Many people think that all it takes for successful road trip planning is a couple of good maps or a GPS system, a car, and the urge to hit the road.
Without taking the road trip planning steps necessary, you could find yourself in a world of hurt when you were expecting a good time.
Obeying these five commandments will ensure that not only is your road trip trouble-free, but it's also truly fun!
The Five Commandments of
Thou shalt not bring the wrong passengers
It seems like a no-brainer, but being a part of the road trip planning world, all I ever hear about are disasters where someone goes on a road trip with someone they barely know, or someone they know well and also know they argue with constantly, or a family member that's involved in an ongoing feud.
Before you select a destination or buy a guidebook or do a search for hotels online, figure out who you're going to bring. If you don't have a choice (it's a family or couples trip) do two things: 1) have everyone participate in selecting the destination so everyone's enthusiastic and 2) sort out any ongoing feuds or other arguments before you go. Trust me, those underlying problems are going to pop up like some demented jack-in-the-box when you're cooped up in a car together every day, and if everyone's not psyched about the destination, it will affect the trip.
Have a choice about who to bring? Select someone you know well enough - not that acquaintance from work or that neighbour you chat with occasionally. Even if you're bringing your best friend, make sure that everything is great between you (or sit down and have it out ahead of time).
Thou shall avoid the Hellish Haul at all costs
A Hellish Haul is when you try to get to your destination as fast as possible, spending six or more hours behind the wheel every day. You may end up having more time at your destination, but the journey itself will simply be physical, emotional, and psychological torture. Does that sound like a vacation to you?
How to avoid a hellish haul? There are a lot of articles on my website on how to plan a road trip without ending up on a haul, but to simplify drastically: don't pick a destination that's too far away. You'll want to spend no more than four and a half hours behind the wheel every day. If you can't get there with that much driving per day and have time to enjoy your destination, either select a closer destination that appeals or fly there and skip taking a road trip this time.
Thou shall Achieve Universal Destination Agreement
One pointer I made earlier about selecting a destination everyone is interested in for a family trip also applies to all road trips. You and your travel companion(s) absolutely must agree on the destination, and I'm not talking about a lukewarm agreement here. I'm talking psyched!
How do you do this? Sit down with everyone going on the trip and have everyone vote on various destinations (that are achievable without a Hellish Haul) until you find somewhere that everyone really wants to go. Now you'll have a group of really happy people and you'll need that when you get lost, or if a tire blows, or when anything goes wrong. When you're excited to go somewhere, those things really don't bother you as much (unless they just keep happening and ruin your trip, but that won't happen if you've put some time into some comprehensive road trip planning).
Thou shalt not ignore thy car
An oil change is just not going to do it. Sorry! Take the time to have your car checked out thoroughly. Must-check items include:
• Tires (replace any old tires now, not on the road), alignment, rotation.
• Top off all fluids and have oil changed.
• Have belts and hoses as well as the brakes checked.
• Get new air filter (unless you just had it replaced).
• Check your manual. In it you will find a maintenance schedule for your car. Have all maintenance items taken care of before you go - getting it done on the road will not only potentially ruin your trip, you'll also be at the mercy of the garage that ends up holding your car hostage (you'll have zero leverage).
Also, make sure to get a roadside emergency kit and pack it along with other items you might need in case of a breakdown including extra water, snacks, and a blanket. I highly recommend you get a AAA membership* - not only for their great roadside assistance program, but also for the many travel discounts available through membership.
Thou shall remember to pack everything you will need
Sure, you can get things on the road. Do you really want to spend your vacation, driving around trying to find these things, though? Wouldn't it be easier if you just had them along in the first place? It's not like you're flying and you're limited to one bag and one carry-on!
Start a packing list at least two weeks before your trip. Keep the list handy to you with a pen nearby. Every time you think of something you'll need, write it down. Look up general packing lists and packing tips online to help you remember everything. By the time you've got your suitcase out and you're ready to pack, you'll be in much better shape than anyone who didn't take the time to create a list and it will be highly unlikely that you'll forget something. What's even better, you won't find yourself an hour or two down the road experiencing that uh-oh feeling you get when you realize you forgot something important.
These road trip planning commandments will transform your vacation from one where everything goes wrong to one where everything (within reason) goes right and you can relax and have a wonderful time!
*AAA (American Automobile Association) Membership. In
Tara Waechter owns http://www.planning-fun-road-trips.com - a website that covers every aspect of road trip planning including mapping tips, packing lists, road trip games and songs, trip ideas, recipes, tools, and in-depth articles. Tools offered include a road trip budget calculator and a printable checklist of to-do's to handle before you depart on your trip.
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Image: Lost Highway #3
Photo: Jim Lesses