Tuesday, January 17, 2017

10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip

It's Week 3 of our Planning a Back Roads Road Trip series, and we're sharing some tips for getting the most out of your road trip.  We've narrowed it down to 10 suggestions we think will help you be prepared for and enjoy your time on the road.

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip

1- Have a plan, but be flexible!
You need to know where you're going, so looking at the map to plan out a general route is a good idea.  But be willing to turn right instead of left when a sign points out some nearby roadside oddity.   Some of the best experiences we had on our road trip were the spontaneous ones, like the day I was pulling out the supplies to make lunch when we drove into Pie Town, New Mexico.  How could you eat a PBJ for lunch when you're in a place called Pie Town?  So we stopped at the first restaurant we came to and were so glad we did.

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Pie Town, New Mexico

When we started out, we drew an outline of our planned route, but were no more detailed than that.  The way we got from point A to point B each day unfolded as we went.  Sometimes, we would plan out 3-4 days at a time, including hotel reservations, but most of the time we'd discuss our route over breakfast or lunch and see where the day took us, making our hotel reservation at some point during the day - sometimes as late as 3 or 4:00!  Read more about how we created our itinerary in Week #5!

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
The original sketch of our route

2 - Use your Cell Phone as a Resource, not as Entertainment

Conserve your battery
Every morning, put your phone on Low Battery mode.  It made no difference in the performance of my phone, but it allowed my battery to last MUCH longer each day after I discovered it.  You never want to get caught with a dead battery when you're on the road; in the event of an emergency, it may be the only way to get help!

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
On an iPhone, go to Settings > Battery

Internet usage
Newsflash:  Cell phones don't get service everywhere.  If you plan to visit a National Park, you'll be disconnected from your Twitter feed for a few glorious hours.  Many country roads don't get great service, and we found out early on that when we tried to use our phones for navigation in some of these areas, it ate through our data plan, which we had to increase two or three times during the course of our trip.  To make sure you always have access to navigational assistance, you can purchase a GPS system for under $100, extending the life of both your battery and your data plan.  

See tips #3, #4, and #10 for more on cell phone usage on your road trip!

3 - Audio Entertainment
Your radio won't always work, or might only pick up one or two stations when it does!  In these areas, it's highly unlikely that your cell phone will be able to connect to Pandora, Audible, etc.  Come prepared with music or audiobooks on CDs or MP3 player.  We were able to check out audiobooks from our local library and download them with wireless connections in hotels so we didn't use up a bunch of data or cell phone battery each time we wanted to listen to a new book.

4 - Take lots of pictures
Make sure you have space on your phone for tons of photos!  Or, even better, take a good quality digital camera with you to snap pictures of your trip.  Your phone battery will drain more quickly when taking lots of photos, and if you're relying on it for navigation or using it as a telephone (shocking!), you want to make sure you don't overuse it.

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Outside of Magdalena, New Mexico
If you look closely, you'll see the crack in the filthy windshield 
we picked up somewhere between Tampa and San Antonio.

Normally, I wouldn't recommend standing in the middle of the road to take a picture.  But you'll find that on some back roads, you have miles of visibility that allow plenty of reaction time to get out of the way!

5 - Write about your trip!
Take a notebook to record your trip.  Or create a note in your cell phone for easy access no matter where you are.  

Each day, take a few minutes to write either a narrative or bullet points about where you went and what you did (but don't let it interfere with tip #10!).  You'll want to remember everything, but as the days go by and more experiences flood your brain, it'll get harder to remember what you did yesterday, or if you travel for more than a week, it might be hard to remember what day it is at all.

6 - Limit your driving time
You're on a road trip, so you will be driving a lot. 😉 But everyone gets tired of sitting after a while and you will be happier with a chance to get out of the car to stretch your legs and burn some energy.  When possible, try to keep your driving days to 6 hours or less.

Some days you'll have to travel longer.  When that's necessary, try to plan a fun activity or rotate drivers.  Break up long driving days with stops for gas, restrooms, or fun activities, like a short walk, game of frisbee, or a picnic lunch.

On one long driving day in Nevada, we made a spur-of-the-moment stop for a short walk along a half-mile trail where ancient petroglyphs are visible on large rocks.  We got some fresh air and moved around enough to be ready to spend the rest of the day in the car heading toward San Francisco.

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area
US Highway 50, Nevada

My brother flew out to spend Memorial Day weekend with us.  When his flight to San Francisco was delayed, we had time to stop for a picnic at Lake Tahoe that included sketching and reading time.

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
South Lake Tahoe, Nevada

7 - Take pit stops when the opportunity arises.
In some areas, you might go for more than an hour without seeing a rest stop, gas station, restaurant - or even another car!  Keep track of your location on an atlas and be aware of when you're getting into such an area.  Many, but not all, roads will have signs warning drivers that they are about to pass into a sparsely populated area with no facilities.  Fill up your tank when you can; many of these areas won't have great cell reception, so you'll be relying on passersby if you get stuck!

8 - Nobody likes a 'hangry' travel partner!
Make sure you have snacks and water bottles in the car, preferably in a cooler, or at least bundled up under spare blankets/coats to stay cool.  You never know when you might run out of gas or take a wrong turn and wind up in need of sustenance.  Pretzels, chips and salsa, granola bars, and almonds were in our snack stash and sustained us when we were in need of a pick-me-up.  

In addition, it's easy to get dehydrated while traveling in hopes of avoiding the unpleasant feeling of needing a bathroom when there are none to be found, but it's important to drink plenty of water while traveling, especially in the dry southwest.  

9 - Eat local!
Don't stop at the golden arches, unless it's to run in to use a clean restroom in the absence of an acceptable gas station!  You'll have the opportunity to eat a Big Mac anytime after you return home.  There are so many wonderful restaurants in this country, and your road trip is an excellent opportunity to try some of them!

We made a point to never eat at a restaurant that we could eat at at home.  Mostly, we ate at mom-and-pop joints that looked interesting as we passed by, but we did sometimes search for 'best restaurants in _____', and we were never disappointed.  We also had interesting conversations with locals or fellow travelers that wouldn't have happened had we been in an Applebee's.  We did visit a few franchised restaurants, such as Shake Shack and In-n-Out, but neither restaurant has a location within 200 miles of our home, and therefore met our requirement.  We shared our favorite road trip restaurants here!

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Two of our favorites were in New Mexico: the aforementioned Homestead Cafe in Pie Town and Big D's Downtown Dive in Roswell (which was a TripAdvisor find).

10 - Watch the world go by.
This is the biggest suggestion we have for getting the maximum enjoyment out of your trip.  Put down the small screen and look through the big one right in front of you: your windshield.  Who needs a phone/movie/video game when the whole country is unfolding before your eyes?  There's so much to see; it's why you're taking the scenic route in the first place! 

Here are a few things we would have missed had we been looking down:

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Southern Alabama

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
The Loneliest Highway, Nevada

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
Grand County, Colorado

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
 Goochs Beach
Kennebunkport, Maine

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
 Northern Ohio

48 No Interstate: 10 Tips for Enjoying Your Next Road Trip
 Snow in late May!
Continental Divide, Colorado Rockies

Join us next week for more road trip tips!

Check out the Weekend Wanderlust Facebook group and Weekend Travel Inspiration pages for more travel inspiration!

If you liked this article or found the information to be helpful, let us know!

We appreciate your comments, pins, shares, and likes!


  1. I've always wanted to do a road trip across Canada. These tips will come in handy when I get the chance to do that! Great tips on conserving phone battery, and eating local!

    1. That sounds like so much fun! I hope the opportunity comes soon. I'm so glad you found our tips to be helpful.

  2. Our last big, long road trip was from Sioux Falls, SD westwards to Yellowstone, then down through Grand Tetons to Salt Lake City. There were definitely long stretches without cell phone coverage or places to eat. You are wise to recommend a GPS and snacks.

    1. I bet that was beautiful. We missed the Grand Tetons but would like to visit them one day!

  3. I've never been to London by car but it's always a big dream of mine to visit and see hitorical beauty. I enjoyed reading this article.