I have made a move back to my hometown Grand Rapids, MI from Big Sky, MT and what a hike! Luckily, my dad flew to Billings to help me with the drive. The entire trip took three days. We stayed in hotels in North Dakota, Wisconsin and lastly St. Ignace, MI on the way and saved a lot of money with coupons and “reward points” for most of the hotels. I’ll explain how to travel on road trips cost effectively another time. However, in this post I will be addressing how to prepare for long road trips.
Seasonal employees generally have a month or two off before we need to be in our next location. Thus, long road trips are a great way to see the country while we make our way to the next gig. There are always amazing sites to see, but the road can be untamed and it’s important to be prepared for what’s to come!
Here is a mini guide to road trips!
(The rental car Ben and I used to go down the 101. Photo by Benjamin Scott Photography)
1.) Pack an easy-to-grab bag with your basic needs.
Determine how long you are going to be on your road trip and prepare clothes for at least four days out. You’ll need to pack your daily toiletries- think tooth brush, deodorant, dry shampoo, etc. I always regret it when I forget to pack a swimsuit and a towel. If you are staying in hotels there is a good chance that there is a hot tub and swimming pool and if you are camping there are a lot of hot springs out west. Unpacking and repacking the car is such a hassle! You want to avoid that as much as possible. I recommend packing a small grocery bag or a divider to separate your dirty clothes from the clean ones.
Now, for adventurers you can pack your gear in a quickly accessible spot without worrying about reaching your basic needs.
2.) For long road trips- plan a halfway point to wash up.
If you are planning on being in the car for more than a week you’ll want to plan a place where you can wash your clothes and yourself. Trust me, you think you can go a long time without a shower until you are hanging out with your week long stench in an enclosed car.
Try finding someone that you can stay with at a halfway point. Just make sure they are aware that you’ll need to clean up when you get there. To save money ask a friend first, but if you don’t know anyone in that area go for at least one hotel. That way you know you can pack lighter on the clothes and if you do need to switch out the dirty clothes for cleaner ones- do it in a hotel. It’s aggravating attempting to find your suitcase in the car and dragging it to your one person tent that it doesn’t fit in. You’ll get dirt and bugs in your tent– I can vouch for that.
3.) Prepare healthy car snacks and meals.
When I eat junk food I gain weight and feel sick– like most people. It can be difficult to come up with food to eat in the car since you probably won’t have a way to cook it. Men’s Health came up with a few healthier options here. For me, fresh bread topped with avocado, cheese and tomato was a filling snack. (Thanks for the idea, Ben!) Also, prepping hard boiled eggs makes for an easy breakfast. Nut mixes are filling and fruit stays fresh for long periods of time without being refrigerated.
4.) Make rough time estimates and know your route.
The most stressful times I’ve had on road trips was not planning where we were going to stay and everyone in the group was tired and cranky. Don’t get tired before knowing where you’ll stay that night. Prior to the trip make a rough list of times estimates to be in certain locations.
Call hotels the morning before you’d arrive to double check that they have availability (if you don’t book prior to leaving!). During the forest fires in California, I couldn’t find anywhere to stay near San Francisco because everyone was evacuating. Know the area you are going to go through! Read up on the local news! For instance, if the 101 is closed due to forest fires you may get stuck in a town you weren’t planning on– cough cough.
5.) Fill up!
Whenever your travel team stops for a bathroom break you can save on time by filling your gas tank. There’s no need to stop again in 30 minutes if you were just near a gas station! Also, in some states (think Alaska or North Dakota) you may not have another opportunity to fill up again for a while so take advantage of these stops.
Another helpful hint: when you are filling up make sure the your tires are full of air. You’ll save money on gas that way.
6.) Tired? Switch it up.
There’s no need to be a hero. You aren’t going to do anyone any favors if you drive exhausted to make it another two hours. Be smart! If I start feeling a little tired I’ll tell my travel companion and give them a 30 minute heads up. That way they can drink up their caffeine and wake themselves up so they are ready to switch.
Driving tired is like driving drunk according to the National Sleep Foundation. Be safe.
7.) Make one or two “recreational” stops a day.
There are so many crazy things on the side of the road to stop at! The “largest cow”, the corn palace, the largest wooden spoon, grizzly bear sanctuaries, a giant statue of big foot- the list is endless! It’s healthy to get up and stretch every hour of the day, but in the car you are normally on a time crunch. If we see signs for something “interesting” we try to plan our gas station, meal, or bathroom stop around that area. That gives you something “worthwhile” to walk around and see while you are doing the normal routine.
(Big Foot Statue, Northern California, May 2015)
8.) Technology and maintenance prep.
Does your camera need to be charged? How about your phone? How are you going to be playing music? There are many options for car charges and they are IMPORTANT. Maps will eat up your phone battery. It’s likely to come across amazing sunrises, wildlife and other amazing photography opportunities– make sure that camera is charged!
Before you start your trip make sure you have the following checked on your car:
- Windshield wiper fluid (Double check that the wipers work.)
- Oil change
- Jumper cables
- Pressure in tires
- Flares (if driving through snowy mountains)
- Spare tire
- Basic first aid kit.
9.) Let people know where you are going.
This is not just a safety thing. Remember #2- plan for a wash-up? You may have friends in areas you didn’t know they were! I post a general version of my route on Facebook so that I have the opportunity to catch up with friends along the way. If your friends have been in those areas they can offer solid advice on sites to see and places to avoid along the way.
You’ll save money if you invest in a tent and sleeping bag- it can pay for itself by avoiding two hotel stays! National Forest and National Grasslands are open to dispersed camping. Take advantage of this!
(My camping spot in the Grand Tetons, April 2015)
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