For many of us, the holidays will look a little different this year – for the health and safety of ourselves and loved ones, fewer of us will be traveling to spend the holidays with family. However, this year, more than ever, we all need to get away so what better way to make the most of the long weekends coming up this holiday season (besides the Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas and New Years Day are both on a Friday this year providing more opportunities for long weekend getaways) than to grab your partner or closest friend and hit the open road! Below are some of my tips for planning an unforgettable road trip.
Decide where you’re headed
Ideally, your road trip will take you to places you’ve always dreamed of going but considering you’re driving, you also have to be practical. Be open to visiting places you might not have planned to see this year – think about national and state parks or cities in your own or neighboring states. I had the best time exploring my own state of California this year on various road trips that took me from Laguna Beach to Mt. Shasta. The amount of time you have will also have bearing on how far afield you can travel. Be sure to look into COVID-19 restrictions at your desired destination which might cause certain parks or trails to be closed or restrict other activities you’re interested in.
Pick your route carefully
Don’t simply put your start and endpoint in Google maps and follow the route. Think about what you’d like to see along the way and consider more scenic routes such as byways instead of highways and also allow for detours. On a recent road trip from San Francisco to Denver, we decided to take the longer, more southern route to make sure we could visit specific National Parks in Utah which were absolutely extraordinary and definitely worth a visit if you need some inspiration for your own road trip. Also, don’t forget to consider the weather and rush hour traffic and try and find alternate routes or avoid being on the road during bad weather and high traffic.
Plan your stops
With the days getting shorter and shorter and the whole point of a road trip being to see things along the way, I would suggest at most six hours or 400 miles of driving per day which will allow you to drive during daylight hours and gives you time to stop for lunch or to see sights along the way. This should help give you some idea of where to stop but most importantly, make sure you’re excited about where you’re staying. If there is a particular stop (or two) that you’re especially excited about, plan to spend more than a night there. If you only arrive at your stop later in the afternoon after a full day of driving, you likely won’t manage to see the best that it has to offer so give yourself an extra day (or more) in some places. Even if you plan to camp or you have an RV but especially if you plan to stay at a hotel or Airbnb, consider booking in advance or at least research the availability of accommodation in the places you want to stop ahead of time. This is especially important now when some counties are restricting short term rentals or limiting hotels to essential travelers.
I learned the importance of being prepared the hard way – almost running out of gas, no music for miles, no wine on a Friday evening! Here are some ways to easily prepare for your road trip and ensure a stress-free and enjoyable journey.
- Keep an eye on your gas tank and when your tank is half full, check to see where the next gas station is. Especially in the US, there can be many miles between gas stations and the last thing you want to do is run out of gas as you may also have no service (see next point)
- Be prepared to have no cell service so download music, podcasts, and even maps and reservation confirmations ahead of time and also keep a phone charger handy
- Keep snacks and drinks on hand and a trash bag in the car. You may not find great restaurants on the road and stopping for an average roadside meal wastes time so it’s best to keep snacks and drinks in the car to keep you going. Also, as some places are closed or offering limited service because of the pandemic, I recommend keeping a bottle of wine or two handy as we had to do without wine one Friday evening after a long day of driving when the restaurant only offered takeout food
- Carry some cash. I came across a number of places that either had a minimum card spend or didn’t accept cards at all. Sometimes, gas is also cheaper if you pay in cash
- Pack comfortable clothes for a variety of climates. Although it’s often tempting to pack your finest attire when heading on holiday, don’t forget that you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting in the car so comfort really is key (good excuse to take that activewear you’ve been wearing behind your computer all year out of the house). You’re also likely to experience a variety of weather conditions so pack layers. And don’t forget your mask!
I’d love to know if you’ll be traveling this holiday season and if so, where to.