Coming from South Asia in my early twenties, the very first thing I wanted to do when I came to America was go to Disneyland. A couple of months after arriving, I mentioned to my friend that we were planning on flying from Las Cruces (we were living in New Mexico at the time) to go to Disneyland.
She was slightly surprised and asked me why I would fly there when I can go on a road trip instead and see everything on the way. This concept was new to me; the longest drive I had gone in my country was only 4 hours long! Even though I couldn’t imagine doing this, some how she managed to persuade us to join them and go on a road trip to LA. Needless to say, since then we have been hooked. We try to go on road trips whenever we can and over the years we have been to more than 35 states and 3 provinces and clocked more than 25 thousand miles . So I thought I would share some of the things I have learnt road tripping.
Plan ahead as to where you will go, which route you will take, where to stay, what to see and do, and how much to spend. It’s important to plan but also allow for some flexibility. On a road trip things can happen which are beyond your control; a flat tire, delays from traffic or you just might want to spend more time somewhere than you originally planned.
Have your vehicle ready for the long road trip.
The most important thing for a road trip is to have a vehicle that is reliable. If your vehicle is an older model, I suggest renting one. When we started out doing road trips while my husband was still in school, we had a battered old vehicle — so whenever we went on a road trip, we would rent a car. This way you don’t have to worry about the extra miles you put in or if the car will break down halfway through your trip. When renting we always went with a company that offered unlimited mileage. Usually Hertz or Discount Car Rental worked best for us.
Have all the necessary papers and documents.
Make sure you have insurance and rental papers, passports (if you are crossing the border), and some cash with you on your trip. Despite all the plastics that we can use, there will be plenty of instances where you will need cash and finding an ATM machine on the road can be difficult.
Have an emergency roadside assistance membership.
No matter how new your car is or how experienced you are, you need an AAA/CAA membership if you are planning on going on a road trip. I remember once, in the deserts of Utah, we left our keys in the car and accidentally locked it. There was no large city nearby but AAA came to our rescue. They sent someone from a nearby town to help us and we were able to get back on the road in a couple of hours. Also, with an AAA/CAA membership you can get discounts for car rentals, attractions and lodging, and you can be sure that the hotels and motels are of good quality. We have done this many times and saved hundreds of dollars. These organizations also provide you with maps, personalized trip plans (that can be prepared beforehand), and tour books of states and provinces.
It’s also a good idea to have an emergency roadside kit with a flashlight, help sign, blankets and first aid. God forbid nothing bad happens but in case something comes up, its better to be prepared.
Pack your Gadgets – but don’t forget your maps.
Pack the GPS, cell phones, the chargers, laptop, cameras and all the tech you need. Once in Pittsburgh, we missed our exit and got lost in the city. In a big unfamiliar city, its not that easy to navigate unless you have a GPS. With the help of the GPS, we were able to get back on to the highway without any trouble.
Even with all the tech we still need this. You can see the whole area on a physical map and in case the tech lets you down, you have something to fall back on.
Make your reservations before you go.
Make hotel reservations in advance but also make sure you can cancel. in case you get delayed on the road. The last thing you want to do after driving for 8 or 9 hours is to go hunting for a place to stay, especially in the summer and near popular destination it can be hard to find a place to stay. This has happened to us a few times. In case you decide not to book before you go, its best to pick up a copy of the Hotelcoupons booklet which can be found in most rest areas and welcome centres – it has walk in special coupons on many hotels/motels and has a complete list of locations, with clear directions as to how to get there.we have used these coupons and got really good deals on hotels which are usually beyond our price range.
Take plenty of water and snacks
I feel its very important to drink plenty of water while on a journey. My husband also takes Ensure energy shakes to keep him energized during the trips as he is the only driver. Make sure to have plenty of snacks easily accessible so that you can reach them while driving. Have a mix of healthy and junky snacks, after all you are on vacation and can afford to indulge.
Choosing a route – Scenic or Interstate?
This can vary from person to person. If you take the Interstate or TransCanada highway you can be sure that there will be plenty of rest areas, gas, food and lodging, exits on the way and plenty of other cars on the road — you don’t want to be the only person seen driving on a lonely highway. Whereas if you take smaller roads, you can go for hours without finding any gas stations or rest areas. Once, we decided to take a short cut from Toronto to Washington DC instead of taking the interstate. We ended up driving for a long time before we finally found a place with a bathroom. It can also be very tiring and boring to have to drive with a reduced speed on these roads.
But on the other hand if you want to enjoy the beauty of the country, you really have to take the back roads or scenic ones. Whenever there was a scenic route on our way, we took those routes (most CAA or AAA maps indicate the scenic routes). Once, when travelling in North Carolina, we took the Blue Ridge Parkway which cuts through the Appalachian Mountains and provided some breathtaking views. We also took several of the scenic routes in Colorado which showcased the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Take a different route each way.
We always took one route to go and a different route to get back.That way we were able to see more places and pass through many cities and landscapes. After all, in a road trip it is the journey not the destination that matters.
Avoid driving on major holidays.
Avoid choosing Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labour Day or any major holiday for travelling. During a road trip you don’t want to be stuck in traffic.If you are passing through a major city try not to go during rush hours.it can take you a long time to cross the city. It’s also not a good idea to travel when there are special events taking place. When we went to Calgary, we went during the stampede and traveled to South Dakota during the annual motorcycle rally.It was hard to find a place to stay and everything was double the usual price and the whole place was so crowded.
Limit your driving time.
Don’t drive for more than 8- 10 hours a day, we usually stop before sunset. It can be dangerous driving in the dark when you are tired. When you plan to drive for only about 8 hours you have enough time to stop if you see something interesting on the way and still reach your destination for the night. Once when coming from Boston to Toronto we happen to pass through the white mountains and decided to check it out. Not only did we end up staying there for half a day but vowed to come back on another day.
Take your favourite music with you.
Have a CD or Ipod with everyones favourite songs that you can play over and over again on your road trip, this way later on when you hear these songs, it can take you back to your road trip.
Finally, go with an open mind, don’t sweat the small stuff and make memories. It’s all about having fun with the people you love and seeing this beautiful continent. I love the USA and Canada for all its natural beauty.