How To Road Trip

How To Road Trip

Get your motor runnin’
head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
And whatever comes our way

- Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf

Road trips are a golden opportunity to be spontaneous and tour a particular destination on your own schedule. From the front seat of a car, the scenery is closer and more accessible than any bus, train or plane - plus there is no tour guide there to stop you from pulling over to take pictures. But for all the freedom that travelling in your vehicle provides, a little bit of planning goes a long way. This month we're paying tribute to the great tradition of road tripping by pointing out the ten commandments for a successful journey.

  • Do

    1. MAKE SURE THE CAR IS RUNNING SMOOTHLY. You want your car running well before a big trip. If it's due for a service, don't wait until you get back to take it in. You think airline failures and train maintenance are annoying delays - try waiting for a new fan belt when you're parked on the side of a freeway. Your wheels, engine, oil and water all need to be checked or changed before you leave. Also, make sure your spare wheel and tyre changing gear are in good shape. When (God forbid) it comes to changing a tyre, you'll have a fit if the spare is flat or your jack is broken.

    2. EAT SMART. Just like your car needs petrol, oil and water to run efficiently, your body needs choice ingredients to keep going (Try to eat balanced meals as much as possible). If you fill up on Haribos, crisps and chocolates all day, you run the risk of getting car sick, a bout of indigestion, heart burn or just a feeling of being generally unhealthy.

      Ideally, you should pack your own meals (enough for at least one a day). Make some nice sandwiches on wholewheat bread, with fresh salad somewhere. All those delicious deli ingredients are cheaper from the grocery store, too, which is another added bonus. Remember: every fiver you'd spend at the off-licence along the way is just less money you've got at your final destination. If you're going to get some crisps and junk food, buy from a large grocery store where they sell in bulk, rather than forking out a quid every time you need something to nibble on.

      Remember to bring a bin liner to throw all your packets and empty juice containers away in. The last thing you want is a car full of rubbish and nowhere to put it.

    3. GET COMFY. If you're sitting like a squashed spider for hours on end, your back and neck are going to give you problems. Use a pillow to support your neck, back or bottom, and try to keep your spine straight at all times. Bending into a thousand corners for the sake of lying down will only hurt your posture at the end of the day. The whole point of going on your road trip is to enjoy the scenery, which is very hard to do while face down on a chiropractor's table.

      Wearing the right clothing is another factor that goes a long way towards making the journey easier. Stick to wearing light cotton and clothing that makes it easier to layer up or down. You don't want to overburden yourself with thick jeans and jackets - unless you are road tripping in a banger with no heat and windows that are frozen open.

    4. ROTATE DRIVERS AND TAKE BREAKS. Keep your concentration levels up by having a break at least every two hours. Get out of the car, take in some fresh air and stretch your legs. Driver fatigue, which is caused by too many hours behind the wheel without breaks, is a very dangerous condition that causes sleep-like symptoms. We've all experienced it at some point; fatigue sets in when you're in boring meetings, long classes or performing a mindless task for hours on end. The main difference with driver fatigue is that you are steering nearly a ton of steel along a road full of hazards. Fatigue, tiredness and boredom cause plenty of accidents, so be vigilant about taking breaks.

      If you're on a trip with friends or family, share the driving duties to make sure there is always somebody fresh driving. If you've been driving all day and it's pitch dark outside, stop over for the night somewhere. It doesn't matter if you fall behind on your schedule - it's better to arrive late than dead on time.

    5. CREATE A ROAD TRIP PLAYLIST. Music is a necessity on any road trip. It helps set the mood and keeps you company while everyone else is sleeping in the back. The radio is good for talk shows, news and the weather, but very limiting as far as actual music is concerned - you'll hear pretty much the same popular songs over and over again everywhere in the world.

      With MP3 players and CDs, one of the most fun preliminary activities before you set off is compiling a play list. Music and nostalgia are closely linked, and the tunes you chose to spin in the car will bookmark moments in your journey and always remind you of the great times that you had along the way.

    6. KEEP THE KIDS ENTERTAINED. If you're taking young kids with you on the road, pack some games and toys to keep them busy during the times when there isn't much to see. Their inquisitive minds are easily bored by the monotony of sitting in the car, listening to mom and dad bang on about grown up stuff. For more comprehensive advice on travelling with young ones, take a look at our guide to travelling with toddlers.

    7. TAKE SIDE-TRIPS. One of the great things about a road trip is having a schedule that can be altered at a moment's notice. If something unexpected pops up and tickles your fancy, take a side trip and stick around for a while. It could be anything - a fairground in a small town, a quaint restaurant, a camping site that overlooks the beach, or just a feeling that makes you want to stay somewhere for longer than you originally planned.

      If you are with a partner, your family or a crowd of friends, put the side trip idea up for vote. If you have the majority backing your decision to change direction for a few hours or an extra day, great. If not, don't be selfish - move on and come back on your own time.

  • Don't

    1. BE UNREACHABLE. Don't drop off the map entirely, so to speak. You don't need to bring your lap top, tablet and be logged on to Facebook the entire trip, but just a phone call or a text message here and there to loved ones will go a long way. If you do get into trouble or need a hand somewhere along the line (for whatever reason), you'll regret not being able to call someone you can rely on.

    2. WASTE FUEL BY DRIVING TOO FAST. One of the biggest expenses on any road trip is fuel. By driving at a reasonable speed and only using the AC when absolutely necessary, you'll make that expensive liquid last a lot longer. On top of that, you'll be safer and probably enjoy the scenery a lot more. Remember, the holiday is the journey on a road trip - so don't rush.

Last Updated: January 2012

Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.