Planning a Successful Roadtrip

This is the summer of the road trip. I can feel it in my bones.
Ok, maybe I only think that because I'm actually going on a road trip this summer.
Whether I'm biased or not, this just feels like a golden summer for road-tripping. 

Question: as a self-proclaimed traveler, am I allowed to admit that I've never been on a roadtrip? I hope your answer is yes, because...I haven't.

Which means that I'm pretty authoritative on the subject of planning successful road trips.
(please tell me you caught the fine whiff of sarcasm).

All joking aside, I've been spending the last several months planning a 4-week road trip across 16 states with Phil (LEAVING ON WEDNESDAY). So I do have a bit of knowledge in the art of planning a (potentially) successful road trip. Thankfully though, Phil is seriously versed in the ways of road-tripping. When he was in college, he would drive from Colorado to DC or Minnesota regularly, plus he went on several other assorted road trips around the US.
Between the two of us, we've compiled a list of things we deem important to planning and executing a successful road trip. Ready, set, go!

Keep a flexible schedule. Let's be real; I tend to keep a 'flexible' schedule on any trip I take. To me, being flexible essentially means only planning where you stay at night. For a road trip, this is great because it means you have the ability to make any little side stops and scenic routes as you please, so long as you make it back to your scheduled destination for bed time. If you want to be Taylor-level flexible, you'll only schedule a place to stay on your first and last night of your trip. This leaves everything in the middle completely open, so you never have to turn down an opportunity for adventure. 

Do your research. If you're keeping your schedule flexible, you should do a bit of research to compensate for a lack of itinerary. For each city and state you visit, look up the most popular, strange, interesting, and entertaining activities and locations in proximity. You can do 'local' research too by asking friends and family for recommendations on where you're traveling. Chances are, you likely know someone who has been where you are going, and can give personalized advice for your trip.  

Contact your long lost friends and family. It wasn't until I traveled in other countries that I realized how closed-off our culture tends to be towards strangers. In many of the places I visited, near strangers would invite me into their homes for meals and offer me a place to stay. When I think about doing that in the US, it just seems so out of place. A good way to work around this, though is to stay with people that you do know, albeit not very well. Road-tripping is the best time to take advantage of having friends and family in other states, because you get:
1) A free place to stay (potentially)
2) A local tour guide/local recommendations
3) Help if you need it
Have a great aunt you haven't seen in 5 years? An old college buddy that moved out of state? This is your chance! Call them up, tell them your plans, and see if they (or someone they know) would like to host you for a day or two. You'll end up rekindling an old friendship, and you save loads of money by not staying at hotels and eating out every day.

I mean, assuming your friends aren't cheap and won't charge you for visiting and sharing their cereal. 

Get a national parks pass. If you're going on a road trip through the States, it is pretty much guaranteed that you'll make your way pass/through a national park. Rather than paying the $25 entrance fee at each park you go to, save money by buying an annual national parks pass in advance. Phil and I bought ours at REI for $80, but we are passing through 8 major parks, meaning that we ultimately save money.

Menu plan. Now, not that the idea of eating at every quaint diner in a small town doesn't sound perfectly picturesque, it's just that I'm relatively certain my wallet and stomach would shut down after 4-weeks of eating out every meal. It's not feasible for me to plan on dining out for our whole trip, because I don't have that much money, and I hope to make it to the end of at least one of our hikes. To deal with this, I like to plan to have 1-2 meals a day that I make myself. Keep in mind, my definition of 'meal' is relatively lax, and may involve a bunch of fruit with some cheese and crackers. Even so, having 'homemade' food (aka, from the grocery store) will leave you feeling better and saving you money. Because I'm pretty sure being bloated with cheeseburger grease from that last pit stop while riding in a car for 8 hours straight might be one of the nine rings of hell. Moral of the story is:

1) Plan to go grocery shopping throughout your trip, and shop for groceries before you leave.
2) Try to eat some fruits and veggies during the day, since you'll be sitting immobile for an exceptionally long period of time.
3) Take advantage of local markets and fruit stands on your drive.
4) Eat at least one early morning breakfast sipping a cup of coffee with the local farmers at a tiny diner, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Make sure your server has an accent.

Prepare some good music playlists. So, maybe it's just because I tend to be particularly picky about the music I listen to, but I really hate listening to the radio. Phil differs with me on this point; he finds it particularly road-trip-esq to listen to the radio while you drive. But... I just can't do it. On the flip side, there's nothing worse than listening to that one mix CD you have laying around for 10-hours straight. Solution? Make a group of playlists to alternate between on your trip. I like to make 10-12 independent playlists that are several hours long each, so that you don't get tired of the music you do have to listen to. I really love visiting noisetrade.com for free downloads of full albums, by some really fantastic artists. Other music tips include:
1) Consider implementing a 'driver's pick' rule; this means that whoever is driving get's to choose the music. The passenger can read or sleep or whatever else they want, but the driver only gets to listen to music or chat.
2) Don't rely on Spotify or Pandora for your playlists, as it's very likely that you'll lose connection and end up in silence. 

3) I highly recommend music from these bands, if you're looking for tunes to last your trip. 

Use real maps. I would be stuck in my house for the rest of my life if it wasn't for my GPS. However, I've also been in the unfortunate circumstance under which my GPS dies, leaving me stranded in the middle of nowhere. Beat this problem by going old school - use real life paper maps. Not only are these great souvenirs for the end of your trip, they'll come in handy throughout your trip. Plus, the GPS is likely to only provide the speediest route, leaving out some awesome scenic drives you might want to take instead. 

Don't take things too seriously. If you're taking an extended road trip, you're going to be spending a significant amount of time in a confined space with the same person. It's pretty likely you're gonna get frustrated 48188x faster than normal as a result. During those long driving hours when you're in limbo between destinations, just remember to keep everything light-hearted and fun. Make the best of every situation, and try to avoid arguing and fighting when you're sleep-deprived and experiencing swamp butt.*

*Swamp butt is the oft-experienced road trip phenomenon of having a sweaty butt/pants from sitting in the same seat for a very long time. 

So what's your best road trip advice?
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  1. For someone who hasn't been on a road trip yet, your advice is pretty much spot on. I usually pack a cooler to take in the car with bottled water, juice or whatever your favorite beverage is. To save on eating lunch out, I include a package of dinner rolls for small sandwiches that are easy to eat. Slice them open before leaving; include mustard, mayo, cleaned lettuce in a zip lock bag, lunch meat and cheese and you have the makings of lunch on the road. Include some chips or snacks, a roll of paper towels and you're good to go. Saves money and tastes much better than a gut-bomb from a fast-food place! I also take a small travel pillow in case I want to take a quick nap while Ron's driving!

    Remember to enjoy your trip and see everything that's of interest.

  2. Swamp Butt is literally the term I have been searching for the entirety of my road-tripping life.