“Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.”
“Sometimes, the best therapy is a long drive and music.”
“I want to go on a road trip. Just you, and me. The highway, the radio, the blue sky, the back roads, and windows down. We’ll talk about everything and nothing. We’ll sing our hearts out, and we’ll make memories we’ll never forget. Just you and me.”
“Roads were made for journeys not destinations.”
Plug in the words “road trip quotes” or “car trip quotes” into the Pinterest search bar and your feed will be instantaneously flooded with beautiful pins: inspiring quotes laid across sweeping landscapes, advocating a romanticized depiction of what a long road trip truly is. Sweeping views outside your windows. Deep conversations with the person next to you, or even with yourself. A newfound appreciation for sun visors, AC, sunroofs, etc. And while not every road trip is considered equal, they all have the potential for being amazing.
And you know what? Sometimes a long drive with music blaring really IS the best therapy for certain situations.
When I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just need a break from the norm, I jump in Victor (my Honda Civic…get it?) and switch on my Road Trip Playlist on Spotify and drive off into the sunset. I have vivid memories of driving around the backroads of Idaho with my best friend and just bumpin’ hip-hop. Oh yeah, we were so cool and living the life. And while I’m a little more aware of gas prices and my carbon footprint, I still make time to take a few road trips every year.
But what about those other moments? You know, the kind where you literally can’t stand the person sitting next to you and do everything you can to arrive at your destination faster so they’ll just get out of your car? Here are my tried and tested tips to surviving those long road trips. Some might seem a little silly, but you’re just going to have to trust me on these!
#1: Make sure your vehicle is ready
Okay, I know a lot of you are looking at this like, really? It seems SO obvious to have your car road-trip-ready, but hear me out on this. Of course you’ll want to make sure your car has 4 tires, fully-inflated, gas in the tank, working headlights, yadda-yadda-yadda. But think about it: have you had a recent oil change? How’s your radiator doing? When was the last time you topped-off your fluids? When we drive around town, it’s easy to get away with not having wiper fluid, stretch a few more days until we can get our cars into the shop for maintenance on the weekend.
Last year I drove to Southern California for Christmas, and because of my work schedule and to maximize the amount of time I could spend with family, I started my drive in the evening. I’ve driven through the night multiple times to get to Southern California and wasn’t too worried about it…until I started driving in one of the worst storms Central Utah had seen so far that winter. I found myself on the main highway, I-15, with only one drivable lane, which meant I was stuck behind a semi for a good 30 minutes as we crawled up a summit. If you’ve ever driven behind a semi in the rain or snow, you can imagine the amount of dirty slush that was kicked up onto my windshield.
After about 15 minutes of being an extra mud flap for this particular semi, my wiper fluid ran out. Uh-oh. On top of that, my wiper blades were cracked and peeling away. As the last drops of wiper fluid froze onto my windshield, I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to see out my window. I had a semi in front of me, ice to my left, and steep drop to my right, and a line of cars behind me, with who knows what in front of the semi. If he slammed on his brakes, I wasn’t going to be able to see it in time, and would start an epic chain of fender-benders on a black-ice-ridden highway in the middle of a snowstorm. It was 2am by this point and I knew that if I kept going, I wasn’t going to make it.
I’m a religious person by nature, so my first instinct was to say a quick prayer as I rolled down my window and stuck my head out into the snowstorm: I needed to be able to see the semi and try to figure out where I was and if there were any exits coming up. After about 5 minutes, my face was frozen and I was starting to panic a bit. Pulling off the side of the road onto the shoulder at night, in a snowstorm wasn’t an option. Before I lost an ear to frostbite, I saw an exit sign, pulled off the highway, and slid into a gas station. I quickly yanked off my main wiper blade and ran into the convenience store. IT WAS PACKED! Most of the other customers seemed to be thinking along the same lines I was: there were only a few wiper blades left and the stack of de-icer was diminished significantly. I managed to grab the last 22″ blade and a bottle of blue fluid and made my payment.
Standing there, struggling to get the new wiper blade onto Victor with frozen fingers, wearing a t shirt and shorts in 15° weather, fending off the “helpers,” I made myself a promise: no more road trips without making sure everything on my car was road-trip-ready!
#2: Bring plenty of snacks
My mother has always been adventurous and would throw my sister and I in the back seat of “Old Bessie,” an old yellow Datsun 210 station wagon, with some blankets and a basket of snacks. I have a vivid memory of a road trip with my mother and younger sister that still brings a smile to my face: we wanted to have the fruit snacks in the basket, but were told to eat our bananas first. Well, we did…and then proceeded to throw the banana peels at the back of our mother’s head!
Now that I’m older and am usually the driver on long road trips, my tastes have changed a little bit. People tend to get bored while sitting in the same position for hours on end, even if the scenery is magical and your music is on-point. Having some snacks on-hand helps pass the time and keeps your energy up. Plus, constantly hitting the drive-thru and convenience stores en-route can get really pricey. Here are a few tips regarding snacks:
*When traveling with kids, the fruit snacks and sugary items are going to be the first to go. Just accept it. And on the subject of kids, it’s also SUPER helpful and less of an issue if you pack them their own little lunch pail or bucket of snacks. Nothing is more aggravating than having a sibling take your Gushers packet!
*For solo car trips, make sure that all of your snacks are easy to reach before you take off and easy to pop into your mouth. There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of snacks that require 2 hands to get ready.
*Prep your snacks. I travel with a small cooler for perishables and divided Tupperware for fruit. I prep my road trip snacks the way I prep my work snacks: everything is cut, peeled, and separated out for easy grabbing.
*Pack a variety. You’ll get bored with eating only chips, or only nuts. I like to pack something sweet, something salty, something with a kick, and a variety of little nibbles.
*Keep a trash bag and napkins handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to drive for a few miles while holding a banana peel, apple core, or trying to drive carefully enough to not let a half-full can of soda tip over.
My go-to snacks include things like cashews, snap peas, cheese (usually a specialty cheddar that I’ve already diced), strawberries/grapes/apples, Pringles (because they can fit in my cupholder!), Skittles/Reese’s Pieces, and lunch meat.
#3: Stay hydrated with water
It’s so easy nowadays to stop by a gas station and grab one of those XXL monster soda buckets. And while I admit that I’m a bit of a Dr. Pepper addict, I try to watch it while I’m on the road. Similar to flying, it’s very important to stay hydrated while on a long road trip and water is the way to go. Hydrating with energy drinks, Gatorade and soda is sometimes necessary after you’ve already been in the car, but it’s all about balance. Along with my snacks as mentioned above, I’ve purchased a small cooler where I can keep bottles of water cold.
I make the drive to Southern California from Salt Lake City quite frequently, which takes me straight down I-15, through the desert. There have been times where I’ve been driving into the sun, the outside temperature reaching over 110° easy, my air-conditioning blasting as cold and strong as it could go, and it was still hot in the car. In times like these where it feels like I’m driving on the surface of the sun, I am grateful for a cold bottle of water. No need to get light-headed and dehydrated while on the road!
#4: Stop to use the bathroom
With all this talk of staying hydrated and eating snacks while on the road, nature will most definitely call! Depending on where you’re traveling to, make sure to utilize the rest stops, gas stations, and cities you might be driving by. Earlier this year, my friend Ashley and I were driving in Central Nevada along the Extraterrestrial Highway. During the drive, we occasionally would pass signs that read “Next Services 100 Miles.” Never in my life have I seen a sign like that! 100 miles? Seriously? YES. We didn’t pass a single house, town, other car for over an hour. Good thing we thought to use the restroom before heading out and whenever we would stop for gas or pictures.
Traveling with kids is completely different than traveling with another adult. Kids don’t always give you warning whenever they need to use the restroom: it’s always an emergency and you need to act fast. How many times have we pulled up to a semi “brake check” area on the highway and seen dozens of clear plastic bottles full of yellow liquid? Word to the wise when traveling with kids: have empty bottles, large cups, or even a make-shift toilet in your vehicle. I remember driving in a caravan in the middle of nowhere, when the car in front of us peeled off the side of the road onto an off-ramp. Apparently the little guy had to go RIGHT NOW. Still laughing about it today. And you never know if the rest stop that you’ve been waiting to reach is down for construction or not. Better not leave it to chance!
#5: Create music mixes before you leave on your road trip
There’s nothing worse than trying to figure out what music you want to listen to and search for songs while you’re in the middle of your road trip. Keep a couple of road-trip-worthy CDs, playlists, audiobooks on-hand for easy use. If you’re traveling solo, there’s no better time than a road trip to serenade your steering wheel with the latest T-Swift hot-mess-song, try your rapping skills alongside Big Daddy Kane (a personal fave), or practice your Disney karaoke at the top of your lungs. If you’re traveling with a friend, music helps fill the time when you need a break from a heavy conversation.
Change up the songs that you listen to. If you’re planning a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Seattle, might I suggest some Beach Boys? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Eagles? Something that goes with the location? It’s okay to be a little stereotypical with your playlists if you want: listen to country as you drive through Tennessee. Zydeco as you cruise around New Orleans. Or just throw on your Harry Potter series in England. Like snacks, have a variety of music, podcasts, and audio books. There really will be a time when you can’t stand to listen to another Van Halen, Disney, or Imagine Dragons song.
If you travel with certain people all the time, maybe spend some time figuring out what songs they like and create a playlist specifically for road trips with them? I know that my baby brother likes classic rock, so I’ve got a playlist that is specifically crafted towards his taste. Or, of course, you can abide by the standard: “driver controls the radio” mentality, no matter what. Totally your choice, but I recommend having quick access to a variety of noise. There are tons of apps you can use, such as Spotify and iTunes.
#6: Prepare a few car games or talking points of interest to pass the time
Sure, you can just stare out the window at the passing scenery, contemplating the meaning of life and imagining what life would be like if you could fly. But what about those times when you’re driving through the desert, or at night and can’t see anything out the window? What do you do? Are you a highly skilled communicator? Maybe, but most of us aren’t. While preparing a road trip with a friend, teach yourself to be a great conversationalist by having a few talking points ready to go for those times when you’re both searching for topics. It’ll happen.
Traveling with kids? Of course the chorus of “are we there yet?” is a time-honored classic, but it definitely isn’t music to my ears. Many newer car models come with awesome features such as tv screens, which makes car trips a little more enjoyable. But, having grown up in a time when mobile devices weren’t around, we had to keep ourselves occupied with games to play. Here are a few of my favorites:
I Spy with My Little Eye: One person picks an object outside of the car (a blue sign) and says “I spy with my little eye, something blue (or another clue about the object).” The other people in the car then try to guess the item. The person who guesses the item gets to “I Spy” something next.
The License Plate Game: If you’re passing a lot of cars on the road, this is a great game to play with multiple variations.
Variation 1: spot the license plates from states other than the ones you’re currently in. Traditionally, my siblings and I would sock each other in the arm as hard as we could, but you can think of another thing to do, like clap.
Variation 2: spot the license plates that have 2 identical letters or numbers next to each other. For example, there’s a license plate that reads “XJEE152.” There are 2 “E”s next to each other, so you would say/yell “E!” We played this in high school all the time when I would drive my friends around. They thought it was fun to hit me while driving. Ahh…those days when I didn’t really think about the consequences of constantly being socked in the arm while driving…
20 Questions: One person secretly thinks of either a noun, such as an animal, place, or vegetable. The other players then take turns asking yes-or-no questions, such as “Can it fly?” or “Does it grow in the ground?” After the players have asked 20 questions, each player gets a chance to make a guess.
#7: Give yourself some extra time for a side trip
One of my favorite quote from the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars” is “Cars didn’t drive on (the highway) to make a great time. They drove on it to have a great time.” When we go on actual road trips to discover a new place, are we racing to get “there” and back in a timely manner? Or are we just looking to have a good time? This last time I drove to Southern California, I found myself with some extra time and decided to visit a ghost town on my way. I was exhausted, needed a shower, but had an amazing time. While Ashely and I were driving along the Extraterrestrial Highway, we made a quick side trip to Area 51. If I hadn’t been curious during one of my many trips past Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have discovered the Seven Magic Mountains and made it a habit of stopping each time.
Have you ever seen “A Goofy Movie?” In 1995, Disney came out with a full-length cartoon movie about Goofy and his son, Max. During the movie, Goofy and Max embark on an epic cross-country road trip, stopping at some of THE most random places, including a house of yarn and a possum-themed park. How fun would it be to experience something like that? Not those items specifically, but being able to check out a couple of random places? Plus, it’s always a great idea to get out and stretch your legs. Why not do so in an interesting location? Here are a few awesome websites out there that help make an epic road trip possible, complete with smaller side-trips:
Roadtrip America: http://www.roadtripamerica.com/
#8: Be selective with who you road trip with
Learn from my mistake. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a car with someone who is driving you insane, with hours of open road still to go. My friend-turned-acquaintance and I took a quick weekend trip to Denver to see an NFL game and visit some family that I had out in Colorado. Before the trip, we’d never really traveled anywhere together. We got on well, had a few things in common, and all seemed well and good. From Salt Lake City, there are 2 main routes you can take to Denver: Highway 6/I-70 is a beautiful, fun ride and takes about 8 hours; I-80 cuts mainly through flat Wyoming, is super-boring, but only takes about 7 hours. Heading out to Denver, we opted for the more scenic route and stopped to take pictures along the way.
By the time the weekend was over and we were heading back home, I was done. Not only was she not fun to travel with, all of our conversations in the car, on the train, and at the Broncos game were heavy, depressing, and never-ending. At first I tried to be a friend and really listen to all her problems, but when that’s all you’re talking about for hours on end, the light at the end of the tunnel disappears. I wanted to have a great road trip, experience new things, and have fun. No matter how many times I tried to change the subject, end the conversation, or even just politely ask if we could talk about something else, she always found a way to revert the conversation back to where we started. It was so uncomfortable, that by the time we jumped back into the car to head home, I had already made the executive decision to take the quicker way home, no matter how boring the landscape was. By the time we got to Park City, which was about 30 minutes away from our neighborhood, we ran into some of the worst standstill traffic I’ve seen in Utah. The road from Park City to Salt Lake City travels through a mountain pass, known to locals as Parley’s. We had already begun our descent and passed an exit, when we had to put the car into park and just sit for about 30 minutes. It was excruciating.
Bottom line: Be Picky. Mark Twain once said “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Keep that in mind.
Whew! You made it to the end! Of course, there are tons of other hacks to make your road trip epic, but these are the ones I refer to when people ask “how do you do it?” Road trips are meant to be fun and a time to reflect.
Do you have any other tips that have helped you? Are you planning a road trip soon?