Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ideas for Planning and Enjoying Your Next Road Trip

Starting in Wisconsin and driving to different destinations around the country, my husband and I have been on six major road trips, and we're about to embark on number seven. Our destinations have included Boston, the Florida Keys, Death Valley, Northern California, Seattle, Albuquerque, and we've stopped to see A LOT along the way.

Over the years and across the states, I've learned some lessons the hard way about how to make a road trip work. I'm getting ready for my road trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, (our first international road trip!!), and I thought I'd share some of my road trip tips with you.

Start with the big picture. I start my planning by picking the major landmark I want to see. Think big--I choose a park or a city. Then, I look to see what's reasonably close to my route and I add other stops from there. While I use tour guides, Pinterest, and Internet searches to pick some activities--walk the red line in Boston, go on a whale watching cruise off the coast of Washington, etc--I don't plan every hour. Based on my larger goals, I book the hotels in advance so we're assured a room even if there's a big convention somewhere nearby. Then, we show up and talk to park rangers or look at park guides (obviously for stops involving national parks), or we buy spots on those hop on / hop off tour buses (in big cities). This gives us the lay of the land, and we can pick where to focus our time from there.

Don't rely solely on your phone/GPS for directions. You may not get reception everywhere. I use AAA's online TripTik to print off directions. I also use my AAA membership to order maps.

Have goals, but build in some down time and be ready to roll with the punches. When our car broke down outside of Albuquerque and threw our trip off by a few days? I changed a hotel reservation, crossed a stop off our list, and enjoyed the extra day of relaxing by a hotel pool. When my husband got sick on the first day of our Death Valley trip, I didn't stress about leaving the hotel when we wanted to in order to make it to the Painted Desert before dark. Thankfully, he recovered, and we did get to see the Painted Desert, but we didn't have all the time to explore that we wanted. Not a big deal. Having him healthy was far more important. Besides, because of the delay, we got to see this beautiful sunset there!

Don't sleep on the road. Napping during long rides worked when I was kid, but as an adult, taking advantage of my time as a passenger by napping just throws everything off. I feel like a jet-lagged zombie. Instead, keep your mind engaged. The alphabet game will only get you so far, so load up on audio books, sermons, logic books you can use to quiz the driver, and real print books if you're fortunate enough to be able to read those without getting sick like I do.

Drink water. This goes triple if you're driving in Death Valley because even in an air conditioned car, the heat gets to you. But if you want to be feeling your best when the car stops and it's time to explore, take care of yourself this way.

Eat healthy. You might end up stopping for a lot of fast food, but even there, you should be able to find something at least somewhat healthy. Another option is to stop at a grocery store for fruit, nuts, or other good-for-you options.

Exercise. When you're in a car for long stretches, it's important to get out and move. It makes the drive safer, but it'll also help you feel better. So, get out and explore when you can.

And last, but perhaps most fun:

Consider a road trip mascot. Since 2011, my husband and I have been toting along Frank and Babe, the big blue duck. One or the other--or both of them--have been to the top of the Saint Louis Arch, the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, Death Valley, Yellowstone, the redwoods, and tons of places in between. It's a fun little way to brighten up the trip.

What are your road trip tips? Do you have a favorite destination?

Your Sister

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