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20 tips for the ultimate road trip

  • 20 tips for the ultimate road trip

    Whether traveling internationally or vacationing stateside, one of the best ways to explore the countryside is by motor vehicle. It's a great way to get to the heart of a region and a fantastic method for satiating wanderlust. Unlike pre-booked vacations that often involve hectic airports, hurried tour guides, and detailed, unchangeable itineraries, road trips allow travelers to go at their own pace, soaking in the scenery and taking in the full scope of the landscape.

    According to a spending survey by CNBC called “Invest in You,” nearly half of all Americans—45% to be exact—have road trips planned this summer. The majority of people taking them are in the 45 to 54-year-old age range and their younger, 35 to 44-year-old counterparts trail closely behind at 49% and 47%, respectively. People often prefer road trips because they're more flexible and often more affordable, too. “Road trips are nearly always cheaper than other forms of travel, which helps explain why road trips are by far the most popular types of summer travel,” said Laura Wronski, a senior research scientist at SurveyMonkey, to CNBC. The Fourth of July, in particular, is a weekend that sees some of the biggest road-trip traffic. In fact, ahead of this year's holiday, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted that 41.4 million people would be on the road—the most since the auto organization began keeping records in 2000.

    And while it's easy to enjoy an overland journey, there are definitely tips and tricks out there that will make the overall experience more pleasurable. Some are practical suggestions while others are more creative ideas meant to enhance the fun. All of them will improve the trip and increase the probability that the road trip will produce fond memories. To help, Stacker has compiled a handful of these tips to get road trippers started. Check them out in the gallery ahead.

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  • Compartmentalize your luggage

    Digging through one giant bag of clothes, toiletries, and electronics will drive you crazy when you're on the road, especially if you have to do it for more than a day or two. Compartmentalize your packing with smaller bags or packing cubes, organized by activity or occasion. If you know you'll be at the beach a lot, for example, prepare a bag or packing cube you can grab and go containing only your beach items. Have another cube that holds only your overnight essentials so that when you check into hotels, you don't have to lug your whole suitcase inside.

  • Get a tune-up

    There's no faster way to ruin a road trip than by having your car break down on the side of the highway halfway to your destination. A simple yet often overlooked way to help prevent this is by going in for a basic tune-up prior to your trip. Even if you're only planning to be on the road for a few days, this small investment of time and money can save a huge headache down the road—literally.

  • Download your media

    Streaming Netflix or listening to Spotify for six hours will kill your phone plan fast. Before you head out on the first leg of your journey, download all the music, podcasts, movies, and other media you plan to consume during that section of the drive. As you go, delete things you've used to free up space as you download more.

  • Bring water—lots of it

    Aside from staying hydrated—a key tool for fighting headaches and fatigue—having plenty of water serves other purposes, too. It can go in your engine if it overheats or on your body if you need cooling down. It can be used to wipe down the inside of your car, splashed on your face to rinse off, and, in a true emergency, consumed to keep you alive. Don't make the assumption there will be potable water everywhere you go. Carry large quantities with you in the vehicle and refill every chance you get.

  • Collect something

    If you will make multiple stops, collecting a simple souvenir at each destination is a great way to remember your trip. It could be a postcard, a coffee mug, a key chain, or something that's more personal to you. When you get home, put them on display somewhere as a reminder of your trip. You can also get creative with photography—take a photo of a tree in every location, for example, or a road sign, and make a collage of the images at the end. Just remember to be respectful and not take things like rocks, seashells, or other parts of the natural environment.

  • Bring earplugs or headphones

    Although you may envision your road trip as driving down the highway constantly cranking up your favorite tunes there will be times when you'll want silence, too—particularly around bedtime. When you're trying to sleep at noisy campgrounds, crowded trailheads, or in hotels with thin walls, having a way to control what you do and don't hear will be a blessing.

  • Don't forget emergency provisions

    When you're dreaming about your big road trip, it's easy to picture everything going smoothly—and in the perfect scenario, it will. However, there will also inevitably be things that come up. Make sure you're prepared for the worst by carrying all the basic emergency provisions including a spare tire and jack, jumper cables, engine oil and fluids, tire chains (if driving in snow), water, snacks, a warm blanket, a fire-starting tool, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit.

  • Take the scenic route sometimes

    When mapping out your journey, it can be tempting to always pick the paths that get you from point A to point B as fast as possible—after all, seeing the outside of the vehicle is the whole point of the trip. However, if there's an alternate route that doesn't take much more time but offers a significant increase in scenery, it's often worth it to take the slightly slower path. You will spend a lot of time in your car regardless so appreciating the journey is key.

  • Get Google Maps offline

    While getting lost can sometimes be part of the fun, other times it can be a giant headache that eats into your vacation time and steals precious moments from your journey. If you will be anywhere without Wi-Fi, or in places where the connection is spotty, download the Google Maps of the area you're driving in to your phone before you go. Don't wait until you're lost because you'll need the internet and by then it will be too late. It's simple to do—enter the city or region you're visiting on your mobile device, click the menu, then “Offline Maps,” then “Custom Map.” You can then drag the square to the specific area you want to access offline and save. This is helpful not only when driving but when walking around a new town or hiking in more remote locations.

  • Have a rough plan

    Although the flexibility of a road trip is a massive part of its charm, it can also be overwhelming if you don't have any structure to your days. Many folks head out with no plan at all, seduced by the idea of total spontaneity. However, if you don't do some groundwork, you may show up at a national park to find it's closed that week, or spend half the morning each day figuring out where everything is and what there is to do. It's fine to keep parts of your trip spontaneous, but at least sketch out a rough outline.

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