Vacations can be glamorous; a five star resort on a tropical island, endless drinks, scantly clad sun tanned bodies, crystal pools and dinners under the stars. But vacations can also be rugged; roaming from place to place, not knowing where you’ll end up, seeing more in one short span of time that some see in a life time. I’m speaking of course about road trips. I recently embarked on an adventure in the American South East, and here are my tips on planning a great road trip.
1. Figure out a destination (or at least a cardinal direction).
West or East? North or South? Choose a region or, if the state is big enough, the whole state. Take climate and season into consideration as well. If it’s winter in New York, drive to Cocoa Beach. Sweltering in Nashville? Maybe drive north, or south to sandy gulf shores. Don’t have a final place in mind? Then just get in your car and drive, see where the road takes you.
2. Decide your focus.
No one really considers this and it is the second most important factor. What are you passionate about? Are you a foodie and you want to eat your way across America, sampling all the finest foods from every subculture? Or are you a music-fiend and want to see every live venue possible? You might be a history buff and want to learn all your can about this country’s history. You might also love chic hotels and scenic views. Either way, decide your focus and make that what you splurge on. Or be a wild child and find a different focus in every city!
3. Decide on a vehicle.
Will yours make it 2,000+ miles? Maybe renting a car will be a wise decision. Even an RV or an airstream can be a fun investment if you’re the adventure or camping type. Either way, make sure it’s reliable and covered by insurance. There are some roads in the U.S. that are hours away from any form of civilization. It’s best to be assured your trusty vehicle will survive.
4. Pack accordingly.
Everyone has over packed at least once in their life, but it becomes even more important while on the road. Pack the car, unpack the car. Haul it up hotel steps, kick it back down. Not to mention, at least a third of the time will be spent in the car where you’ll want to dress comfortably. So choose wisely, pack sparingly but don’t skimp on the essentials, and always pack extra under wear. Also, don’t assume the south will always be 90+ degree weather. Pack a sweater or two for cold hotels rooms or beaches at night.
5. Plan, but not too much!
There are no flights to catch, deadlines or schedules on a road trip, that’s what makes it so free and exciting. If you hear from someone in Atlanta that Savannah is beautiful this time of year, but you were headed to Jacksonville, why not make a pit stop! See everything this country has to offer, but don’t be afraid to deviate from a plan. It’s also ok to cut your road trip short if the weather gets bad, someone gets sick, or you’re just plain tired of moving around!
6. Hotels: Don’t book too far in advance and choose wisely.
This can be the easiest thing in the world, or you can make it the most difficult thing in the world. Let’s make it simple. Are you only passing through a town? Then find a clean inn or hotel for under $90 a night. Are you staying for more than one day? Find a Radisson, Best Western, or Comfort Suites for a good rate (some include free breakfast and pool access). Are you staying on the beach? Find a nicer place to make your stay super special.
Here’s some advice on the beach though. Beach front property is extremely expensive. If you have the money, go for it! If not, why not just stay a block or two from the water and then just walk a few extra minutes to the beach? It will save you loads of money. And don’t forget discounts like AARP and AAA, as well as coupons you may find at rest stops.
7. Decide what to do in each place.
Besides doing some research ahead of time (which is always a good idea), every hotel and every rest stop has tons of information on activities to do in that state. Weed through them and find the ones that don’t look like tourist traps. To avoid tourist traps even further, ask the locals! Hotel concierges, bartenders, taxi drivers; they know it better than you do and probably can have more fun than any pamphlet will tell you. If it’s a small town like Key West or if you’re in the heart of a walking city (think New York, not Los Angeles), just get out there and explore afoot.
7. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path.
I say this with some reservation because some people have no street smarts. We turned off of I-95 one time and stopped somewhere to use the bathroom, and my boyfriend (born and raised in the heart of Brooklyn before it was gentrified) even told me to lock the doors and don’t move till he got out. That place? That’s no where to explore. The low-country of Charleston? Sure, drive off the beaten path. Look at all the beautiful plantations and Spanish moss growing on everything.
8. Take lots of pictures and blast them across social media.
Usually when you go on an international vacation you have to pay a bit more to use your cell phone. While in the United States, you can go crazy! Buy a selfie stick, why not? Tweet it, instagram it, Facebook it. Show everyone how beautiful this country is. You won’t regret having those memories. Then later, you can print them in handy little books like Groovebook and keep them in a photo album.
9. Steal the hotel key cards (and other free stuff).
One day, you will be old. You won’t remember stuff like you used to and having little tokens of remembrance will help when you’re telling your grandson about the time you drove all over the country in a Chevy Malibu which will be vintage by the time he grows up (man, what a scary thought). I always take hotel key cards and pens, as well as paperwork and pamphlets.
10. Take a different way home.
Road Trips aren’t one way adventures. Stop at different places on the way back, or if you missed something, go through again. And there is no rush to get back, home will be there when you get there. If you went with your special someone, the last leg home is always a great time to reflect on the trip, your favorite spots, and what you’ve learned along the way.
I hope this helps any first-time road trippers! Subscribe for more specific articles on the places I’ve visited this past month, from paying my respects to those buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., to discovering all the curiosities Key West has to offer. See you next time!