As it turns out, I actually kind of like road trips. I suppose it depends on how you define it, but I qualify a road trip as any vacation that involves spending a decent amount of time in the car. So, that time my family drove up to Ithaca for a long weekend, I consider a road trip. That week in November that we drove around Iceland; that was a road trip. Last year in Arizona, that was definitely a road trip. Sure, some of those required flights that took us to our destination, but once we were there, we did quite a bit of driving so they qualify.
Immediately, you can see where my priorities are. Road trips are the ultimate excuse for eating junk food; I mean, it's only second to the Super Bowl. So, stock up on your favorite chips, beef jerky, cookies, chocolates, gummy candies, and anything else you can eat easily while one hand is on the wheel.
In addition to the crappy not-so-good-for-you stuff, I also like to pack some nicer bits, like granola bars, some easy to eat fruit like clementines or apples, and nuts. It's nice to have some food with substance so you're not just filling up on empty calories, especially if part of your road trip involves stopping for hikes and actual activities that require you to do a bit of exercise.
And of course, keep a decent supply of water in the car.
Keep in mind that the types of snacks you pack will also depend on the climate. If you're driving around in cold weather and your car can also serve as a fridge, you can pack slightly more perishable foods like cheese and deli meats. If you're driving around in especially hot weather, you might want to avoid chocolate and anything else that might melt and make a mess. Or, you can always pack a cooler to keep things fresh.
Make a Playlist
It's easy to get bored if you have to drive for long stretches at a time. And drive time radio can get really annoying and tedious. So, make a playlist. If you're driving in your own car and you can connect your phone or iPod, that's great. If you're renting a car and you're not sure what you'll end up with, go the old fashioned route and burn a CD.
You can be super cliche and pick car-related songs, like 'Ridin' Dirty' or 'I Drove All Night' or 'Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car.' Or you can do a Disney-themed playlist (which is what my sister did for us in Iceland). Or just pick really loud, intense songs if you know you're going to be driving through the night and need help staying awake.
Driving aimlessly can be fun and if you have the luxury to do so, then good for you. But, if like most people you have a schedule to maintain, plan your route ahead of time. Mark up a Google Map, do a little research to figure out the most scenic route, if you're somewhere remote you might want to mark up the gas stations, calculate your mileage if that matters to you, and just do whatever steps necessary ahead of time to make the trip go as smoothly as possible.
Keep it Clean
Pack some wet wipes, a plastic bag for garbage, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper and have them handy in the car. Keeping the car tidy will make for a more enjoyable ride. Empty the garbage bag at the end of each day, wipe down the steering wheel so you're not leaving behind greasy fingerprints, wipe your hands off after eating chips, just keep it clean and you'll have a more pleasant trip.
You will 100% appreciate the toilet paper if the gas station or rest stop toilet has run out or if you end up needing to do an emergency wee behind a bush on the side of the road.
If you're driving your own car on this road trip, then hopefully you're comfortable in your own car. But, if you're renting a car and have some options, make sure to pick a car that will be comfy.
So, if you're traveling with four of your buddies, don't try to squeeze yourselves into a compact economy car. After all, if you're splitting the bill with everyone, it won't hurt too much to upgrade to a slightly larger model.
In addition to making sure everyone has enough space, maybe pack a little blanket and some cushions so that you can really get cozy. The blanket will also come in handy if the air conditioner is too much for someone.
Invest in a car charger. Of course you should also make sure your devices are 100% charged up every night so you can start with fresh batteries every morning but in case you need to rely heavily on your phone for navigation and music, it'll be imperative that you have a way to charge it up.
And just in case your phone does end up dying, it's always good to have a paper map as a backup.
Keep a bit of cash and some coins in the car. It'll come in handy for parking meters and tolls.
Avoid rush hour and sitting in traffic. It'll just annoy you and it's also a waste of gas.
Make sure your insurance is up to date and that the car is in good condition. If you're renting a car, book it with a credit card that offers rental insurance and coverage.
Pack a first aid kit. At the v. least, have some dramamine and headache medicine for carsickness. It's also good to have some bandaids and antiseptic, in case your hike gives you blisters. And it wouldn't hurt to have some cold medicine; it'll come in handy if you start to get a scratchy throat.
Know how to change a tire, know how to jump start a dead battery, and adhere to the rules of the road.
If you have a really busy itinerary, make sure your friends and family at home know where you are. This is especially important if you're heading somewhere really remote without cell service.
Apply lots of sunscreen before hitting the road. Even if it's cloudy, even though you're in the car, sun exposure will damage your skin. Keep it handy in the car for reapplications.
Lip balm is also an essential; driving around with chapped lips can be painful.