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How to Enjoy a Car Trip

Updated on March 18, 2013
"You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself  any direction you choose. You're on your own.  And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go."                                             - by Dr. Seuss
"You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go." - by Dr. Seuss | Source

Road Trips Are My Specialty

When I took my first road trip, I over packed. Now, a car carrier is not too bad, so I started with that. After all, one can use the leg room. But then I filled up the trunk, and in between the seats, and under my driver's seat, behind my legs. When I finished packing the car, I realized I needed even more stuff, so I put on a brand new "used" trailer to the back of my 1990's station wagon.

The man who sold me the trailer warned me about the weight. By that I mean, he said my station wagon was almost at the the maximum it could pull with the trailer so I would have to "take it easy" loading it up before hitting the road. Thinking I understood this to mean I should only take what I really needed, I proceeded to put inside of the trailer a box of books, a bag of tools, dishes, pots and pans, bedding, a lamp, and the dog, of course. But then I noticed that the hitch was bowing down towards the ground, where the trailer met the car. No worries, I thought. I'd just go see a mechanic.

When I pulled up to the mechanic, he took one look at me, my three kids, my stuff and my dog, and he just kind of laughed while he shook his head. He said, "I can fix it, but I don't think you should go too far out of town." Undaunted, I proceeded to drive 1,000 miles away, where unfortunately, my wagon broke down due to stressing the car with the load.

The short version of the ending to that story is I sold the trailer for a song, I threw away half my stuff, and I shipped three boxes of my junk home. It took another 1,000 miles before I learned rule number two about life on the road: You can pack too much clothes. Several thousand miles of road behind me, I can most assuredly share with you how best to travel by car.

What To Take on a Road Trip - The Short List

Here's the short list of what you absolutely need to take when you travel by car:

  • An emergency roadside kit: jumper cables, first aid kit, flares, fix-a flat, extra fuses, bottled water, a pocket sized plastic rain poncho, a flash light, and a space blanket - in cold climates.
  • A spare tire - don't skip that one!
  • One suitcase only per person... See what to pack in my article, How To Travel Like A Pro
  • 1 bag of food, if you don't plan on eating out for every meal, with sandwich-making ingredients and bottled drinks
  • A cash stash - this is emergency money you don't keep in your wallet or purse and that only you can find in the car
  • Roadside service
  • A cell phone

Do you have kids? Then you have special needs. For small babies, read about how to travel with babies and children. For bigger kids (out of diapers), check out these tips:

  • Limit each kid to one suitcase for clothes.
  • Pack one backpack each for toys and books.
  • Pack one special bag for snacks.
  • Keep a secret stash of "new" toys and entertainment that you present to the kids - only as needed.

That's it! Easy? No... not so easy, for the novice car traveler... not as easy as it sounds to take very little in the way of things with you on your road trip but completely worth the trouble of doing so.

Interested in the longer version of this list? See What To Take on a Road Trip.

You may want to pack a travel pillow for those times you really need a nap.
You may want to pack a travel pillow for those times you really need a nap. | Source

Special Considerations on the Road

There are some things you might not have even thought of that could impact your life greatly on the road:

  • If you or your passengers smoke or do drugs, in most states, you will be arrested and you car will be impounded. This might not be true in the state the drug originated in. There are different state laws, in regards to marijuana use. In some states, some people are allowed to have it in small amounts, as longs as they have a special card to present to police that shows they have this permission. In California, this is referred to as a "grow card."
  • If you are speeding and pulled over by the police, depending on how fast you were going, you might get more than a speeding ticket. You might might get a visit to the county jail.
  • In some states, animals laws are very strict. Keeping your dog in your car can be a serious offense in some states. Some states do not allow dogs on tethers or lines at any time. Be aware of the animal welfare laws in the state of your travel.
  • In California, there's a common native driver-behavior known as the "rolling stop." This means, most drivers there do not actually stop all the way at stop signs! Avoid car accidents by being aware of this unique behavior in California.
  • Consider getting a tune up and a full inspection before leaving town.
  • A portable wifi device allows you to be online anywhere. This requires research and time to discover the best fit for your use before purchasing one.
  • Optional but adds to the fun: camera, tablet, or laptop.
  • A GPS device can be very handy. It's not essential but it is convenient. If you don't use a GPS, consider getting a map. I personally use neither. I use my laptop and my portable wifi device to look up maps and directions on the internet.

Drive with care.  Large animals frequent the roads in northern states and remote areas.
Drive with care. Large animals frequent the roads in northern states and remote areas. | Source

It Ends Up Being Fun When There's Little To No Stress

The more prepared you are, the more you can relax and go with the flow. Enjoy yourself by knowing you have a plan if the original plans falls apart... and believe me, that does happen. Have an idea of what you want your road trip to be about... taking your time and enjoying the scenic route, or cruising at top speed and driving in shifts to get there as fast as possible. If everyone is on the same page as you, things should flow smoothly. Make sure you've discussed with the other passengers what you have in mind for your ideal trip. When things take an unexpected turn (they often do!), take it easy and go with it. It usually ends up being okay and an enjoyable memory. You can even mix it up by purchasing the travel version of your favorite games to play with other passengers while en route or buy a movie player to pass the time.

Road Trip Comedy - Gabriel Iglesias

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