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Things To Do And Pack Before A Road Trip

Updated on January 23, 2015

The open road holds a special allure for many people. This attraction often translates into road trips taken by individuals, families, or groups of friends. A road trip can be relatively short—two or three days—or stretch into several weeks or longer. Considering personality differences, available finances, and interests, there is no “one size fits all” formula to help plan a road trip. There are, however, a few basic matters worth considering before leaving town.

You must first determine if this will be a solo journey or otherwise. Solo road trips can be relaxing and memorable, and therefore there is no reason to assume a road trip must include company. Nonetheless, if you decide you want or need company, then you must decide who to bring along. Presuming this individual or group of individuals are available and willing to hit the road with you, you must then determine whose vehicle you will take. It’s wise to consider the gas mileage each car gets, how much storage space for suitcases, camping equipment, and so forth each car has, and what condition each car is in. While you can’t protect yourself for a distracted driving bumping into your vehicle in a diner parking lot, you can hopefully determine which vehicle is best suited for a long journey.

The travelers should next decide when to travel. Summer is often a popular time to take a road trip because most people aren’t in school and the weather is generally fair. If none of the travelers attend school during the year, however, a trip in the late spring or autumn months can be planned in order to avoid crowds at popular tourist destinations or to witness the beautiful autumn colors in the New England states.

Once these matters are settled, you should determine the length of your road trip. There is no perfect length for a road trip, and, depending on how much time off from work is available, it’s possible you will have a week or less to travel. Moreover, it is advisable to plan to return home at least twelve hours before you are expected back at work in order to reestablish yourself in non-vacation mode, as well as rest up and do laundry.

It’s essential to discuss trip expectations with fellow travelers before you hit the road. Not only will this help you plan your destinations, it will also help decrease the amount of interpersonal conflict during the journey. It’s also important to be as honest with each other and oneself before you hit the road. If you have no desire to visit Central Park even if you stop by New York City en route to Charleston, South Carolina, you do everyone a disservice by not admitting and sharing this information.

Road trips are not best spent unthinkingly checking off a long list of well-known or popular activities and destinations you believe you “should” do or visit. If you are an enthusiastic fan of artist Salvador Dali and want to visit The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, this is a much better travel destination for you than any more well-known museums in Washington D.C. that don’t interest you.

In addition to discussing where you wish to go and what you want to see, it’s also important to discuss what kind of traveling pace is preferred by each party. While some individuals think nothing of driving 800 miles in one day in order to reach a more distant destination, others will find this unnecessarily taxing. Similarly, while one traveler aspires to visit three major New York City tourist destinations in one day, his or her fellow traveler may much prefer to visit only one or two major travel destinations and leave time for activities or destinations you discover at the last minute. A schedule with significant breathing room may be stressful for the more ambitious travelers, yet it would likely translate into greater sanity within a group. It’s also helpful to discuss whether or not all travelers would mind doing activities and visiting locations solo if the other person or persons aren’t interested.

It’s prudent to discuss the available budget for this journey before leaving town. Knowing approximately how much each person is able to spend will streamline destination and lodging choices. Travelers with a more limited budget can save money on lodging by camping instead of getting hotel rooms, or, if they still wish to sleep inside, hostels are often cheaper than hotels and can offer many socializing opportunities with fellow travelers. It’s also possible that there are family and friends along the way who would be willing to host you for free. Regardless of your available budget, one should prepare for unexpected expenses. While there are many ways to travel relatively cheaply, this doesn’t mean you should be overly optimistic about how far you can stretch your budget.

Ensure the vehicle of choice is in top shape before you hit the road. Check the wear on the tires, see if it needs an oil change, and inspect for other potential issues to fix before you hit the road. Having AAA coverage is helpful once you are traveling and you encounter car problems, but this doesn’t give you an excuse to neglect basic maintenance beforehand.

While the clothing you pack will be partly determined by individual tastes and the time of year you are traveling, it is helpful to pack at least one pair of sneakers or comfortable sandals to wear when you are exploring towns or national parks on foot. Breaking in new shoes before you travel is a must in order to avoid getting blisters. Comfortable clothing is generally recommended over more fashionable clothing. In addition, finding clothing that is at least wrinkle-resistant helps you live out of a backpack, duffel bag, or suitcase without looking unduly disheveled. Unless you know you’ll have the time and opportunity to do laundry mid-trip, be sure to pack extra socks and underwear.

The toiletries you’ll need depend partly on your personal needs and preferences. If you take any medications, you obviously need to pack these. It’s also worth noting that taking travel-sized toiletries will decrease the bulk in your suitcase. However, since this is a road trip and not a plane flight, you don’t have to limit yourself to travel-sized toiletries.

There is a wide variety of electronics you can take along on a road trip. Strive to pack light in this department. While your cell phone, iPod, and camera may be truly indispensable, your iPad or laptop computer may not be as necessary as you think. If you have need to check your email or do other online tasks while on the road, you can often find computers to use in the lobby of hotels or hostels. In addition, most local libraries offer visitor’s passes for travelers who stop in needing to use one of their computers.

If you want the option to camp a night or two, be sure to bring the correct gear. Essential camping items include a tent, sleeping pads or mattresses, sleeping bags, camp pillows, headlamps, and whatever else you and your fellow travelers deem necessary.

You should consider packing CDs, books on CD, and books such as Gregory Stock’s The Book Of Questions. Stock’s book may be especially worthwhile because it inspires the travelers to discuss topics they may not normally discuss. Homemade CD mixes can add a personal touch to a long road trip, especially if the songs have been carefully selected with the road trip in mind. These CD mixes don’t have to include popular road tunes such as Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” or “Drive My Car” by The Beatles; if you would rather listen to a compilation of songs by Elvis Presley, John Williams, and James Taylor instead of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” then, by all means, please do.

It is wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Even if you have a GPS in your car and a GPS feature on your smartphone, you should still pack an atlas. Moreover, packing a few snacks, extra motor oil, and a list of emergency numbers to call if any of the travelers have a medical emergency may keep a simple travel hindrance from becoming an emergency.

A road trip is an excellent way to experience new places, meet new people, and get away from your daily life. Since the open road has so much to offer, it only makes sense to be well-prepared for your road trip in order to make the most of your journey.


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    • Julie K Henderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      Thank you. I love to take road trips, and I have learned a few things over the years about how to best approach such adventures.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      3 years ago

      You have a detailed list of what to think about when traveling. Budgeting, hotel rooms and when and where you will stop are pretty important. Not everyone is cool with stopping by side of the road in the middle of nowhere because the potty breaks and the gas and food breaks did not line up.


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