Making the Most of the Open Road
● By Kimberly Boney
Life is a Highway
By Kimberly Bonéy
Wanderlust is a real thing. It’s a deep, impenetrable sense of desire to travel. Some may even call it a need. Those who are unrelentingly drawn to the open road – where they will undoubtedly meet with new places, people and experiences – are keenly aware that a road trip might be the cheapest and most readily accessible cure for the travel bug. The same unpredictability that can leave us excited to see what gem is around the next corner is what could leave us stranded in a strange town overnight – and there’s something oddly enchanting about that. The perfect road trip is a balancing act between planning and spontaneity. Let us show you how to strike that balance.
Road Trip Like A Boss
1. First things first. Is your vehicle up to snuff to make the trip? It’s all fun and games until your car decides to sputter and die on a lonely road with no cell reception. When in doubt, rent a car. The cost to rent one might be cheaper than the cost to get your own vehicle road-ready – and you won’t have to worry about wear and tear on your personal vehicle. Find a reputable car rental agency with locations dotted along your path of travel, for added peace of mind. Ask for any applicable discounts, including those who hold AAA and Costco memberships. Take the car for a spin before you set out on your destination to make sure it’s in tip-top condition.
2. Is this a family trip, one you are taking with your honey or your bestie, or are you in for a solo ride? Knowing who will be rolling with you will help you determine a realistic destination, where you’ll stop along the way, and how many hours you can reasonably drive in a day. Most of all, it’ll help you set the tone for your trip. Traveling with kids requires a bit more planning, a lot more patience and will likely add to the length of the trip in bathroom and play breaks alone. Traveling with another adult is a great way to bond and helps to offset costs and shorten driving time, if the other adult is willing to absorb some behind-the-wheel hours. Solo travel can be an exhilarating adventure, but make sure to keep safety and extra cash at the forefront of your mind.3. Map it out. Plug your destination into your smart phone but bring a paper map along for the ride, in case you hit a spot without a proper signal. Figure out some of the coolest things to do along your route, bearing in mind that your stops may be contingent upon who is on the trip with you. If you’ve got three kids in tow, it’s ill-advised to commit to a bar-hopping tour or a casino run, but a meal at a restaurant famous for its grilled cheese or a candy factory tour might make everyone happy. Leave some space in between for the cool, unexpected opportunities that may come your way.
4. Flexibility is key. Road trips are more fun when you go with the flow. Be open to the adventure that comes. Room availability will vary between seasons, so pre-book during peak times. But you may even opt to pass on the pre-determined hotel reservations, in case you decide to take a detour to another cool attraction or you find yourself with a second wind and want to make more headway on your trip. Stop at the local fruit stand, linger a few more moments at a stellar vista point, savor each bite of that buffalo burger and take the time to snag an Insta-worthy shot at the quirky spot along the route. The journey is just as important as the destination.
5. Don’t feel pressured to stop at places that don’t appeal to you. If museums aren’t your thing or you get carsick on winding roads, it’s OK to bypass something everyone raves about to ensure everyone is happy with the takeaway. This is your trip and the memories you make should make you smile – not roll your eyes. Asking your social media circle for recommendations is a great way to get a unique cross-section of ideas, which can help you separate the must-dos from the no-thank-yous. If you want to find the gems that will make your trip special, keep an open heart and follow your sense of adventure. Chances are the gems will find you that way.
6. Downtime is not overrated. Travel can be hard on the body. Be sure to get adequate sleep on the road. It’s important not to overcommit when it comes to your daily driving time. Six to eight hours of driving time is generally a reasonable measure. Driving while you are tired is nearly as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s not worth the risk. Taking a day or two along the trip to rest isn’t a waste of time. It’s an opportunity to give yourself and your co-travelers a chance to truly appreciate the journey. Life is more fun when we aren’t tired and grumpy.
7. Eat healthily. Sure, there will be delicious food along the way. From hole-in-the-wall spots to restaurants with Michelin star rating and everything in between, it’s important to enjoy good food on your trip. But it’s just as important to eat food you know won’t make you sick. If you adhere to a gluten-free diet when you aren’t traveling, stick to the same program when you are. Getting sick is exponentially harder when you aren’t in your own space. Research some restaurants that can accommodate your dietary needs. Pack healthy snacks and plenty of bottled water to keep cases of “the hangries” and dehydration to a minimum.
8. Make your memories work for you. If you are a writer, take 15 minutes a day to journal about the places and people you’ve encountered. If photography is your thing, seek out the places you can’t wait to capture on film. If you are truly drawn to the souvenir that is the quintessential representation of the place you are visiting, take it home, but you certainly aren’t bound by tradition here. A rare book from a quirky, local bookstore or a cool vintage record from an artist you’ve always wanted to check out are viable souvenirs, too. Buy handmade pieces from local artists whenever possible. The connection that you make with the people you meet is a gift, too. Your souvenir doesn’t have to have the name of the town emblazoned on it to make it something you’ll love for a lifetime.
9. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. Our base level instincts are in place for a reason. Those fight-or-flight responses and even those subtle whispers in our hearts can protect us from harmful situations. Always make sure a family member or friend who isn’t traveling with you knows where you are (at least approximately) along the route of your trip – particularly if you are traveling solo.
10. Last, but not least: leave nothing visible in the car to encourage would-be thieves. If you must leave items in the car, be sure they are well hidden away in the trunk, glove compartment, console or under the seat. Use dark-colored blankets to cover your luggage. Whenever possible, keep your vehicle within your line of vision and always lock your doors. If you will be sleeping in your vehicle, be sure to move it during the day so as not to create the ideal circumstance for someone to steal your belongings while you are off adventuring.
Before You Go
• Check out the tires, front and rear lights, brakes, transmission and oil levels on the vehicle.
• Put eyes on your spare tire to make sure it’s there and that it’s in good condition.
• Make sure your windshield wipers are working.
• Have a first aid kit in your car.
• Purchase roadside assistance of some kind, if you haven’t already.
• Download or update the apps you’ll need for your trip, such as Google Maps, Waze, Roadtrippers and Trip Advisor.
• Download your favorite music, movies, audiobooks and podcasts onto your device so it’ll be available even if you are in an area with limited streaming options.
• Check the weather. You’ll need snow chains, snow boots and warm coats to travel to certain destinations in the winter.
20 Items You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without
• Bottled water
• Non-perishable food items and fruit that can hold up for a few days
• A full arsenal of medicine, including any prescription medications, an anti-allergen, an epi pen, a pain reliever, an anti-nausea medication and a topical ointment
• Phone chargers – one for the hotel and one for the car
• A wireless battery charger or a spare battery with a full charge
• Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, washcloths and towels
• A tent
• A large flashlight
• Jumper cables
• Licenses, registration and proof of insurance
• A paper map
• Spare cash and loose change for emergencies, tolls and metered parking
• Trash bags
• A couple of rolls of toilet tissue and paper towels
• Your old school, hand-written address book
• Toys for the kids
• A swimsuit for each traveler regardless of the season, because swimming holes and indoor pools are a thing
• A pair of flip-flops for the shower
• A warm, water-resistant jacket for each traveler, even in summer
• One or two extra outfits per traveler in case of travel delays
One-Day Road Trips
Go North: Appeal to your inner thespian and take a trip to Ashland. Head farther north to Portland if you are feeling up to a longer drive.
Go South: Soak up some city vibes with a trip to San Francisco, the East Bay or Sacramento.
Go East: If you are feeling lucky, make your way to Reno. You’ll be a hop, skip and jump away from Lake Tahoe while you are there.
Go West: If you need to feel sea breeze in your lungs, take a trip to the coast. Eureka, Trinidad and Mendocino are the perfect places to put your toes in the sand.