Life lessons are learned on the road. Like when I was on a family road trip at seven and stuffed my nose in a car trash bag with my Dad's rotten banana peel (don't ask me why) and projectile vomited all over my pink coat. Twice. Then at fourteen, food poisoning-induced sweat dripped down my face as I braced my head between an airplane pillow on a dirt road in Costa Rica. Eyes closed, sunglasses on, doing everything in my adolescent power to not have a repeat banana situation.
My favorite was when we set out on Highway 1 in Melbourne, as proud new co-owners of our thirty-year-old van, Roxanne. We didn't check her fastenings before taking off. The van started rocking and I thought it was just the wind, until and Carly turned around and screamed, "THE POP-TOPS UP!"
I looked in my rear view to the pop-top soaring, crochet honeycomb hanger swinging from side to side as cabinets unhinged and sent socks and underwear flying. "YOU GOTTA GET IT!" I say trying to maintain control of this column shifted beast. Carly flew over the bench to start fastening as I tried to assure worried passerby's we were okay and keep the Roxanne afloat, while still figuring out how to drive on the left side of the road.
We thought we were okay until moments later Carly said, "THE POP-TOPS UP. . . AGAIN!!"
And that, apparently, is the only real way to learn a lesson.
Despite all this, driving is still my favorite way to travel. There are no baggage fees, long lines, tickets, crying babies or tourist meal stops.
The road is yours and it’s yours to however you like it. Go your own pace, stop where you want, for however long you want, meet whoever and choose the coastal route if that’s your thing. (I hope it's your thing.)
The experience is yours. So it becomes your own.
The road has taught me practical things—like to stay away from enclosed bags and bananas, to trust your gut, and always plan ahead. But it has also taught me small lessons like how little we need to take to the road beyond a list and a map and some good snacks.
Waking up in the morning to nothing but the open road is a special kind of freedom.
The unspoken promise of adventure meets the hope of the new day. To hit the road you don’t need a road trip planner. Or an app. Or a fancy car or cooler.
You do need good music, an even better attitude—because things will go wrong—and car karaoke at the ready.
11 Steps To Get You Road Tripping' Ready:
1. pREPARE the PLAYLIST
Let’s be real: music is important. It sets the energy for the drive, gives your mind time to wander, and creates context for conversation or mental thoughts. Prepare for the road by making a roadtrip playlist of whatever songs make you feel good. I like to load mine up with everything from classic rock to oldies soul and heady instrumentals. You can check out my road trip playlist below. This is the soundtrack that got me up the Eastern Australian coast.
Inside scoop: Want to go deeper into a place, especially if it’s far from home? Ask a local friend to make you a mixtape. I drove along Australia’s Great Ocean Road listening to Powderfinger—a group I never would’ve known about before talking to Aussie friends about the trip.
2. Map your route
If you’re going on a long trip, sit down and map it out before hitting the road. Know how much driving you want to do in a day, and what route to take. Are there things you want to stop and see along the way? Certain amounts you want to drive in a day? A can't-miss coastal route? Sit down with all these things you want to cover ahead of time, and map out your route from there. You don’t need a fancy app or road trip planner. Cut out a chunk of time and do it the old fashioned way.
3. hit the road early
Make a point to not drive at night, because if something goes wrong everything gets more difficult at night. Plus, being broken down on a foreign highway in the wee hours is fun for no one. Get up and get going as soon as you wake up. Figure out how long you want to drive in a day (this depends on your trip—five hours is a safe max for one driver, with multiple drivers you could go further.) Know how far you’ll go in that amount of time, and have multiple options for where to stay once you arrive. Know where you're ending up and staying ahead of time.
4. UTILIZE REST STOPS
Because you don’t know when there will be another one. It’s good for doing normal rest stop things like going to the bathroom and taking out trash. Also a great time to stretch, hydrate & have a snack.
5. paper MAP & CAMPSITE BOOK
One of the most valuable things we had in Roxanne (always sitting shotgun with us) was a map book with different views of routes and regions, and a campsite book. The campsite book showed us every camp site along the way. So we could guesstimate the distance we wanted to cover, and the campsites or rest areas nearby. A physical paper map is nice to have, to show you the distance you’ve covered and the big-picture route, without having to be glued to your phone. Also a good safety precaution if you’ll be in an area with no service.
6. healthy snacks
Oh, snacks. What would the road be without you. Snacks can make it or break it. As in, they can be the things that make you puke (i.e. banana peel garbage bag) feel totally sick (ahem, entire bag of popcorn to the face) give you a stomach ache (too many sunflower seeds) and they can also keep you fueled and feeling good.
It’s easy to go snack crazy or make stupid choices with food when you’re on a road trip. I like the keep things as simple as possible, because I know if I’m bored and it’s in front of me I’ll eat it until it’s gone. All gone.
My favorite road snacks:
carrots & hummus
pb & j sandwich
peanut butter & celer
7. KNOW the LOCAL DANGERS
This is especially true if you are driving somewhere you’ve never been before. For example, in parts of Queensland, Australia driving at night you risk running over kangaroos, or driving over dead ones on the road side. In other areas being deer or other animals can run into the road, a two-lane road may be super narrow, or a certain area could have low visibility at night. Know the risks particular to your area so you can plan around them and be prepared.
8. and the LOCAL SIGNS
“Think Left” was the longstanding joke in Australia when I was learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road. Driving in a foreign country means being extra aware, cautious and patient. Know what the signs and symbols mean, because most you won’t understand. And, remember to always look left. And right. Make up sayings, play games, make your friend help you out—do what you need to do until learning the rules of the road becomes natural to you. It may take awhile but it’s crucial.
9. DON'T OVER HYDRATE
I can’t believe I’m saying this! Road trips are one of those special cases when you don’t want to down the liter of water upon waking. Especially if you will be driving in traffic, for an unknown amount of time, or in remote areas. I think we all know having to go and having only a bottle is not an ideal situation for anyone. That being said, you could try to plan hydrating around rest stops, if you know they’re coming up.
10. The PRE-DEPARTURE CHECKLIST
Start with the gas tank full, oil level checked, windshield fluid good, and air in tires. The last thing you want to do is drive an extended period of time burning oil and messing up the engine. Check our oil before going, and while you’re at it make sure the windshield wiper fluid is good. You may need to put air in the tires or take some out depending on where you’re going. Also, it’s never a bad idea to have jumper cables in the car with you, in case a battery dies.
11. TALK TO PEOPLE
We’re living in this age where when things go wrong we pull out our phone on autopilot. We stress before we even need to, and start googling questions when answers are right in front of us. If something goes wrong on the road, or if you have a question about where you’re going or you need help, the best thing to do is look up and ask someone around you. Chances are a local person will know much more, contextually speaking, than a google web search. Trust in the goodness of people, be polite and ask questions, and they’ll be a valuable resource wherever you are. Even if you don’t speak the local tongue.
Keep an open mind, be a practitioner of patience, and enjoy the ride! As with anything in travel and life, go in with zero expectations, and let the experience be what it’s meant to be, rather than molding it to some preexisting idea that isn’t real to begin with. And remember, it’s only onwards.