Summer road trips are a glorious part of American culture. They're celebrated in books, songs and movies.
OK, forget that last one. "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Sideways" are road trip flicks, but they shouldn't dissuade you from heading for the highway this summer with family and friends.
To survive (even enjoy!) a summer jaunt, first do some planning and know your road-tripping style. This applies whether you are traveling with family members, friends or your sweetheart.
a) Move a well-packed car from Point A to Point B, with minimum road time and maximum destination time?
b) Choose a final destination then embrace a serendipitous journey, with summer festivals, impromptu picnics and unlimited road time along the way?
"Finding out what several people want to do and what sights they want to see would be in the planning stages and one of the biggest challenges," says Christie Hyde, spokeswoman for AAA, based in Heathrow, Fla.
You don't want to drive a dozen hours with Sirius and a bird-watching country-music junkie when you love musical theater and the beach. Or make fast-food fill-up-the-gut stops for them, when you thrive on small-town grits-and-biscuit diners.
So hold a "where should we go" discussion. Find out likes and dislikes. Then let the vacation's key planners work out a framework and details (lodging, timing, finances, etc.).
Once a trip is chosen (primarily the destination and route), let fellow travelers seek out fun things to see or do along the way. Incorporate a few into the plan; have a few more on standby.
Remember that a road trip is different from vacations via airplane, Hyde says: "Traveling to your destination is part of your vacation. In the summer, especially, there's a good opportunity to ... see different roadside locations, take detours, take scenic routes."
If you're adventurous and head off a main route for side trips or to wander country roads, make sure you have a good map, GPS or app on your phone just in case you get lost, she says.
As for what to pack, begin with the basics. "If you're a seasoned veteran of road trips, you might be a little more versed in things to take," says Hyde. "But a lot of times people forget. When we remind them, they're like, 'Oh, of course I should take my charger. Of course I should pack some snacks or some water.' They get very wrapped up in 'Let me get my hotel' and 'Let me make sure I pack my swimsuit,' and they forget about everything else."
Pack entertaining diversions geared to the travelers besides iPods and DVDs — consider a deck of cards, game books, etc. Don't forget trivia games and Punch Buggy. Consider impromptu stops for playgrounds/hiking/roadside curiosities (Wall Drug, S.D., anyone?) or an occasional picnic (shop a grocery for sandwich fixings).
And leave space for the simple connection called conversation.
TRIP TO-DO LIST
Here are a few tips culled from AAA, Fodor's and personal experience:
Check the car (lights, wipers, tires, etc.) and its fluids (oil, windshield washer liquid, etc.).
Clean the car (inside and out).
Bring: Maps. GPS navigation device. Apps. Cell phone, charger (in-car charger), earpiece. First-aid kit. Flashlight. Coins for unexpected tolls.
Share your itinerary with friends and family for safety.
Take an extra set of car keys.
Don't overload the car.
Pack fluids for humans (water, juice) and pets (water); have them easily accessible.
Tote snacks plus some picnic items (utensils, paper towels). Also a good idea: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, lightweight plastic bags for trash.
When it's time for diversions, bring a Frisbee, deck of cards, books on tape (but choose those books ahead of time, and get a consensus).
When traveling with kids, let each child have a backpack to fill with books, games, etc.
Try a few rules. Rotate the co-pilot/map-reader seat. Take breaks from electronic devices.
A few Web sites that offer additional information and insight:
AAA (aaa.com) and Rand McNally (randmcnally.com)
Check out diversions at roadsideamerica.com or festivals.com.
Singletons and college kids might want to read "Road Trip Advice and Etiquette" on the Web site of DeAnza College in California. (Go to deanza.edu and type "road trip" in the search field.) Though geared to younger road trippers, there's plenty here for travelers of any age.