Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Road Trip Tips

Written by Kristin Ito
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 If reading Kerouac didn’t do it for you, maybe one of the countless films about road trips did. Rainman. Thelma & Louise. Hell, maybe Harold and Kumar inspired you to take to the highway. A cross-country road trip is epic—you’ll grow up, you’ll learn something about yourself, and at the very least, you’ll have some stories to tell.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” – On the Road{multithumb popup_type=normal thumb_width=600 thumb_proportions=bestfit resize=1 full_width=800 image_proportions=bestfit}
{mosimage width=600} If reading Kerouac didn’t do it for you, maybe one of the countless films about road trips did. Rainman. Thelma & Louise. Hell, maybe Harold and Kumar inspired you to take to the highway. A cross-country road trip is epic—you’ll grow up, you’ll learn something about yourself, and at the very least, you’ll have some stories to tell.

But before you get ahead of yourself with notions of enlightenment or White Castle, it’s important to realize that for most of us, hopping into a car for a three thousand mile journey is going to take a little bit of planning. Here are some things every girl with wanderlust might think about before getting on the road.

There are three main questions to ask yourself before you begin your research: How long do you have for the trip? What’s your budget? What time of year are you planning to make the trip? These initial considerations will determine your route and your lodgings, so you want to think about things like how much you have saved up, if you can handle tough driving conditions, and maybe asking your boss for those extra few days off.

Most experienced road-trippers say a month or more is best for a cross-country road trip. But while this means summer vacay is the perfect time for a post-high school or college road trip, don’t worry if you’re working and can only get away for a week or two. You’ll still be able to fit in ample sightseeing time and not have to spend more than about six hours a day driving.

Also, if you’re traveling on the cheap and like the outdoors, a good option is camping. Campgrounds can be found at parks across the country, and they usually run anywhere from five to twenty-five bucks a night. As for weather, keep in mind that the I-70 and I-80 get a lot of snow in January and February, and on the other hand, routes through the desert can get up to 120 degrees in the summer.

Nat King Cole croons of a good route to take, but unfortunately Route 66 was replaced over the years by interstates. However, you can still plan a trip around the former highway as the I-40 often comes quite close to it, and you can drive on designated parts of it along the way in the form of streets designated “Historic Route 66.” In general, though, you want to plan a route based on the specific cities you want to pass through.

There are several road trip planning tools on the web, like AAA’s TripTik, that can help you do this, but there are also a lot of sites like Jamie Jensen’s Road Trip USA, which has already mapped out routes (he even has “The Oregon Trail” mapped out for those of us who know why the term “dysentery” evokes nostalgia). But by far the easiest way to plan out your route is to simply use Google Maps and drag the cursor to add the cities you want to include. This way, you can quickly gauge the driving time and change up your route whenever you want, especially if you have Google Maps on your phone. And you don’t have to be afraid to go off-route if you find something you want to explore—which is the whole point of a road trip in the first place.

It's annoying to be a girl sometimes, especially when thinking about safety issues, but when you're out on the open highway, I think we all do have to remind ourselves that we aren’t totally invincible. For example, I hate how my brother could drive off to Juarez freaking Mexico to get a burrito (he actually did this without telling my parents), and yet if I so much as drove through the city at night, I got the parents all in a tizzy. That said, consider taking some traveling buddies with you—it’s more fun this way anyway—and make sure to have your car checked before you leave. Try to avoid night driving, but if you have to, always be aware of the drivers around you.

I’d suggest signing up for AAA or a roadside rescue service because the last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere (which is often what you’ll be driving through). Also, I recently discovered that there’s a new “Road Trip” forum on Trip Advisor, which seems to be the most regularly used forum by people with lots of road trip experience. The people there have practical tips on things like how to calculate fuel costs, how to avoid fast food and eat locally, or how to divvy up driving amongst friends.

Lastly, make the trip your own. If you’re obsessed with Shakespeare Festivals or County Fairs, plan your trip around your interests. Foodie? Check out Roadfood, or of course, you could Yelp your way across the country. One of my favorite sites is RoadsideAmerica.com, a guide to offbeat tourist attractions, mostly kitschy Americana, from the SPAM Museum to the Corn Palace. And if you do get tired of driving, try City Segway Tours (à la Gob from Arrested Development) for a fun break from the confines of your vehicle. 

So, got your maps, your iPod, and your buddies? Look out, world; it’s time to hit the road.

 

Photo by Ethel Verduzco

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