Avoid Small Towns on Sundays, and Other Ways to Have a Better Road Trip

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Photo: Olesya Kuznetsova (Shutterstock)

If you’ve looked recently at flights for a summer vacation, you may agree with my sentiment that 2022 is going to be the year of the road trip. Turns out a high cost of fuel, a labor shortage, and rising inflation isn’t a great recipe for affordable air travel. When done right, road trips can be a great opportunity to see large swaths of the country in one fell swoop. When done poorly, though, road trips can be a terrible slog. These tips will set you up for success on your next auto-bound excursion.

Rent a van instead of using your car. Renting a van instead of using your car is a gift that keeps on giving. First, you’re going to have more space, which is paramount for a road trip. Second, you don’t need to worry about taking care of the vehicle’s maintenance (oil change, etc) before leaving because that’s the rental company’s responsibility. Third, while this is an added cost, you won’t be adding any wear and tear to your personal vehicle, making it money well spent. Lastly, rental vans typically have larger gas tanks than regular vehicles, allowing you to stop less frequently, should that be your prerogative.

Budget for an interior car wash. You’re about to embark on a long journey in a very confined space; it’s in your best interest to keep that space in good shape. Make sure you’re cleaning out the vehicle of wrappers and other garbage at every pit stop — and when possible, try not to eat hot foods in the car (you don’t want the smell to linger). If your road trip lasts longer than seven days, it may even be worth it to budget in a trip to the carwash to get the interior cleaned (unless you want to do it yourself, in which case, we have you covered).

Avoid small towns on Sundays. Part of the joy of a road trip is seeing some of America’s small sleepy towns that never get depicted on the big screen. The only issue is these small towns tend to shut down on Sundays, so make sure you plan accordingly. It’d be a shame if you had to eat at McDonalds because you didn’t realize the famous local watering hole is closed.

Bring healthy snacks. I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon. I recognize part of the fun of a road trip is running into the gas station store and grabbing chips, candy, and soda. Having said that, it’s a good idea to mix in a decent dose of healthy snacks, as well. It’s not uncommon for people to have bowel troubles while on the road; you don’t want to contribute to your own misery.

Bring gum. When you’re in the car for hours at a time, at some point you’re probably going to start feeling gross. Stopping for a shower is probably going to be out of the question, but one tiny way you will be able to freshen up is to pop in a piece of chewing gum. I know it’s not much, but you have to take the little wins where you can get them. Just make sure you don’t swallowing it.

Don’t hog the aux cord. It’s tempting to go by the old “whoever’s driving gets to choose the music rule,” but might I suggest eschewing that convention for a more democratic divvying of music privileges? One of the great things about going on a road trip with friends is that, thanks to the pure volume of unstructured time spent together, you get to see sides of them you normally wouldn’t. One way for this to manifest itself is to see what music they choose to play. Think of it as a roadtrip conversation-starter.

Clean your house before leaving. “Woah, woah, woah. Do you want me to clean the car, AND my house? ” Yes. Road trips have a way of sucking the life out of you that normal vacations just don’t. You do not want to come home to a fully-loaded dishwasher and an unmade bed. Take some time to clean your house before you set out on your trip; you’ll be thanking yourself immediately upon your return.

Pack a paper map. As you drive into more remote regions of the country, your cellphone service will get worse. Knowing that, it’s a good idea to get your hands on a paper map of your route should you find yourself not able to rely on technology. You can also download your Google Maps directions ahead of time.

Don’t overdo it. In practice, ten or twelve straight hours in the car sounds like a slog, but ultimately doable. In reality, it’s incredibly unpleasant. When planning your road trip, you might be tempted to schedule a few days of 12+ hours to get yourself from Point A to Point B, but do what you can to resist that urge. You don’t want to overestimate how many hours you can realistically take in the car and force yourself to make an unplanned overnight stop.

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