My girlfriend’s 19 year old son recently embarked on his first multi-day road trip as a driver to attend a training event, and he decided to do it solo. Being that he’s a fairly typical fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of teenager it’s no surprise that Mom was a bit apprehensive about his solo journey. Since I have been involved in long road trips for basically my entire life, traveling is what my family does, I decided to put together a one page Road Trip 101 for the young man in hopes that he would heed at least some of my advice. Again, teenager, so I know only so much it would sink in. My hope was that over the course of his driving days and doing his own thing he would encounter a handful of situations that allow him to go, “hmm, what Mom and Jim said makes sense now.”
As the primer evolved I thought that this might be a nice little list to share with the world. It is by no means comprehensive, and you may have different recommendations, but it contains the basics of what I’ve learned over my 40+ years of road trips. This can really be considered some common sense, but not necessarily obvious advice for those embarking on a longer journey for the first time. Especially for teens who haven’t wandered far afield of home yet on their own.
Road Trip 101
- Plan your road trip gas stops around a 1/2 tank remaining. Once you get out of a city you could easily go 20+ miles between exits or stops with gas stations. This gets really important if you are not using freeways. (Stopping this often also helps with stretching your legs)
- Take more water than you think you need. In the unfortunate case of a breakdown you could be stranded somewhere while waiting for services to arrive.
- Take snacks. Preferably ones that are small and don’t make you too thirsty.
- If you think you might need a restroom, stop as soon as you can. If you wait until you need a restroom, the drive will be miserable and you will question your life choices.
- Speaking of restrooms, use one anytime you stop if available. Honestly, you never know when your next chance to stop will be.
- Get out and stretch your legs as often as possible. Even if you don’t need gas, food, or a bathroom break, try not to go more than 1 1/2 to 2 hours without stopping. More often is better. Your body will thank you.
- Stop and see the sights. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
- Drive conservative, especially through smaller towns where traffic laws are likely to be stricter and more strongly enforced.
- If your destination is more than 5 or 6 hours away plan on stopping somewhere to sit down and eat a meal out of your car.
- Always plan for the journey to take longer. You never know what will happen or what you may see.
- When in new towns, be extra friendly. Locals, while generally friendly, will naturally be wary of strangers.
- Always call your mom or significant other when you arrive at your destination for the day. They will appreciate knowing you’ve made it safe and sound.
- Carry cash with you. Outside of a big city you are more likely to find businesses that only take cash, or have higher minimum purchases for using a credit/debit card.
- Unless you are participating in The Cannonball Run, there is no honor in “It only took me this long to get there”. That is merely juvenile bragging. Take your time and enjoy the drive.
My personal preferences for solo road trips:
- I plan out my road trip gas stops ahead of time to be approximately 150-200 miles apart. That’s for a vehicle that gets roughly 350-400 miles on a tank of gas at highway speeds.
- I use GasBuddy to map out gas stations along my route. Not to find the cheapest gas, but the most convenient quality station along my route.
- I will generally stop at all Rest Areas I encounter along the way. For Interstates through rural areas they tend to be about 60 miles apart. Perfect for stretching, snack breaks, and restrooms. Sometimes they are even quite scenic.
- I usually have at minimum 2-3 liters of water at all times and will replace any bottles I’ve finished at the next gas or food stop.
- I avoid eating foods that can potentially upset my stomach. See restroom advice above.
Thanks for reading! If you have any comments, please leave them below.
UPDATE 4/11/2018: His road trip was a success and he did learn some good stuff about long distance driving. Now his travel bug is even bigger!