May 20, 2020

How To Road Trip

Tips and tricks on successfully planning and executing a road trip of your dreams.

Having the road itself as a goal of your trip is extremely satisfying because you are continually enjoying the journey, without any gaps in the experience. Therefore, everyone should try 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 start?

Having a blank canvas can be daunting. Start like you would plan an ordinary vacation: pick a place where you want to go. A city, a national park, anything. It will give you a starting point, then you can move onto shaping the road itself.

Adjust your basic route based on what do you like.

Architecture? Nature? History? Find some points of interest between your starting and final destinations. While you can put a little bit of everything, making a themed trip focused on something specific often turns into a more memorable adventure.

Be aware that sometimes, points of interest don't need to be next to the road. Cool engineering and infrastructure features can be the road itself:

Plan the roads

Use a map to connect those places you found above into a loop. Don't rely on GPS devices to do that for you. 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 take a look at these examples:

A big interstate like this is often separated from the surrounding by sound barriers, tunnels, or is elevated, as pictured. So, the views from it are dull, just like is to drive it - wide straight lanes, cruise control, and that's it. Great for commuting, not so much for the driving experience. On the opposite spectrum is this:

You get loads of amazing outlooks on a mountain road like this, 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 be jammed, but let's look at these two views from a driver's seat.

Traffic jam on a main road

Traffic jam on a minor road

Which one looks more relaxing? If you have to be stuck, you might as well be somewhere interesting, and in the fresh air. Much better.

To find some quality roads, look around for uneven terrain and/or water shores. That's where most of the best gems are situated.

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, always take into account the local laws and weather, as well as your car 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. But don't be discouraged; you don't need the most expensive vehicle to get you through some exciting 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.

Plan for food

This can seem obvious, but don't overlook it. Even if you plan to eat out, always have some snacks and water with you. Then, 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 it special

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

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.
  • Ensure that the car is in good shape.

You can plan for good weather but be prepared for the worst. A minute of checking windshield wipers and lights can save you hours of being stuck in a downpour.

It is good to 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. That said, it is still handy to have some basic tools and a spare wheel, just in case things happen - as they do, sometimes...

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 - You gain more space, and it makes your car lighter, so you burn less fuel. Win-win!
    If you want to go off-road or during the winter, 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

A road trip fundamentally means spending time on the road, so you want to make it as pleasant as possible. Comfortable clothing is pretty clear, here are a few other tips:

  • 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!

  • 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 heading away from the cities, offline content is the way to go. If you are going further into the wilderness, consider..
  • Recovery equipment, to keep peace in mind. I used to carry a winch, tow straps, a warm blanket, and a shovel - which proved handy when reaching some places:

  • A music selection that will beat any radio.
  • A basic first aid kit isn't a bad idea either.

Bring friends

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

So, now your trip is planned, your car is ready, and you are keen to hit some new roads and new territory. Once you are on the go...

Use the time to the fullest

Epic trips don't last only a few hours.

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, document its role in your journey.


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.

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter for the upcoming posts, thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories

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