Road trip rules

Six steps for planning the perfect road trip

Since the first documented road trip took place in 1903, road trips have become a mainstay in North American culture.
Since the first documented road trip took place in 1903, road trips have become a mainstay in North American culture.

Picture the wind in your hair, the sun kissing your skin, your best friends in tow and only open road and clear skies ahead. It’s the ultimate summer vacation: the road trip. The first real recorded road trip was completed in 1903. Piloted by H. Nelson Jackson, the trip from San Francisco to New York took a total of 63 days and cost nearly $8,000. Since then, millions of North Americans have followed in the footsteps of Jackson in what is now a popular summer tradition.

Modern travelers know that road tripping has evolved into more than just a means of vacationing. For some, the road trip is an art form and one that must be planned accordingly. Here are some tips for successfully planning your next trip to ensure things drive smoothly.

Set Your Pace: Are you a planner or a doer? Your answer will determine which kind of road trip is best for you: the “scheduled” road trip or the “whatever happens happens” trip. While both have their own set of pros and cons, one requires a bit more preplanning than the other, so it’s best to choose which type of trip you want to embark on in the beginning. This is usually determined both by the type of people you’re planning to travel with and how far you’re travelling.

Select Your Destination(s): Whether you want to cross 52 states in 52 days or just take a picnic to Wasaga beach, you’d better at least have a rough estimate of what direction you’re travelling in. There are plenty of resources online and in print that can help you map out fantastic trips. A good strategy is to create a list of the places you’d like to visit and pick out the best/most convenient locations to map out a good trip. Be sure to research maps, attractions, events and local recommendations. It’s also important to consider the duration of your trip, your budget and crucial factors, such as accommodation. Are you looking to camp, stay in hotels/motels or are you willing to consider the unadvisable option of sleeping in your own car? It’s best to pre-book campsites and hotels weeks in advance to ensure you have a place to stay. If you choose not to pre-book, you risk being turned away, but you also have the freedom to go wherever the road takes you, which means not having to keep a tight schedule.

The Vehicle: This is probably the most important thing to consider while planning your trip. After all, it’s the very backbone of this exciting journey. Make sure your vehicle is adequately equipped and prepared. Smart road trippers will have their vehicle serviced before embarking on their journey. At the very least, make sure you have a full tank of gas, windshield washer fluid, clean oil and a cell phone. A CAA membership is a good idea in case you run into any problems on the road. Other essentials include a great map and a complete first—aid kit. A GPS can also be beneficial (especially if you’re a little directionally—challenged). Whether you choose to travel by van, SUV, truck, convertible, sedan, motorcycle or lawnmower, be sure that all possible drivers are comfortable driving the chosen vehicle. It’s also good to ensure all your possible drivers are comfortable driving and legally able to drive in general.

The Food: If you’re looking to plan a junk food-heavy trip, you’ll have no problem finding places to chow down along the highway. This is especially true if you’re visiting our neighbours to the south. It is summer vacation after all, so why not let loose, banish the BMI and sink your teeth into a juicy Weber’s burger, a Kawartha dairy milkshake or some McDonald’s fries. Road trips are usually synonymous with fast food, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The road tripper with a more cultured palate may choose to research fine dining destinations ahead of time. This adds to the traveling experience as it often gives you the opportunity to sample local fare (lobster from Nova Scotia, Pizza from Brooklyn, the local wines of Niagara). Lastly, don’t be afraid to pack a few snacks. Homemade trail mix, energy bars (such as Cliff or Lara bars), bottled water and homemade muffins are all portable, healthy options to tide you over until the next rest stop.

The Jams: What’s a road trip without music? The car tunes can make or break a trip, as many of us who have travelled with our parents can attest to. Spend some time creating a great playlist and tell your fellow passengers to do the same. If it’s a long trip, you’ll need some variety. Great options include classic rock, 90s mixes or a carefully selected mix of road trippin’ songs, like the ballad “Drivin’ Down the 401” by home—grown talent Jamie Flegg.

The People
: After all is said and done, it’s unlikely your greatest memories will be of that one awesome beach, that catchy song or that rattling sound coming from your exhaust pipe. Your best memories will be of the people who shared those moments with you, of the jokes you shared, the laughs you had and the stories you have for years to come. The bottom line: choose good company and a great trip will follow.

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