1. Setting your schedule.
Getting the pace right is a big part of a trip’s success. I’ve found that, generally, I need three days per destination. If I have four destinations, I need twelve days. I might be able to get away with ten but it’s important not to squeeze too much into too few days. If you do, you’ll miss lots and find that all you do is drive. I also don’t plan to drive too far on any one day. Five hours is about my maximum and, even though I’m not typically an early riser, I like to leave early in the morning. I’m up at 6am and away by 6:30am to beat the traffic and arrive at my destination by noon.
2. Choose a theme – know the highlights you want to hit.
In France, it was history. I wanted to see the Bayeux Tapestry and also Juno Beach where the Canadians landed on D-Day. In Arizona it was Monument Valley – could those landscapes from old western movies be real? Going around Lake Ontario I was visiting wineries. Every road trip I take has some sort of focus. Know what yours is and identify the places you just have to get to. Then use this information as you plan your route.
3. Use multiple tools to plan – the love of a good map.
On my most recent trip, to the American southwest, I found myself using two maps. One was a map of the Four Corners by National Geographic called Trail of the Ancients. It had great information on places of interest. The other was a standard road map. (National Geographic has many maps that offer some guide information as well.) In addition, I used Google maps which I find cumbersome for choosing routes but great for determining what the drive time will be.
4. Insurance – Make sure you’re covered.
First, travel insurance. I never travel without it– no matter what. Depending on the coverage you buy, it can reimburse the cost of items such as doctor fees, medical examinations, cost of medication and even hotel accommodations. More importantly, it may cover the cost of getting someone you love to your bedside after a medical emergency or return you to your home if that’s necessary.
I asked Insurance Hunter, the sponsor of this post for their top tip when buying travel insurance. Kevin Illsley, Operations Manager said, “When you are looking into the best travel insurance for yourself be sure to review the ‘Single Trip’ and ‘Annual’ plans, to ensure you are getting the best coverage for your needs.” Also make sure that you carry your travel insurance details with you, especially the contact numbers for roadside assistance.
Then, car insurance. If you’re renting a car for your road trip, check with your insurance company and credit cards first to find out what kind of coverage you have through them. This could affect what kind of coverage you buy from the rental agency. At the agency, there are a number of insurance questions you need to ask:
- How much does the coverage cost?
- What type of collision coverage is offered and what is included in this coverage?
- Who is insured under the coverage?
- Is there a deductible associated with the coverage?
- Is liability insurance part of the coverage?
- Is there any item that could possibly void your insurance coverage for your rental car?
- Is roadside assistance available as part of your coverage?
- What steps need to be taken if you get into an accident?
5. Packing – car trip specific.
Pack light. I know I say this all the time but whether you’re staying at hostels, B&B’s or hotels, you are going to be lugging your luggage in and out whenever you move on to a new destination. Having just one bag to carry makes life much easier.
For your car, it’s a good idea to bring along a roll of duct tape, a multi-head screwdriver, a couple of flares, a pair of pliers, vise grips and maybe a coat hanger or two to hold up the muffler should it fall off – or you can buy a road trip kit from AAA. You’ll want a good first-aid kit and a blanket. And I always travel with almonds and water in the car though you may want to take that further and have a cooler of food so you can picnic along the way.
6. Use multiple navigation tools to keep you on track.
Navigation when you’re on the road alone can be a bit of a challenge. A GPS is essential but that’s not all you need. Your GPS can be out of date or, if you’re in a city with tall buildings, it can have trouble reaching the satellite and give you wrong information. In addition to a GPS, I like to have a compass as it confirms my direction and map ensuring that the GPS is sending me along the route that I want to go. It’s also helpful to know that in the U.S.:
- Two-digit Interstates often go directly through cities while three-digit interstates go around them.
- Odd-numbered highways run north to south and even-numbered ones run east-west.
7. Safety #1 – your vehicle.
Have your car tuned up and inspected at least a week before you leave. This will give you time for any repairs that are required. Car Talk recommends the following items be checked. You can click on any of them to go to the Car Talk site for details.
- The Cooling System
- The Tires
- Steering and Suspension
- Change the Oil
- Air Conditioning System
- Check the Tranny
8. Safety #2 – you.
Start your drive early in the morning:
- You’re less tired and more alert.
- The roads will have less traffic making the drive more enjoyable.
- You’ll arrive in daylight with time to find your accommodation if you haven’t already booked it.
When you’re driving, make sure your doors are locked and (need I say this?) you’re wearing your seat belt. Be mindful of where you park your car. Try to park near an entrance to a mall or hotel. The lot may be busy when you arrive but if it’s empty when you leave you won’t enjoy a long walk across a vacant parking lot. If your trip takes you along roads with little traffic, consider getting a full size spare tire rather than a donut tire that can only go a short distance. You can get an affordable, decent quality spare tire at a used tire store. As per Tip 4, have bottled water with you.
9. Stay in touch.
Let someone at home know your route, when you leave and when you arrive at your destinations. A quick text message is all it takes. If you have WiFi, use skype or send a quick email. That’s all it takes. If you want to avoid roaming charges consider getting a SIM card for an Unlocked phone.
10. Slow down, go local – radio, diners, diversions
Slow down, save on gas and enjoy the scenery and the scene. On my trip through the southwest I listened to KGHR 91.3 Native Radio. Listening to this station, I learned what was going on in Tuba City, what the native people care about, the values they hold and much more. It’s a wonderful aspect of travel that is most easily enjoyed on a road trip. Hungry for lunch? Look for the diner in a small town and you’re sure to get some local flavor from the people as well as the food. Sometimes a local museum is the one that you’ll find yourself telling people about years later. Don’t overlook what may appear to be small experiences as they may be the most memorable.
Hope everyone has a wonderful Easter holiday weekend!