How to Have a Successful Road Trip

Heading out on the road? Here's some advice on how to make sure you have the best time, and also an efficient (and safe!) time!

As a person that loves exploring, adventuring, and traveling, I have been on plenty of road trips in my lifetime. Growing up, I was consistently going on road trips through the south; from Louisiana to Arkansas, all the way out to Florida, and back to Texas. We've driven to New Mexico for skiing, Arizona for the Grand Canyon, and 85 percent of California just for the beauty of it. That's not even mentioning the other trips we went out of the country, but that's for another article. I think you get the picture, I love to travel and I especially love road tripping.

About a year ago, I went on my first road trip without my family. Now this may seem strange, but this felt more like a rite of passage than any other adolescent trope I saw growing up. I had this adventurous idea to go on an elaborate road trip to see national parks and cities I've never been to. Lucky for me, when I shared this idea with my dear friend Raina, she was on board at once. We ended up going to Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Forrest, Yosemite National Park, Sacramento, Portland, San Francisco, and Death Valley, all in about 11 days.

Now, you must be wondering how in the hell we managed to do all this in such a short amount of time. I'm going to share with you the best tips and tricks for planning and action packed road trip, in a short amount of time. Keep in mind, these are all my humble opinions, I am not a road tripping expert.

Plan Everything

Alright, planning ahead may seem like a pretty obvious bit of advice, but I'm saying it anyways. Having a clear, well-thought plan of action when partaking in a road trip (specifically a long one), is such an important, and sometimes underestimated, part of having a successful trip.

  • First, plan your route. If you plan on making several stops along the way, plan the easiest, and most efficient route possible. This is as simple as looking at a map of the area you want to cover and figuring out the most obvious route. For my trip, we picked a "destination spot" that was our big stop. For us that was Portland. Having this spot in mind allows you to pick the places you want to visit on the way to your destination spot and then see a more places on the way back. This makes planning a lot easier because you've essentially split your trip in to two sections.

  • Next, find lodging. For us, that meant a mix of camping and AirBnBs. This will look different for you and will depend on where you're going, what you're doing, and what your budget is. If you're not a camping person, no worries, stick to the AirBnB scene. Whatever you plan on doing, don't be afraid to look outside the box. If you can't find a rental that is within your budget in the right area, look at the local bed and breakfasts, some can be less expensive and create a more memorable experience. If you are camping, make sure you reserve your campsite, bring your proper gear, and follow the rules of the campsite. (If you're not so sure about camping, look into it. It can be a much cheaper, but less glamorous, alternative for lodging.)

  • Food! If you are planning to take a road trip (and do it on a budget), planning your food can be extremely useful. Bring foods that are non-perishable, lots of snacks, and items to make into sandwiches, that way you don't need to stop and buy food for every meal. This saves you time and money! The food you eat in the car along the way, will allow you to splurge on more exciting meals when you get to your next destination. Besides, who wants to be trapped in a car with hungry people. No thanks.

Pack Smart, Pack Light

Packing is a crucial part of a road trip, and can often be the hardest and most stressful parts. It's important that you bring enough items for the duration of your trip, but not over pack making your car overwhelming.

  • Plan your outfits. I'm serious, plan what you're going to wear. This might appear as arbitrary advice, but this will definitely save you some space. When going on a road trip, you want to make sure you have enough space in the vehicle you're driving in. This means you don't want to have multitudes of suitcases stacking up in the back of your car. Thus, re-wearing some clothes you brought. If you're going camping, make sure you bring proper clothing for the weather. (BTW, roll your clothes in your suitcase, you'll fit more in there.)

  • Make up, toiletries, and all that jazz. Most of us want to have clean teeth, neat hair, and over all good hygiene. Naturally, you'll want to bring the essential toiletries with you. If you are someone that likes to wear make up on your trips, no problem, but to save space, think about the essential products you use daily. To be even more efficient, find your favorite palettes and bring those instead of many shades of different products. No matter where you're going, bring sunscreen! (Also, bug spray can always come in handy when you least expect it.)

  • For the happy campers. For anyone that's going camping on their road trip, first of all, yay!! Camping is honestly one of my favorite things to do. Camping can be a bit intimidating if you're new to it or you've never done it before. It requires certain skills (easily learned via google), but it also requires a certain amount of equipment. I suggest making a list of all the things you think you need. Then I suggest revising that list with only things you really need. Remember, you're fitting this all in one vehicle, and you also have your own baggage (boy, don't we all). Essentials I recommend bringing: a tent (duh), a warm sleeping bag and/or blankets, a hammer, a lighter, firewood (where permitted), pocket knife, and rope. Camping requires more than that, this is just what I recommend (and I am no expert.)

The Forgettables.

  • "Dammit, why didn't I bring that?" The last part of this article is advice on items you might forget to bring and tips you might not think of. I recommend bringing a decent amount of cash with you. You never know where you might end up that doesn't take debit or credit cards. And if it's an emergency, you'll really wish you had cash. Bring a paper map with you, this might seem old school, but wait until you're in the middle of the desert, there's no service, it's abruptly nighttime, you're not sure if you're going the right way, and Google Maps won't load....just an example, not speaking from personal experience or anything....moving on. If your gas tank dips below the halfway mark, I highly suggest going to the next gas station and filling up. You could think you're fine and the next gas station could be miles away. There's nothing more nerve wracking than driving down the great open road on empty. Something arbitrary but important to bring: entertainment. Maybe it's just a damn good playlist to keep the mood going on the long treks, maybe it's a book of Mad Libs to get the laughs going, a novel to challenge the mind (and heart and spirit, amen), or your camera to capture those beautiful sunsets (the photos never do it justice). Whatever it may be, road trips are grueling at times, it's important to keep your mind active and entertained. Most importantly, sleep! Sleep is so important, especially if you are going to be driving for long stretches of time.

Going on road trips are some of my most cherished memories. I hope this article not only provides you with some good advice, but also inspires you and motivates you to create some memories on a grand road trip. And as my dad always said as we loaded up the car: "Everyone has their underwear? Phone chargers?" Those are still the last things I check for.

Michaela Emerson