What are your tips for long road trips?
July 5, 2016 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm leaving for an ambitious 2000 mile road trip through eastern Canada later this week. I've been on road trips before, but this one will be the longest. What are your tips for staying comfortable and not bored to tears during long car rides? I have a pile of podcasts to listen to and some company to converse with, but I'm sure that there are things I haven't thought of that can make the trip more enjoyable. Thanks!
posted by Fister Roboto to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Is the point of the road trip to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible? My sister and I drove from upstate NY to California in a small car, and one thing I wish we'd done was turn off the "estimated arrival time" feature on the GPS. Every stop to eat and gas up set the estimated time back farther, but we were only rushing to get to the crappy hotels earlier. I wish we'd taken more time to poke around neat towns and stretch our legs and eat local foods. Look up interesting places to visit that aren't too far off your route and plan to goof off a little.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:23 AM on July 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

If at all possible, go slower and make more stops.
posted by Cosine at 8:24 AM on July 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Rule One: Every time you pass an exit or rest stop or the like, ask yourself "Do I kinda maybe have to go to the bathroom a little bit?" If the answer is anything but "No, not at all," pull in and go to the bathroom.

Rule One Stroke A: Whenever the car stops, everyone gets out. You don't have to go anywhere, but you should at least walk around the car. It will help more than you think.

Rule Two: Check the convenience store for weird locally made snacks before you grab a mass-manufactured sugar/salt bomb.
posted by Etrigan at 8:30 AM on July 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

The crunchiest, freshest snacks you can imagine - which you pull over to consume and prepare. Maybe with a picnic basket. Spend a little time every morning assembling easy things like hummus and celery sticks/carrots/apple wedges/what-have-you (farmer's markets?) and keep an ice-cold cooler in the back for ultimate refreshingness. That 2-kilo bag of trail mix? You'll have two handfuls and never open it again.
posted by mdonley at 8:31 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

//That 2-kilo bag of trail mix? You'll have two handfuls and never open it again.//

Clearly you've never traveled with me!

I think don't be in a rush is the key. Have a flexible enough schedule that you can stop for an hour or two each day if you happen to see a sign for the worlds largest ball of twine.
posted by COD at 8:36 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Audiobooks in addition to the podcasts, because it'll give you a good long narrative to listen to. Like, the first hour after lunch every day you listen to some Terry Pratchett. I like podcasts, but sometimes I need a long throughline to keep my attention.
posted by suelac at 8:37 AM on July 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

As a followup to what I said, I roadtrip a lot and can say one of the most boring ones ever was a 2 day all out non-stop blast from Vancouver to Mexico... one of the most fun ones was the exact same route done over 7 days....
posted by Cosine at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do your podcasts depend on a internet connection and or phone signal? Cause there is zero guarantee that you will always have one. Also, same warning for navigation devices.
posted by Jacen at 8:54 AM on July 5, 2016

I love reading/being read to on long road trips, especially about stuff that's local to the region you're driving through. One time on an interminable trip across Kansas, we picked up some terrific materials from the welcome center & quite happily read about geography, farming, settlement history, wildlife, etc. for hours. And going south through Missouri, we Wikipedia'd our way down the Mississippi River, looking up histories for every town.

Oh, and try to eat/drink at the same time as your travel partner so you can synch up your bio breaks. This leads to fewer, but better, stops.
posted by mochapickle at 8:56 AM on July 5, 2016

I try to find an audiobook that will last the entire trip to keep a thread of story going the whole time. 2000 mile 33 hour trip? The first book of the Game of Thrones series is 33 hours. The first three Harry Potter books are a little more than 33 hours. etc
posted by gregr at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I have road trip advice, it would be to stop and check out any totally bonkers-looking tourist traps you happen to pass signs for along the way. They never fail to liven up a trip!

If you want to get a little pre-planning in there, re: sightseeing, I've had some luck with Roadtrippers and Atlas Obscura for finding some weird, fun little destinations along your route.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:07 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do your podcasts depend on a internet connection and or phone signal? Cause there is zero guarantee that you will always have one. Also, same warning for navigation devices.

Yes! This! I make a point of downloading podcasts/music to my phone to make sure we can listen uninterrupted through areas with no signal. Same thing with downloading maps.

I also like to have a couple anchor points of interest each day. This could be a roadside attraction, a park to do a short hike, a place to eat lunch - something to give us a goal before our stopping location for the night. I second the recommendation for Road Trippers or Atlas Obscura for that.

I also have learned not to have too many snacks, though it can be good to bring breakfast with you. Sometimes we bring a cooler to have chilled drinks/veggies/fruit in the car. This only works if you're staying the night in hotels with ice machines.
posted by kendrak at 9:12 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I drive 2300 miles in 3 days twice a year by myself except for my large dog. Books on tape and podcasts are great. I save up podcasts for this. My sweet dog severely limits my opportunities to explore, plus I just want to get to our destination so my dog can be free of the confines of the car. Mostly, I try to enjoy the changing scenery around me. I don't bother bringing snacks or drinks anymore. Keeping it cool over the days is a pain, plus ready access to food when I'm not physically moving much doesn't make sense for me. I end up boredom eating.
posted by cecic at 9:28 AM on July 5, 2016

Make playlist of singable songs! It's more active than listening to podcasts but more passive than conversation. There will come a time when that particular window is exactly what you need.
posted by platypus of the universe at 9:31 AM on July 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Listen to the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell audiobook! It's the best and 32 hours long iirc.
posted by meijusa at 9:41 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can bring all the music you want, all the podcasts and audiobooks, and (especially with a trip of this length) you'll still probably get sick of some or most of it eventually. I still have horrible memories of a trip I took in 2003 (Philly-NYC, not even very long) where my companion and I could only agree on a Pete Yorn CD, so we just listened to that. I will probably never listen to Pete Yorn again. No matter how much I bring with me, I still find terrestrial radio quite necessary. Look ahead to the radio markets you'll be driving through so you can plan for certain stations and not have to scan the whole dial. OnTheRadio.net has a good overview for the US; you can probably find something similar for Canada. An added bonus is that you'll occasionally come across something unique and local (KDHX in St. Louis is my go-to example).

Personally, one of the hardest things about driving on highways is that I get tired of the physical act of driving (or, more accurately, steering). Freeways are exceedingly boring; you can put on your cruise control and not really do anything for long stretches of time. You just follow the gentle turns in the road and make sure you don't rear-end anything. I much prefer driving on surface streets, where you have to accelerate, decelerate, turn, avoid other traffic, and generally pay more attention to your surroundings. It keeps me engaged. It can get a little overwhelming, though, so I'd recommend alternating between freeways and surface roads if you can.

I will echo others' suggestions to stop frequently. Roadside America is a listing of interesting attractions, and, despite the name, it includes listings for Canada. Likewise, Roadfood is a listing of unique local restaurants. My best suggestion is to find college campuses and stop near there. That's where you'll generally find the most interesting stuff. Personally, I like stopping at bookstores.

Bring something to read. You and your companion will eventually get sick of talking to one another, so it's good to have a book or magazine to read during the times when you just don't feel like conversing. Depending on the magazine, it could actually give you something else to discuss as well.

Keep the toiletries that you use most often (mouthwash, hand sanitizer, lotion, contact solution, etc.) in an easy-to-reach place so that if you need them, you don't have to dig through your bag to find them.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:53 AM on July 5, 2016

Games, audio books, awesome restaurants planned to look forward to, and the most scenic way possible.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2016

It sounds like you've got your bases covered.

Having someone I can have interesting conversations with is the #1 factor in keeping road trips interesting for me (and podcasts can serve as good conversation material). I like to have a small cooler with snacks and sandwich fixings so I'm not at the mercy of the next gas station I encounter for food. I like to get out and stretch my legs every 2-3 hours, although sometimes if I'm on a roll, I'll just keep going.

If you haven't checked out Atlas Obscura, you might see if there are any stops along with way worth seeing.
posted by adamrice at 10:30 AM on July 5, 2016

Stop for gas as soon as your tank is down to half.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have food plans in place and factor in things like holidays, local events, etc.

I did a road trip this weekend which involved driving 300+ miles on the Fourth itself. Stopped for lunch around Pismo Beach, CA, hoping for a fish taco on the beach. Only to find every restaurant closed and the whole town packed for an afternoon Fourth Of July celebration/fireworks show/etc. It would've been $40 just to park the car and continue the search for food on foot.

We ended up getting back on the freeway and driving another 20 miles down the road to eat fast food. Which was fine, but if we'd anticipated Pismo Beach being shut down for the holiday we could have planned better and not ended up hangry in a Walmart parking lot in the middle of nowhere.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on July 5, 2016

If you have a CAA membership (a good idea on its own), pick up free CAA travel guides and road maps for the areas you're travelling through, in case of spotty cell reception. Their travel guides are pretty trustworthy, and will provide some quick info on parks, scenic points, tourist attractions, restaurants, and accommodations along the way. It's the navigating passenger's responsibility to pick out good places to stop.

Games on the road trips have been a lot of fun. One I was given on AskMe here is pretty good, we've dubbed it Cows and Graveyards. Each person/team counts all the cows that pass by on your side of the car, and if you pass a graveyard your count gets zeroed out. Play until the next rest-stop, or play the whole road trip, whichever you prefer.
posted by lizbunny at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: In the morning, I like to decide where we are going to eat dinner. I hate getting to a new town and spending 20 minutes staring at Yelp or OpenTable to find a place to eat. At some point in the morning, I find a locally owned restaurant in our destination town for that day. Once I have a good idea of our arrival time, I might even book a reservation.

It's just so much nicer than wandering around an unfamiliar town trying to find a restaurant when I'm hangry.
posted by 26.2 at 11:17 AM on July 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

I just finished a 1200-mile round-trip vacation with my 10-year-old daughter. It's a trip we've driven countless times before.

This time, I loaded movies on her iPad. That gave her something to watch, and gave me something to listen to (the iPad played the audio over my car's Bluetooth). I *thoroughly* enjoyed listening to the movie audio.

Fastest and most entertaining trip I've ever taken.
posted by the matching mole at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2016

One thing that's also served me well, from Eisenhower: "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything."

Have an idea of where you're going to end up each day and what you want to do along the way, and be prepared to drop those ideas in an instant if you see something more interesting or just don't feel like driving another hour to make it to the hotel you designated.
posted by Etrigan at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Figure out what your driving companions like and want, in terms of music and podcasts, games and pit stops, and food on the road and off. If everyone is happy with days of trail mix, do that. If not, bring some, plus crackers, chips apples, oranges, dried fruit and some candy. If you get beef jerky, make sure everyone is OK with the smell of that brand, because some can be down-right pungent (and I speak from experience).

Road trip games can be fun. We had fun with interstate bingo, and enjoyed bending the rules when we couldn't find a proper "hill" sign or any significant lakes. Of course, you could make your own or play other games that don't require physical pieces.

fingersandtoes: Stop for gas as soon as your tank is down to half.

Or figure out a safe distance to travel on a tank of gas, then figure out where you'd be and check out prices with GasBuddy (it covers Canada and the US). Or look to make the most of bathroom/ restaurant/ sight-seeing stops with good gas pries. Note that you may have to expand the "last updated" option to the maximum to find all prices at local stations in small towns.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:56 PM on July 5, 2016

I finished a 4,000 mile road trip (round trip) last week. There were a few instances of silence, but most of the time was filled with conversation, podcasts, and music.

I have a 7+ hour audio version of a book I like and listening to it took up a good chunk of time too.

We would usually drive until we needed gas, then switch places. And we alternated paying for gas so it worked out pretty even. I had a great time, and I hope you do too!
posted by tacodave at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: If you wear glasses get fitovers (wraparound quality super dark glasses designed to wear outside yours). Even if you have RX sun glasses summertime in the north means many hours of bright horizons your visor can't block.

Also spray-on glasses cleaner & glasses friendly cloth.

We brought a baby-bed-sized fleece blanket, which was just the thing for improving seat comfort. Lumbar support, neck support, hip support, sudden pillow, it does them all.

Several t-shirt rags, a container holding soapy water & another container holding clear water. Yes, you could wait to reach the next rest stop, but do you really want to sit in that melted candy bar for twelve minutes?

Clothing that's great for sitting in -- elastic, loose fit. Ball caps if you want a hat in the car Swim bag with towels, suits, after shoes -- there might be a cool lake to dip in en route.

Air tight trash can.

Before you go, discuss ground rules for handling discord and share car-related peeves. When you're stuck together for the next 1000 miles is not the time to learn that your tapping the steering wheel for seven hours will make your companion throttle you.
posted by Jesse the K at 3:28 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get out of the car every two hours. Stretch, walk around, jog in place if you have to, but move around for a few minutes every couple hours and you'll feel so much better at the end of the day. I got to the point I was keeping track of the elapsed time since the last stop, and if I got to the two hour mark I'd stop at whatever the next stop was, just to walk around. Related: outlet malls are depressing places I never actually need to travel for, and I now know they're never worth stopping for unless I need a driving break. So I'd park at one end, walk to the other, stop to pee on the way back, and drive off five minutes after my arrival.
posted by fedward at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's summer. Try to find somewhere to swim every day, it will feel so good!
posted by mareli at 5:05 PM on July 5, 2016

The license plate game is a great way to pass some time. You can even download apps so that you don't have to keep a paper list.
posted by joycehealy at 5:26 PM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: CBC Radio One is great. Tune in once in a while to hear a little local flavour.

Always check your fuel when that sign says check your fuel. It's not joking. Also check your washer fluid and clean your windshield to fend off bug splats.

Pay attention, mind the sides of the road, and watch for wildlife. Slow down if you see some. Moose will walk into the road in your path. They can kill you.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:21 PM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: I always like to have hard copies of maps, just in case. As noted above, you can't always rely on cell or data services working.

And yes, absolutely make sure you have extra pillows, blankets, etc to make your seat as comfortable as possible. This is especially important for driving. You may think your seat is comfy now, but after 8+ hours, you'll really start to suffer if there isn't adequate support.

I like to have playlists of songs set up before I get in the car. It's a nice change from just listening to a whole album (although that's great too), and it's way better than fussing with trying to put one together on the road.

This is a great ask mefi question where mefites brainstormed some conversation starters for a long road trip.

Also, don't be afraid to go old school for entertainment. Maybe some mad libs? Or one of those old books with various car games?

And I'll nth to stop early and stop often. Don't be a hero. If you feel the slightest need to go to the bathroom, just stop off at the next rest stop. There's nothing worse than needing to go to the bathroom when the next exit is 30 miles away. Not to mention if you get stuck in traffic jams

Make sure you have car chargers for your cell phones.

I know some people prefer not to book hotels in advance, but I've always pre booked my hotel rooms. If you do that, make sure you know the cancellation policy. There will probably be some places you can find who will let you cancel as late as noon on the day you're supposed to check in. That's super convenient if you have to make last minute changes to your itinerary.

I'll also nth making sure you have enough snacks and drinks, especially water.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:41 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is what we do for 24 hours from OKC to Ft. Lauderdale --
AAA road maps and guidebooks: Sometimes road construction or an accident will require going off-route. It's old-school compared to electronic guidance, but it works 24/7.
State travel centers: We usually stop at the travel centers when crossing state borders. The brochures are amusing, and sometimes we do side trips. We also get state maps to compare with the AAA maps.

Sun protection: Sunburn happens. We use screens on the side windows and have visors for back and front windows during rest breaks. This also reduces the interior temperature. We have wide-brim hats and loose cotton shirts, sunscreen and lip balm as needed, and plan rest breaks when the sun is in our eyes. It's hot and buggy down here, so we stay hydrated and bring bug spray and flyswatters. There is a trick to chasing a wasp out of the car in traffic.
The cooler: We pack bagged ice and bring water, drinks and fruit. We pack our own sandwiches and snacks, bread and peanut butter is easy. Trash is not allowed to pile up, especially food wrappers. Travel mugs are better than convenience store containers, especially if they tip over or spring a leak.

Entertainment: The passenger is in charge of navigation, the radio, and picking the movie for the travel DVD player. The driver has seen the movie so it's just white noise when in traffic. I bring books, the husband usually takes a nap or reads the guidebooks. The children have their electronic gizmos.
Bag of Boredom: Kids need distraction, so do adults. A small toy or travel game after the first hour, exchanged for another after the next, gives some variety to the day. And bored children -- and their parents -- can find hilarious ways to repurpose what is at hand.

Comfort: Inflatable neck pillows and lap blankets are good on the road, a closed-cell foam mat or small backpacker's self-inflating mat is good for midday naps at rest areas. Duffles with a change of clothes double as pillows. We have learned the hard way to include bathing suits, towels and plastic bags for unexpected swimming opportunities.
Rest breaks: We usually take short naps at Wal-Marts and McDonald's, since they are clean and may be open 24 hours. Highway rest stops usually mean that one of the adults stays alert while the family rests, then we switch out. If we are carrying scuba gear, everything goes into the hotel room for the night. It's not much, but put dark towels over gear that may be visible in the vehicle, even during bathroom breaks.
Hygiene: Bring cleanup supplies such as baby wipes, bottled water and paper towels. Finding a bathroom at 2 a.m. on a Sunday in the rain may be impossible, so plan ahead. A coffee can, plastic bag and two open car doors can double as a bathroom stall. Bring Imodium-AD.

Vehicle maintenance: one more vote for keeping the tank at least half-full and the windows clean.
Family rules: Everyone is buckled in while the vehicle is moving. No smoking in the car (we don't smoke, but friends and relatives do.) No farting contests (yes, I know who did it.) If you tell a joke and someone sprays food all over the dashboard, you have to clean it up.
posted by TrishaU at 9:54 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

SiriusXM satellite radio, if available for you, can be pretty awesome on road trips, especially if you're alone. It's about $35 for a new receiver and car kit, and $20 for service for 5 months. There is a ton of music, talk radio of all kinds, comedy, and sports. It's a lot easier to flip the channel on a radio than pick a new podcast while driving.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:35 AM on July 6, 2016

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