There’s no question about it; road trips are awesome. Regardless of what country you’re driving in, Thelma & Louise and Jack Kerouac won’t be far from your mind – even if you are sleeping in hotel and driving a top-of-the-range BMW.
A successful road trip will stay with you for life. The ability to just get up and go and the absolute thrill of uncertainty; where will you sleep? Where will you eat? When will you get to your next stop?
It’s up to you to choose where to go, when to go and what kind of budget you’ll have. Our 17 travel tips cover all kinds of road trips, in all kinds of countries – consider this your road trip 101.
1. Google Maps
A great place to start. Enter your start and final destination, and get an idea of timing. Adjust the route and see where you can go and how long it’ll take you (you can also see if you’re just a few hours shy of somewhere you might not have originally thought of, but would love to visit). Make sure you’ve got your basic route worked out, your A to B, but don’t have every single mile written in stone. You’ve got to have room for the unexpected turns, the snap decisions and the ‘I wonder what’s down here?’ moments.
2. What car?
What kind of car you need depends on your destination, trip type and how many people you will be. Think about how likely you are to need 4-wheel drive, high clearance or a convertible, and book accordingly. Make sure that you book in advance, choose unlimited mileage (unless you’re absolutely positive about the length of your trip), and insure yourself!
If your trip is going to be a long one, a couple of months or more, you might want to think about buying a used car and selling it on when you’re done. Make sure you get it checked over before signing anything though – the last thing you need is a break down in the middle of nowhere!
Few things go together as well as music and the open road. There’s going to be plenty of time for tunes, so make sure you’ve downloaded some playlists to your smartphone (and don’t forget the USB cable). That said, it’s wise to check out local radio as well to hear the kind of music you probably wouldn’t listen to back home, probably won’t think you’ll like, but probably come to love.
4. Roads less traveled
Highways might be fast, but you’ll miss a lot. If possible (given time and terrain), take the road less traveled. You’ll see so much more, meet the locals and venture down paths you’d never even have seen. On a similar note: take that detour! See a sign for an odd sounding ghost town or weird tourist attraction? Follow it! Now’s your chance. Spontaneity rules on road trips.
5. Eat local and stay local
Give the local grub a go – even if you have no idea what it is. After all, it might be the only chance you get. The same goes for accommodation: it might be tempting to stay at the shiny new resort, but why not stay at the unique B&B/kitsch motel/mom and pop place down the road?
6. Cool bag
Who knows when you’ll next be able to grab a bite to eat? Pack a cool bag – or splash out on an electric car cool box – and store drinks and snacks in case you get hungry (or in case you get a little lost …).
7. Travel mate
Road trips can make or break a friendship. Sure, they make you laugh, but imagine being stuck in a car with them for six hours straight, when the GPS breaks and they can’t read a map … If that all sounds fine, think tastes: are they as interested in local history as you, or are they more interested in finding the nearest bar?
Make sure you find the right travel mate to match your temperament, can do something well that you can’t do at all (e.g. read maps, speak a local language), and one who can handle you when you’re at your best – and worst.
8. Buy a GPS
Don’t hire one. The daily charges will soon run up to much, much more than it would cost to buy one – and you can use your own over and over again, at home and abroad.
9. Go offline
Yes, Google Maps is great, but there’s something about a paper map– you know, the things you occasionally see gathering dust in the back of taxis or your parents’ car. You’d be surprised at how useful it can be – both for finding out where you are, and for note taking on impromptu stops (and think of the nostalgia value when you’re home).
10. Book ahead
Certain attractions, e.g. Alcatraz, Chateau de Versailles, sell out months in advance. Try to find the main sights you want to see, and work your trip around these. The same applies for some hotels in popular spots.
11. Rules of the road
Make sure you’re down with the rules of the road for the country you’re visiting. You can find tips and advice on Europe from The AA, Australia from the official tourism site, and the US (note that each state has its own rules), from USA.gov.
If you’re traveling to a country in Asia, be sure to check for driving advice for tourists on that country’s government or official tourism site.
12. SIM card
If your phone is unlocked, pick up a local SIM card to make sure you keep your costs down, and to make sure people can contact you easily. There’s always Skype and WhatsApp Messenger, but those do need a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection to work.
13. Gas stations
Gas stations can be a godsend. The bigger ones have toilets, semi-decent food, drinkable coffee and all kinds of treats for the weary traveler. Some might even let you use their facilities and park overnight in their carpark.
14. Stay safe!
Go down those small roads, get out of your comfort zone and explore – but be sensible. Listen to advice, always let someone know where you are and where you’re going – and don’t be a hero.
On a more practical note, keeping a few gallons of water in your car at all times can literally be a lifesaver. If you have the room, a gallon of gas is a good idea too.