Ahh, the fond memories of childhood when our parents would load us up in the station wagon as we set out to visit Wally World. Although your youthful road trip memories probably aren’t same as the Griswalds, that doesn’t mean you can’t make some of your own. The great American tradition of taking a road trip is upon us once again as summer is definitely here.
However, before you set off for your road trip, either across state or across the country, there are a few things you can do to make sure your trip doesn’t end up as a sour memory, at least not too sour should anything not go your way. I have personally driven across this great country of ours a couple times, and I learned a few things on the way, sometimes the hard way.
Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There
It’s not uncommon for cars these days to have a GPS system installed, or perhaps you have a handheld device, but it is always a good idea to have a comprehensive road map handy just in case technology fails you. Make sure your map isn’t more than a year old though, as some things may have changed (this goes for making sure your GPS is up to date too).
A good map and a good GPS system are essential for not only knowing where you are going, but they also have important nuggets of information such where gas stations, hotels, and restaurants are, not to mention the all important rest areas, for those much needed bathroom breaks.
Buy a Guidebook
Even though your map and GPS systems are great, there is nothing like having a comprehensive guidebook. “Road Trip USA” is perfect because it tells you points of interest that aren’t on any maps, but it doesn’t give you so much info that you feel overwhelmed. If you feel like visiting the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Florence, Colorado, or the Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas, then Road Trip USA will show you how to get there. The book also tells you all 11 routes across America, the non-interstate type.
Buy a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass
For the bargain price of $80, you can get a National Parks Pass that gets you into any National Park, and quite a few other paid areas, in the country. Passes are good for a year and cover you and up to three other adults, age 16 and older. Make sure you read all the rules and regulations on using them though so you will know what to expect when you come up to a Ranger station. You’ll be glad you got one as individual entrance fees can range from $15 to $25.
Be Prepared for Minor Emergencies
You never know when you might need a few extra things to help you out in a bad situation. Make sure you always keep the following items with you in your car when going on a road trip (or just keep them with you all the time):
- First Aid Kit
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Road Flares
- Small Pocket Knife
- E-Kit (small hammer for breaking glass and a specially made seatbelt-cutting blade)
Where you are going will also dictate what else to bring. For instance, if you plan to do some hiking in the Desert Southwest, a snakebite kit could come in handy. Do a little homework before you set out to know what to bring.
Food and Water
Although your odds of finding food and water on your road trip are pretty high, you never know when your car might break down or something else unfavorable might happen. Be sure to have at least 24-hours of food and water in your car at all times. Once again, it depends on where you are going that dictates how much to bring. For instance, driving through the Desert Southwest means bringing plenty of water as daytime highs can easily be over 110°F.
Is Your Gas Tank Half-Empty or Half-Full?
Regardless of your philosophical leanings, always try to keep your gas tank at least half-full. If you have ever lived or traveled across the Western U.S., you know what I am talking about. Areas without a gas station for over a hundred miles are common and you really don’t want to run out in the middle of nowhere, such as Nowhere, Arizona.
You probably already have a vast library of tunes on portable device and you can usually pick a some kind of radio station no matter where you are, but it’s always a good idea to bring things that will keep you, especially your kids, entertained. Music, games, PSPs, etc are always a good idea to keep around.
Got Roadside Assistance?
If not, you might want to consider getting some. Being able to call a tow truck while stranded in the middle of nowhere is always a good idea. Maybe you simply need to replace a radiator hose, but the towing bill alone could end or shorten your trip if you have to pay for it out of pocket. AAA is always good, but chances are your current insurance company offers similar services.
Bring Your Passport
Even though your only foreign options are Canada and Mexico, you never know when the urge to visit either will strike. Besides, having a secondary form of ID never hurts, especially if your wallet suddenly becomes “missing”.
Keep a Journal
Keeping a log of your adventures is a great way to keep the memories alive. It’s also a good way to avoid mistakes in future adventures. I personally keep a log when I travel, including photos and videos of course, so I can come back to it later. You can also use Google Earth to recreate your trailblazing path across our great country-side. If you want to up the ante, you can keep a GPS log of your trip. Not all GPS devices have this ability but it’s something to look into.
Bring a High-Quality Camera
Road trips wouldn’t really be road trips unless you take pictures. They really are worth a thousand words.
~ Be safe in your journeys