Ask anyone who has had a disastrous road trip to tell you what went wrong and none of them will start with the destination. Where you’re supposed to end up is almost never the heart of the problem. In fact most of the things that can send your trip off the rails happen long before any of you ever set foot in the car.
Take the time to handle these five pitfalls before you set out and your chances of avoiding a road trip meltdown by any of your travel companions will be much higher:
Choose the right route – Whoever coined the adage that the journey is more important than the destination must’ve been thinking about road trips. If you don’t plan your journey right, the glamour of your end stop won’t matter – no one will be happy. The key to choosing a great route lies in planning. There are often dozens of ways to get to any one destination and the shortest one isn’t always the best. Think about your family as you map out the route. While looking at your map consider the alternative ways of getting to your destination. Online tools like Roadtrippers.com or Mapquest.com can help you plot out routes with things that are particular to your interests (one known for it’s BBQ or old-fashioned diners for example), but also bring along a paper map. It will allow you to see the bigger picture at a glance and the important/iconic things you might be close to that you’d otherwise miss.
Understand your travel companions – It only took one road trip where I was driving and my husband had the map responsibilities for me to realize that that should never happen again. We reached an understanding on that trip: He drives; I navigate. It’s important. Our skill sets are different and trying to manage otherwise would only result in mutual frustration. Understanding the personalities of the people you’re sharing space with is key to a successful trip. Do you have someone who is going to need to stop for a bathroom break more often than most? Build that in to your routing and time estimations. Are you travelling with kids who get antsy after more than two hours in the car? Plan stops around local parks (and pack a small ball) so they can run off some steam along the way. Taking the time to consider the personalities in your vehicle and their needs will go a long way towards a trip where everyone is still talking to each other in the end.
Pick the right vehicle – Just because you have a car in the driveway doesn’t mean that it’s the right car to take on your road trip. Give some thought to what your trip needs from your vehicle and honestly assess your options. Look at your vehicle like a home for the time that you’re away. You’re about to spend a lot of hours in there. Will you be comfortable?
If you are driving your own vehicle you’ll want to make sure you take it in to the mechanic for an assessment and address any major issues before setting out. Renting a car could make sense if you’re planning on putting major mileage on the vehicle, if you would benefit by a car that is better on gas or if the rental car has more room than your own.
Know when to stop planning – Trying to plan every moment of your trip is tempting but both a waste of time and stress inducing. You will never be able to plan it exactly as it will unfold and that’s a good thing! Instead, embrace the things you can’t plan and build in some opportunities for spontaneity. When you stop at a café for a lunch break talk to the waitress about local treasures worth seeing. Plug the name of the city you’re passing through into the Expedia app and book a fun activity for the afternoon. And if you’re taking a longer trip, consider leaving at least one day each week with nothing planned. Catch up on sleep, eat a late breakfast and operate as though there’s nowhere you need to be. Rest days are important opportunities to give your brain and body a break. The result is always more energy and excitement about your road trip when it’s time to hit the road again.