12 tips for your next road trip
road trip : an extended trip in a motor vehicle
We LOVE road trips. Our preferred motor vehicle is a sleep-in van, right now it is an old, but still somewhat reliable Eurovan. We’d love to buy a newer model but unfortunately, Volkswagen doesn’t sell the model of my dreams in the US, such a shame! And it is even called “California”!! What an irony.
We’ve made road trips through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany and in the US we’ve explored most of the big sights of California like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Park, the Sierras, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur and so on. Our biggest trip so far was Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park) (Awesome!!). And the last one in June was NorCal and a bit of Oregon (Crater Lake Ntl. Park). So here are my personal, favorite road trip hacks:
1. Make a plan, but not a rigid one. Where do you want to go? When? How much time do you have? What do you want to see and how much time you’re willing to drive each day? If your road trip has only the purpose to get to a specific place and then drive back, you will probably drive several hours a day. Long story short, you need to be prepared for lots of driving! In order to get to see many places or sights and travel through several states you need to be willing to spend about 4 hours/day average in the car. If that’s too much for you, shorten your total route/distance or you simply need more time. Basically, plan based on your time available and your destinations with the knowledge on how much time you want to spend in the car each day. A good way to survive a day with 4-6 hours of driving is to drive 2 -3 hours in the morning, take a lunch break and find a fun activity like a short hike, a visit in a park or a dip in the ocean. Then continue driving for another 2-3 hours. Be spontaneous and flexible: Be willing to stop if you spot anything cool or to take an unplanned break if needed. It doesn’t always matter if you’ll arrive at your accommodation at 7pm or 10pm.
2. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip. You might think that goes without saying, but I’ve heard lots of crazy stories about broken-down cars on road trips and I think it’s always a good idea to check or have your mechanic check your car’s fluid levels, brakes, tires and anything else that could cause problems a couple weeks before your trip. Be sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have jumper cables and extra wiper fluid on hand. For any unscheduled emergencies you should…
3. …join a roadside rescue service. If you take enough road trips, eventually you will end up stranded on the side of the road outside East Wherever a few miles from Buford, equidistant from the four corners of Nowhere. Having that 800-number that gets you in touch with the local tow services and mechanics is going to save you a lot of hassle, and also shield you from some of the dangers on the road that none of us wishes to encounter. In the US that’s typical AAA, the equivalent of the ADAC in Germany and Europe. If you are an ADAC member traveling the US you just have to make a stop at AAA in any city in the US and get your membership card, since they do have an agreement for their services. Well, you DO need phone reception available. If not, you have to just wait for the next kind driver that stops, writes down your name and membership information and you have to believe in his trustworthiness! That’s what happened to me, alone with my girls on the way to Death Valley National Park.
4. Plan your accommodation. Camping, hotel or Airbnb? Think carefully about the kind of accommodation that complies with your needs and desires. You’re driving an RV or want to pitch a tent? Well, you need campground or RV park reservations. Plan to make these reservations ahead of time, depending on the month you’re traveling and the places you’re driving to. For quite some places in California you need to book as soon as six months in advance. You can book all State Park campgrounds on reserve america. Hotels are definitely more comfortable and you don’t need to haul all the equipment with you. Same here with the reservations though, if you don’t have one, you may spend one more hour around to find a decent place to stay. That can be quite annoying. In general we love vacation rentals, but for short stays an AirBnb might be easier.
5. Our credo is to mix it up: We always take our camping stuff, but also like to stay in hotels once in a while. Usually we stay 2-3 nights on a campground, then in a nice hotel to have a good, hot shower, a decent mattress and to enjoy a dinner that we didn’t have to cook ourselves. And after a few days of camping and savoring being dirty, our girls always love a clean room and maybe even a pool. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
6. Don’t move it every day! Especially when you’re camping, it can get exhausting to tear down your camp, set it back up and to drive a long stretch in between! You have to get in some days when you just explore the place you just woke up and to get some rest.
7. Have enough “onboard entertainment” for your kids and yourself. Make sure you have enough playlists on your phone or other devices, because especially in the US it is NOT easy to find a radio station that is worthwhile! We always make one playlist for each road trip, usually not more than 10-12 songs and play it almost every day. It sounds silly, but months later when you hear one of those special songs, you’ll be transported back to your trip in a musical way. Here you can find some must have songs for your next road trip. If you’re renting a car or RV make sure you have the right chargers for your electronic devices! Think about how much screen time for the kids you are ok with. Depending on how long we’re driving our girls can watch one, sometimes even two movies. Make sure to have other fun things to do. We always have card games, paper & markers, books and magazines or sticker books in the van. Personally, I love listening to audiobooks while my hubby takes a nap 😉
8. Other important supplies: Have a few ziplock bags handy in case anyone gets car sick. And vice versa, always have a few snacks and plenty of water aboard of your vehicle.
9. Make the journey part of the fun.
- Play games in the car like the license plate game or “I spy”. Have a sing-a long or make up your own road trip games.
- Find special things along the way. We love to find weird sights that are on our way to the next stop like the “World’s biggest frying pan” in Long Beach, WA or the funnel wall in the Kunsthofpassage in Dresden, Germany.
- Let the minors help navigate and scout the area. Get road maps or a Rand McNally Road Atlas and let everyone try to navigate the route. Use a sharpie to trace your route on the map as you go along. Even using Google Maps, the kids love knowing where are or where we’ll be going. Maybe they’ll find something cool along the way like Dunsmuir, CA aka “The home of the best water on earth”.
10. Everyone gets responsibilities. I usually make all the reservations and do most of the planning. My husband makes sure all the camping stuff is there and all other outdoor supplies are ready to be packed. He always insists on packing the van, too. In our case, that’s a bit like Tetris 😉 My friends’ son e.g. is responsible for their cargo trailer. Our girls have to set up and take down the luggage tent, to help prepare meals and to wash the dishes afterwards. Older ones could be responsible for the travel funds and everyone has to make sure nothing is left behind. You don’t want to buy a new iPhone charger and new lighters on every road trip.
11. Keep the cooking simple and healthy. If you’re camping or staying in a vacation rental, choose easy dishes to cook that don’t require a lot of pots or pans. I’m addicted to one pan dishes from Pinterest. Use the fire pit to grill food, like meat, corn on the cob, potatoes or veggies in aluminum foil. And you don’t have to cook at all. It’s very German to have a cold dinner with just bread, cut meats, cheese and some veggies and fruit.
12. Take lots of pictures!
Nothing behind me,
Everything ahead of me,
as is ever so on the road.
Here are some useful Apps and websites for your road trip:
And to get you in the right mood you might want to check out my favorite road trip movies: