The classic American vacation--a road trip--is a fun way to get to know the country better, and get away from it all to places you never thought possible. With airline travel growing even more complicated, inconvenient and uncomfortable than ever, it might be time for you to turn your vacation into a road trip. Don't just go from point A to point B; take the scenic route, make detours, follow those signs for the Corn Palace (Mitchell, South Dakota) or the Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, California) and see what happens! Now, while you don't need to plan too carefully--part of the romance of a road trip is the spontaneity--taking time to do a little organization will help to oil the gears, as it were, and make your ride go much more smoothly. These travel tips will help you prepare a checklist for a road trip adventure.
- Care for Your Car: If you plan on using your own vehicle, make sure to get it checked out--by a professional mechanic preferably, or your mechanically inclined friend if you're feeling particularly trusting--before you go. Make sure you take care of those minor tune-ups because hard driving will not only exacerbate little problems, but can create entire new ones, and you don't want to find yourself stranded somewhere outside of Truckee in the middle of July with an overheated engine. Also important: Are your license and registration current? How about your insurance? Don't buckle in your seatbelt until you're sure you're prepared for minor emergencies or any encounters with authority.
- Go Rental: Don't have a car? Still determined to drive? Rent something. You can get deals directly through companies like Avis, Enterprise or Budget, or check out sites like Travelocity or Expedia, where they do comparison searches according to your parameters in order to find you the best deal. Rental cars have insurance, and are guaranteed to be road-ready the second you start the engine, so you should be as safe as your driving allows. This can get expensive, but taking the responsibility of car ownership off you can definitely be worth it.
- Educate Yourself: Do you know how to change a flat tire? Have you got a spare in your trunk? Regular drivers should know how to perform this relatively simple operation, but for those who don't, get a lesson. You might also want to brush up on your oil-changing skills while you're at it. Too busy? Bring a friend who can do it for you; alternatively, check your insurance to see what kind of roadside service the company offers.
- Automotive Alternatives: Typically a road trip is done by car, but if you don't have a vehicle of your own, and don't want to rent or borrow one, you can always hop on a bus. Greyhound has lines that cover the North American continent, and if you want to see the road without having to watch it, go Greyhound. There are numerous local bus lines to take you through interesting parts of different states as well, which you can find with a simple online search for "bus lines." Such a search on Google, for example, garners 59 million hits.
- Get a Guide: And a map! Go to the bookstore, shop online, pop into the gas station liquor store, but get good maps of everywhere you plan on being. This doesn't mean you have to plan your route down to the cul de sac, but should you find yourself on the fourth detour of the day, you'll want to be able to find your way back to the freeway before it gets too dark and lonely. This is where a good navigator comes in very handy; if you didn't already appreciate the company after three hours of wheat fields, you will when you get to the evening's motel without backtracking.
- Make a Budget: If money is not an issue, you can skip this step; otherwise, decide how much you're willing to spend on gas, shelter, food, and tacky souvenirs, and divide it by the number of days you'll be on the road. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 per day seems reasonable, but if you think you can live on cheese crackers and bottled water for 10 days, feel free to use a narrower guideline. The important thing here is to be able to travel without emptying your bank account.
- Bring Supplies: You'll get thirsty. You'll get hungry. You'll get bored. Bring a cooler so you can carry perishable snacks and keep the drinks cold. Make sure you stock up during pit stops or in town detours (grocery stores are much cheaper and have a wider variety of comestibles than the gas station); hungry drivers do not good drivers make. If you're willing to chance it, use the radio to learn about the places you're driving through, but remember that from the great flat expanses of the Midwest to the sharp drops and hairpin turns of the Sierra Nevadas, radio dead zones are everywhere. Bring along an MP3 or CD player you can play through the car stereo; be creative and make some driving mixes (or have your navigator do it). And remember: Maps, maps, maps!
These travel tips and checklist for a road trip adventure will help you prepare for a road trip. Good luck!