by Mattie Bamman

Road Trips Series

Getting your first set of wheels equates to freedom. The open road begins at your feet and ends wherever you choose. It can take you away from your hometown into the “real world” and beyond; it can take you away from snowy climes or high up into the otherworldliness of the mountains. And though you only get your first car once, you can relive that pure, adrenaline-pumping experience each time you embark on a new road trip. The kilometres lie before you, all you have to do is choose where to go—or at least choose a cardinal direction.

Here are 15 tips for planning and preparing for an excellent road trip. Over the next 15 weeks, I’ll share some of my favourite road trips around the world, beginning next week with my home state of Maine. It’s time to renew your CAA membership and get packing!

15 Road Trip travel tips

  1. Auto clubs: Did I mention roadside assistance? From towing to fixing flat tires, auto clubs provide assistance when we need it most. Their rates are reasonable, and they offer discounts on hotels and more.
  2. Get your car in shape: Whether you take it into a shop or do it yourself, your vehicle should be in good condition. Inflate tires, check the oil level, top up the radiator coolant and so on. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to learn to do these things on your own, either.
  3. Emergency kit: Consider the conditions you’ll be driving in and what you might need if your car breaks down. Recommended gear includes jumper cables, motor oil, radiator coolant, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, Fix-A-Flat and drinking water.
  4. 15 Road Trip travel tipsPacking: You’ll be spending a good amount of time in the car, so pack comfortable clothing. To prevent against theft, try to fit everything into your trunk. Keep an overnight bag so that you can hop in and out of hotels without lugging all of your bags with you.
  5. Cooler: Having a cooler lets you enjoy cold drinks and snacks on a hot road. It can also help you save money: instead of pulling up to a diner you can pull over into a scenic overlook.
  6. Audio books or classes: Now’s the time to learn Italian! Or maybe David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is the ticket. Either way, audio materials can be a lot of fun and make those in-between hours fly by.
  7. GPS versus a good ol’ road map: Both! A GPS allows you to receive directions with your hands free, but a trusty road map never tells you to drive across a field.
  8. Recharge on the go: Purchasing a multi-use adapter that fits into your car’s cigarette lighter lets you charge everything from laptops to rechargeable batteries while you drive.
  9. Roadside America app: This travel app features nearby roadside attractions as you go. It works in both the U.S. and Canada.
  10. Smaller sideroads versus freeways: If you want to cover serious distance, take freeways; if you want to see small towns and the countryside, take smaller sideroads. But note that smaller roads can get congested with traffic lights, and gas stations may have exorbitant gas prices. When taking small roads, make sure to have an exit plan, and skip the roads whose scenic beauty has been usurped by strip malls. 15 Road Trip travel tips
  11. Cheap gas apps: A variety of apps have been designed to help you find cheap gas. One of the best is GasBuddy, which is compatible with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
  12. Plan to relax: Even though it’s nice to have hotel reservations, it’s also nice to make a change of plans and stay in one location for a few days. That’s one of the best things about taking a road trip: savouring the unexpected.
  13. Camping: Camping is a great way to save money—and it puts you right in your new environment.
  14. Eat at the diner less travelled: Rest stops may be the fastest dining option, but getting off the highway and finding a historic diner or otherwise unique restaurant can save you money and enrich your culinary experience.
  15. Gas saving tips: Inflating tires to optimal tire pressure, replacing old air filters, driving at a steady speed and using AC wisely can dramatically reduce the amount of gas you use.