Are you feeling the urge to get away? It might be that time again: time to take a road trip! Although road trips are stored in our collective cultural psyche as images of blithe wanderers without a care driving wherever the open road takes them, more often than not, a road trip becomes infinitely better if you put a little planning into it. Whether you're designing a road trip to see specific sites in a certain amount of time or looking to let the wind and inspiration carry you where they may, these road trip tips will help you plan your next road trip and make it the best, most memorable vacation you can imagine.
When it comes to packing for a road trip, the one rule you need to remember is: less is more. A spacious trunk might tempt you to fill your suitcases with absolutely every pair of jeans you own, but the truth is that packing too much on a road trip isn't worth the trouble it brings. On a road trip, you don't want to haul weighty suitcases in and out of hotel rooms every night or spend ten minutes looking for your toothbrush at the bottom of an overstuffed bag. Do a bit of research to familiarize yourself with the weather where you'll be traveling, then pack your favorite articles of clothing for that climate, selecting only the pieces that will make you feel fabulous and confident while on vacation, and pare your belongings down into one bag or suitcase. Remember, many hotels offer laundry service or have a room with washers and dryers, and if you feel ready to break out of your daily routine, you can always wash your skivvies in the sink.
Need more motivation to pack light? The less weight your car is hauling, the more miles to the gallon it will get, which translates into less money spent on gas and more money spent on knickknacks at roadside detours to such places as the entertainingly sincere Museum of Bad Art in Boston, Massachusetts, or the gloriously creepy Hair Museum in Avanos, Turkey.
In direct opposition to our first road trip tip, when it comes to anticipating and preparing for problems during your drive, you want live by the motto "more is more." The more prepared you are for possible hang-ups on the road, the less time you'll spend dealing with them and the faster you'll get back to cruising. Before you leave, make sure you write down your insurance information and roadside assistance numbers. If you're driving a rental car abroad, speak to your car rental agency and make sure you purchase the minimum insurance requirements for the countries in which you'll be traveling, and ask them for the number you can call if anything happens to the vehicle while you're on the road. Store all pertinent names, numbers, and information in the glove box or in your phone, and keep an emergency kit with things for your car (jumper cables, flashlight) and things for you (water, nonperishable snacks) to get you out of a sticky situation or tide you over until help arrives.
If you take a road trip abroad, it's smart to learn to pronounce the towns you'll be traveling to the way the locals do; cities like Florence (Italian: Firenze) or Seville (Spanish: Sevilla) sound quite different in English than they do in their native languages. If you get lost in a rural area, you may find very few people who speak English, but if you know how to correctly say where you're headed, the locals will be better able to point and wave you in the right direction. And of course, make sure you carry at least a little cash on you. You never know where you'll run into a problem, and if you're miles from an ATM, you want to be able to get what you need and get on the road again.
We all know that an airplane won't leave the ground without first going through a rigorous pre-flight safety check. So why do so many of us embark on road trips without first getting our vehicles checked out? If you're going on a longer trip, it's worth it to take your car to the garage to have it inspected by a professional, but even if the trip is shorter, you should at least make sure the oil has been changed, the windshield wiper fluid is good, and the pressure in your tires adequate. Taking care of underlying problems with your vehicle before you hit the road could save you a lot of hassle during your road trip. It's also a good idea to bring a spare key along and have two different people carry the car keys; that way, if one key gets accidentally locked in the car, another member of your party can simply unlock the car for no trouble and no cost.
Here's an oft-forgotten road trip tip: Clean your car! Those protein bar wrappers and coffee cups might not bother you during your ten-minute commute to work, but you and your unwitting passengers could be in your car for hours each day during a road trip. Make room for corny travel souvenirs--or just your copilot's legs--and your trip is sure to be more enjoyable.
No list of road trip tips is complete unless it addresses which travel gadgets and accessories are worth an investment. Without a doubt, the most valuable travel accessory on any road trip is a GPS. A GPS tells you where to go so you can spend less time getting lost and more time on the path you want to be on. Renting a GPS is particularly helpful if you're in a country that speaks a different language than your own. Nevertheless, even if you have a modern GPS, it's still enjoyable to consult an atlas on your drive. With an atlas, you can physically trace your route as you travel, and you could even turn off the GPS and test your old-school navigational skills for fun and bragging rights. Of course, make sure you have the most recent, up-to-date atlas before you leave.
Another travel gadget that shouldn't be left behind is a rental MiFi hotspot, which is a portable internet connection that travels with you. Not only is it incredibly convenient to know you can connect to the internet whenever you need to, the connection of a MiFi hotspot is often faster than hotel or internet café connections that can have dozens of other people connected through the same router, and it's much more secure than using a shared connection that allows others to see information that you send and receive digitally.
In truth, there is no one right way to map out the route you'll follow during your road trip. The bottom line is to be true to yourself. Will you be less stressed if you plan out all your stops ahead of time, or does following a rigid schedule during your vacation sound like a nightmare? You want your road trip to be a memorable, fun experience, so take a moment to ask yourself what will work best for you, and plan accordingly.
No matter your style, most of us have some sort of limiting factor imposed on the time we can spend on a road trip; work, pets, houseplants, and other responsibilities prevent us from taking to the open road for a completely undetermined amount of time. Before you leave, determine how long you have to travel, what the best time to visit Europe is for your planned itinerary, and what you'd like to get out of your road trip. Are there certain places you'd like to see before you return, or do you want to take in the scenery while you're driving? If your trip is about visiting specific sites, you should plan direct driving routes that get you to your destinations in less time. However, if you're craving a scenic drive, plan more circumferential routes that take you away from cites and through the countryside. Whatever your preference, be realistic; planning a route that requires eight hours of driving a day can seem like a great way to pack a lot of activities in to a short vacation time, but you might feel burned out after a couple days of lengthy drives. Use Google Maps or your GPS to calculate driving times, whether you have each stop planned out or just need to be back in the office by Monday, to make sure you get home on time.
For parents, the hardest part of any road trip is figuring out ways to keep your kids entertained so they don't drive you so crazy you regret bringing them along or--worst case scenario--bringing them into this world in the first place. But don't worry! We've got some road trip tips and tricks to keep your kids entertained and your sanity intact.
Most everyone thinks about entertaining their kids with games during road trips, but putting just a little forethought into it could keep them busy much longer. Before you leave, pack a game bag with a number of different games the kids can try; that way, if they get bored with one, you have a backup--or ten--you can quickly suggest. Play games with license plates like license plate bingo, or give your kids a map of the U.S. or Europe so they can color in the areas of the map that correspond to license plates they see on the road. It's fun, educational, and keeps them occupied, and it only requires that you take a moment online to print out a few pages before the trip. If the kids are old enough, delegate tasks, like letting them read the map or be in charge of a day's budget. Having kids actively participate in the road trip instead of just dragging them along for the ride can make them feel invested and interested in the outcome.
Our final road trip tip to keep kids amused isn't for the car but for the stops along the way. At rest stops, let kids get their energy out! Pack a jump rope and see how many skips they can do in a minute, or use a stopwatch to time them as they run to a certain point and back. The more energy they burn off outside the car, the less pent-up energy will be bouncing around in the confined space of your vehicle once you get back on the road. And don't worry if your kids look like crazed banshees at that rest stop in East Podunk, Nowhere. You'll never see the folks at the rest area ever again!
Parents know how imperative it is to keep kids entertained during a road trip, but parents and non-parents alike sometimes forget that keeping the adults entertained is just as important! Keeping your mind awake can help you stay more focused on the road and less likely to drift off. The logical place to start is with the playlist; bring a huge case of CDs, or make sure your iPod is fully charged. Bringing a wide variety of music will not only keep everyone in the car happy, it will also keep you more alert and less bored.
Car games aren't just for kids; there are a number of fun car games for adults to keep the over-eighteen crowd engaged during a road trip. To keep the mood lighthearted, play Twenty Questions or have everyone tell the funniest jokes they know. If you want to get to know your fellow passengers better, play Hot Seat, in which people takes turns interviewing their travel companions, or take along a copy of Gregory Stock's endlessly amusing--and very probing--The Book of Questions. For a cerebral challenge, play Buzz Word. Everyone in the car designates a "buzz word" at the beginning of the road trip, like "exit" or "gasoline," and whoever says the word during the journey has to put a dollar in a cup you'll use to treat yourselves on the last day of the trip. Before you leave, design a photographic scavenger hunt to see who can snap pictures of, say, a three-legged dog, a misspelled road sign, or someone playing the saxophone. The first to finish the scavenger hunt gets to control the playlist for a day or choose a kitschy museum to go to.
When traveling as a pair or with a group, divide up the driving tasks, like who will drive, who will navigate, and who will be in charge of snacks. This road trip tip sounds simple, but it can make your drive go much more smoothly. However, for this to have a positive outcome, you must keep people's strengths and weaknesses in mind. Is your friend always late for work because he sleeps through his alarm? He might not be the one you want driving in the morning, but he'll probably be awake and alert behind the wheel in the afternoon or evening. Don't put the friend who can't even boil water in charge of snacks; instead, make her the navigator and map interpreter, and send your charismatic friend with a knack for languages out into the European town you're lost in to try to get directions from the locals. Honestly evaluating how people can contribute to the road trip and giving them tasks accordingly can let everyone shine and make your road trip that much more relaxed and well-organized.
Remember, if you're renting a car and traveling with a group, talk to your rental car company and ask them if there are any additional fees. You might have to decide if it's a fee worth paying to have another driver give you a break every now and again or if you'd rather stick to one driver to save some money.
Now, we don't want to make it sound as if your mother wrote this list of road trip tips, but when you're on a road trip, you've got to take care of yourself! Driving while tired or otherwise impaired from too many late night road trip shenanigans is not only frustrating for you, it's dangerous for everyone else on the road. Make sure you get plenty of rest, and if you don't, be flexible and push back your departure time to get a few extra hours of sleep. Keep snacks in the car or take frequent meal breaks so that you're focused on the road and not distracted by a grumbling tummy. Finally, take a few minutes to get up, move around, and stretch each time you stop to eat or refill the gas tank. Treating your body well can prevent the back pain or sciatica that sometimes accompany sitting in one position for too long, and the better you feel, the more you'll be able to enjoy your fantastic road trip.
Our final road trip tip involves helping you save money so you have more to spend on fun road trip activities. A lot of money is unnecessarily spent on overpriced food during road trips, but a bit of planning can prevent that mistake. The food at rest stops and gas stations tends to be more expensive, so pack a cooler at home before you leave, and replenish it by stopping at grocery stores along the way. The food at grocery stores will be healthier, there will be more of a selection--because, really, man cannot live on beef jerky alone--and it will save you money. Take reusable bottles to help the environment and your road trip fund so you don't have to buy new bottles of water when you're thirsty. When you're going to eat at restaurants, take a moment to read reviews and look at menus online to find local restaurants in your price range. Even better, ask the locals where they like to eat! Locals tend to avoid overpriced tourist traps, and they often know the best restaurants around.
On a road trip, you'll be investing quite a lot in gas no matter what you do, but you can lessen the financial burden with a few tricks. First, consider getting a rewards card if you'll be driving in an area where you'll always be near the same gas station chain. These cards can save you up to ten cents a gallon or get you discounts on car washes or convenience store items. Second, when crossing state or international borders, look online to see which side has cheaper gas, and fill up where the prices are lower; a simple border crossing can drastically raise or drop the price of gas. Check out apps like GasBuddy and Gas Guru to find the cheapest gas prices wherever you are. Finally, to spend even less on gas, learn more about green travel and rent a hybrid car.
A good road trip heightens your sense of freedom and liberation, it connects you to yourself and your fellow travelers, and it is the best way to intimately see a place and get to know its people. A bad road trip, however, can morph into a seemingly endless nightmare that returns you home more stressed out than when you left. If you follow these ten simple road trip tips, you're bound to have an amazing, unforgettable road trip experience. All it takes is a little forethought and planning to let your worries fall away so you can focus on the open road in front of you. In addition, if you need to rent a car for your road trip but aren't sure where to start, check out our comprehensive article on the best road trip cars to point you in the right directions. Here at Auto Europe, we want you to have the greatest driving experience every time you travel, and our experts are always looking for new ways to help you out, which is why we have complete road trip planners to get your started. Travel with Auto Europe, and travel happy!
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