May 20, 2020

How To Road Trip

Having the road itself as a goal of the trip is extremely satisfying. Constant enjoyment of the journey means no gaps in the experience; therefore, everyone should try a road trip. Here are my tips and tricks on how to successfully plan and execute it.

While you can make a road trip by utilizing many means of transportation, I will focus on using a car. I believe that it is the ultimate way to do so, due to the full freedom in choosing the road, time flexibility, the ability to cover vast distances, and its comfort. But many of the tips are universal, so hopefully, you will be able to find something useful here regardless.

Where to begin? Having a blank canvas can be daunting, but it will become easier if you divide the planning into smaller sections. Start like you would plan an ordinary vacation:

Pick where you want to go

A city, a national park, anything. Once the primary goal is set, find at least two more points of interest between your starting and final destinations. While you can put a little bit of everything, themed trips often turn into more memorable adventures.

It is better to return in a different way than the one used to get there, so search the additional stops apart from each other to avoid the same road twice. Be aware that sometimes, interesting sights can be on the road itself.

Speaking of which, now is the time to...

Plan the roads

Connect those places you found in the previous step into a loop. Don't rely on GPS devices to do that for you, as they usually calculate the fastest routes, and those are the ones that often sucks the most. If you want to be in charge of selecting scenic, fun-to-drive roads, learning how to use maps and planning it yourself is irreplaceable.

Generally, stay off the main highways. They are busy with commercial traffic, lack scenery, and they are boring to drive. Let's compare these examples:

A big interstate is often separated from the surrounding by sound barriers, tunnels, or is elevated, as pictured. So, its views are dull, just like is to drive it – wide straight lanes, cruise control, and that's it. Not so much for the experience. On the other hand...

A mountain road like this is on the opposite spectrum: You get loads of amazing outlooks, and you are constantly engaged in driving.

Another reason for staying off the main roads is congestion. It is not to say that a minor road can't get jammed, but if you have to be stuck, you might as well be somewhere with compelling views and fresh air. Much better. To find these quality roads, look around for uneven terrain and/or water shores. That's where most of the best gems are situated.

Then, you can also plan potential places where to eat, so they fit into your timing for lunch/dinner, whether they are restaurants or scenic spots to picnic.

Make the journey special

Include some elements that you don't get to do regularly. Try something new, whatever that will provide additional excitement. Take a ferry, for example:

If you are seeking an additional layer of remoteness and connection with nature, don't be afraid to leave the paved roads behind. 

Mountain passes are hard to beat for their scenery and driving fun.

When going off-road, pay extra attention to the weather, take into account the local laws, and your vehicle and abilities. Which brings us to...

Plan accordingly

Just like you will take different clothes depending on where you go, you should select the roads based on your car and skills. If you are new to driving, make the trip a bit shorter. If you drive a family sedan, maybe keep to the paved roads. But don't be discouraged; you don't need an expensive off-road rig to get you through some exhilarating terrain.

Planning a trip through these trails can be tricky, though, as their difficulty changes every year due to the traffic, snow-clearing activities, and just nature being nature. However, if you get in touch with the local forest management agency or 4x4 clubs, you should be able to find out info about trail access and conditions.

With all these points, your itinerary should be pretty clear now. So you can move on to...

Prepare your car

If you are renting one, this might not apply to you. But if you go in your own, don't skip this.

  • Clean the car before the trip: No old mugs, junk, no old maps, no nonsense. By getting rid of unnecessary items, it is far easier to keep the stuff you are going to take in order, so you won't spend any time looking for something. Wash the exterior, too, if needed – a clean car is a happy car. And while at it...
  • Ensure that the car is in good shape. A minute of checking windshield wipers and lights can save you hours of being stuck somewhere in a downpour. You can plan for good weather, but it's good to prepare for the worst.

  • Check the battery, brakes, tires, and fluids. The last thing you want is to be in the middle of nowhere and have a mechanical issue.

    been there...

  • Depending on what you drive, you might be able to do some simple mods to your car that will make the trip better. I used to take out the rear seats before the trip – it gave me more space, and it made the car lighter, so I ended up burning less fuel. Win-win!
    If you want to go during the winter or head off-road, know that good tyres can make a bigger difference than a 4-wheel-drive. If there's one thing to invest into, tyres are it.

What to bring?

Going on a road trip fundamentally means spending time on the road, so you want to make it as pleasant as possible. Here are a few items I found very useful to have:

  • Offline maps – modern cellphones can do all sorts of wonderful things online, but (perhaps thankfully) there are still some roads without any signal to connect to. If you are going away from urban areas, offline content is the way to go. If you are taking the idea of escaping the signal to heart and want to go totally off the grid, consider..
  • A power converter – plug it into your 12V socket and charge anything. Then, you are independent from any hotels or restaurants to keep your devices running. Whether you use electronics for work or just for fun, this is very liberating.

Office work as I like it!

  • Even if you checked your car as mentioned above, it is still handy to have a spare wheel and a jack, so that a flat won't ruin your trip.
  • If you drive an older car, a few additional tools add peace of mind. A wrench, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, a hammer, and a roll of tape can pull you out of most troubles.
  • During my ventures to the wilderness, I used to carry basic recovery equipment, such as a winch, tow straps, a warm blanket, and a shovel – which proved handy at times:

  • Comfortable travel clothing.
  • A music selection that will beat any radio.
  • A basic first aid kit isn't a bad idea either.
  • and some snacks and water, of course.


Bring friends

Because adventures are better when shared with good people. Simple as that.

Now that your trip is planned, the vehicle is ready, you packed your stuff and are keen to hit some new roads and new territory...

Treat the car as a teammate

The car serves as a form of transportation to take you to cool places, protects you from the elements, and maybe even provides a place to sleep. Hence, give it some credit for its role in your journey.

And finally,

Use the time to the fullest

Epic trips don't last only a few hours. Take your time, enjoy!

If you liked this article, you might also like my tips about how to travel cheap and well, or:

Through The Windshield

Photo collection for the love of driving, or...

Yosemite road trip

Stories about my road trips.

Alternatively, visit my Blog Archives for more categories and topics. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Essays


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