How to prepare for a road trip

Road trips are a great way to travel and appreciate that raw, natural energy while you’re at it. Personally, I love a good road trip. I live in Australia, and some road trips can be a little bit drab and long, because of how far apart the major cities are – at least compared to the United States, where I have travelled and gone on several road trips which I would love to do again – of course when we are allowed to travel again. Australia will likely be opening interstate by the end of the year, which means exploring the rest of our huge country with a road trip could be possible. 🦘

A stretch of road with several cars visible at a far distance. The landscape is hazy with mountains in the backgrounds
On our way to Las Vegas from Mammoth Lakes in 2018

Oftentimes, road tripping can expose you to natural wonders, interesting townships, and let you enjoy the journey as well. I personally enjoyed our road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas, which I can’t believe was back in 2018! We passed Yosemite, which was beautiful. As they say, sometimes it’s not about the destination, but the journey.

Even though road trips can be enjoyable, some people may find them stressful because of all the needed essentials and planning that is required. Today I’m sharing a few main pointers that should help you on your next road trip, along with details of some of my experiences.

🚗 Make sure your car is prepared or that you choose a reputable car rental company

If you are fortunate enough to be able to drive your own car, it can be really convenient. Beyond budgeting, having your car safe and ready to travel a long distance is important. Have your flashlights, jack, spare tyre and jumper cables safely tucked in the trunk of your car. Check that the tyres are in good condition as well.

Also make sure the AC/heater (depending on what time of the year you are traveling) is functioning properly. I’ve got a six-year-old car whose A/C had an issue in the first couple of years of owning it – I did a few long-distance drives and really struggled in the heat! After getting that fixed, Nick and I found that the cover I had on the dashboard was doing a lot more harm than good – it blocked air from the A/C, which also got dangerous in wet conditions when we tried to de-fog the windscreen. Goodbye to that dashboard cover!

It goes without saying, but ensure that your car has enough oil and that the petrol tank (or gas, if you’re American 😁) is filled. It’s worth noting any of the stations at which you can fill up on your journey, depending on how far your tank will go before it starts to run low, and how far you are travelling altogether.

If you are renting a car, it’s not a bad idea to do your research and select a company you can stick with long term. If you stick with the same company over time, they can have loyalty programs where you can earn rewards the more you use their service.

When selecting a car, obviously choose what is in your budget, but look out for any special offers that can save you money, and any additions or up-sells you can remove or do without. For many people (like me), a functioning car with a way to play music is all I need, and I don’t need anything fancy. But paying another $20 a day or so (depending on how long you’re hiring the car for) for a more comfortable car isn’t much if you can afford it.

🕶 Choose a driver and make sure they are prepared

I love to be the passenger in the car. I don’t know what it is, but something about long drives makes it a really therapeutic experience for me. I like to dream and stare out the window, or get comfortable and chat to whoever I’m tripping with. 😊 Nick actually enjoys being the driver and really dislikes being the passenger – he can’t get comfortable, is prone to motion sickness, and generally feels more in control behind the wheel. It kind of works for both of us!

Make sure you make a solid decision on who will be driving the car if you are travelling in a group. If you’re hiring a car, make sure you have the appropriate drivers licence or any legal documentation that the car rental company will need.

Also, make sure your driver has all they need to be comfortable to drive. Nick and I both need sunglasses when we drive because our eyes are really sensitive to light. 😎 You or the people you are with might also have similar requirements.

💊 First aid kit and other medications

Having a first aid kit is paramount regardless of where you are. This goes a long way to reduce the anxiety that comes with road trips. Accidents are inevitable and anything from falls to cuts to an allergic reaction to mosquito bites may occur. Motion sickness, headaches and less serious but more persisting ailments can happen too. These are also more likely to happen. Either way, you need to always be prepared.

Many rental cars will be equipped with a first aid kit, sometimes at a small price, or you can bring your own. It’s good to have any medication on hand for headaches and motion sickness, epipens (if you have been prescribed some – Nick has some for his peanut allergy), and even consider what you might need for food poisoning or indigestion, in case you eat something at one of your rest stops that upsets your stomach. Especially make sure you bring any of your regular medications with you.

If you are going to engage in a lot of outdoor activities while you’re away, make sure you’re armed with things like band-aids, hand sanitiser, insect repellant, and vitamins, because it doesn’t hurt to boost your immune system.

🥪 Food and drinks

The temptation to constantly grab candy at every gas station, or rest stop is intense when you’re on a road trip. I’m not going to lie, every road trip I’ve been on in the United States – actually let’s face it, maybe it is literally every time I go there – I’ve bought a box of Mike and Ikes candy and eaten the whole box. We don’t have them in Australia! 🙈 But since you are sitting down for a really long time, and aren’t active, you can start to feel really sluggish and awful if you don’t at least eat something healthy and stay hydrated.

Maintain good feeding habits while on the road. If you stop to buy snacks, make sure you pick up a lot more fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks than you do sugary sweet snacks. Endeavour to only buy what you will finish eating. It can be easy to buy a lot because it’s impulsive and fun, but it will be a waste if you don’t eat it all.

Keep a cooler for your drinks if you are using your own car or are able to bring one. Bring a reusable water bottle with you that you can fill up along the journey. Avoid sticky snacks or food that is fussy, as it can be a mess. If you can prepare food, cutting sandwiches up into small pieces can be easy to eat, especially if you just want a small portion or want to share. Food and snacks like beef jerky, protein bars, fruit and nuts are some healthy things to consider if you’re packing beforehand.

🎒 Pack wisely and choose a good luggage carrier

If you are well prepared, being in a car for a long period of time can be fun. The weather is constantly changing when on the road so always carry along clothing items to suit a range of weather conditions. Add a blanket and comfortable socks for when the weather gets cold. Other good ideas include a neck pillow to prevent discomfort, particularly if you nap in the car, and shoes that are easy to remove since you may want to take them off in the car. I always do. 😅

Also make sure you pick your luggage carefully. Some people can do away with a backpack of minimal clothing, and that can be easy to walk around with, particularly if doing something like hiking. If your destination is an outdoor area, a duffel bag or backpack with waterproof qualities is great because of its durability and ability to withstand external conditions. If you are going to the city, a suitcase with four wheels that can easily be pulled around will serve you better because of its mobility advantage. Make sure you pack an extra tote bag or two, in case you need to carry something extra or run out of room. Or if you are a good citizen and like to avoid using plastic bags. 🌍

I can’t stress this enough, but make sure you only take what you need. If you are road-tripping, you are probably going to be in the car for quite some time. So take that into consideration when you pack – you may not need to bring as many clothes or wash your clothes if you are simply sitting in a car and not getting sweaty or dirty. You might want to bring a portable gaming console so that you can play games, or a book to read, but will you really do those activities? I usually find I’m just enjoying the drive. 😊

🎶 Some damn good music

I left this one for last on purpose! A road trip isn’t a road trip with some good music. Make sure you have a few hours’ worth of tunes to play, and maybe download them to be played offline in case you have no phone signal/reception. If you’re travelling in a group, perhaps you can create a collaborative Spotify playlist where everyone can add the tunes they want to hear. It’s wild how big of a playlist you can have when you take just a few people’s recommendations, because some people will have at least a dozen songs or at least an hours’ worth alone. 🎧

Some people have their go-tos – I personally dig Australian artist Jeremy Neale for easygoing road trips, but I love classic rock and upbeat music. Give me Electric Light Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Billy Joel, Calvin Harris, The Maine… yep, I could go on forever. If you make a playlist today for whenever your next road trip is, you will likely have a lot of music by then. 🙂

Some people love to shuffle their entire library until they find something they like. Some people like to play games if they are a passenger in the back. Some people really like podcasts or even audiobooks – whatever floats your boat. Whatever gets you through the trip. But I think a large percentage of us can relate to music. 😌

The benefits of a road trip are numerous, and it is a pleasant experience everyone should indulge in. We took advantage of the Australia Day long weekend this year (before the COVID-19 pandemic! sob 😭) by visiting Tasmania, and it was such a wonderful opportunity to experience Australia’s natural beauty. I would do it again. 💚

I hope this list helps you get excited about planning your next or first road-trip. Where do you think you will go or go next?

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