We are, once again, ready to embark on another cross-country road trip. Our trip this year has several legs, the first taking us 2233 miles, through 8 states, in six days. We tend to not go more than 6 or 7 hours a day when we have the pups, which we will on this trip. The second leg will take us over 642 miles down the coast of Oregon, through the Redwoods in California, and finally to San José, California. And lastly, we will travel from San José back home, covering 2798 miles with possible visits to Austin, TX and New Castle, OK. The last leg hasn’t been fully formed, or planned, but at this point we’re thinking about it. If that’s the case, by the end of our big road trip this year, we will have traveled well over 5000 miles and covered 14 states. It’s a big one. Our summer road trips usually are.
Since we moved from Oregon in 2011 we’ve made some version of this trip every year since. We always try to vary our routes there and back, see new things, and we’ve always, every time, enjoyed the hell out of ourselves. We love each other’s company, love seeing the country, love listening to music while we do it, love the photos we take, and love the experiences we have along the way. Small towns to big cities, vast areas of gorgeous countryside, conversations with locals in coffee shops, traveling on the road is a fantastic thing. It’s a wonderful adventure.
As we get ready for the trip this year I was making lists of stuff to pack, trying to remember all the things we need to do before we go. It seems like there are always a million little things, and then ultimately there’s really only making sure we have us, the dogs and their supplies, and something to wear as we hit the road. It initially always seems complicated, but at the core it never really is.
Thinking about our trip, planning out and preparing, I wondered if some of what we’ve learned doing these road trips might be helpful, or at least amusing, to other people. So I did what bloggers have been known to do in situations like this, I created a list.
Tips to help make a road trip successful, in random order…
1. Make digital playlists or mix tapes or mix CDs or whatever it is you mix. Make them long and fill them with stuff you like, but also stuff that’s slightly unfamiliar. Make them funky. Include music from your childhood, from different times in your life, use different genres. It’s cool to be driving along and suddenly a song comes on that I used to love as a teen. Next thing you know we’re singing at the top of our lungs, pounding on the steering wheel, seat dancing, and grooving like it’s 1999. Variety is key. The music will become the soundtrack of the trip. And something cool will happen, you will hear a song from the playlist later, after you’re back home, and you’ll think of something that happened during the trip when that song was playing.
2. Bring water, lots of it. For some reason a person gets parched driving across, around, and through the country. I don’t know if it’s the air in the summer and the heat in the winter or it’s just all the talking and singing you do while you’re sitting there, but a person definitely gets thirsty. Having water handily available is something you’ll want, trust me.
3. Use a camera, a lot. It doesn’t matter which kind — high-end, point and shoot, phone. Just use one. Remember not to just take photos of the stuff you’re seeing, take photos of yourselves as well. Take strange and funny photos. Be silly. Make yourselves laugh while you’re taking them. You’ll laugh later when you look at them. Try to think about using photos to “describe” your journey. What would that journey look like. Tell that story. Use those photos as your travelogue. K and I play this game with the camera. Whoever is in the passenger seat takes photos out the window as we’re driving. The rule is we can’t stop for a photo-op (OK, yes, sometimes we actually do stop if it’s something really amazing, but in general, no). Some of the stuff we’ve taken has ended up being amazing. You have to be quick, you fly by the seat of your pants, and you don’t know, half the time, if you get what you’re trying to shoot. But later, when we look at those photos, we remember parts of the trip we wouldn’t have otherwise. We’re reminded of the smaller things along the way. Like that huge wine glass and bottle on the side of that hill made of wire or something. Strange, and cool, and luckily for us, captured.
4. Plan ahead without planning ahead too much. When we travel we pretty much know our route, though we do detour sometimes, on a day-to-day basis. We usually have somewhere we know we’re going to stay that night. We’ve done the fly by the seat of our pants thing, but when we had to drive for 16 hours once because we couldn’t find a room — let’s just say it taught us a tiny lesson about preparedness. However, being ready is one thing, spontaneity is another. You can have your route planned, but don’t be so stuck on it and your timeline that you don’t allow yourself to stop and see something wonderful. It’s possible to stop spontaneously and still make your room that night. We once decided to leave the interstate (we do this often actually as we prefer smaller two lane highways so we can really see the country) and ended up finding the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. It’s an amazing place, and we’d highly recommend it. It wasn’t on the day’s itinerary, but it was totally worth getting to our room a couple of hours later than we’d planned. Surprises are good, and make the trip, you just have to let yourself be open to them.
5. Bring snacks and try to be healthy-ish with them. It will help to stop the fast food urge. If you’re starving by the time you stop it’s easy to look at the closest burger place and give in. If you have snacks, it will help you to make more considered choices. I only mention this because if you find yourself eating greasy fast food, or heavier food, while you’re on the road you won’t feel as good during the trip. Feeling good allows you to have a better time. We know this, from experience.
6. Stop at roadside attractions to marvel at greatness, and strangeness, and silliness. I use a site called Roadtrippers to help plan our trips. It’s great because it allows you to look for different things along the route you might find interesting, like natural national monuments or the largest fork in the world. The site has great filters and lets you really narrow down things specific to what you like. There are the times, as well, that you just happen to come across these things as you drive. Stop. Check them out. The adventure of a road trip is enhanced 10 fold by these little side trips. We saw the fork, by the way, and it was awesome.
7. Talk to locals when getting coffee or ordering food or just walking about. I’ve found they are pretty friendly and willing to talk about their town and the area that surrounds it. And locals will know the difference between which places are honestly good and which places are good only in guidebooks. Those can be two different things. Talking to locals will also give you the flavor of a place. It’s what helps you realize that really, we are all the same. It’s the part of the trip that broadens your view and expands your horizons. It has expanded ours. It helps if you get off the main road and go into a place, not just through it. We try to find a funky local coffee shop every morning during our trips. We’ve had some great brew, and more importantly, seen some places we wouldn’t have seen and talked to people we wouldn’t have talked to. You get better coffee and better interaction at an actual coffee place than you do a truck stop. Oh, and go in, don’t just use the drive thru.
8. This one is a tad crude, but crucial. Pee when you can. There are surprisingly large stretches of road with nowhere to go. Literally. So when you stop for gas or snacks or to walk the dogs at a park, if there are facilities, and you feel even the slightest inkling, use them. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve not learned this lesson. Leave in the morning after grabbing coffee from a local place, pass by some little part of civilization where accommodations can be found thinking surely there will be something up ahead only to find ourselves in total pain by the time we reach somewhere we can go. If you can avoid the bushes along the road, that’s my recommendation. If not, the bushes, or that small twig, might have to do. It doesn’t hurt to have a roll of toilet paper in the car. Just sayin’.
9. Make the dogs, if you have them, as comfortable as possible. We do this whole layered thing in the back of the Jeep so they can lay down, but still see out. Additionally we give them a couple of toys and a couple of bully sticks to chew. We also figured out a way to have a little bowl of water for them in the back. They use it. We’ve found that by doing all this we make them more calm, and the trip is easier for them, and consequently it’s easier for us. It’s tough, just by their nature, traveling with pets. Our boy dog gets car sick, but we’ve found an herbal remedy for it that makes him much more comfortable. And as I said, when they are more comfortable, we are.
10. Stop often enough. Get off the main drag. Sometimes it’s tempting to put the pedal to the metal and keep it on the road, hour after hour. After all, you want to get there, to that next place. But driving endlessly without stopping is exhausting, and it can become this monotonous thing. Have you ever been on the road, driving straight through to somewhere, and once you get there you don’t really remember anything from the trip. Small details about gas stations and drive thru windows pop into your mind, but nothing about the places you actually drove through. Stopping every two or three hours allows you to recharge, regroup, take a breath, look around, stretch. It makes the trip, as whole, seem more relaxed, easier somehow. Stopping allows you to appreciate what’s there, where you are, the places you’re traveling through. It’s so worth it. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right? The saying is corny, but it’s true none the less.
Now get out there, and see something.