So let’s cut right to the chase. I road trip A LOT often by myself for weddings, shoots, and just for kicks (this year alone I’ve made the round-trip drive to NC/SC by myself 4 times + several other long haul and short trips) so I’ve gotten into a little groove and over the past couple years I’ve had friends ask me some general road trip questions so although this has nothing to do with photography, it’s a crucial part of my job and I thought I’d share with other inquisitive minds. These are the methods that work well for me and may be helpful for your next trip.
Food and Water-
My best road trip tip is to keep a case of water in your car at all times. No matter where you go or what you do, you’ll be in a pinch at some point where you need water. Mine case has it’s own basket. My favorite brand is the Aldi brand bottled water.
Don’t pack food that you don’t think you’ll actually eat. Great intentions are all well and good, but if you realistically know you won’t eat the bag of carrot sticks, don’t waste your time, food, or money.
Do bring food. Favorite snacks are grapes or cherries (you kind of have to work to eat them = built in entertainment), white cheese puffs, and a couple lollipops. Remember- you aren’t doing a dang thing all day. You are literally just sitting so it’s better to sit tight with a lollipop than stop every 4 hours for McDonalds.
Taking Breaks/Getting Gas-
When you’re driving alone especially, stop when you need to. Leave early enough that you don’t feel stressed getting there on time and then remember that no one says you can’t stop every hour and a half. Don’t force yourself to keep driving if you need to stop and walk around/use the restroom/get sleepy. You’ll get there when you get there.
If you see something interesting on the drive, stop and see it! Some favorite last second “that looks fun!” stops have been the Indianapolis Farmers Market and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Road trips can be a drag or they can be fun. Make them a blast.
Like I said before- food is a common go-to for keeping busy so make it worthwhile. Cherries, grapes, lollipops, and clementines are where it’s at for me. Other favorites busy road trip foods from friends are- almonds, beef jerky, sugar snap peas, sunflower seeds, gummy bears, goldfish, etc.
Music obviously. I have Spotify premium. It’s the only subscription that I wouldn’t want to do without. Before every trip I’ll download a bunch of albums and playlists in the event I lose service at some point.
Audiobooks. I try to get 3-4 from the library for a long trip in varying genres. One or two that I know I’ll like; a sequel or a new book by a favorite author. One that I’ve been trying to read and have been putting on the back burner. And one that is out of my usual reading zone.
Podcasts. This is the heavy lifter of my road trip entertainment. I go on a download kick the day before I leave and will knock out a couple dozen episodes handily on a trip. Again, go for varying genres and try something new. Podcasts are great because they come in 20-60 minute segments so you don’t have to track for too long. Favorites are- This American Life, Serial, The Message, and Milk Street Radio
Call someone. This is an super time to catch up with all the family members you know you should talk to more often… ;)
Flip through every radio station available. Particularly in mountain states. Listening to radio commercials is a hobby I genuinely enjoy so this may not apply across the board.
Clean/Tidy/Feeling Like a Human-
Baby wipes. They’re in my car at all times since they’re more effective than napkins, especially with cheese puffs and at some point in the trip you’ll probably want to wash your face and baby wipes are a close second
Real talk, you will want mouthwash with you or the little mini toothbrushes or your actual toothbrush, although I do stick to single stall bathrooms with that. There’s probably some unspoken social etiquette that I’m breaking, but 12+ hour road trips? You kinda need to.
Try to stretch before/during/after your trip. Roll your ankles and neck, touch your toes, a few plié squats, and swing your arms around you when you stop for gas.
Keep an extra outfit, shoes, socks, and deodorant super accessible. Should you majorly spill something on yourself or realize that after waking up at 3am you forgot deodorant, you don’t want to sort through your car trunk for them.. just saying
Speaking of clothes- stick with light and soft even in winter. Have a jacket handy when you get out of the car but don’t overdress. My last trip outfit in mid-winter was a long sleeve t-shirt and shorts. You will never see the gas station people again. It’s okay to look a little crazy wearing shorts in December.
Basic Car Life-
Check everything before you leave. FOR REAL. Check your tire pressure, fill your washer fluid, check your spare, make sure you have all the tools you need to change a spare, make sure you know how to change a spare, check your oil, keep some emergency supplies in your trunk.
Never let your gas drop below a 1/4 tank. This is especially true when you’re alone. Do not be the person stranded in the middle of nowhere and not sure where the next stop will be. Save yourself the panic. Additionally, if you are running on near empty you may have to stop at a place you don’t feel totally comfortable at.
Plan ahead if you can. CLICK HERE - gas price heat map. I’ll often map out where I’ll stop for gas if I know the prices vary drastically by state.
Keep everything you’ll need in reach, especially if you’re alone. Your wallet, water bottles, snack stash, audiobooks, and jacket all belong in your passenger seat and not heavily packaged (take the water bottles out of their case, etc.)
Bring cash with you and keep it in a safe, accessible place. Ideally, enough cash to cover all your gas for the day. Cards can get random holds because you’re out of state, wallets can get misplaced. Don’t get stranded.
Speaking of stranded, call your bank/credit card company if you’re traveling out of state pretty far for the first time or out of the country. It only takes a minute for them to put a note on your account of what states you’ll be traveling through.
Be sure to download driving instructions and maps BEFORE you leave, especially if you’re driving out of the country. Totally forgot I don’t have cell service in Canada and it was a fun couple hours trying to make it from the border to my destination without a GPS or written instructions.
Don’t fully depend on your GPS. Pull out a map/your laptop and look at your full route start to finish. Make sure you’re familiar with what cities you’re passing through/by, even write them on a post-it note for your dash. Know the general direction you need to be going (so from Illinois to North Carolina I am going South/East/South-East) If cell service drops and nothing is downloaded, at least you’ll know what cities to look for and follow on the highways. This is more important than you think. As long as you’re going in the right direction, you won’t lose too much time if you get lost.
To all the girls I know- you more safe than you probably think and it’s fairly easy to stay that way.
If something feels a little weird when you pull up to a location, go somewhere else. For real. Don’t overthink it, don’t try to talk yourself into staying, you’re making your solo-road trip rules and the 5 extra minutes it cost you to leave and find a new place is worth it. But in all likelihood, if you stick to decent places you’re okay.
If you think something’s off when you’re walking back to your car, call someone and just talk to them until you get back into your car. Keep your head up, stay alert, but there’s no need to freak out.
While it is unlikely anything will ever happen, keep an eye out behind you when you go to the restroom. There’s no need to freak out but just be sure no one is following you into the restroom that shouldn’t be.
Keep your phone well charged at all times.
Try not to stop if you don’t have cell service and are alone. Another reason why you shouldn’t let your gas get low.
Stay updated with one family member or friend. Pick one reliable person so it doesn’t get confusing. Let them know when you stop and if you have any car problems. This is important for personal safety and car accidents.
Travel with all the phone numbers you may need written out and saved in your car. Yeah you have a cell phone with everyone’s number but keep the important ones on a post-it in your glove box.
Smile, make eye contact with people. Although that’s just a good life rule, it’s a nice way to keep yourself protected. Talk to friendly people in lines paying for gas, wave at kids, make yourself a little seen so that people notice if something goes wrong.
There is no need to be paranoid but stay aware :)
FINALLY- if possible, try not to drive through Chicago unless you’re going to Chicago :) The best route through Illinois to nearly anywhere else is straight north/south between Rockford and Bloomington
Let me know if you have any more tips to add! I’m always looking to perfect my road tripping