Summer in the United States is always a great time for a road trip. As the weather warms up and travel restrictions cool down, it’s only become easier again to relax with a quick getaway.
But in the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Plans are useless. Planning is everything.”
So here are five easy tips to ensure you and your friends have a fun, enjoyable road trip.
1. Figure out the vibe.
Before you take one step outside or put down a single dollar, be specific about what a great road trip looks like to you. The clearer you get about your definition of a successful road trip, the better your odds are of actually having a memorable time.
Some friends are great for a turn up, but others would much prefer to wind down. Some friends are really good at doing both — and others excel at doing neither.
So ask yourself: What kind of energy do you want your vacay to have? Is this going to be a luxuriating splurge or more of a budget getaway? Snacks? Music? Are we waking up early or staying in late?
Define your “nice to try” activities versus your “have-to-try” activities. The scenic route, greasy spoons, spas with all the amenities, nature walks, etc.
Nail down the two or three activities that you are positive you want to do, and schedule the rest of your trip around that.
2. Set the budget.
This might be one of the unsexiest parts of planning but also happens to be one the most crucial. Money problems aren’t just the number one cause of divorce between lovers; they also are one of the biggest underlying reasons for breakups between friends, too.
Make a budget, and be mindful of how you plan to spend. But also make sure to set aside some funds for emergencies, miscellaneous items, your “accidentals and incidentals.” Use pen and paper, or a spreadsheet, to map where you expect the finances to go.
Do you want more of the funds going towards the lodging or the activities? Is a five-star hotel a non-negotiable for you, or will hostels and Airbnb stays be just fine? Will food be primarily for fuel, or is dining out and trying the regional cuisine part of the experience, too?
Above all, be honest with yourself about how much you’re really okay with spending and where that money goes. The quality of your road trip will be determined by your ability to have tough conversations, with your friends and yourself.
3. Review your route and means of transportation.
One of the most enjoyable parts of any road trip is the ride! So how are you getting to where you’re going?
If you plan on driving, make sure your vehicle is ready for the job. One of the last things you’d want to happen on your road trip for your car to run out of gas, break down preventable. Whether you plan to use your own car or rent one specifically for the getaway, you don’t want any unexpected surprises.
Also, plan out who’s driving and your pit stops in advance. The longer the drive, the more important it is to split your trip into separate legs. That way, you know in advance when to give your eyes a rest, safely switch drivers, take bathroom breaks, etc.
And if you really want to take in the scenic view, consider taking the train. Sure, the ride might be a tad pricier than if you drive, but that’ll take off a lot of the pressure of driving.
4. Make friends with the locals.
Once you make it to your destination, get on the inside track by befriending the actual residents of the area. You can avoid a lot of tourist traps and know where the truly best spots are when you talk to people who actually live in the area, not just visit it.
Some prefer to use social media as a way to get acquainted with the residents beforehand. Others chat up people they meet at gas stations, rest stops, or local eateries.
But however you choose to do it, there is a wealth of information to be had by talking to people who actually live day-to-day where you’re headed. They can give you the real scoop on where to go if you wanna enjoy the real hidden gems — as well as what to avoid.
5. Document your road trip.
Finally, the best part about the memories you make comes down to what you remember. So the easiest way to recall how great the trip was, or not, is to document it.
Take photos, and plenty of them! Write notes in your phone. Build a scrapbook.
You don’t need to share everything you did with anyone else, of course. But photos, notes, and scrapbooks — physical or digital — make for excellent snapshots in time.
They’re also keepsakes that you can use to deepen your connections with friends, family members, and your own children. Finally, with every new road trip you take, you’re adding a brand new chapter to the story of you.
Bonus Tip: Give yourself at least one day to recuperate when you get back.
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