After long last... it's finally almost here: summer! The first official day of summer is actually June 21st, but for those of us in SoCal, it has felt like summer for a while now. Besides those occasional rainy days (it rained all day Tuesday, but it's 80 degrees and sunny right now), the weather has been consistently warm and bright; people are trading pants for shorts and jackets for tanks, and the tourists have begun flocking to the beaches.
There's really no questioning the fact that summer is road-trip season. The fine weather makes for great road-tripping conditions, and of course all of the awesome vacation and tourism spots will just be opening for the season. So now is the perfect time to start planning your first road-trip of the season... I'm already planning mine!
Whether you're an avid road-tripper or a first-timer, there are a few preparation tips you have to know while planning your trip. So pay attention!
Mapping It Out
It's great to stay spontaneous and flexible on your road-trip, but you do need to be at least a little prepared: have a final destination (at least a general area) picked out, and plan ahead which roads you will take to get there. Be sure to research your route ahead of time to ensure you don't get stuck with a closed or blocked road. Also research some places you might want to stop at so that you can make the most of your trip! Sites like Trip It and Road Trippers can help you map out your route so that you have at least a general idea of where you are going and how long it will take you.
Choosing and Prepping Your Vehicle
Your Prius is probably a great option for buzzing to and from work, but do you really want to be stuck in a tiny car for hours and hours on end? And where will all of your supplies go?
Think carefully when choosing your road-tripping vehicle. Vans, buses, RVs, and pop-up trailers are obviously great choices because they are spacious and have lots of room for storage, but not everyone has access to these kinds of vehicles. Opt for at least a mid-size sedan (depending on how many people are going, you may need to upgrade for more room); SUVs and hatchbacks are also great options. Tip: pick something with AC and heat!
Before you leave, be sure to prep your vehicle by double-checking all features, such as headlights, brakes, and windshield wipers. Fill your tires, as well as your oil and coolant, and bring spare bottles of these fluids with you just in case. A road-trip can be ruined very quickly by a break-down in the middle of nowhere.
Creating a Budget
It's simple enough to get in the car and set out on an epic road-trip, but there can be some pretty serious costs involved, especially if you don't plan ahead. Map out your trip and calculate how much gas money you will need; also factor in lodging every night (which can be anywhere from sleeping in your van for free to $60/night at Motel 6) and food. You can cut some of these costs by packing snacks and meals ahead of time and by opting for more affordable lodging using Airbnb or Couch Surfing. Just remember to be safe while using these resources!
Before you leave, be sure to run this budget by the group and collect money ahead of time... it's a bummer when someone tags along but doesn't contribute. Everyone should bring credit or debit cards, as well as plenty of spare cash. Besides the essentials like gas and food, you also want money for experiences and sight-seeing, as well as a few souvenirs!
Being Smart About It
There are several road-tripping success factors that don't occur to people. For example, plan to stay off the road during peak rush-hour times. Maybe plan to do activities or explore the local area during these times, and save the driving for lighter traffic conditions. This will save you time, gas, and frustration!
Pack light. Don't get sucked into packing like you would for a hotel vacation. You will take up valuable car space and waste gas by overloading your car with junk. Take only the essentials and opt for backpacking supplies when possible to save space and reduce weight.
Plan your gas-ups. Keep an eye on your gauge and know exactly when you will need to refill. Aim to refill in large cities, where gas prices are more competitive, as opposed to Bob's Middle-of-Nowhere Gas. Bob knows he can mark his prices way up because he's your only option when you're on empty with no other gas station in sight. There are also a few apps that can help you save on gas while you're on the road.
Last, but certainly not least... you already know I'm a huge advocate of travel and camping safety. Road-trips are no exception -- in fact, road-trips have the potential to be very dangerous if you are not properly prepared.
Always leave a copy of your route/itinerary with a trusted loved one so that they know where you are going. Everyone should bring their cellphones and chargers so that they can be prepared in case of an emergency. Pack a physical map in case your GPS goes down while or you get lost. Bring hard copies of important phone numbers, like AAA, insurance companies, and the state police. Always ALWAYS have a first aid kit with you and plenty of water (at least 2L per person, per day). Bring all necessary medications, and remember to pack sunscreen and bug repellent.
Road-trips are one of the best summer experiences a person can have -- if everything goes well. Sure, there will inevitably be some hiccups along the way... but as long as you are prepared before you hit the road, it is bound to be an exciting, unforgettable adventure!