If you’re trying to see a new place from a unique perspective, taking a road trip is an excellent choice. Road trips take you through parts of a country or state that you never would take note of when flying over, leading to interesting detours, beautiful sceneries, and connection with locals. And, with the ongoing pandemic making flying a stressful proposition for many, road tripping makes travel less risky and more enjoyable. But whether you’re taking one of 2021’s most popular road trips or simply trying to get from your home to a single destination without flying, road trips require some serious planning.
As someone who has road tripped a few times in my life, I know that there are many ways that a road trip can go awry, often in ways that you wouldn’t easily think of before leaving. Here are some key things to think about before you leave that can wind up saving your trip:
Cell Service: Use It or Lose It
Most people have cell service where they live and work, so they don’t think about what can happen if they no longer have it. While one of road tripping’s greatest virtues is its tendency to take you places we would never have gone before, this can (and will) lead you to places that fall outside of cell coverage. At best, this means that you may have to listen to the radio for a while instead of streaming your favorite music; at worst, this means you can become horribly lost with no idea of how to get where you’re going.
Fortunately, there are solutions here. The most obvious is to buy a paper map, which are still widely available, cheap, and are not beholden to loading times. Most map services, like Google Maps, also have a download feature, so you can still use them (and GPS, which works everywhere) while out in no-man’s land. As for music (or whatever you may want to listen to), most streaming services have download functions as well, though you can also buy your content and have it on your phone for good.
Your Vehicle: Check Everything
This may come as a shock, but when on a road trip, your most important possession is your vehicle. Not only does it get you from point A to point B (and all points C-Z that you add along the way), but it also becomes like a large suitcase, housing everything else you’ve brought with you, and can even be an emergency shelter if needed. This means that before you leave, you must make sure that everything works as it should.
Taking your vehicle into a mechanic’s before going is a must. They will perform some obvious diagnostics like checking your car engine, truck wheels and rims, and fluid levels, along with checking for any potential problems over a sustained period of lengthy driving. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep your tires filled up, or even replacing them before leaving, to maintain good fuel economy.
Beyond these more obvious moves, consider this: how would you able to get into your vehicle in the case of a lockout? If you have a spare key, you’ll most likely want to bring it, but because all of your possessions will be in your car anyway, what happens if you manage to lock both keys inside? I did this on my last road trip and wound up having to break into my car with a slim jim I borrowed from some friendly campers. Lucky as it was, it only worked because my car is a bit older; newer cars may require more creative methods.
Food, Water, and Shelter: The Essentials For Living
As much as your vehicle is important, there are ways of getting through even a catastrophic failure without much harm to yourself, if you have your living essentials in order. Without them, you risk much deeper harm. So it’s imperative that you sort out your food, water, and shelter before you leave on your trip.
For food, a cooler is a great choice if you don’t intend to buy every meal. You will need ways to keep it cool; you can always buy ice, but if you plan on staying in places where you’ll have access to freezers, no-sweat ice packs are the least messy way to go. Otherwise, food that is non-perishable and doesn’t need to be cooked is best, which is why foods such as jerky and nuts are heavily advertised at gas stations: these foods are good to eat anytime.
A water bottle is an absolute necessity, and a refill bottle (preferably a gallon or larger) is a good idea as well. Refilling water bottles on the road is usually very easy to do, as whether you’re at a campsite in the wilderness or eating at a roadside diner, there will be a place to refill. Make sure you ask around to confirm that the water you’re gearing up to drink is potable, though.
Shelter is more flexible than the other two, depending on what kind of trip you intend to have. Will you stay with friends along the way? In hotel rooms? Will you be car camping? Any way you slice it, you can make it happen, and while sleeping in your car is uncomfortable (and may be illegal) it is always an option in a true pinch.
Road trips can be some of the most rewarding adventures of your life, though they can also be trying, especially if you are underprepared. By thoroughly checking that you have prepared for the trip, you should be able to face any challenges you will encounter. Though not for everyone, if you have wanderlust in your heart, I suspect you will find a road trip exciting in all the best ways.