Few things epitomize summer like a road trip. Whether you’re traveling across the country, touring a coastline, or hitting every major city within a 300-mile radius, there are plenty of ways to do this seasonal pastime justice. Besides being loads of fun, road trips are among the more affordable travel options for college students, since they don’t require much other than plenty of gas, a few inexpensive motel stays, and a sense of adventure. In other words – road tripping is perfect for someone like yourself!
Although it’s true that you can customize your road trip to fit whatever mold you’d like, there are a few pointers to keep in mind while strategizing that epic getaway. Sadly, you’ve only got a limited amount of time before the academic year resumes, so it’s time to kick the planning phase into high-gear! From coordinating the most eye-popping route to ensuring that you’re never without adequate entertainment, uCribs has done you a solid and rounded up 9 must-follow tips for anyone seeking a life-changing journey on the wide-open road.
Locate interesting back roads and commit to taking them.
As much as we love a good, long-distance drive, solely traveling by interstate gets really old, really fast. Besides, what’s a road trip without some exploratory back road travel? Instead of boring yourself to death with endless stretches of interstate pavement, find interesting country roads and sprinkle those into your commute. We’d like to call special attention to the word “interesting” – because, unfortunately, it can be hard to find a road that isn’t simply miles on miles of strip malls, fast food chains, and gas stations if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Before you take off, map out some routes that pass interesting landscaping, national parks, or noted landmarks. If you need a bit of inspiration or would like to know which attractions live up to the hype, you can also turn to Roadtrippers.com, which houses an array of trip guides that you can follow verbatim or use as a loose basis for your escapade. After all, there are no rules when it comes to planning your ideal trek – so, if you’re eyeballing a little-known highway that happens to stretch out before your favorite regional food joint, that sounds pretty ideal to us.
Plot out your must-do activities ahead of time – but leave room for spontaneity.
Of all the things that we love about traveling, bickering with friends over where to eat for lunch isn’t one of them. Don’t spend your precious travel time arguing about what you’re doing, whether you’re on the road or have already reached your destination! You can minimize this common travel issue by agreeing upon those must-do activities before you load up the car and ride off into the sunset. Besides, traveling by car over a few days often limits your access to Wi-Fi and decent cellular service, so planning an itinerary is best done way before your bags are packed.
However, creating a schedule that’s too jam-packed can really zap the fun out of what’s supposed to be a carefree break from college life. You never know – you might intend to travel from San Diego to Portland, only to find that the white, sandy beaches in Santa Cruz encourage you to hunker down for a few nights. Half the fun of road tripping is embracing the unknown, anyway, and how can you possibly pencil that in between dinner reservations, museum tours, and obligatory social media postings? Yep, that’s what we thought.
Consider a membership to roadside assistance programs.
We’re no mathematicians, but if we had to guess, we’d say that a vast majority of road trips go off without a hitch. However, if trekking across the country has got you mildly anxious about the “what-ifs,” you might want to consider a membership to AAA or similar roadside assistance programs. Enrolling now is sure to grant you peace of mind – which alone might be worth the cost of membership – and you can sign up in mere minutes online. Interested in these protections, but don’t want to join yet another subscription service? Odds are, your auto insurance provider offers built-in roadside assistance for a nominal fee.
Yet, given your status as a broke college student, we can’t blame you for wondering why you should fork over the cash for roadside assistance services in the first place. But, we think it’s worth it when you stop to consider the long list of things that could realistically happen during your travels, like sustaining a dead battery or flat tire. Best of all, roadside assistance programs employ a far-reaching net of service providers, who can send you assistance—no matter where you are. Still a little spooked about car troubles? Mama always said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so on that note…
Don’t even think about road tripping without a full auto inspection first.
Road trips tend to feel impulsive, even if they entail just as much planning as any traditional vacation. One area you definitely don’t want to skimp on in the planning department is the state of your vehicle. No one likes to hand their local auto mechanic a wad of cash days before leaving town, but it’s a necessary evil, so your itinerary doesn’t include being stranded on the side of the road. Hey, it happens, just like all the little stuff in life – and, depending on where this misfortune might hit you, you could wait a while for a tow truck to show up.
If the mere thought of waiting on a tow truck, as the boiling-hot sun beats down on your back, makes you feel uncomfortable, get your ride checked for anything that could derail your epic road trip, like your tires, brakes, or fluid levels. It’s never a bad idea to spring for a routine oil change, either. While you’re at it, go ahead and treat your wheels to a nice deep clean. We’re never one to judge, but you have to admit that those old fast food receipts piling up in the cupholders are becoming a bit of an eyesore.
Make sure you have all pertinent documents and a clean driving record.
This should go without saying, but if you’re driving anywhere – whether it be cross-country or to your local ice cream shop – it’s crucial that you carry your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration with you. These are all the basic documents you’ll need to prove that you legally own and operate your car. In the event that you get pulled over or in a car accident, having these files on-hand will guarantee that your run-in with the law goes as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Not only should you ensure that you have your documents accounted for, but it’s also advisable that you clear up any outstanding tickets before you get on your way. It might sound overly cautious, but if you’re the type of student, who lets non-college matters slip to the wayside during the academic year, it’s entirely possible that you’ve got a lingering parking violation that was never paid off. While you won’t face any super serious consequences for minor offenses like unpaid parking tickets, you should know that all but 5 states share driving records with other transportation departments. So, if you never got around to paying that fine, it’s probable that officers in the state you’re traveling through can see that on your record. Save yourself from this likely harmless, but nonetheless, annoying situation by clearing your good name way ahead of time.
Have ample entertainment on deck.
Let’s be real: no matter how excited you are to be on the wide-open road, there will inevitably come a time when the scenery is getting monotonous, the radio is airing the same five songs, and your travel buddies are growing tired of playing driving games. Because you obviously can’t chuck responsible driving in the name of fun, you’ll want to make sure that your road trip prep includes setting aside some top-notch entertainment that can be played through the stereo system.
If you ask us, the best way to pass the time while traveling is to enjoy a mix of new music, feel-good ‘90s and 2000s jams, and stimulating podcasts. Use this time to catch up on new releases from your favorite artists, hear that album your bestie keeps talking about, or tune in to the hottest podcasts of the summer. You can also throw it back – way back – with a good, old-fashioned mix CD—err, playlist. Just be sure to poll your travel buddies first to ensure that they’ll enjoy, or at least tolerate, whatever makes it on your list. The last thing you want is a car full of irritated friends, who cannot stand your karaoke version of “Say My Name.”
Split your travel labor with someone else, if possible.
Speaking of boredom-inducing, long car rides, it’s amazing how much longer a drive can drag on when you’re the only person behind the wheel. That being said, if you don’t want to be solely responsible for getting yourself and your friends to your destination, you’ll want to consider splitting the driving with one or more of your compatriots. This reduces body strain from sitting in the same position for hours on end, and by mixing up your driving routine, you’ll be less likely to get tired behind the wheel and risk a car accident.
Once you’ve found a responsible co-pilot, consider extending this division of labor to other aspects of your trip, like meal planning and navigating to attractions. Perhaps you’re excellent at reading maps, but you hate routinely cleaning out the car at each pit stop. Instead of resigning yourself to a vehicle full of empty coffee cups, assign this task to your friend who is an absolute neat-freak. It’s everyone’s vacation, anyway, so there’s no reason you should bear the responsibility of every chore that pops up while you’re on the road—even if you orchestrated the road trip to begin with. Hey, you’re not anyone’s mom, as you frequently tell your significant other.
Look for sneaky ways to save money on your trip.
Depending on the length of your road trip, you’ll likely find that this method of travel is considerably more budget-friendly than an exotic vacation requiring airfare and expensive hotel stays. However, road tripping isn’t without its own pitfalls in the budgeting department, particularly when it comes to gas and food. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to securing these two road trip necessities.
When it’s time to fill up, take an exit that holds more than one gas station. Stopping in an area that boasts several different stations increases the likelihood that one station will offer gas at a lower price to remain competitive. And if you’re planning to carry a ton of cargo, it’s important to consider these logistics, since cars with a larger load tend to burn through fuel faster. As for the topic of food, the best way to cut costs is to bring snacks or small meals along for the ride. Packing a cooler full of protein-rich foods and other snacks is a cheaper and healthier alternative to McDonald’s Big Mac or Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme.
Above all else: go with the flow.
Once you’ve double-checked your packing lists and brought your ride up to optimal working condition, there’s only one thing left to do: relax! It’s just as important that you go with the flow, as it is that you prepare adequately before you leave. The truth is, you never know where the road will lead you, and even the most seasoned road trippers have come to understand that the best way to enjoy your trip is to let it unfold naturally. Want to know a great way to keep a firm grip on your planning, without sacrificing the unknown that comes along with road tripping? Add plenty of “free time” blocks throughout your days to remind yourself to let go and let live.
Another way to reduce the burden of your itinerary is to anticipate spending a generous amount of time on the road—you never know when construction, traffic, or other obstacles will hit. Plus, underestimating your travel time can have dire consequences if you made reservations at that Insta-famous restaurant, for example. Or, how about that swank Airbnb with the strict check-in time? So, take a deep breath and embrace the devil-may-care nature of road tripping. Doesn’t that feel better than overanalyzing every mile?
Traveling by airplane is exciting in its own right, but there’s something magical and a little bit retro about rounding up your pals and hitting America’s great highways and byways for a summer road trip. Whether you’re traveling long distances or simply heading one state over, there’s no right way to conduct a road trip, but there are several things to remember— if you want to have a bump-free experience. Heed our advice for planning the ultimate road trip, and you might find that you’ve kicked off a new summertime tradition that’s full of exhilaration and self-discovery.