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In honor of our road trip up to DC this week, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite road trip tips that help make drives just a liiiiitle bit more enjoyable. Between traveling to see family and weekend trips to cities close by, Ian and I have spent our fair share of time on road trips. That means planning and navigating new routes and roads, finding good podcasts to pass the time and good snacks to bring along, all culminating with hours together in a car. And of course plenty of conversations that go something like this:
Sarah: Sooooo… I have to go to the bathroom.
Yup, I’m that person on road trips. No shame 🙂
So although I love road trips, there is no denying that they can come with a lot of stresses – from the planning to the just-trying-to-get-out-the-door-and-start-the-dang-thing to the driving and arriving at your destination on time – getting a little sweaty and anxious just thinking about it? You aren’t alone, trust me. Ok, so enough chit-chat, let’s get into our favorite tips and tricks for you to add to your road trip toolbox.
Plan Ahead For Parking
Traveling to a big city? Going to be staying there overnight? Check out the parking policies (i.e. if there free parking on certain days and times). If you know the area you want to explore, research parking lots before you leave for your trip. We took a weekend trip down to New Orleans to hang out and see the Patriots play the Saints and our hotel was right in the middle of downtown. Once our trip was planned, Ian used his go-to parking app, SpotHero, and was able to get us parking right near our hotel and the stadium for less than $15 for the whole weekend. Come game time, the same parking was probably $15 an hour!
If you’re staying in a hotel/Airbnb/hostel etc., investigate the parking situation beforehand. Some places may have it complimentary, others may have it for an additional cost, and others may not have it all and you’ll have to figure it out yourself. Honestly, when we are deciding between two hotels, free breakfast, free parking, and a pool are on top of our list. Hello, priorities.
Get Your Gadgets in Gear
Make sure you have all the cords and wires you need for charging your phone in the car – especially if you’re relying on your phone as the navigation source. I think we can all agree that being two hours from your destination with 5% battery life is a situation that none of us want to be in.
And speaking of gadgets, get a $10 power inverter so you are able to have a computer in the car. Okay, so I’m not really big on this idea (this is Ian’s tip), BUT, there are definitely situations where this may be helpful. On several occasions, Ian’s had to do some work while we’re driving back from a weekend trip. I get to drive, and Ian’s able to do some work on his computer. Also, this can come in handy if you traveling long distances with kiddos!
Rental Car Road trips
I’ll be honest, we love a good rental car road trip. It’s always fun to drive a potentially fancier-than-we-own car around new places to new places, but rental cars costs can add up. If you have a couple credit cards, review the cardmember benefits on each one – there is a chance one of them comes with some form of renters insurance, and that can go a long way in saving you money, time and hassle. Paying with that card means you can waive the included insurance and still have a peace of mind! This is one of Ian’s favorite low-key benefits from some of his travel cards – because who likes paying for insurance on a rental car?!
Side note – another one of his go-to tools for saving some moola on a car rental is called AutoSlash, and it’s kind of the bomb.com. Basically, rent your car from wherever you can get the best deal, head to AutoSlash and put in your rental info, so cost, dates, confirmation number, etc. and they will scan the web and send you an email if they find a better deal! The best part of it all? From that email, once you confirm the switch, they take care of canceling and rebooking everything for you! It’s pretty sweet.
Skeptical? Here’s our experience: on a quick weekend jaunt over to Austin once, we had just landed and Ian got an email from AutoSlash about a cheaper car option. Before I knew what was happening, he decided to give it a try, even though we were supposed to pick up our car in literally 30 minutes. I was a little worried, but AutoSlash had canceled and rebooked everything, which made our last minute switch a breeze!
Have Cash for Tolls
The number of time’s I’ve had the “no tolls” setting turned on and still ended up at a toll – more than I’d like to admit. And heck, sometimes they just aren’t avoidable. Keep some cash on hand just in case! Certain areas *cough* East Coast *cough* are terrible with tolls, and double-digit charges can deplete your spending money pretty quickly, so plan ahead by using the TollGuru app to see how much they will run you – and keep some extra cash on hand just in case.
Bring Along Healthy Snacks
Get some snacks together before leaving so that you don’t have to rely on gas station food. And if you’ve traveled somewhere by plane and are renting a car at your destination, pop into a grocery store once you’re there and pick up some healthy, non-greasy snacks. Trust me, you’ll feel better!
Stay hydrated! Buuuuut also be conscious of how much water you’re drinking so bathroom breaks aren’t every 20 minutes. This one is such a hard line to balance, but staying hydrated is important.
Look Out Your Window
Car rides can often be classified as boring or mundane, and yeah, that can be very true at times. But often there is so much to see out your window. Especially as a passenger, take the opportunity to look out your window and soak in where you are! Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen has been while on road trips, taking in all the scenery while we drive.
Keep the Car Clean
Throwing out trash at stops, and being conscious of what is in your car and where it is will hopefully help keep your car in order, which should also lead to a more enjoyable time. Being in such a small space for a long time, those small little messes can multiply really fast, and start to drive you mad quicker than you might think.
Have Entertainment Options
Whether it’s music (CDs and Amazon Music are our go-to’s) or podcasts, there are SO many great, free options. We love listening to podcasts and can’t help but get sucked into a good murder mystery series. But even if crime stories aren’t your thing, there’s a podcast out there for you (search the Podcast app, or Ian’s favorite, Overcast). I’ll be honest, sometimes we are in the middle of a great podcast and I am disappointed to have already arrived at our destination. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not a bad road trip problem to have!
Play Car Games
And nope, I’m not just throwing that out there if you are on a road trip with kids. Kiddo’s in tow or not, there are some great game options to help the time pass. One that we play a lot – although I’m not even sure if you can call it a “game” – is the license plate game. We just try to find license plates from as many states/provinces that we can. Usually, on all day road trips, we are able to come pretty close to a clean sweep!
Plan Your Route
Know where you’re headed and how you are going to get there. Even if you’re relying on a GPS to get you somewhere, it’s a good idea to be aware of where you are headed and what the route will look like. Also do some research on interesting things that may be along your route, which also leads us to our next tip…
Allow time to be spontaneous
Getting to your destination is great, but as you know and have probably heard a millllllllllllion times, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And especially for road trips, I couldn’t agree more. If you see something neat along the side of the road or want to make an extra stop along the way, do it. One of the great benefits of roadtripping compared to flying is the ability to make random side trips along the way – take advantage!
Bring a Paper Map
More so a tip for if you’re traveling outside of your country – but it’s always a good idea to have a paper map on hand. Technology is great when it works, but when it doesn’t you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of who-knows-where, with no idea how to get to where you want to go. That’s what nightmares are made of, folks!
Bring A Spare Car Key
If you are heading out on a road trip from your place, take a spare key. Ian takes care of the primary key, and I’ll usually just tuck one of our spare keys in my purse, juuuust in case. Better safe than in the middle of Ohio at a McDonald’s that just closed for the night.
This one might sound ridiculous, because, well, of course you can talk and should, right? But road trips can be a great place for intentional conversations with your car mates – ask questions, talk about things you normally wouldn’t, ponder big life goals, etc. because hey, you’ve got the time!
Nope – not always glamorous. And yes – sometimes feels like they’re never going to end. You can still have an amazing time. Go with the flow and enjoy it! In today’s rushrushrush world, road trips can be a unique time of s l o w i n g d o w n and being in the moment. Savor the time, and spend it well!
The Simple Summary
And speaking of enjoying, we hope this list will have you enjoying your next road trip, and not just thinking “Are we there yet?”. In the golden age of airline travel, we think there is something truly whimsical, old-fashioned and just downright enjoyable about a good road trip. Grab a map and check out some destinations within 5 or 6 hours that might make for a great weekend trip, because there is no telling when you might move to somewhere else in the world. This exploratory mindset will hopefully get you excited to explore where you are, and hey, it might not be Maui, but it’s accessible, so make the most of it!
Have some tips and advice you didn’t see on this list? Share them in the comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!