Do have a great time and use these ideas for your next road trip
I am no stranger to the long car trip.
It’s how my family got around for all of our summer vacations, usually with my parents driving straight through to our destination while my brothers and I passed the time trying to make toast by sticking bread in tinfoil and placing it on the dash board. Or sending our green Army guys and Barbies “bungee jumping” by looping the dog leash around their waists and hanging the opposite end from a hook above the window. Or rationing a stockpile of candy to stay hyped up until the sun began to rise and we neared our destination.
My idea of car-time entertainment has changed a bit with adulthood, but my love for the endurance challenge of a long car ride has not diminished. So I was open to the idea of a 2,800-mile road trip over 12 days in July with my husband, who is still alive and talking to me five weeks after our return.
Based on our epic loop through southern Utah and California to Los Angeles, up the coast to San Francisco, over to Yosemite, down to Las Vegas and back to Grand Junction, I have these ideas to offer for maximizing your experience in and out of the car on your next road trip.
■ DO bring podcasts and music — We downloaded probably 18 hours of podcasts for our trip and had an iPod full of music ready to go. That preparation came in handy during long stretches in areas with no radio stations or radio stations that played the same songs over and over and over.
Talking is a good way to pass the time. But if you’re human and not my paternal grandmother, there’s likely to be a lull in conversation somewhere. You’ll be thankful to have interesting podcasts that spark conversations later on in the trip. I recommend: How to Do Everything; Radio Lab; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and This American Life.
■ DO bring an atlas — An atlas was the best $15 investment I’ve made in a long time.
We had Google Maps printouts and our cellphones, but cell service was sometimes spotty. In addition, a cellphone can die when you’re away from a charger all day, and printed directions aren’t always helpful if you decide to take an alternative route.
An up-to-date atlas is a life-saver on the road and pocket guidebooks are a great reference and map source for specific cities. Who says print is outdated?
■ DO watch your wallet — A $50 tab here, a $20 purchase there, and suddenly you’ve spent hundreds in a matter of days.
Nobody wants to spend their vacation with a ledger in hand, but it doesn’t hurt to add up your spending at the end of each day just to see where you’re at and to avoid a headache of a credit card bill when you get home.
■ DO eat local — I get that there are some very hard-working people and decent food at chain restaurants. But come on, did you really drive across the country to eat at the same restaurant that is four blocks from your house?
Decide on a style of food you’re looking for, then check Yelp, Urban Spoon or similar sites for reviews, menu prices and availability. Give something new a chance to wow your taste buds.
Case in point, here are two words about how much we loved the tapas place where we ate on our wedding anniversary in Santa Barbara: avocado hummus.
■ DO stay healthy — No one wants to be sick on vacation, but it’s so hard not to catch something with all of the public rest room surfaces you’ll touch, the public transportation you’ll share with coughing passengers, and times you’ll be ready to eat at a restaurant or in the car without soap and water in sight.
Pack and use hand sanitizer and some AirBorne, if those are items you trust. Then simply take care of yourself: Get some sleep, walk when you’re able, and don’t get lax about taking prescribed medications.
■ DO book ahead — Hotels and campsites at your desired destination are not always available last minute and may cost more if you book at the last second. Worse yet, not having a room may force you to move down the road when you wanted to spend more time in a particular place.
I still remember my dad using some choice words the time we tried to stop for the night instead of driving through to our destination, only to find that everything semi-affordable was booked.
Research prices and availability before you leave to get a better deal and better piece of mind before hitting the road.
■ DON’T sit in the car all day — It’s bad for your body and not the best way to take advantage of the scenery. Without little stops along the way, I would have missed some of the unexpected highlights of my recent trip, such as seeing dolphins frolicking off the coast of Big Sur and hearing the grunts of chubby elephant seals lounging north of San Luis Obispo.
Get out and stretch your legs at any opportunity. Take a little walk around a rest stop or an overlook. Stretch your calves on a curb or do a little step exercise on and off the curb.
Don’t worry that may look dumb, I did some steps on and off a curb at a rest stop near the California-Nevada border and nobody even looked at me. Some parked semi-trucks were the big draw for photographers that day.
■ DON’T stick to the quickest route — Sometimes a little detour is worth it. Taking a longer trek from Grand Junction to our first stop in St. George, Utah, was a great way to start the trip, even if it made that first day our longest day on the road. We drove through Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks and saw some amazing sites we would have missed going the shorter route.
Likewise, U.S. Highway 101 is quicker for getting between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but missing all of the gorgeous shoreline along California Highway 1 would have cut out some of the best parts of our trip.
■ DON’T tip poorly — Most of the locals you will likely interact with in a city are those in the service and hospitality industry — wait staff, cab or shuttle bus drivers — so reciprocate them properly for welcoming you warmly to their hometown.
According to CNN Money website, 15 percent is enough for OK service, and 20 percent is enough for very good service at a restaurant. Bartenders should get at least $1 per drink or 15–20 percent of the total tab.
The website recommends $2 for a valet (and $1 or $2, I think, makes sense as a tip for a shuttle bus driver at the last stop), as well as 15 percent for a cab driver.
Tip well and you may even be rewarded with tips for the rest of the trip or a little choice information. I found out, for example, that I tip cab drivers better than a certain “Sharknado” actor.
■ DON’T try to do too much — It’s tempting to try to see everything in every city in record time, but cramming too much into your schedule can make it hard to live in the moment and enjoy experiences you’ve anticipated for months.
Plan ahead, pace yourself, be open to schedule changes and realistic. It’s about not how much you can accomplish in a trip but how much you can savor.
On the flip side, you might regret missing out on certain sites and flavors if you don’t plan anything. Research what may be fun to do and then prioritize.
■ DON’T believe everything you see on the Internet — While I found TripAdvisor and other travel review sites helpful when selecting hotels, not everything on the web told the full story about our travel destinations.
For example, I picked a beach based on minimal information and a beautiful photo of palm trees and a long stretch of sand. When we got there, however, we found that sand was chock-full of rocks, big ones that slammed against my legs as I stood in the ocean. I caught a bit of flack for that pick.
Make sure you hear from other travelers online or off before trusting a website meant to lure you in and not give you a balanced review.
■ DON’T take this experience for granted — Do you have any idea how many people might be salivating over your Facebook photos and posts about your beach trip while they count the minutes in a cubicle or watch 10 inches of snow pile up outside their front door?
Or consider how many people don’t have the money, life circumstances or health needed to do anything close to what you’re doing?
Enjoy your road trip, document it, and savor the memories.