As families, couples and friend groups prepare for upcoming spring break vacations, you may decide it’s time to finally take that long road trip you’ve been thinking about. Whether you’re dreaming about visiting the national parks, driving along the scenic coastline of California or going from one end of the country to another, it’s an exciting and memorable way to explore.
With nothing but the people you love, the open road and miles to go, a road trip sounds just about perfect. Not to mention, it’s often a more cost-effective way to travel since you can pack more of your own goods, avoid the stress (and fees!) of airports entirely and experience different budget-friendly accommodations along the way.
If you’re wondering how to plan a spring break road trip that will create memories for years to come, make sure to plan ahead. We talked with experts for their best advice and ideas on how to have a successful and safe road trip.
Don’t go off the beaten path
While part of the joy of exploring Mother Nature is seeing new and beautiful views, if your road trip includes a hike, stay on the marked path. After all, you don’t need a jaunt to the emergency room with a fractured ankle to wreck your adventure. That’s why podiatrist Dr. Velimir Petkov suggests following the course.
“Avoid the temptation to hike off-trail and in unfamiliar or unmarked areas,” he warns. “You could get lost, injured or both.”
If you intend to scale a mountain in search of great views of a waterfall, make sure you’re packed for the trek. A sturdy, waterproof and lightweight travel backpack like this one allows you to take first aid materials, water, snacks and other necessities.
In the morning, when you set out on your adventure, your temperature will likely be comfortable. As the sun reaches its highest point, you’ll start to sweat inside your car. And at night? Certain areas of the country experience a dramatic drop in degrees. That’s why car expert and CEO of eautolease.com Zoriy Birenboym recommends packing everything you need to stay comfortable, including clothing for different temperatures.
“You don’t want to be caught without the necessities and have to look for places in areas you’ve never been before,” he says. “Make sure this includes staying updated on what the weather will be in the areas you are traveling through. It may get cold at night even though it’s summer, so you may not think to pack a sweater or extra blankets, but if it’s 50 degrees you may wish you had.”
Make sure you get enough sleep
Not-so-fun fact: Many Americans struggle to get enough rest. From falling to staying asleep, sometimes, slumber isn’t easy to come by, yet adequate rest is mandatory before a long car ride, Petkov says. This will help to prevent accidents and ensure you’re keeping your eyes on the road — not falling back into your head.
“Do not drive while you are feeling sleepy,” Petkov says. “If you feel like you need rest, pull over and take a 30-minute power nap.” Petkov says that even if you did reap the benefits of seven to eight hours of sleep, a little coffee can never hurt.
Make as many reservations ahead as you can
As with any vacation, you want to make sure to plan, says Katie Key, president of Escape Campervans. This is true whether you’re going camping, checking in to a hotel, renting a vacation home or enjoying any other type of travel experience.
“Many state parks are urging people to make reservations so they can predict overcapacity, and many are limiting parking capacity to reduce crowding,” she says. You should check various websites, call ahead and ensure everything is in order before you fill up your tank and go.
Pack a first aid kit
If you don’t have a first aid kit in your car, here’s your sign to get one. It should be part of your road trip packing list and a necessity in your car, in general. After all, you never know when you’ll experience a flat tire or a blunder that will leave you on the side of the road.
Whether you scrape your knees or have an allergy attack, Petkov says it can always come in handy, especially if you plan on camping, hiking or biking as part of your road trip.
No matter if you’re traveling with toddlers, kiddos or full-grown adults, no one is a happy camper when they’re hangry. When you’re in an unfamiliar ZIP code, it can be tricky to predict restaurant hours and availability, so having road trip travel snacks handy can avoid headaches, according to Terika L. Haynes, the CEO and founder of Dynamite Travel.
Bring your own linens and towels
Even if you aren’t camping, Haynes says it’s smart to include linens and towels in your road trip packing list. How come? You never know what you’ll find in roadside hotels or Airbnbs, and you may need an extra set to clean up messes or to take a power nap in your car. They don’t need to be fancy — just comfortable.
Protect your skin
You may not consider sun exposure while sitting in the car, but the rays can seep through open windows and cause you to burn — and UVA rays, which cause signs of premature aging, can go right throw window glass. And while there’s nothing that screams summer as much as roasting marshmallows or catching fireflies, mosquitoes are also drawn when we’re outdoors at night.
That’s why Bahar Schmidt, the founder of Eluxit travel agency, recommends going the extra mile to protect our skin with sunscreen and bug repellent alike.
Plan for detours — and be flexible
No matter how well you plan, the hard truth about going on a road trip is that there will be unpredictable events that you’ll need to figure out how to handle on the fly. While this is part of the excitement, it can also be stressful for type-A folks who like to control their travels.
To ease your worries and make the journey as smooth as possible, it’s essential to plan ahead for potential detours, recommends Harsh Patil, founder of Xplor Earth.
“Map out the route ahead, but plan on additional time for unforeseen circumstances like inclement weather,” he recommends. “A time buffer gives one the freedom to experience the unexpected: amazing views, short hikes or to spend more time enjoying a meal in an interesting roadside town.”
Be prepared to be offline
One of the reasons road trips are becoming more popular is because they permit us to largely disconnect from the digital world. With both remote work still commonplace and endless Netflix and Hulu shows at hand, it’s easy to feel like your senses are engaged 24/7. You may crave the serenity of nature, but you also might be shocked when you don’t have service for hours — particularly when you worry you may need it.
That’s why Prasun Choudhary, president of OYO Hotels, recommends being prepared. “If you find yourself on a road trip in remote areas, it can be difficult to predict what the cell coverage will look like,” he says. “Preparing for those instances means downloading Google Maps to your device or printing directions ahead of time as a backup. Take screenshots of any tickets and reservation confirmations just in case.”
Bring your own pillow
Mark Sedenquist knows a thing or two about road trips. After all, he’s the publisher of roadtripamerica.com, and he’s spent 40 years and a half-million miles on the road in North America. One of his most essential tips? BYOP: Bring Your Own Pillow!
“Nothing improves a less-than-optimal motel bed better than a familiar pillow,” he says. While sure, it might take up space in your car, it’s worth it to get a better night’s sleep, take a stellar nap in your car or just feel some of the comforts of home.
Find ways to stay entertained
Sure, on the very first day of your road trip, you may enjoy looking out the window at one beautiful site after another. But after a while, you may get bored as you go from point A to point B. Having entertainment is key to not only making the experience enjoyable but bearable, Choudhary says.
There are plenty of ways to do this — putting together a playlist, coming up with a list of travel games, downloading podcasts, packing road trip games and so on. Brainstorm with your travel companions ahead of time to figure out what will give you all the most joy on the road.
Practice defensive driving skills
Sure, you know how to drive. But have you brushed up on your skills lately or made sure they’re ready for the open road? Sedenquist explains defensive driving is a package of skills, practices and habits that increase the odds of a safe and enjoyable road trip.
“Whether it’s a tornado, a nail in the road or a rambunctious dog in the back seat, drivers have to be ready for a huge range of variables,” he says. “Even the shortest road trip on a familiar route can present unexpected and potentially hazardous situations.”
Since adventure will find you no matter when you hit the road, defensive driving skills and safe driving practices can significantly increase the chances that the tales you bring back home won’t involve tow trucks and ambulances, he adds.
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