There is nothing more fun than an old-fashioned road trip. I love taking to the open road and exploring our country. Now, I’ve been a “road tripper” for some time and though I love air travel, I love the road trip because that’s how you can really experience the country. So it’s time to get your favorite tunes and munchies ready and plan your open road trip adventure with these ten easy road trip travel tips.
1. Plan your trip. First, you need to determine where you’re going to go and then plan your trip. Planning doesn’t have to take a long a time, but you do need to know the route you’re going to drive and points of interest along the way that you’re going to want to stop and explore. Half the fun of a road trip is seeing the sites along the way. I like to MapQuest my trip and have that as my main plan of attack for my road trip. GPS is very popular these days and I recommend them, but you can’t always rely on them when you hit construction zones or accidents on your journey. That’s why it’s essential that you have a real map with you for the areas you’ll be traveling to and to plan alternate routes if necessary.
2. Make your hotel reservations BEFORE you go. Part of the fun when traveling on the road is stopping wherever your heart desires, but there’s nothing worse than a “no room at the inn” experience on a road trip. You may not realize that there is a “Comic Book Trade Show,” “Strawberry Festival” or convention in town while you’re visiting and there are no rooms to be had. If you do not book your reservations in advance, not only are you running the risk of having to sleep in your car but also you can’t manage your road trip budget effectively. If you’re traveling with your family or a group of friends, consider staying at an all-suite hotel or even renting a time share, a great option for families taking a road trip. Did you know that 90 percent of people who own a timeshare don’t utilize it on a regular basis? Many great offers can be found at some of the bigger hotel chains that offer timeshares and many of them even have a washer and dryer. For my road trip to Scottsdale, I booked a fantastic one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette at a time share property directly through the hotel for just $100/night including tax at the Sheraton Desert Oasis Villas.
3. Give your car a full tune up before you go or consider renting a car. One week before you go on your road trip, take your car in for a tune up and ask your mechanic to ensure the car fluids are topped, air pressure in your tires is at its best for highway driving, and any other necessary concerns regarding your vehicle are addressed. Should you need to get something fixed, it is best to do it at a place you can trust before your road trip. Plus, it can be more expensive when it is a have-to situation. Also, make sure you pack a roadside safety kit just in case of an emergency. For me that kit includes my American Automobile Association membership card (Premier Membership). If you have a car that is no longer under warranty or has automatic roadside assistance, then a American Automobile Association membership is a necessity as it will save you a fortune in the unfortunate event you have a break down and have to have your car towed. If you’re at all concerned that your current vehicle is not “road trip worthy,” then you may want to consider renting a vehicle for your road trip. I did this for my trip to Arizona as I found a great deal on a rental car and had the peace of mind for my road trip.
4. Pack your own food and plan a picnic. I used to be addicted to stopping at fast food joints on a road trip. There was something that felt fun about that on a trip but I’ve since learned that I prefer to pack my own food for my journey. It doesn’t just keep me eating healthier, but it also saves money, too, especially if you’re traveling with your family. Also, if you plan ahead, you may find that there is a great stop for a scenic picnic in your travels and packing a picnic is so much better than flying through the Drive-through. If you do make a stop, either for a picnic or to explore a cool sight along the way.
5. Bring great music or audible books with you! Music is truly the soundtrack of our lives and every road trip needs a soundtrack. I think of my trip to Seattle every time I hear a Phil Collins song from “No Jacket Required” because that was the primary music I was listening to on that trip. I think of the Bahamas Harbor Island and the amazing walks on the Pink Sands Beach every time I hear Wilson Phillips music. It’s sort of like having a theme song for every vacation but hearing the music even today will evoke fun memories of wonderful trips. I also love catching up on books I’d like to read but somehow find it easier to listen to. That’s where audio books come in and you can download them to your mp3 player, iPhone, or other PDA device. !
6. Don’t forget to pack a boredom buster bag for the kids. One thing I’ve learned from producing for TV’s “The Travel Mom” Emily Kaufman, is that if you’re traveling with kids, you need to make sure you have plenty to entertain them during your road trip. She calls this the boredom buster bag. Don’t forget to pack some kid music your children like along with fun travel games that include magnetic board games. DVD players are an option for really long trips and as long as your child isn’t prone to car sickness. Of course, electronic games will keep your kids occupied but I would encourage you to limit the time on these toys especially if you’re traveling through some great scenic areas. It’s an excellent chance to bond as a family and your child’s memory of the trip will be lost if they’re lost in a Game Boy.
7. Remember, a road trip is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. One of my all time favorite road trips was the day my niece, Jessica, and I drove 52 enchanting miles on the “Road to Hana” on the island of Maui in Hawaii. I’ll never forget that the guide book said, “Remember, Hana is not a destination, it’s a journey.” Hana is located about 52 miles from Kahului, however a typical trip to Hana takes at least three hours, as the road is very winding with approximately 620 curves over 59 bridges, 46 of which have only one-lane. This delightful road trip is a memorable journey that winds through a lush, tropical rain forest that is laced with tumbling waterfalls, black sand beaches, scenic lava cliffs, fresh fruit stands, and tropical hillsides. Jessica and I stopped at least ten times including one stop to picnic on that black sand beach. We took photos by waterfalls, delicious fruit stands and beautiful tropical flower gardens. You should treat your road trip vacation the same way we did our Road to Hana: Enjoy your road trip as a journey, not a destination.
8. Make good use of every stop. I like to plan my stops for fuel, food, and restrooms so that I utilize my time efficiently and don’t waste time making three stops instead of one. Probably the most important thing is that every time you do stop, make sure everyone in the car uses the restroom (even if they think they don’t have to right then). This will cut down on the stops you’ll make only for that purpose. Also, if you’re traveling with kids, and you just need to stop for the restroom, I recommend stopping at a Starbucks. Parents can get a coffee or an ice tea, the restrooms are clean, and there are not a lot of distractions for kids (like toys to buy) that a truck stop or gas station may have. Use the Starbucks store locator at their website to help you plan your stops before you go. Do be a “good egg” and make a purchase at Starbucks while you’re there.
9. Avoid Trouble. When you’re on a road trip, you need to be street wise. Don’t be a target for crime by leaving your valuables on the seat in your car (DVD players, Game Boys, etc.) and don’t advertise you’re on a road trip with pillows and blankets every where. When you park your car, hide your valuables and road trip creature comforts. If you are proactive at keeping your “I’m on a road trip clues” clearly hidden, any thief or troublemaker should just walk right by your car. Other street wise considerations is to always park where there is good light and foot traffic and make sure your windows are rolled up and the doors are locked whenever you leave your car. You may also want to purchase items like “the Club” if you like that extra insurance for safety. Finally, when you’re driving, watch your speed. Speeding gives you the chance to get a ticket and more importantly, it decreases your time to react if the need should arise. If you are the driver, you are responsible for your passengers. When you see signs that say, “Speed limits are photo enforced,” believe them. Other good driving tips include avoiding rush hour, especially in bigger cities, and whenever possible take turns driving with other people in the car. You’ll also want to avoid driving at night if you are not familiar with your surroundings.
10. Get a Go City Card and save up to 55% on attractions and theme parks at your vacation destination. Last year, I flew my 8-year-old niece, Alexis, and 10-year-old nephew, Tyler, out to Los Angeles for their spring break (using Southwest Airlines Reward Miles, of course) and we took a road trip down to San Diego. That’s when I discovered the money saving Go City Card for San Diego. With this card, I saved hundreds of dollars in admissions to Legoland, the Wild Animal Park, the San Diego Zoo and other attractions including a Whale Watch on the Pacific Ocean just by purchasing a Go San Diego Card.
Instead of paying individually for each local attraction, you pay one price for up to 40 attractions (depending on the city your visiting) and you get to create your own experience, tailoring your activities based on what you like to do, while also enjoying tremendous savings. For example, with the Go Los Angeles Card, you can choose one, two, three, five, or seven day cards at a low, pre-paid price to gain access to 40 included attractions. This saves up to 55% compared to buying tickets directly at Universal Studios Hollywood, LEGOLAND California, Knott’s Berry Farm, Paramount Studios, the Queen Mary, and many more attractions. Go City Cards are available in many cities and vacation destinations in the U.S. including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Honolulu, Orlando, Miami, Seattle, Blue Ridge and even Toronto.
Final Tips: Don’t forget your cell phone and make sure you’re “hands free” when you do use it while driving. In many states, it’s the law, but it’s also down right dangerous. Always use your cell phone “hands free” when you drive. Don’t forget to update your software on your mobile before you leave because you don’t want to be charged higher rates for roaming charges. Finally, it’s a real good idea to email a copy of your itinerary to other family members or friends in case of an emergency – this is especially a good idea for women traveling together. Now, drive safe and have fun!