road trip, don't forget two things GPS gadget and your favorite audio books.Because There are unexpected things along the roads such as bad cops,winding roads, weird laws such as in Cleveland it is illegal to drive while sitting on another persons lap [from http://www.turtlezen.com/weirdlaws.html] .... etc. Those things can make you go crazy and the accident will happen. I think travel audio books can calm you down and make you stay focus on the road, especially audio books about the places you 're going to. You will feel like someone telling you a story.

If you're interested,just check out this site
http://astore.amazon.com/listentoaudiobook-20

Take care.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to say, it's great to be "prepared" and all, but I think the Type-A mentality towards a roadtrip just doesn't work. I say, have a general plan for different stretches (densely-populated v. rural, mountains v. open plains, hot v. cold, etc.). Beyond that, know where you're going, and leave the trip to spontaneity--that's half the fun of a trip. And if you can't deal with that, I probably wouldn't want to be in a car for more than an hour with you anyway...

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Guest

awesome post!

Guest's picture

This article is very interesting, keep us posting..

Guest's picture

Haha love what you say about the fast food! My husband loves to think we can eat mcdonalds every meal on road trips...yuck!!