Posted on 18th July, 2015
Oh I could go on for days here, but here's a few of my favorite tips & tricks for making a road trip that is the adventure rather than just a road trip that just gets you to a destination.
A couple summers ago, I'm driving through Northern CA on some dirt road when I see a sign for Lava Beds National Monument -- a place I'd never even heard of. If I had made plans for that night, I probably would have passed on by to "keep to the timeline," instead I went cave exploring and found a motel down the road for the night. With apps like HotelsTonight and Priceline, you can find a place to stay pretty much as you pull into a city.
To build off my first point, a great road trip is about sights and if you're off the beaten path, being able to pull over in a national forest, cough up $5 and pop a tent for a few hours is a killer option for both budgeting and experiences. Conversely, while little towns can be great to stay in, they can also be dumps... give yourself flexibilty, it beats roaches (seriously)!
I don't use AirBnB as often as I should but when I'm going somewhere awesome, I love exploring the properties they, VRBO and similar services have. Hilton is good for work stays, swimming pools and Disneyland but you won't find a $65 / night cabin overlooking a waterfall there.
To survive driving all day, you will have stop a few times but where? Pilot and similar truck-driver places tend to be open all night, well lit, fairly safe, heated, have some food option, tons of supplies and lots of (usually clean) restrooms. Beats the heck out of some tiny gas station.
Whether it's a local outfitter or REI, mountain shops tend to be staffed by people who play in the outdoors and can tell you where to go and also how to get back safely. Case in point, I was headed to Glacier National Park last month and stopped by Rocky Mountain Outfitters who told me the grizzlies were up... way better to know that in advance than find out on the trail!
Driving passes time well, sitting does not. My solve is to plug in, blog about the last adventure or research the next one. When I get there, I have the lock to store the computer safely (and out of sight) in my car or at a coffee shop when I'm solo.
I like to stop a lot and enjoy places but gas stations are not known for their fine dining. That's fun at first but after a couple days the crummy food tires me out... enter the cooler and some better options for a much better trip or at least bulk deals on my Diet Dr. Pepper (freeze waterbottles and they make a cooling system that doubles as a hiking tool).
While social hasn't filtered down everywhere yet, I've had some great invitations and experiences by connecting up to places along my intended route long before I ever got there. You can even repurpose social meetup / dating apps to connect with local people and avoid the tourist pits.
My car knows where I am at any point and while it may not have Google's updates, I'll take the road direction over no direction. Garmin or a map, always... don't assume you get signal when you leave the main roads.
If you're going to big cities to play fancy, bring sealable containers to keep clothing nice and clean from the road dirt. If you're headed out to no where, get towels and rubber mats (Costco!) to minimize dirt. A grocery store bag attached to the shifter beats stuffing wrappers in cup holders, Hydroflask beats plastic bottles and always assume the worst will happen... tire jack, flares, cold weather gear for winter, extra water at any time. Having gear for yourself lets you have more fun too, so you can stop and play in the snow you didn't plan to find!
Febreeze for your car. Twice the chargers you're planning on. Single serving laundry detergent packs. A six pack of beer for making new friends. A deck of cards for entertaining said friends. A lot of Advil for when you, and your new friends, have to leave at 6am the next day. A flashlight for when you arrive super late the next night because you didn't leave at 6 or 9 or 11.
And the golden rule: don't pass up the opportunities along the way to explore / try / do something new. Anyone who knows me, knows I have very set ways for most things but when it comes to travel, it's just more fun to see where the road takes you.
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Ted lives in the Pacific Northwest and is an avid traveler, adventurer, and mountain climber. He can regularly be found on “endless road trips” exploring National Parks, local landmarks and the small towns on the way between his work assignments and their “typical” travel. He also blogs at www.theunseenside.com.
Road Trips, Tips, Hacks, Accomodations, Adventure, Camping, Outdoors, Social Media, GPS