Preparing for Your Great American Road Trip

Jon Fesmire |

Ever wanted to drive across the U.S. to see the sights and experience the sheer grandeur of this continent? Or do you just want to get away for a weekend or a week and head out on the open road?

Road trips are a long standing tradition, and everyone from new college graduates to families head out for some car travel now and then. These vacations can be a lot of fun and satisfy the need for adventure. However, you’ll want to be prepared before you go in order to avoid common pitfalls and to make sure everyone gets along. After all, you and your companions will be sitting in the close quarters of a vehicle for a long ride. When heading out on an especially long road trip, you may have no permanent living arrangement for when you return home. If this is the case, make sure you have somewhere to stay temporarily when you get back, and also set aside enough money for a rental deposit. While on your trip, you may also need a storage unit. A week or two before you head out should give you enough time to visit a nearby self storage facility, rent a unit, and put what you need in it for the short term. Storage facilities offer month-to-month rentals, so you’ll only need to rent a unit for as long as you need it.

Planning Ahead

With any large endeavor, it pays to plan ahead, especially when there may be high stress involved. As much as you probably love whomever you’re going with on your road trip, after long days of driving, people can get cranky.

You should make your initial plans well in advance, especially if you need to save money for the trip. It’s especially helpful to have a budget. Figure in accommodations, such as hotels and campgrounds, food, including dining out, events, souvenirs, gasoline, and have money set aside for emergencies. Use a spreadsheet program, like Microsoft Excel, to keep track of your budget and spending. Also, think of ways you can save money. When you get snacks, remember that dollar stores often have brand names for less. Rather than eating at the hotel restaurant, bring food to your room. When making your plans, look for deals on event tickets. Want to go to a movie? See if the area you’re staying in has a budget theater. These are often great places to see movies that came out several months ago. As for the logistics of traveling itself, start planning at least a week in advance. Who’s going on the trip? Is the car big enough? If there aren’t enough seats in the car for everyone, you may need to rent a vehicle for the duration of the trip. How much room is in the trunk? Everyone should bring one suitcase and one travel bag or backpack. There may be more to consider than you think, so here’s a helpful list.
  1. Make a list of occupants and figure each will bring one suitcase and one backpack. This will give you an idea of how many seats and how much space you’ll need.

  2. If your car will not accommodate the entire group, does someone else going on the trip have a car as well? You could make it a two-car trip, or rent one big vehicle. If you do the latter, make sure that everyone going gets listed on the car rental contract.

  3. Reserve your hotels and get your event tickets ahead of time! If you’re going to theme parks, concerts, and the like, it’s wise to get your tickets ahead of time.

  4. Get an accordion folder and designate one folder section per day. In each section, store your hotel booking information, tickets, and whatever paperwork you need for that day of your trip.

  5. Do you plan to go cycling on your trip? What about skiing? Consider saving space in your vehicle by renting what you need at your destination.

  6. Today, GPS is pretty reliable, but it can cut out for extended periods, and some areas may not have it. Get some good old road maps, just in case.

  7. Keep a first aid kit in each vehicle, just in case an accident happens.

  8. Vehicles need care, too! Hopefully you won’t need to use an automobile emergency kit, but have one, just in case. Any auto shop should be able to give you ideas of what you might need.

  9. Plan to stop every two hours or so to allow everyone to use the restroom and stretch. Get your body moving, get the blood flowing, and allow yourself a break from sitting.

  10. Whatever you do, do not drive tired! If you’re too tired to drive, stop for the night, even if it will change your plans, or ask a companion to drive.

Traveling in an RV

Traveling in an RV will be significantly different than traveling in a smaller vehicle. An RV has much more space. You’ll need much of it for sleeping, but you may be able to bring more with you. You’ll stay at campgrounds rather than at hotels. Campgrounds tend to have more activities than hotels, and your RV trip will likely be more oriented toward enjoying the outdoors than a trip by car. If you’re renting an RV, know that there are various sizes available, and the smaller ones are more fuel efficient. Stick to wider, less winding roads, and if you’re moving slower than traffic, stay in the right lane so others can pass.

Suitcases and Backpacks

What should you bring in your suitcases and backpacks? In your suitcase, you’ll bring your necessities. These include clothes, toiletries like soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and shampoo, plus jewelry, and medications.

Your backpack or travel bag is where you keep things to enjoy during the drive and when resting. This includes books, your smartphone and tablet, and any other small activities you can enjoy. I also suggest a charging stick to extend the battery life of your devices. Mp3 players are especially good for children and teens on a family trip, as they allow them to listen to their own music and not bother each other too much.

Everyone should have a travel journal. So many interesting things happen when traveling, it’s worth writing about what you did at the end of the day. Your journal entries can be as short or long as you like. The idea is to help you remember the places and stories from your journey.

Lastly, make sure to have some extra room in your suitcase. You’re bound to pick up some souvenirs on your trip and will need to put them somewhere.

Passenger Necessities

Two important things to have readily available are snacks, including drinks, and one or more garbage receptacles. If you have a van with a monitor so your kids can watch DVDs or Blu Ray videos, select some of their favorite movies to bring with you. Passengers might want sleeping masks and earplugs to make snoozing in the vehicle easier.

Road Rules

It’s a good idea to have a few rules of the road before you head out, even if it’s with other adult friends. For example, a good rule for a group of friends or a family is that everyone will dump their trash in a nearby garbage can at each stop. Another for friends or families is for people to organize their own things at each stop. This shouldn’t take any more than a minute or two.

With these ideas in mind, you’ll be ready to plan out your next great road trip. Without a doubt, you’ll come up with other ideas that will work for you and your group as you make your plans.

Now, get organized, and head out on your adventure!