In the past two months, I’ve driven over 6000 miles across the United States covering 23 states and more than 80 hours behind the wheel. All as part of my goal to visit all fifty states before my next birthday. This huge distance was broken up into two separate trips; the Midwestern road trip that I did with my brother, and our move from Florida to Las Vegas for the rest of the year. Spending so much time driving and planning these road trips has given me some insight into how to plan a successful road trip.
I know some people are comfortable living the “van life” but in reality, driving and road trips take a certain toll on your body. Our trip from Tampa to Las Vegas was broken up into about six days with stops in New Orleans, Dallas, and Santa Fe, but both me and Mallory were feeling ready to be done with driving by the time we made it to New Mexico.
This may sound like common sense, but the first step to planning a successful road trip is to decide are you doing a point to point road trip or a loop road trip? Choosing your start and end point will make it easier to plan your trip around a reasonable amount of driving each day, while also giving you time to enjoy and experience each place you stop.
Once you have a starting point and ending point, it becomes a lot easier to look at the map and make a list of locations and things in between point A and B that you’d like to see. Once you have this list, prioritize them based on how much time you think you’d like to spend there. During the Midwestern road trip I knew that there was quite a bit I wanted to see in South Dakota around Mt. Rushmore, since I had several items within about an hours drive, it made sense we spent three nights in the area even though it meant our first day of driving was longer than we preferred. I was extremely happy we stayed longer in South Dakota, because glamping at Under Canvas Mt. Rushmore was amazing!
Like I said above on the Midwestern road trip I knew we wanted to hike in Badlands National Park, see Mount Rushmore, Hike in the Black Hills, and take full advantage of glamping in South Dakota, so we spent more time there because we could check more of our “must see” locations off our list.
I’d say try to limit yourself to no more than 9 hours of driving each day. Our trip from Tampa to Las Vegas ended up being about 9 and a half hours per day of driving, which wasn’t too bad. We both still had a decent amount of energy to get out and explore at each of our three stops. The midwestern road trip, on the other hand, started with a 14 hour driving day to get from Minneapolis to Fargo to Rapid City. Luckily we had three nights in the same area following that, but we were still worn out earlier in our trip giving us less motivation to push through and explore when we ended each night of driving.
I put myself through being the only driver on a 3,000-mile road trip so you don’t have to. On the Midwest road trip, my brother and I split the driving pretty close to equally. By the end of that trip I was tired, but if we still had a few more days I could handle it no problem. For our trip from Florida to Las Vegas, I drove the entire way. My back hurt, my wrists were sore from holding on to the steering wheel, and I felt much more run down than after the Midwestern road trip. Splitting up the driving duties will make sure that you can stay alert and have a chance to stretch out your back and legs more than you do when you’re stuck behind the wheel.
Having a start time each morning is one way to feel like you’re on some sort of schedule during a road trip. You are bound to cross time zones, miss breakfast or lunch, but if you can stick to a starting time each morning it helps take some of the stress of being on the road. The flexible part of your road trip schedule is building in time for the unknowns – bathroom breaks, car trouble, traffic, or the best reason possible- stumbling upon something amazing that you didn’t know was along your route! The last happened to us as we passed through Amarillo, Texas when Mallory spotted one of the famous Instagram spots of the world, Cadillac Ranch. Even though we only spent about 15 minutes wandering around shooting photos, we had given ourselves extra time by leaving early that morning.
To me, one of the best things about travel is getting to try new food and drinks specific to a country, region, or even city. In New Orleans, we had to try beignets, in Santa Fe we had some amazing southwestern style cuisine. Trying the food and drinks local to the area you visit will give you a greater appreciation for the places you visit. You can actually plan entire culinary adventures where your trip centers around food, but the least you can do is give some local delicacies a try.
If you can name someone who genuinely enjoys gas station food I can tell you someone who is lying. Overcooked hot dogs, stale burritos, and all of the other junk food you’ll find at gas stations in America just isn’t appetizing. So when planning a successful road trip, you have a few options to avoid the gas station gastronomy. The first and best option is to pack a cooler with some of your favorite snacks or pre-prepared meals before you leave home. This option makes sure that you have healthy options that you know you’ll like. Some of my favorite road trip snacks include beef jerky, granola bars, and Hillshire farms meat and cheese snack packs. The next best option is to break down your driving days in half and plan on a lunch stop near a city. The second option can be tough when you are driving through less populated areas like we were for both the Midwestern road trip and our trip out to Las Vegas. This option is also tricky when you’re bringing your dog along because not all places are as dog-friendly as Tampa.
Some signs of dehydration are sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion or irritability these are all things that you don’t want to feel during a road trip, so it is imperative that you stay hydrated. Most people don’t drink nearly enough water while driving because they don’t want to keep stopping. One solution is to use a hydration supplement like Liquid I.V. to help your body hydrate more efficiently. Both Mallory and I brought refillable water bottles, but we also brought along additional bottled and boxed water in case we got thirsty and finished off our bottles in between stops. One way to reduce your plastic use is buying boxed water or a refillable bottle from the grocery store before you leave.
You can get an America the Beautiful annual national parks pass for just $80. The pass is valid for one year and grants admission to over 2,000 Federal Fee areas including national parks and national forests. To prove its worth it admission to Yosemite for a day is $35, so if you visit 3 national parks within a year, you’ve more than got your money’s worth. The pass also comes with a discount for some extended park amenities such as camping.
A successful road trip is only possible if the vehicle you are using makes it all the way to the end. If you aren’t renting a car for your road trip, be sure that you have your oil changed, tires rotated, and brakes checked before leaving. There wouldn’t be a much worse scenario than getting ready to hit the road on the third day of your trip only to find your car in need of service. Not only will this possibly save your trip, but it should also give you peace of mind that you’ll be safe on your journey.
They say “a clean car is a happy car”, and this is even truer during an extended road trip. Not only will the keeping the car clean be more comfortable for everyone in the vehicle, but it is also safer. I like to “take out the trash” every time we stop. That means if we stop at a rest area, I’m throwing away (or recycling) all of the new snack wrappers or other garbage we accumulated since our last stop. Believe it or not, it makes a huge difference in lowering stress during long trips!
If it is up to the radio you’ll hear the same 15 songs over and over again on your trip. To keep your sanity and have a successful road trip create some playlists ahead of time or make sure you download your favorite Spotify list to get you through some of those cell phone dead zones that you’re bound to encounter.
The best part about road trips is the plan is fluid and constantly changing. Love a stop way more than you expected? Stay an extra day. Don’t like a place so much? Leave a little early. A road trip is kind of like those old choose your own adventure books, and you’re in control of where you go. Be spontaneous because some of the favorite things we have done or seen have come because we decided to do something on a whim.
I would love to hear where your favorite road trip was and if you have any tips for a successful road trip that I may have missed! Let me know in the comments below or tweet them at me @passports2life and use #P2Lroadtriptips. You can see all of our adventures from both road trips on Instagram and Facebook, so make sure you’re following to not miss any travel inspiration!