My Subaru has traveled 150,436 miles.
The vast majority of these are commuting miles, spent dutifully traveling up and down Interstate 95. There are the miles that took me to close friends, to a coffee shop late on a Sunday morning, or to Target when I really needed laundry detergent.
Then there are the adventure miles.
There are miles on my Subaru that have taken me to places I had only dreamed of visiting. They have taken me to the California Redwoods, to a 90-mile distance from Cuba, to New Orleans for lunch. Road tripping in my beloved 2004 Subaru is my favorite type of adventure.
The American road trip is a cultural phenomenon. If you have a car and a valid driver’s license, you are allowed to drive wherever you want. There are no checkpoints between state lines (unless you are trying to smuggle fruit into California), no passport required to fly down the highway by the seat of your pants from Seattle to Atlanta. Utilizing some hard-won lessons from my own experience, here are my 4 best tips for conquering your next life-changing, dream-inducing road trip.
1) Your Destination Is Your Wish
The first time I realized my life could be lived without limits was in the middle of a road trip from Seattle to Miami. A few months prior, I had made the decision to move to Miami with my close friend Hannah. I knew we could fly to Miami, but when our mothers suggested that we actually drive cross-country, it was an idea that never occurred to us. Always an excited participant in planning fun trips, I jumped in with both feet and helped map our 3,000-mile route. Being able to clearly map out your journey before you leave will help you to be able to visualize your way. Although road closures and other unexpected incidents may occur, it is always a good idea to be prepared with an alternate route.
My mom ended up being the ultimate road trip buddy three years later, when I set my sights on graduate school in San Diego. We piled into the Subaru once again from Miami to San Diego, and feeling more brave, I ventured a solo trip back from Seattle to San Diego the following summer. If there is a place you want to be or a place you want to see, there is a highway that can lead you there. All you need do is choose your destination without the limits created by your own perception. And into the sunset you ride!
2) Cars However, Do Have Limits
Unfortunately, cars break down. And for that reason you must plan accordingly. That eye-opening trip from Seattle to Miami? My car battery died in the drive-thru of our neighborhood Starbucks just 3 miles from my front door. In the end, a recently renewed AAA Membership, patience, and some laughs about how the universe was after us, got us back on the road.
While pushing the car out of the local Starbucks drive-thru was not the most harrowing experience with car breakdown issues, it was hardly our last. While driving on the 118-degree pavement of Interstate 10 between West Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico, the air conditioning pump on my sturdy Subaru gave up. The choice between staying in Las Cruces to get the AC fixed and pushing through to our destination of Phoenix, Arizona had to be made. One day and $1,200 in repairs later, we were back on the road.
While I regret nothing about amount of extra green chile sauce I got to consume by staying longer in New Mexico, I did come to regret the [very] expensive mistake of getting a refurbished AC pump installed in Miami before the trip. There is nothing wrong with taking an older car out on a road trip. It's at the end of its useful life, show it a good time! If you are properly stocked on emergency supplies, you can roll with the punches whatever happens.
However, I do recommend getting any car inspected by a trusted mechanic to ensure it is in tiptop shape before attempting, say, the completely rational task of traveling through the desert in a heat wave.
3) Plan ahead, but not too much
While I am all for spontaneous adventure, I am not about trying to find lodging at midnight (as I learned on my last solo trip). Because I love planning, I have a favorite road trip planning website.
Furkot.com allows you to do the following:
Find the most scenic or most efficient route to your destination
Map routes with overnight stops factored in
Maintain a daily window of driving time/maximum hours per day
Find hotels, campsites, or hostels along your route (everything but airbnb)
Estimate gas costs with your given fuel range
So, if I wanted to say, drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon (it's only a 10-hour drive), but wanted to do it in a few days and visit a few parks and quaint southwestern towns along the way, Furkot could tell me what time of day to leave, where to stay, and give me the option of taking major interstates or off-the-beaten-path highways. I use this tool as more of a framework for what the trip should be, and not a script that needs to be adhered to.
To keep spontaneity in road trips, I don’t look for restaurants or attractions ahead of time unless they are central to the destination (ex: St. Louis arch). If there is a rad-looking lavender farm on the side of the road, I am going to pull off and look at it. Plan for the necessities, and let the road show you the rest.
4) Camping Considerations
Camping ranks very high as one of my favorite types of adventures. It is only natural that my favorite form of road tripping incorporates camping in some way!
Depending on the time of year, it could be a good idea to plan stays in campsites as you would a hotel. The more in advance you plan a reservation, the better. If you are planning a road trip during peak camping season, you could be driving around for hours, hard-up for a campsite and dependent upon the benevolence of park rangers and the serendipity of cancellations.
This is not to say you can’t wing it. There are many parks, like Joshua Tree, that allow and encourage first-come, first-serve camping. There are also often smaller, less-utilized state and county parks as collectives inside national forests or other patches of public land. This summer my road trip buddy and I were fortunate to find a quaint lakefront spot in a small campground within Umpqua National Forest by frantically searching on dying phones, then giving up and following signs (freebie tip: bring phone chargers).
However much or little you plan for your next road trip, your adventure is sure to be one you will never forget.