For me, the most compelling part of a road trip is the way that traveling by car allows me to truly comprehend the geography of the country. On a road trip, I’ve often found myself traveling through areas that aren’t technically destinations but that offer me a unique understanding of a place. Often these are agricultural or industrial areas or tiny little towns that people don’t tend to visit on purpose. It’s places like these that educate me about the country I’m in: what the people are like, what the industry is there, and the shape of the landscape.
I also appreciate the way that a road trip, as opposed to air travel, offers me a more realistic understanding of exactly how far one location is from another. It feels almost unnaturally easy, the way that you can board a plane in one place and then arrive somewhere across the country or across the globe within a day, skipping over time zones, mountain ranges, and seasons.
I’ve road tripped both in the United States and abroad, and I have had my fair share of mishaps, such as getting robbed and being stuck on the road at night without a plan of where we’d sleep that night.
But I’ve also made great discoveries, such as: North Dakota is stunningly beautiful. I could definitely live in Albuquerque. And, falling asleep in a tent on one of the longest days of the year in Scotland means it’s going to be light for most of the hours you’re supposed to be sleeping. The magic of a road trip is that you don’t know what sort of magic you will find. That being said, there are definitely some practical aspects you want to keep in mind as you travel mile after mile in a car.
Tips for a great road trip
Plan your route, including which roads you’ll take, must-see attractions, and where you’ll stay. If possible, stay with friends along the way, as there’s nothing better than combining long days on the road with time spent with friends.
Don’t be afraid to follow your whims, unless your whimsical desire to see someplace/something is going to take you way off track.
Pack tons of healthy snacks, such as nonperishables like trail mix, dried fruit, or seaweed snacks. If you’re a serious eater like I am, I’d also recommend bringing along a small cooler for veggies and hummus, kombucha, apples, cheese, etc. The more food you bring with you, the less unhealthy options you’ll be tempted to buy at gas stations.
Stay hydrated but not too hydrated. Nobody likes having to stop to find a restroom once an hour.
Get enough sleep. Driving tired is painful—and dangerous.
Well-selected playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks can make a great trip even better.
Share the driving and don’t try to do 10-hour days if you don’t have to. If you’re in a rush, a long day on the road may be necessary, but if not, I find that a six-hour day is ideal, leaving you with enough time to have a leisurely lunch and a little exploring.
Don’t get robbed. Lock your car, take your valuables with you if you’ll be far from your vehicle, and be vigilant no matter where you are.
Plus a few hot tips for our modern age
Look out the window, not at your phone.
Talk to people in the places that you visit, don’t just take photos of them.
Share your trip on social media, but remember to keep parts of it to yourself as well. Often the memories that you keep to yourself are the ones that will sustain you for years to come.