Freedom is getting in the car and driving; when the roads seem endless and there’s nothing but big skies and infinite possibility. There’s a destination — a place you’re headed and a time you need to be there, but when you’re in the car, it’s like there’s nothing but you and the road. At times, it’s liberating. But then, you’re also just ready to arrive.
I think walking the line between the pursuit of freedom and succumbing to car-induced cabin fever is what makes for the perfect road trip.
When I made the drive from Maryland to Colorado, it was more about the destination than the journey, and it made for some loooong days in the car. By the end of each day, we were ready to get off the road and collapse into bed. There weren’t any tourist stops or detours — it was just about getting there as fast as possible.
So when I call my trek to Colorado a “road trip,” I don’t mean it in the traditional, “exploring route 66” sense. But regardless of your road trip’s purpose, time in the car is still time in the car. And here are my five tips to make that time more
Bring a Buddy
This seems silly to point out, but having done a few 9+ hour drives all by myself (to and from college back in the day), I can say with certainty that having someone else in the car with you makes the drive infinitely better. You can push yourself to go longer, take turns driving, and have someone else to talk to besides yourself.
I considered doing the drive to Colorado alone, but now I’m so grateful I had my dad along. Not only did he do a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to driving (and unpacking), but his company made spending 12-14 hours in the car not seem so long. It was a great opportunity to ask questions and talk — the perfect bonding experience! I can’t wait to go on another road trip with him someday soon.
Conversation will only get you so far. Musical tastes differ and books on tape always seem to put me to sleep. That’s why podcasts are a lifesaver. They’re short enough to keep your attention, they teach you something new, and it’s a great conversation starter if you feel like you and your buddy have run out of things to talk about. NPR’s Planet Money was my go-to for this past road trip, and it definitely kept things interesting!
Use Hotel Booking Apps
My dad has made the same cross-country drive from Maryland to Colorado (and vice versa) a number of times and he said that the biggest game changer from then and now is the ability to book hotel rooms ahead of time. Before, you’d have to cut your driving time short because you had to find a roadside hotel with a vacancy before they all booked up, usually around 6pm. But at 6pm, we still had hours of driving left in us and plenty of daylight to burn! This is where the apps come in.
Around 5-6 hours into the drive, we were able to look at Google Maps to see our progress for the day, and how far it was to each possible stopping point. We’d gauge how we were feeling and estimate how many hours left we had in us left to drive. Then we’d choose the location we wanted to end up in that night and search the app for hotels in that town. We could book right through the app and know that whenever we arrived, there would be a room waiting for us. This meant we could get 4+ more hours of driving in each day because we didn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep. Gamechanger!
Use the Restroom EVERY Time You Stop
Whenever I’m on a long car ride, I can hear my mother’s voice from when I was younger: “Do you have to go the bathroom? Well, go try anyway.” It’s wise advice because when it comes to crossing the great planes of Missouri or Kansas, you don’t know when you’re going to have an opportunity to stop. I’m used to the populated east where you can’t go more than 10 miles without a truck stop, but out west, it could be 100+ miles before we ran into a bathroom! So we made a point to take advantage of every stop (especially considering all the coffee we were drinking.) Nothing makes a road trip feel longer than having to go to the bathroom.
Stay Positive & Keep Your Mind on Happy Things
Road trips leave you a lot of time to think. Your mind wanders and you find yourself thinking about everything and anything, and nothing can ruin a long ride quite like thinking negative thoughts. Every time my mind wandered to something unhappy, it was like a dark cloud following the car. I didn’t want to talk or be friendly, I just wanted to brood. And brooding makes the ride feel like an eternity for you and your road trip partner.
So instead, I tried to steer my thoughts to exciting things, like starting a new life in Colorado. With each state border we passed, I imagined myself leaving a piece of the negativity behind. It was baggage I didn’t need anymore.
Forcing myself to focus on happy things kept spirits high and the atmosphere light, and made for one of the best road trips I’ve ever been on.
What are your tips for an awesome road trip?
What’s the longest you’ve ever spent in the car?