Photo by iStock. Design by Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel.
According to American Automobile Association (AAA), one in four Americans takes a road trip every year for self-discovery, nostalgia, and to see the most beautiful parts of the U.S. There’s no better time to hit the road, Jack, thanks to advanced GPS systems, more efficient cars, improved roads and highways, and cheaper fuel (for now!). But there is always the potential for National Lampoon’s Vacation/Griswold-esque mishaps if you don’t plan well. To avoid the highway to hell, here are the top 10 things not to do if you want a fun, seamless journey.
1. Don’t pick a boring travel buddy.
Trust me: you don’t want to spend hours with a backseat driver, a loud singer, or a cheapskate. In fact, a recent survey found that 75 percent of people argue in the car — over things like backseat driving and traffic. So having a road-trip partner who is great with directions, enthusiastic, and shares the same road-trip “vision” as you do can make a trip more memorable and less frustrating. “A willingness to accept and persevere through the challenges of a road trip are key in a partner,” says Matt Thomas, a driver for Roadie (a new, peer-to-peer app that allows users to deliver items with a network of drivers — like UPS meets Uber), who spends about 40 hours a week on the road. “This includes chipping in on the driving responsibility, navigating so that the driver can stay focused, and being OK with alone time/silence when necessary.” It also doesn’t hurt to choose someone fun. “I took a road trip with a stand-up comic who had over 100 unique voices he could imitate,” says Thomas. “We asked him to do a conversation about an upcoming colonoscopy between President Obama and Stewie from Family Guy that had us in stitches.”
2. Don’t underestimate your budget.
Be realistic — you don’t want to budget $5 a day or expect five-star hotels the entire way. Do some research to figure out where to save and where to splurge. And everything should be discussed with your road trip buddies before you depart. But more importantly, make room for unanticipated expenses like an oil change, roadside attractions, tolls, tickets, entrance fees, and other surprises. Outdoor Blueprint offers an amazing budget calculator so you have a general idea of what you’ll spend — and how to divide it up amongst your travel crew.
3. Don’t drive a crappy car.
Pinto? No. (Photo: JOHN LLOYD/Flickr)
Bad road-trip cars are actually a thing now. Just check out this recent poll on Reddit about the worst cars driven for a road trip. But walk away from the hatchback, people. It’s just not worth it. Bill Kwong, Lexus Dealer Education Administrator, says road trippers should consider “fuel economy, passenger comfort, cargo volume, off-road ability and cruise control. And regardless of destination, safety features like airbags, traction control, vehicle stability, and tire pressure monitor system should be considered for a road trip.” Check forums like Road Trip America to see what cars are best-equipped for a long haul. Some times it’s worth renting a vehicle rather than being stranded roadside in your Pinto. The biggest safety tip happens before you drive: get a proper tune-up, check tires, battery, A/C, and oil before you hit the road.
4. Don’t put your feet on the dashboard.
Don’t do this. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Were you raised in a barn? Keep your feet on the floor. It’s good manners. More importantly, it’s a lot safer. In the event of a collision, an airbag can deploy at up to 220 miles per hour and deliver a force of more than 880 pounds to a front-seat passenger. Feet on the dash can result in knees being slammed into the chest or face. It happened to this poor girl learned earlier this year. During a collision while her feet were on the dash, her knees broke her cheekbone, left eye socket, and nose, dislocated her jaw, broke both her feet, and tragically, she suffered brain damage.
5. Don’t drive tired.
It’s important that the driver gets optimal shuteye (seven to nine hours) the night before a long drive to avoid potential accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in property damage. And the more sleep deprived you are, the more dangerous it is. In fact one study found that staying awake for 24 hours is the equivalent of driving impaired with a .10 blood alcohol level, which is actually illegal. If you have long distances to cover, pull over and take a 20- to 30-minute nap. Your body can get the rest it needs in less than an hour.
6. Don’t let the passenger play DJ.
Oprah Winfrey famously made her BFF Gail turn off the radio during their on-air cross country road trip, because the Queen of All Media prefers silence. But as it turns out, that may not be the best idea while driving. According to some studies, listening to music can positively impact mood while driving, which can translate to engaging in safer driving behavior. What’s more, music that has personal meaning to the driver (i.e., that the driver likes listening to) is associated with increased engagement, while unfamiliar and less-liked music can have some negative affects, according to one study. So what does that mean? The driver gets to pick the playlist or radio station.
7. Don’t rely on a single GPS.
Plenty of useful iPhone and Android navigation apps are available to download, and I learned from a recent trip to use them all. While Waze is great at getting you to your destination fast (it computes the best route based on traffic), my travel buddy and I consulted with Google Maps to stop in places we didn’t plan. Unlike Waze, Google Maps actually had attractions like national parks within the screen, so we made quick excursions to see them. By comparing the two apps, we were able to determine spontaneous stops and quick routes. Don’t have a large data plan on your cellphone? Download the new Here app, which actually downloads your route so you can use the GPS while you’re offline.
8. Don’t stay on the highway.
Photo: Getty Images
What’s a road trip without random adventure? Going off the beaten path can not only often save you travel time but back roads may offer more scenic routes. Heck, it may even end up being the highlight of your trip. On a recent journey through the southwest, my co-road-tripper and I initially mapped out a route on the iconic Route 66 from Santa Fe to Phoenix. But on the trip we decided to drive Arizona’s State Route 377 and follow the Hashknife Pony Express (the longest sanctioned U.S. Postal Service Pony Express route in the world) through Payson, Ariz. — more or less the same distance but definitely off the grid. The landscape was at first green and verdant, then barren and mysterious, with windy roads that hugged the hills of the state’s Tanto National Forest. Our photos (hundreds) prove that going off the beaten path can offer tons of charm. RoadTrippers.com has great options for alternative roads and even highlights cool things along the way. Just remember the road less traveled means fewer gas stations, public attractions, and rest stops, so make sure your car is in good working order. You may also want to text a friend the new route just to play it safe.
9. Don’t O.D. on fast food.
You can make an exception for a stop at In-N-Out Burger. (Photo: In-N-Out Burger/Facebook)
We get the occasional stop for In-N-Out burger, but with all that sitting you’re doing, eating right will keep you energized and comfortable (who wants to be bloated or tired for hours on end?). Not to mention it will help you avoid gaining weight — I put on four pounds on my last eight-day road trip. According to nutrition expert Pamela Salzman, it’s best to be prepared with easy snacks that are a good combo of protein, carbs, and healthy fats to keep you satisfied. Also, make sure the foods are non-perishable and won’t be affected by changes in temperature (in case they’re left sitting in a hot car). Some great picks: “Trail mix is full of fiber, good fats, and protein — all of which stave off hunger pangs and keep blood sugar stable,” Says Salzman. Nut butters are excellent sources of protein and don’t need refrigeration. (Some brands, like Justin’s, come in individual single-serving packages. Brown rice cakes and pretzel sticks are all great dippers.) Dehydrated fruits (without added sugar) are nice for something sweet. Healthy protein bars loaded with nuts, seeds, oats, and dried fruits but without tons of sugar are a go-to. Salzman likes Elemental Bars, Kind Bars, Rise Bars, and Pure Organic bars. It’s also not a bad idea to stop every few hours and to walk around, do a couple of push ups, or stretch to increase your energy and counteract the ill effects of sitting for so many hours.
10. Don’t motel it, if you can avoid it.
If all you’re looking for is a bed to crash in at the end of the night, by all means, pick a creepy roadside motel. But considering how much you’re saving on gas (gas prices are at their lowest since 2009, according to the US Energy Information Administration, ) why not stay in a hotel? Some hotels in road-trippy destinations (think Holiday Inn or Days Inn) are not that much more costly (especially when you’re splitting the price with road trip buddies) and can offer value-added amenities you’ll appreciate when you arrive, like complimentary breakfast, a nice pool, fitness centers, and comfy mattresses. They’re also a good way to rack up points for loyalty rewards, so plan out your hotel stays rather than blindly driving to random accommodations (and be sure to research all your options before booking). Use sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to preview accommodations. Or for the adventurous, last-minute planners Hotel Tonight can help you find a hotel for the night on short notice at discounted rates.
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