Tips for first-time roadtrippers
June 29, 2006 4:24 PM   Subscribe

My SO and I are driving from Minneapolis, MN to Southern Virginia to visit my folks the first few weeks of August. We've never been on a road trip before. What should we know? What should we bring? Specifics inside.

We haven't mapped out the course, so I'm not looking for interesting attractions just yet. We plan to take two or three days each way. Specifically, I'm looking for a) software, programs, maps, etc., that are helpful in planning a route and staying on course; b) what to bring along (change for tolls, being an example), and any other tips/tricks/wish-you-had-knowns for the drive. We'll most likely be seeking out motels along the way as opposed to camping, though we're not adverse to camping. (At least, he isn't.) We have about a week and a half to two weeks to do this in.

Thanks for any advice!
posted by Zosia Blue to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not something to bring, but something to consider, is when planning the trip know where you will be at what time. By that I mean avoid major cities at rush hour. Chicago especially. If the drive is just to get there, I would consider getting up each morning at 3 am and putting in some early morning hours. Best time to be on the road. Even if you plan on taking in the sights, you can drive 8 hours and still have the afternoon to look around.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:44 PM on June 29, 2006


Audio books - and if you have an iPod or two, so much the better. We drove for nine hours and listened to David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day and Freakanomics and it was awesome.

As for maps, I would get one of each state either ahead of time or when you get to the border -- that way if something ginormously awful happens, you have an actual map to use to get around it if you don't want to sit on the interstate. And you're not dependent upon getting your cellphone to work in order to get you directions.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:58 PM on June 29, 2006


When we've done road trips, we've brought a cooler with drinks, sandwiches, fruit, snacks so that we don't have to stop and eat fast food along the way.
Definitely seconding the books on tape/CD/mp3. We went to the public library before our last trip and found some great books on CD there. (not that I'm telling you to do something illegal like rip them to mp3 or anything).
posted by j at 6:08 PM on June 29, 2006


I know it may sound obvious, but if your car is a little older get it serviced before you go. Speaking from experience, you'll wish you had when your clutch dies and you're in the middle of nowhere.
posted by cholly at 6:08 PM on June 29, 2006


And we also got the cheapie unlimited Cingular data package (not the laptop one!) for a week and through bluetooth, used the cell phone as a modem to hook up to our Mac and we were able to surf the net while driving! That was awesome sending email from the road.
posted by j at 6:13 PM on June 29, 2006


Rand McNally's Web site has some interesting trip planning features, including options for routings that are shortest, or fastest. The difference in mileage for shortest routes are significant for trips of more than a few hundred miles, and that translates into significant fuel and cost savings. The "fastest" routes generally stick to Interstate routes and National Defense Highways as much as possible, and always route around cities, regardless of time of day. Generally, the "fastest" routes require less recognition of road signs and directions on the ground, but are duller and less likely to bring you into contact with local color. Hit the "advanced options" link from the main Web page to select your various choices for alternately optimized directions...

Another thing I like about Rand McNally is that they employ people who routinely drive major routes noting way point changes, and updating the database systems that drive their mapping applications. Thus, I find that Rand directions tend to be more "real world" than other companies who rely on third parties for waypoint and signage updates.

You can, for a fee, also print high res maps of your route, once you've tinkered it to your satisfaction; if you're really venturing off into the boonies on county roads, and local thoroughfares, this is necessary.

Me, I like the blue highways.
posted by paulsc at 6:21 PM on June 29, 2006


Seriously, if you or a friend have AAA, go down there and get a "triptik" for your trip. It is a series of maps tailored to your trip at that time, and they have access to whether or not there is construction or road closings that they will put on your personalized maps. They have saved me so much trouble over the years with all of my roadtrips. :)

P.S. The maps also mark rest stations, which are blessings on a long roadtrip.
posted by mercurysm2 at 9:15 PM on June 29, 2006


car tune up! and not just if it's old. make sure you've had the oil changed lately, check your fluid levels, tire pressure, get new windshield wipers if you need them, etc.

i always take granola bars with me on the road, in case i get hungry but am not in a good place to stop. also, bottled water.

car charger for your cell phone. change for tolls. and definitely check the weather where you're headed. virginia has web cams set up along several of the major highways to help you gauge traffic and weather conditions.
posted by geeky at 9:51 PM on June 29, 2006


AAA is sooooo worth it for road trips. They'll plot out your journey for you, give you guide books for every state or sub-state region you'll be passing through, unlock your car if you lock your keys inside, tow you if you are stranded and broken, change your tire on the side of a busy interstate, and get you discounts at thousands of hotels and attractions.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:14 PM on June 29, 2006


There's not much to worry about, and that's the beauty. Once your car's in good shape, just bring some music, some change for tolls, some food, and an atlas. Sing a lot. If you don't want to spring for an atlas, stop at an information center every time you cross a state border and pick up a map.

When I was growing up my dad used to drive me nuts by planning every hour of our family road trips. Now I drive him nuts by refusing to plan more than a destination.
posted by amery at 11:02 PM on June 29, 2006


All I have to say is that my girlfriend read to me while I was driving on a long car trip, and it is one of the fondest memories I have.
posted by team lowkey at 12:41 AM on June 30, 2006


All great advice so far - thank you! We don't have Triple AAA, but that was going to be one of my sub-questions. I'll be getting that, for sure.

And team lowkey, in shorter road trips (four hours), I read to my SO until my voice gave out. Thanks for reminding me - it's definitely something I'd like to do again.


A car charger's a great reminder, too. Something I would've forgotten, for sure.
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:51 AM on June 30, 2006


If you eat meat, bring jerky. If you don't eat meat, bring tofurkey jerky. In neither case should you forget it in your glove box after the trip.
posted by COBRA! at 5:35 AM on June 30, 2006


Once you plot your route, post on your blog (or here) for info about places to stop, places to stay, etc. Not attractions, but travel advice. When I blogged about my last road trip, I was given the location of sparkling clean bathrooms (my friends know me well, I have issues about that) and parks where my kids and dogs could romp for a little car time-out (also a nice break for adults) and vegetarian and veggie-friendly eateries (a welcome change from salads at chains) none of which I'd have ever found without the tips from people who had first-hand knowledge.
posted by Dreama at 7:18 AM on June 30, 2006


I chorus the atlas/state map advice. Not only will it get you out of trouble if (when) electronic directions fail, it is empowering to create your own route like the pioneers such as our fathers did two score years ago. Plus, an atlas is the coolest thing to lose yourself in when you're in the passenger seat.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 7:39 AM on June 30, 2006


recommend AAA. haven't used it yet, but the triptiks are cool, and it's nice to know that it's there if i need it.

lots of good suggestions on what to bring. i'll add one: wet wipes, for cleaning up.
posted by lester at 7:52 AM on June 30, 2006


You'll be going through Chicago, yes? Unless this is a one-time only thing, I recommend getting an I-Pass. It's $10 for the transponder itself, plus an initial $40 payment which goes into your account and will go towards the tolls. But it only takes a few times through Chicago to pay for itself (they charge twice as much if you pay in cash as they do for I-Pass users), there's no fumbling for change, and many of the toll booths are in the process of being converted to "open tolling" plazas where I-Pass users don't even have to slow down. (At the ones that aren't converted yet, I-Pass users have to pass through at a low speed, usually 5mph or 15mph depending on the booth. But even then it's still faster than having to stop at the toll booth.)

I live in the Indianapolis area and only drive through Chicago three or four times a year, and it's still totally worth it. It's not just for Chicago-area residents. It does take a few weeks after you order one to get it, so be sure to allow time.

I do a lot of solo road-tripping, and want to add my voice to the recommendation for audiobooks--they really do pass the time faster than music. Of course, there's times I want to listen to music too, so have a variety.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:16 AM on June 30, 2006


Don't eat fast food, it'll make your hands smell funny.

And you've been warned about the road pirates, right?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2006


and one more piece of advice: avoid chicago this year. there is major road construction on interstates 80, 90 and 94 this summer--all routes that are necessary for going south of lake michigan. it will be slow, even during non peak times.
posted by lester at 10:58 AM on June 30, 2006


To follow up on lester's comment, if you do want to avoid Chicago, take 39 South from Rockford, IL to Bloomington/Normal, IL, then 74 East from Bloomington/Normal to Indianapolis. It's only about a half-hour longer than going through Chicago-when-traffic-is-good, and can be an hour or more shorter than Chicago-when-traffic-is-bad.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:24 AM on June 30, 2006


Oh, man, thanks for all the Chicago advice. That's the part of the drive I was dreading the most. Thanks for the alternate route, DevilsAdvocate. We'll work that into our route as we plan it, I think.
posted by Zosia Blue at 2:03 PM on June 30, 2006


Another tip: Since you really have some time to take this trip, I don't think you should book hotel rooms in advance. This will give you the ability to be spontaneous if you learn about somewhere you'd like to stop after you already hit the road. It will let you avoid areas you decide you'd rather not go. Af the very worst, you may have to drive for an extra hour or two to find a place to stay if all the hotels in one area are booked up for some event or other. But it's really worth it to have the freedom to change your mind.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:19 PM on July 2, 2006


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