One’s destination is never a place, but a new way to seeing things- Henry Miller
Isn’t travelling in a group more fun, you may ask.
It depends on who you are and what you are looking for from the trip. I like to discover myself. While on a solo long drive, the time that I get to talk to myself is the time I always crave for.
It requires some amount of planning when you are travelling alone especially if you will be driving alone cross-country.
Let the whole world debate on whether planning is an art or science. But it sure can be made effective with experience. With each trip, I find new ways to improve my next plan.
I hope you are not looking for a quick summary here.
Route planning – the old school way
May I remind you that people used to do cross-country trips before someone even thought about Google maps. They would rely on printed maps and even ask around the road conditions, gas stations along the route, hotels etc. before they start the trip. Do not get surprised as this is still happening in many countries where GPS navigation is not as popular.
Today we just enter the destination address in our car GPS and that’s it- wherever it takes us and we follow. Some of us are smarter and use Google navigation on their phones. So why are we discussing going back to old school anyways? Because its you who is smarter than those little devices.
The traditional navigation software’s are not that smart enough to give you the “smart” route. They will tell you which one is fast or which one is short. But what about the scenic routes? And yeah, what about road conditions ? Forget about safe routes.
In future, may be they will all give you these options but for now let’s stick to good old method in a smarter way.
I generally check other forums and similar expeditions by others to find out the best route. Remember, the best route may not be the quickest one but it will be the safest and enjoyable. When I see two or more routes to the destination, I look for road details. Details as in whether there are cities along the route, gas stations, historic spots, rest areas etc. Search in Google with the interstate or highway number and you will get many reviews. In short, what I am asking you to do is to create your own custom map. Most of the navigation tools will let you add multiple stops and you can use that feature to create your own route. You are driving alone so got to be well prepared as much as possible. This has helped me numerous times. There is a difference between a race track and ‘road trip track’- you know now.
Some of the links which I use while planning my route.
Historic locations, food etc long the route https://roadtrippers.com/
Rest Area locator http://restareas.appspot.com/
Road condition http://www.safetravelusa.com/
Organise the places of interest
You can plan for a drive and explore the place in an unplanned way or just relax there doing absolutely nothing. This depends on how you want your trip to be. But when I am travelling to a place where there are multiple attractions nearby, and I want to make the most of my limited time, I organise the places in Google maps. Google maps is easily accessible throughout all mobile devices and extremely useful in keeping your trip organised, only if you know how to do it.
When I was visiting Rocky Mountains National Park, I only had a day to explore the park. So I decided to cover as much as possible in this trip and gain enough experience so that I can plan better next time I am there.
Check the below schematic that I created from Google maps.
Also notice how I marked the places of interest in the map. You can get the detailed map in the parks website. Research on the places that you want to see and then locate the places in Google maps to mark them as “starred places”. As this is synced to your google profile, use your phone or any computer to access google maps and all the “starred places” will come right away. Isn’t that cool ? No Need to write down the name of the places, addresses, reviews etc.
This saves a lot of time and helps prioritizing the places that I must see before the day ends. While in Rocky Mountains, I was exploring the park as if I come here daily.
If you are confused on how to put those star icons on a place in Google maps, check this out How to save locations on Google Maps
Want to even go deeper. Sure, this site is for you then and test your time management skill.
Preparing your car
Once you are on a solo drive, the car is your best friend. You take care of it and it sure will return the favor. While most of the checks that I am about to talk, may not be applicable to a rental car but knowing is always better, will help you in future.
Service your car a week before starting your trip.
You can go to your dealer or any shop that you trust and ask them to perform basic inspection. This will give you enough confidence especially when you will be driving through less traveled routes with no cellphone network coverage. The last thing that you would want is getting stranded on the roadside.
Now if you are a DIY guy and know basics about car, you can check the following. Before I start a trip, I always perform these basic inspections just a few days before.
- Tyre pressure. Often overlooked but one of the critical maintenance that you should do to your car. Check the owners manual or on the driver side door hinge to properly inflate the tires. If I am carrying more luggage, I usually bump up the pressure 3-5 psi more than what the manufacturer suggested.
- Engine oil. Check your engine oil level and top off if required. If the next oil change date is approaching, give your engine a fresh life by changing the oil little early.
- Coolant level. It is very easy to check the level so make sure you inspect and top off, if required.
- Just for satisfaction, I would also check the power steering fluid, Brake fluid, AC filter and air filter condition ( clean if required).
Clean your car
A clean car inside and out is not only hygienic but will surely give you a sense of freshness. I try to wash and vacuum my car once I reach the first stop so that I start fresh to the next destination. Carry a perfume and apply once in a while. Trust me, this will refresh your mind. The scent is purely personal taste but I will give you a link to the one that I use often.
Night driving can be fun as the roads are relatively empty. But that comes with a surprise gift when you start noticing all the splatters accumulated on the windshield and front bumper. If you think you can clean them off once you return home, you are causing more harm than good to your car paint.
Clean windshield at the gas station as you stop for fueling. Depending on the highway, it may get dangerous to drive at night. As an example, interstate i25 towards New Orleans traverse through dense forest area and within few minutes the windshield was almost full with dead insects and their bloods. Wiper will just clean the dead bodies but not the bloods and other liquids that are left over. I had to make an emergency stop to clean it.
For front bumper area, there is another way, fortunately, that you can follow to keep the paint finish intact. The product link is here for your reference.
Its a low cost solution that effectively reduces the bug accumulation on the front bumper. It also protects the bumper from stone chips.
Here’s what it does
Things to pack
while its impossible to foresee any sudden incidents in the trip but you can get prepared as much as you can to handle such situations. Moreover, some basic preparation will provide you some level of confidence while taking some of the less traveled roads, in case the situation demands it. Many times, I had to take some deserted roads and mountain roads at night where I saw nothing but few animals. The basic travel kits still gave me some level of confidence.
- First Aid Kit – Depending on your budget, you can either buy pack with more items or a basic one. I prefer a basic one which will be lightweight and convenient to carry while providing the required items. Always, study the pack carefully so that you know what all you have in case some emergency situation comes up.
- Booster Cable /Jump starter – Carry a portable jump starter or at least a booster cable in case your car battery dies. You can call Roadside assistance and get it going but carrying a portable starter will save a lot of time. You can use the portable jumpers for charging your devices as well.
- Tire Repair Kit- Checking tire pressure is very important before starting a trip. Modern cars have tire pressure sensor that can alert you in case of leak or low pressure. But, checking it before starting the trip may save you lot of hassle during the trip. If you are DIY kind of person, do not forget to carry the puncture repair kit.Again, do not just rely on Roadside assistance. You may be travelling to a deserted road where Roadside assistance may not be available. There are plenty of YouTube videos to guide you how to repair a puncture. If you have a spare tire, you can replace otherwise just repair it in few mins. And, these are pretty cheap to add to your extra confidence.
- Portable tire compressor- So you are cruising on highways and suddenly your dashboard alerts you of a low tire pressure. Nearest gas station is far away and there is no guarantee that there will be air pump at that station. If you are DIY kid of person, you can check and repair your tire or you can just inflate your tire and monitor for further pressure changes so that you can drive to a nearest tire repair shop.Convenient right ? Of course, it is. This inexpensive onetime investment may turn out to be a great relief once you need it.
- Light Food- I can’t stress enough how important it is to pack some food on a road trip. Do not just rely on restaurants along the route. Pack some light food, fruits, enough water, juice and some energy drinks.
Being a car enthusiast, I also love to roll down my windows to listen to the roaring sound of the engine, the whistle of the turbos and of course the supper bassy exhaust notes while breaking all the legal speed limits. Together they create the best fusion that causes an adrenaline rush. Hell yeah, right ?
But hold on to your adrenaline supply. We are not going to race. We are on a road trip. Relax and play some music on an open country road and enjoy each miles as you drive.
Always plan as per your comfort level– miles each day, night drive vs day drive etc. Take adequate stops to interact with local people, to feel the weather and culture, and of course to taste local food.
Plan ahead and try to leave early. Speeding to catch up the time will not only ruin the fun but will make your body exhausted. Remember, you are on a road trip to capture each and every moment of it, to get involved in the diverse landscapes and attitudes on life and most importantly to discover yourself in each of the trips.
So what else you do on a road trip ? Comment below.