Around every 2-3 years I make sure to take a road trip of at least 4000 miles. In the past I’ve done Miami-Charlottesville (MagFest 4), Miami-Pittsburgh (School – CMU), Miami-Chicago, and most recently Miami-DC-Chicago-Homestead, MT-Denver-Grand Canyon-OKC-Miami. Through these trips, and with advice from my father (a veteran road tripper) I’ve built up some good tips and tricks for (solo) roadtripping on a budget. So when our very own BoxyBrown told me he was looking for tips for his 2 month tumble around the states, I decided to gather up some of my best.
1) Windshield Wiper Fluid
A mostly forgotten car fluid, having this in good supply is essential on road trips. When driving familiar streets, as one does day-to-day, low visibility can be an annoyance but usually not dangerous. However, when going 80 in the dark down a highway looking for signs, those smudges on the windshield become a lot more than eyesores.
Spritzing wiper fluid when you first turn on the wipers for rain can also aid in the water sliding off the windshield and beading better. Of course also ensure your wipers are generally in good working order, they’re not too costly but make a lot of difference when you have a lot of road ahead of you and the rain is coming down.
2) Frozen Water Bottles
When keeping a cooler in your car for snacks, meals, and/or medical supplies frozen water bottles are the best way to maintain cold (significantly better than reusable chemical ice packs). 1-3 liter bottles are the best, but will take a day or so to completely freeze. Once frozen, they can last a week in a cooler (especially if you surround your cooler with insulating things like blankets, pillows, towels, or suitcases), and when in need will provide cold water. In any overnight stop you make where a freezer is handy, then can be refrozen and topped off.
Not only a good way to cut down on stops for meals, having something that you might be reaching for and chewing helps stave off monotony on large stretches of road. Trail mix, or jerkies tend to be good not only because of the chewyness, but for being very concentrated nutrition sources. When on the road, I tend to only eat two light meals a day, then nibble on snacks the rest. Can’t afford to get the itis!
4) Voice Recorder
Being in the isolation of a car for long periods tends to cause the brain to try to stretch itself out, some people call it thinking (whatever). Instead of letting errant thoughts flit away like the milemarkers you pass, record them. This can be like an audio diary, or just notes for yourself. When you have downtime, go back to the recordings, and you can elaborate or take action on them. Regardless of how you do it, it’s much more pleasing (and productive) than talking to yourself, and much less dangerous than actually having a phone conversation.
5) Interstate Rest Stops
I’ve never paid for a hotel on a road trip. In almost all states, the interstate road stops allow for at the very least 16 hour parking, and in many have some sort of security. They tend to be away from town centers with the interstate being the only way to reach them, which makes them relatively crime free. Throw a mat or blankets in the back seat and you’re good for the night. During the day, many are also manned with someone who can provide information on the locale and any sights to see. At any time there are usually also maps, which may seem irrelevant in the era of GPS but are great for wandering, finding scenic routes, and as souvenirs. Last, but certainly not least, the restrooms tend to be much MUCH nicer than your run-of-the-mill gas station.
6) Pawn/Thrift shops
Other than being a good way to interact with local color, second-hand shops tend to be full of souvenir goods that have lost their appeal. Additionally, any item that you get now automatically has a much more exciting back story, e.g.: In a large indoor flea market in Cheyenne, WY I found an AD&D Player’s Handbook. Inside was a story of the former owner’s last play session with a good friend who had to move away.
Ingredients tend to keep without spoiling in a cooler, and with a relatively small set of condiments you can get a good rotation of flavours to not grow tired of the food. Saves vs fast food financially, health-wise, and time-wise.
8) Reenter highway on the next exit
Oftentimes when stopping for gas, instead of going right back onto the highway, I’ll make my way through the city and reenter one or two exits down. This is a very time-economical way to get a little bit of sightseeing in. Main streets are particularly fun, or you might ask a clerk at the gas station about anything worth seeing nearby.
9) Cruise Control
This is a real take-it-or-leave-it thing. I’ve had people tell me that focusing on keeping a constant speed allows them to focus more on driving and alerts to when they’re too tired. To me, it just creates a distraction. Keeping cruise control can ensure that you are at peak gas efficiency, not accidentally speeding, and more precisely aware of how long it will take to get to your next destination. It can also just give you one less thing to have to worry about and free your mind up for taking in the view or talking to yourself.
10) Respect Your Limits
Simple right? It’s harder than you’d think sometimes. Try your best to plan a trip flexibly, making room for going slower than you know you will or driving fewer hours than you know you’ll be able to. It becomes very easy to lose a lot of time, and you don’t want to be thinking about driving another 100 miles at 2am. Relax and remember this is supposed to be fun, and you can always set your alarm earlier in the morning. If you find yourself having to guzzle the caffeine, or are constantly wanting to stop to just stretch and wake up, you should probably already have stopped.
Hope these help and would-be traveler. Throw down a comment if you have any you’d like to share!