Long-Distance Road Trip Tips

I’ve long enjoyed driving long distances, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I spent my first semester of college at the University of Nevada in Reno, and made the 550-mile drive home just for weekends on more than one occasion, stopping only for gas and a drive-through meal.

After transferring to the University of Oregon, I’d make the two-hour drive from Eugene to my hometown of Gresham often, sometimes just to meet up with family or friends for dinner, then turn around and come back.

I intend to tackle a cross-country trip at some point, and have thoughts of doing an RV tour of the nation after retirement.

In October, my wife and I set out for Anaheim and a few days at Disneyland Resort. We intended to spread the 883-mile drive over two days since it was going to involve about 12 hours on the road. We left at about 10 a.m., with goals of stopping somewhere around Sacramento, which is about eight hours from our home.

We ended up going directly to our hotel in Anaheim in one straight shot, checking in a full day early for no additional charge after stopping only a couple of times to gas up, eat and stretch.

I drove the entire way, and never really got tired. We covered the 880-plus miles in a little less than 12 hours, maintaining a steady speed that was rarely more than five over the speed limit.

I know truckers regularly pull off distances like this all at once, but for a casual vacation, such an undertaking can be stressful and can take away from the fun of the road trip. And I definitely don’t recommend it if you have trouble focusing on the road for hours at a time or if you get sleepy.

However, here are a few tips if you intend to tackle a long distance like that in one shot:

Be well-rested and prepared before setting out

Get a good night’s sleep, have everything packed and ready to go out the door, gas up the car ahead of time, put the mail on hold and make any last-minute stops the day before you intend to leave. Leaving these tasks for the day of departure can only serve to add stress to your journey, which will hinder your ability to focus on a long stretch of driving.

Pack food and snacks

Drive-throughs and diners are fine, but you’ll save time and money by bringing your own food. I like to stash some snacks in the door pocket, for easy access. Protein-rich snacks like nuts and seeds will help you maintain energy, and I like to throw in a bag of candy for a bit of a sugar jolt here and there. We also packed a full cooler for our trip, with drinks and sandwich fixings, and a small food box with cereal, bread and granola bars. Basically, we didn’t pay for any food while on the road, nor were we forced to stop for long periods of time for nourishment. We ate lunch at a park on the way down and dinner in the car, and we kept on truckin’.

Allow yourself more time than you need

We never intended to cover more than 880 miles in one shot. And I certainly never intended to drive the entire distance myself. We allowed ourselves two full days to reach our destination, but avoided making hotel reservations for a stopover on the way down in order to remain flexible in case we wanted to drive longer – or less – than we initially intended. Our plan, however, was to stop somewhere around Sacramento, figuring we could call ahead once we decided we were ready to stop, or just find an inexpensive roadside motel in which to spend the night. Knowing we had the option of stopping and sleeping kept things loose and stress-free, which certainly helped our moods as we traveled down to Anaheim. We talked regularly about stopping, and my wife continued asking if I needed a break or a rest from driving. I felt good, and we were both awake and alert, so we just kept on going.

Bring along the road-trip essentials

This might mean different things to different people, but whether it’s games you can play while driving, a lumbar support addition for your car seat, pillows, blankets or audio books, make sure you have all the little things you need for the drive. For us, the key ingredient is music, so we made up a dozen iPod playlists before setting out. We also spent a good chunk of the time talking, and brought along our bluetooth earpieces so we could chat on the phone along the way. I definitely don’t recommend tackling a long stretch of open road in one fell swoop without a traveling companion, but if you are going to do that, having your iPod playlists ready and your hands-free cell phone device close by are essential.

Know your route and the potential stopping points

If you have a smart phone with maps and other travel apps, this is an easy task, but even if you do, it helps to study a map before heading out. Utilize online travel tools such as Google Maps or MapQuest to determine distances from one point to another and to make sure you set realistic goals for reaching destinations. Familiarize yourself with several options for stopping along the way, that way you’ll maintain the flexibility to change depending on your mood, the road conditions, etc.

Have some fun along the way

Even if you are going to knock out a long drive in one take, allow yourself at least a little bit of time for fun along the way. Identify a small local shop, a lookout point or an attraction of some kind where you can stop and smell the roses.

After all, no matter how quickly you intend to reach your destination, a road trip really should be fun.

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