Anybody can book a plane ticket, hop on a jetliner in their business class seat, and wait to get to where they’re going. But it takes a certain individual with the right amount of gumption to hop in a car and set off into the unknown. We’re talking about road trippers, and we think you’re that person.
There’s something so raw and pure and free about going on a road trip. It’s a rite of passage, a learning experience, a shot in the arm of pure adventure. It’s like your first time at sleepaway camp, except there are no counselors around to tell you what to do and where to go.
We don’t want to send you on your merry way without giving you a few pointers. So, before you set off on a thrilling journey, we think it’d be a great idea to run through CarRentals.com’s ultimate road trip survival guide.
Pre-Road Trip Car Check
We know you’re excited to get on the road, but there are a few things to check before a road trip.
- Keep it hydrated. We don’t just mean the liquid in the gas tank that makes the car go varoom! You need to double and then triple-check that you have all the proper levels of fluids: windshield wiper fluid, freon (for the air conditioning), oil, and radiator fluid. Low levels of any of these can make for a really long drive. Or no drive at all.
- Tire pressure. What can happen with low tire pressure? Nothing much, except a little tread separation and a ruined wheel. That’s why you need to be diligent about this stuff. If you’re not sure what your tire pressure should be, there’s a small sticker on the door jamb that will reveal the manufacturer’s recommendation. No sticker, no problem. The majority of cars usually need something between 30 and 35 PSI.
- Get AAA. You probably have some sort of insurance, but if you don’t, it’d be a good idea to get some. Not only will you like their customer roadside service, but sometimes you’ll get pretty cool perks. Everything from travel guides and maps to big discounts on hotels and motels make this membership more than worth it.
Road Trip Must-Haves
The outside of the car is looking good. All lights are in working order, the fluids are topped off, and the tires are pumped up. Just be sure these three items are somewhere in your car:
- Hook me up! Maybe you leave the headlights on all night, or your alternator is acting like a fool. Well, if you’ve got a nifty set of jumper cables, it’s no problem at all. How do you jump a car? First, find a nearby motorist who’s willing to give you a jump. Hook up one red cable to your positive battery post on the dead battery, and the other red cable to the other positive post on the good battery. Do the same for the black clamps and negative posts and voila! You’ll be on your way in no time.
- Can you spare a spare? You may never feel more helpless than when you’re stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire. Hey, we all remember that scene in “Vacation.” That’s why keeping a spare tire (and a car jack) in the trunk can save your trip.
- Drop Stop®. Have you ever seen the television show “Shark Tank”? You may remember one episode that featured a piece of rubber that fits between your car seat and the center console to help prevent things from dropping into the crack. It’s called the Drop Stop®, and it might be the greatest car accessory ever invented.
The Bare Necessities
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we sent you on your way without at least mentioning a few items that should accompany you on your journey:
- Hold the phone, please. Unless you want to shell out a few hundred bucks for a ticket, we suggest getting a cell phone holder. States nationwide are cracking down on phone use while driving, and the fines are only going to get higher.
- Safety first. Just imagine, you pull off the highway to go on a short 2-hour hike through a mountain meadow. Wildflowers are in bloom, deer graze in the grass, and because you didn’t see that uneven step, you wind up with a legitimate boo-boo on your knee. Once you hobble back to the car, you’ll be stoked you packed a first aid kit.
- In the days of smartphones, maps may seem irrelevant. But what are you going to do when you find yourself in Timbuktu with a dead cell phone? Paper maps never run out of battery. They never lose their signal. Plus, navigating via map will make you feel like Jim Bridger.
At some point during your road trip, there will be a stretch of hundreds of miles where nothing exists. And when it comes to that, you’ll be happy we told you to pack these snacks:
- Why jerky? Because it comes in a variety of flavors and meats. Because it doesn’t go bad for a very long time. Because cowboys eat it. And, of course, because it’s absolutely delicious.
- Dried fruit. It’s like beef jerky but with mangos, pears, cranberries, peaches, and many more.
- Trail mix. If you’ve never had this tasty snack, you’re missing out. M&Ms, peanuts, cashews, raisins, and granola—it’s the best road trip food, period.
It’s Game Time
As you’re cruising through Middle American farmland, the desolate deserts of the Southwest, or isolated mountain passes of the Rocky Mountains, you can spice up the drive with these road trip games.
- License Plate Game. Seriously, who hasn’t played or at least heard of this classic game of the pavement? It goes a little something like this: whoever spots the most license plates from different states wins. Simple as that.
- 21 Questions. This is a fabulous game, especially if you’ve got a full car. Single someone out and then the rest of the car takes turns battering them with questions until the “it” person answers all 21.
- I Spy. Your I Spy skills will truly be tested in the car—when someone spies something from a vehicle moving between 75-80 mph, you’ve got about 10-20 seconds to figure it out.
Tunes to Drive To
Yes, there are some people who prefer complete silence during their car rides, but we’re willing to bet you’re not one of them. Here’s some albums and road trip songs to help you get through the most boring stretches of asphalt:
- Lucinda Williams, “Car Wheels on a Gravel Dirt Road.” The fifth studio album from Ms. Williams isn’t just one of the best folk albums out there—it’s one of the best albums, period. The song “Can’t Let Go” should be on repeat.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska.” Just when you thought The Boss couldn’t be more of a genius, he drops this on us. Known for his rock songs, this beautiful and haunting acoustic album is a complete 180 from all that.
- Bob Dylan, “Highway 61 Revisited.” From the 11-minute ballad “Desolation Row” and the timeless “Like a Rolling Stone” to “Tombstone Blues,” this album reels off one hit after another. And if you find yourself somewhere near Hibbing, Minnesota, try to find Highway 61.
You Could Go This Way or That Way
You’ve probably got your route already picked out. Things to do and destinations to see saved in your memory bank. But if you’ve got some time for a little freestyling, here are some of the best places to road trip.
- Get your kicks. The Main Street of America. The Will Rogers Highway. The Mother Road. All these names refer to Route 66. The famous highway that stretches from Illinois to California is a road tripper’s dream. Have your camera ready to go when you pass attractions like the Whale of Catoosa in Kansas, the Cadillac Ranch in Texas, and the Blue Swallow Motel in New Mexico.
- Headed to the sun? Right this way. If we could’ve thought of a better mountain road to drive, we would’ve, but this highway in Montana might be the best. The Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through Glacier National Park like the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. There are several picnic areas and rest stops along the way that are perfect for taking in the scenery.
- You and only you. There are certain stretches of U.S. Route 50 in Nevada that gave it the nickname of The Loneliest Road in America. It’s easy to travel hundreds of miles in either direction without seeing another soul. However, even though you might be the only person from here to Mars on this highway, there’s plenty to look at. Fort Churchill State Historic Park, Great Basin National Park, and several ghost towns are just a few that come to mind.
We know how badly you want to escape. We can sense it. And we’d be lying if we said we didn’t want to go with you. Seeing how that’d be physically impossible, we figured you’d at least be able to keep us in your back pocket with this epic road trip essentials guide. Don’t get too lost.
And don’t forget to pin this survival guide for future reference!