A tradition almost as old as America itself: The Road Trip. Ever since Lewis and Clark completed the original Road Trip in 1803, Americans have had an itch that can only be satisfied by the open road. John Steinbeck said it best in his 1961 book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America,
“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”
- Take the Scenic Route. With a few exceptions, interstate highways are boring. Go with the windy, one-lane road that takes you twice as long. You’ll be glad you did. When you see a sign that grabs your interest, take a detour. Make a pit stop for some fresh cantaloupe on the side of the road. It’ll probably be the best you’ve ever had.
- Keep Your Car Clean. This one is important–unless you want to drive around in a car that smells like fast food and beef jerky. Develop a system. Pack snacks in plastic bags, put the trash back in the bags and throw them out when you stop for gas. It’s that simple.
- Pack Snacks–And Plenty of Them! Some classic travel snacks are trail mix (obviously), beef jerky, pretzels, and ideally some kind of fruit or vegetable. But you want something that won’t make a mess, like grapes or carrots. It’s also very important to make sure you eat your perishable snacks on Day One. You want to experience the spirit of America, not the smell of rotten food.
- Change Your Oil. And check to make sure everything in your car is running as it should. The last thing you want is for Ol’ Faithful to break down on you in the middle of Arkansas because you didn’t check your brake fluid. If your mechanically inclined, you can give your car a quick check-up yourself. Even if you’re not, there are some things you should be able to do on your own. For instance, the air filter is easy to check and cheap to replace, but it can make a big difference in your fuel economy on a long trip.
- Make a Great Playlist. That steering wheel starts to look a lot like a microphone after a few hundred miles. You need some good tunes. But don’t worry, this is what God created 90’s music for. Go ahead, roll down the windows and blast some Alanis Morissette. The road doesn’t care what your voice sounds like nor will it debate whether rain on your wedding day is actually ironic or just bad luck.
- Get Some Audiobooks–Preferably Travel-Themed! This is a must for solo travelers! There is something about driving through new places stuck in a car that brings out one’s philosophical side. Dig into classic literature or travel writing and discover something new about a place, life, and yourself all at the same time! But don’t read and drive. It’s worth it to pay a little extra money to get the audio version so you can keep your eyes on the road and the beautiful scenery all around you.
- Invest in Roadside Assistance. Some dealers will offer it when you buy a car, especially if it’s newer. But AAA (the American Automobile Association) is always a good bet, too. They will tow your car if it breaks down or fix your tire if it goes flat. Your parents will be able to sleep a little bit easier, too, knowing that you won’t end up stuck in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. It’s $52/year for basic coverage. It might seem like a lot, but if you use it even once, it will probably be worth it. And they didn’t even pay me to say that.
- Drive the Speed Limit. Nothing puts a damper on your drive across Illinois like a $200 fine and an increase in your insurance premium. Remember, there’s no hurry. And police officers don’t always like people from out-of-state, especially if you have some sort of offensive bumper sticker like a Dallas Cowboys logo or something.
- Pick a Theme. Give your journey a purpose. Whether you’re on a voyage to throw the Ring of Power into Mount Doom or you’re just trying to decide if Five Guys, In-N-Out, or Shake Shack has the best burgers; it will add excitement to your trip and give you a good story to tell at the end. Read more in our Road Trip Themes for 2015 guide.
- Make Plans. Whether you are searching for One-Eyed Willy’s Treasure or just trying to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, you should plan out your stops in advance. Time, money, and stamina will keep you from being able to see everything that looks interesting. So prioritize the places that are most important to you. Make sure to leave enough time to really take in the sights before you rush off to the next thing.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Change Them. Go wherever the wind takes you. If going out of your way to see an old friend, a historical site, or a giant ball of twine feels adventurous; then go for it. When you get back, you’ll never have to wonder what a giant ball of twine smells like or how they got it that big, because you went and you lived it! Someday you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren about it.