I did a big road trip across America by myself this summer. I drove through 14 states for a total distance of over 6,147 miles (9,887km). You can read a full post about this experience here.
I enjoy travelling by myself and don’t mind being alone. Having said that, driving long distances can be tough, and doing it alone can be even harder.
I’ve accumulated my best road trip travel tips below to help you on your next adventure. If you’re also a solo traveller, I hope these will be especially helpful to you. Although many of these refer to my American road trip, most of the tips are universal.
Use food and gas breaks to allow yourself plenty of stops.
When possible, I never let my gas tank go below a quarter full. I stopped a couple times a day to get gas and was never in any danger of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with an empty gas tank and no reception. I found this particularly important in New Mexico and parts of Utah — where gas stations and rest stops are significantly less frequent than in states such as Ohio, Iowa and Texas.
While it’s undeniably more convenient to get your gas and food all in one place, doing this separately can be a sneaky way to take regular breaks. When you’re driving long distances breaks are good. Even if at the time it feels like they’re slowing you down. Ultimately, taking breaks keeps you fresh, alert and more capable of driving long distances.
The first gas station you see more than likely doesn’t have the cheapest prices.
Along with this, gas tends to be cheaper in towns and cities rather than at travel-stops or gas stations on the roadside. Thinking ahead of where you can fill up your tank can save you time and money.
Gas prices also can change significantly per-state. For example, going from Colorado into Kansas the price of gas can drop as much as 20 cents. Driving from Ohio into Pennsylvania the price can rise as much as 50 cents, according to gasprices.aa.com. While the difference at the borders may not be drastically different, if you’re going to be travelling long distances in a day this is helpful to keep in mind.
Gum and snacks will keep you alert.
Chewing on gum is a great way to stay alert when you feel yourself starting to fatigue. Likewise, I find having something to snack on is a sure-fire way to keep me awake. The best days of driving I did were when I was well stocked with snacks and drinks.
Before I set out on my road trip, I bought a bag of ice, case of water, some red bull and plenty of snacks. This saved me heaps of money and made for much nicer traveling conditions — I kept it all within arms-reach in my cooler on the front seat next to me. It helped me stay awake and kept me hydrated at all times — which I find also helps lift my energy levels.
The downside to staying super hydrating is having to stop constantly to pee. Although getting out of the car and walking around regularly is helpful, be wary of the states where gas stations and rest-stops are few and far between. There’s nothing worse than driving through the Arizona desert, desperately needing to pee, and the closest gas station being another 30 minutes away. Trust me on that one.
Finding local places to stop and get food is a great way to get more out of your trip. On my longest days of driving I often opted for a McDonald’s drive-thru. Although it felt quicker at the time, I often tired more easily later on. This ultimately made these days feel longer and I had to stop sooner.
Getting out of your car to eat allows you to get some fresh air and stretch your legs. Don’t underestimate how re-invigorating this can be. Going to a local establishment also allows you to experience a town or city that you’re in, rather than just seeing it from the highway. Although it may seem easier to opt for fast-food, taking the extra time to venture further off the highway can enrich your trip significantly.
A little bit of prep work will go a long way.
Even if you don’t stick to it, it’s good to have a tentative plan before you set out. Set a goal for how far you want to get, and know what time you need to pull off the road and into a hotel. Likewise, knowing the different towns, conveniences and any sightseeing attractions will help you get the most out of your trip. Planning where you want to stop also can help you mentally break up long hours of driving. I found it helpful to set myself driving goals along the way, rather than focusing on the daunting total distance I had to drive.
Before I set off each day, I planned where I wanted to get at least one meal and checked for any major sightseeing stops. Although I always set myself a goal for where I wanted to stay each night, I usually didn’t book any accommodation until I was two or three hours away. This allowed me the flexibility to listen to my body and how I was coping with the day. Some days I felt great and drove past where I originally planned, other days I would stop a town or too short.
Give yourself a realistic timeframe.
While long days sometimes can’t be avoided, don’t over-reach yourself. Rather than traveling long distances but spending most of your time in you car, you’re better off covering less ground and really experiencing the places you’re visiting. Driving from Colorado to Pennsylvania in two days is not something I want to do again. Sure I covered a lot of ground, but I feel like I barely saw anything. My favourite days were when I drove less than eight hours and planned some kind of extended stop during the day.
For example, I stopped in Vail, Colorado when I drove from Denver to Utah. This was a great way to break up a long day of driving. You can see how I spent a couple hours in this beautiful town here.
Invest in a hands free phone holder.
This may be an obvious one but being hands free was so important, both for my safety and my sanity. I have a stand that sits on my dashboard that I can easily pop my phone into. This is convenient for when I’m using maps and when I want to talk on the phone. Mine is from Walmart, but Amazon also has extensive options. My car has bluetooth capabilities built in which is a nice luxury, but there are gadgets you can get that can do this for you. Talking on the phone was possibly the most helpful thing I did that ensured I didn’t lose all my sanity. That and having some kick-ass Spotify playlists.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good playlist.
Listening to music can make a trip more enjoyable. Having playlists prepared before you set out is a great way to make the time pass quicker — especially if you’re traveling by yourself. Taking the time before you leave to customize your own playlist also saves you the hassle of having to select and skip songs while you’re driving. When you’re covering long distances in one day, searching for radio stations can be time consuming and exacerbating. Creating your own playlists ensures you can listen to the music you want, when you want it.
Always check your mirrors
This is driving basics 101. Checking your mirrors ensures you are aware of what’s going on around you and keeping your eyes active prevents them from “glazing over” due to staring at the road for too long. While it is extremely important to keep your eyes on the road, one of the greatest parts of driving across the country is taking in the sights around you. As a solo-traveller this can be hard to balance as you aren’t afforded the luxury of being able to take your eyes off the road for seconds at a time.
The saying never look back doesn’t apply to driving. Some of my favourite perspectives of this country have been through my side and rear-view mirrors. These include seeing the sun setting over the Utah desert and watching the Rocky Mountains disappear behind me. I’m not talking about taking your eyes off the road in-front of you for too long, but be aware and receptive of the beauty that is behind you as well.
I loved seeing so many parts of this beautiful country and these tips and tricks helped me do just that. I hope they’re helpful to you the same way they were to me. Some I discovered along the way, some reflect the wisdom of my parents and others are common sense but are important nonetheless.
Some links above are affiliate links. While the products shown are intended as inspiration for you, I did research each item and chose the best option to list here. You’re welcome to purchase the items I suggested, but don’t feel obliged.