When it comes to travel, my preferred mode of transportation is by automobile. I know it’s quicker to go by airplane and if I decide to travel solo or to the west coast, I will be sure to travel by one.
For me, the road trip experience is something that cannot be compared to anything else. And it seems as I’m not the only one.
According to AAA, a third of Americans will take a road trip this year. Blame it on the low gas prices or an American tradition we can’t seem to shake, road trips are the way to go if you want to travel.
As a child, we would take road trips to the south to visit my dad’s relatives simply because my mom was afraid of planes. As an adult, I still enjoy taking road trips with my family.
Not only do you get to spend some quality time with the ones you love, but you also get to sight see and explore the states you travel through. I also like the cost effectiveness of driving versus any other mode of transportation.
If you have the time, patience and (preferably good company) I recommend taking a road trip to your next vacation destination. I’ve never been west of Texas, but I’ve probably traveled through more states than people have ever visited.
My extensive shot glass collection can attest to this since I collect them from every location I’ve visited (plus some I haven’t). My favorite trips thus far have been long weekend trips where I just wanted to go on a scenic drive.
Just ask my son who I’ve forced to tag along on my drive down Skyline Drive to the Shenandoah National Park on multiple occasions.
My family and I just returned from a road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We vacationed with some of my family members who met us there as sort of a mini family reunion.
Mapquest mentioned that it would take us about 7 hours to travel there, but it actually took us about 10 hours. I think the added time came from us leaving the house during the evening rush (don’t ever do it).
I’m not the best planner out there, but I find that when I take a few steps before embarking on my next road trip, I’m much more relaxed when I arrive at my destination when I do. I wanted to share a few steps I took to save money and stress on our road trip.
How to Plan an Affordable and Fun Road Trip
A Week (or More) Before Your Departure
- Refill and Pick Up Any Needed Prescriptions. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to get additional quantities of your medication while on the road. Though there are some pharmacies and doctors who may accommodate you if happen to leave your medication at home, the process in itself can be a headache.
- Contact the Post Office to Stop Mail. If you are going to be away from home for three days or more, I recommend stopping your mail. You can go online to the USPS.gov website and request a stop mail request. You can also pick up your stopped mail at your local office or request mail to restart once you’re back home.
- Get a Maintenance Check for Your Automobile. Check tire pressure, tread and/or have your tires rotated. Check your car’s manual for recommended guidelines. If renting a car, this is the best time to confirm reservations. Continue to look around for last minute deals from competitors.
- Ask a Family Member or Neighbor to Check on Your House While You’re Away. Also ask them to collect newspapers, mail, and anything that would alert passersby of your absence. DO NOT post on social media or on your answering machine that you are out of town.
- Map Out Your Route and Create an Itinerary. If you are traveling for a great distance, you might want to check any travel advisories and the status of state rest stops. Determine beforehand how many miles you will take each day and plan accordingly. Check with state travel sites and AAA if you’re a member (if not, consider becoming one). Plan Your Stops Around Your Route. To save time, only stop at locations directly off of the highway.
- Make Hotel Reservations. Necessary if you decide to stop overnight during your road trip (Campgrounds are a rugged, cheaper alternative)
A Day Before Your Departure
- Pack Your Bags and Try to Take Only What You Absolutely Need. Weighing down your car burns more gas, which will cause you to stop more often and spend more money.
- Get Plenty of Rest. Even if you are sharing the driving with one or more people, traveling while rested will keep you aware of your surroundings and help you to keep a normal sleep schedule.
- Go to the Bank. Make sure you have enough cash on hand, just in case you stop somewhere credit cards are not accepted. Also, we couldn’t find our bank on our route so to save money on ATM fees, we took what we thought we would need.
- Pick Up Your Rental Car. This is important, especially if you are leaving early the next morning. Make sure to ask the rental car agent the date the car was last serviced. You don’t want to pick up a car that was dropped off moments before you got the keys.
I remember the dreaded time the tire of the minivan we rented to go to my cousin’s graduation busted. Not only were we somewhere on the highways of North Carolina, but it was dark and raining. A very dangerous situation for my father when changing the tire.
The Day of Your Departure
- Tune into the Radio and check for traffic and/or construction delays. Avoid driving during 7 – 9 AM and 4 – 6 PM to bypass rush hour traffic.
- Dress Comfortably and In Layers. You are riding with other people, so you may have to compromise on air conditioning and heating levels, so just take a sweater to keep the peace.
- Fill Up Gas Tank and Check Tire Pressure. Driving with low tire pressure is not only dangerous but adds to your gas bill.
- Pack Snacks to Starve Off Hunger and the Need to Make Frequent Stops. If you have room, take a cooler and fill up with food and drinks to save money you’ll spend for fast food.
- Pack Trunk with Luggage and Car Safety Gear. You will be surprised by the number of people who drive without battery cables and safety lights in their car. Going long distances without these items is not recommended.
- Conduct a Safety Check Throughout House. Cut off the gas and cut off the water in areas likely to flood. Put away valuables and turn on lights (consider using a timer) and make sure all doors and windows are locked.
During Your Road Trip
- Prevent Fatigue. Stop if you feel tired. Driving while tired is similar to driving while drunk. Just don’t do it.
- Drive the Speed Limit. Not only will this keep you from getting pulled over, but it will save you from making more gas stops.
- Walk Around During Stops to Prevent Edema (Swelling). I hate the fact that my legs and feet swell during long trips, so regular stops are a must for me. Traveling for long distances can cause feet and leg swelling, which can be uncomfortable. I found that also wearing compression stockings help with swelling.
- Use a Map or GPS to Prevent From Getting Lost. Minimize the chance of getting lost by having a map or GPS on hand to stay on the right path. Being lost adds time and the amount of gas you will need.
- Find the Best Gas Rates. Save Money on Gas by Using GasBuddy to find the Cheapest Gas Near Your Location
Stay Safe on the Road
Your safety should be your number one concern when traveling by car. No matter if you drive solo or with a group, you should definitely use common sense while on the road. Your out-of-state tags in itself make you vulnerable to those looking for a quick score.
A robber may take your naivete about a certain area for granted and use this opportunity to make a few bucks. Don’t become a statistic.
Be Super Duper Careful at Rest Stops
Keep your guard up at rest and truck stops. I’m leery of them and prefer not to use them at night, but there are times there is no other choice. Rest stops are unique in their proximity to the highway and can be breeding areas for crime.
Robberies and serial killings (no, I’m not being dramatic) can happen at these stops, so you need to be on high alert.
Some rest stops are safer than others, but I’ve been to areas where prostitutes were soliciting in broad daylight only feet away from families and their children. Always lock your doors and try to use the bathroom in pairs.
If you’re the only female in the group, ask one of your male passengers to stay outside of the restroom while you take care of business.
If it doesn’t look safe or you get a funny feeling, keep moving. You may be better off stopping at a McDonald’s to use the bathroom.
Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers
I know you’re probably wondering “Who in the world does that?”, but there are plenty of people that still do. I’m telling you right now, just don’t. Even if you see a woman in distress, it’s best for you to call 911 and get them to help. It’s just too dangerous.
Don’t Flash Money
If you went to the bank before your trip, it’s likely you will have a few dollars on you. If you’re out at the gas station or a fast-food restaurant, try to use your credit or debit card. If you can’t use your card or prefer to use cash, don’t flash the contents of your wallet to others while paying for your purchase.
Be Friendly, but Not Too Friendly
One great thing about taking road trips is the opportunity for you to meet new and exciting people. It’s nice to share stories and connect with complete strangers, but be careful.
Though most people you meet will be genuine there are some out there who are only looking to steal from you or worse, cause you harm.
When striking up conversations, don’t give up too much personal information. Don’t give out your last name, place of employment, your address or any information that can be used against you.
If you are staying at a hotel for the night, don’t give up the hotel’s name (and definitely not the room number). If traveling with children, remind them to do the same.
For Additional Ways to Stay Safe on the Road, read 30 Tips, Resources, and Tools for a Safe Road Trip
Additional Things to Consider on Your Next Road Trip
I don’t have any small children, but there are some steps parents can take to stay sane while traveling by car. Make sure to have plenty of activities for the children to participate in.
Have on hand games, DVDs, tablets (headphones a must) to keep the little ones occupied. My son is older, but I made sure he had his phone and tablet to keep him occupied.
If you have a pet, consider your furry friend when preparing for your trip. The place we stayed allowed pets, but I also made sure my dog’s vaccinations were in order before as well.
I also knew my dog was sometimes uncomfortable riding in the car, so I tried to make his trip as calming as possible. This involved bringing his comfy pillow, blanket, and favorite toys. I also put on his ThunderShirt, which helped to calm him down a bit on the highway.
Additional Resources for Planning Your Next Road Trip
Determine the Purpose of Your Road Trip. Taking a road trip to visit relative is much different than traveling to explore different regions just because. If you do the latter, all you need is some cash and a full tank of gas. If you want to venture on the sights on Route 66, then a little preparation might be in order.
If you are considering a road trip anytime soon, I highly recommend putting in a little preparation before you go. Even if you are the spontaneous type, you’ll appreciate following some of the tips I discussed above.
In addition, here are some resources you should check out to keep you safe on your next trip.
RoadTrippers is the ultimate road trip planner and allows you to start a new trip and map out locations such as hotels and scenic spots on your way. If you sign up, you’ll be able to save your trips as you plan and later sync your itinerary to your phone.
It also has travel guides that will help you plan your road trip by destination. You’ll also see that they recommend the length of each trip, such as traveling in one week on this trip from Boston to Miami (Atlantic Coast).
Road Trip America has extensive resources to help you to plan your next road trip. I like how they break up trips in categories such as scenic drives and family road trips, which is helpful in planning a trip to your particular situation.
If you don’t have a destination in mind and prefer to go the scenic route, you should definitely visit this site.
If you plan to stay in the continental US, you will find the preplanned road trips designed by Visit the USA.
P.S. If you don’t like to travel much, check out my post on Cheap or Free Things to Do This Summer, which list affordable activities to participate in around town.