5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Road Trip

by  Maryrose Mullen | Mar 14, 2013
Family roadtrip
Family roadtrip / Epiximages/iStock

Last year, I drove 10 hours from New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit a friend, and will be making the same trek this April. With spring around the corner and gas prices expected to drop over the next year, road trip season is upon us. But cross-country adventures are not just about rolling down the windows and belting the Backstreet Boys (guilty). Boredom or fatigue can set in, expenses can pile up, and if you have to listen to one more pop song from the 90’s you’re going to drive off a cliff. Unless you want to abandon your travel companion in a roadside ditch, there are a few essentials needed for every road trip.

1. Know Your Costs

Driving is often a cheaper alternative to other means of travel. But though prices have recently dipped, gas remains expensive, averaging $3.74/gallon in the U.S. Figuring out the cost of your trip beforehand is a great way to keep the dent in your wallet minimal. It’s also wise to look up gas stations (avoid stops near airports and urban areas, where the prices tend to be higher) on your route ahead of time to find the ones with the lowest prices, and pack plenty of snacks to avoid splurging on junk along the way.

2. Make a Solid Playlist (or Two)

If you’re not the same kind of crazy as me and don’t want to spend 10 hours listening to RuPaul’s “Jealous of My Boogie” on a loop, your best bet is to make a playlist. Radio reception can get spotty, so it’s good to have a well-stocked iPod of jams. Make a playlist that’s about the same length of time as the drive, and load it with power ballads, crooning boy bands, and anything else that will keep your energy up. For variety, make a separate playlist for each leg of the trip. Our recs? Kanye West will match your excitement on the way there, while Adele can help you mourn the end of your vacation.

3. Reset the Trip Meter

A lengthy trip can be tedious, and it’s hard to take pride in the miles you’ve already covered when you’ve still got a whopping seven hours to go. Break up the drive into smaller increments by resetting your car’s trip meter every hundred miles or so. Each time you hit a certain mile marker, it will feel like a small victory.

4. Plan Stops

You’re eager to get to your destination, sure, but that’s no reason to speed past your surroundings. Don’t waste your break on a random highway rest stop. Stretch your legs at an interesting landmark or site you looked up before departing. Take advantage of your time in a new state: Explore a small town, visit a lesser-known monument, or drive an hour out of your way for the best fried chicken in the world (I did that last one; totally worth it).

5. Avoid Big Highways

Major highways are the most efficient means of road tripping, but half the fun is in the journey. Using smaller roadways may yield more fascinating sights, and give you a better taste of the local life. If you’re feeling adventurous, set your GPS to “avoid highways” and see where you end up. (This option can be risky, especially if you haven’t updated your system in a while. You might get a scenic romp through a national park; you might wind up precariously balanced on top of a mountain.) While it’s a good idea to download the best travel apps, it’s just as smart to keep a paper map on hand, just in case. Taking smaller highways may tack on some extra time, but the trip will be that much more memorable because of it.

Have you got any road trip tips that we missed? Tell us in the comments!

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