Tips for an epic road trip

Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada
Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada Getty Images

You’ve packed your bags and loaded your family and gear into the car. Now you’re off.

Where to, exactly? Well, that’s negotiable. When you embark on a real road trip, all that’s required is a rough idea of where you’re going and how long you’ll stay. The magic is the spontaneity this type of trip affords you.

If you stick to the script, that’s perfectly fine. But if you end up on an unexpected adventure, that’s OK, too.

To get the most out of the journey, however, it does help to plan ahead. You might get lost in the Black Hills of South Dakota on the way to the Corn Palace, but you’ll be better equipped to handle it if you have the right gear and the right attitude.

If you’re prepping for a summer road trip, here are eight rules you should adhere to for maximum fun and adventure.

1. Check for major conventions and events before you leave. Summer is the perfect time for a road trip, yet it’s also the perfect time for huge events and conventions. Before you embark on a journey with the tentative plan of finding a hotel in a major city, make sure there aren’t any huge conventions or events planned.

If there are, you could pay out the nose for a room or, worse yet, find that everything is sold out.

2. Make sure your car is in good working order. Or rent one. Your car might be great for trips to the grocery store, but is it ready to trek thousands of miles over the course of a few weeks? If you’re unsure, take it in for a tune-up or inspection.

If you’re on the fence about it, consider renting an economy car on the cheap. It’s better to spend money for a car (whose wear-and-tear repairs would all be covered by the rental company) than spend money on a tow truck.

3. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Long road trips in the middle of nowhere can leave us all crabby, but especially the kids. (Crabby kids make for crabby adults, by the way.) Throw a lack of food and drink into the mix, and you have a potential nightmare on your hands.

4. Stay connected to the web. It’s normal to want to leave your cellphone at home, but we caution against it. Even if you’re annoyed by e-mail and need a break, you could wind up needing to call for help or access Google Maps if you get lost.

5. Bring an atlas. Speaking of maps, you need to bring a paper atlas along for the ride. If your electronics fail and you get lost, you’ll be glad you did.

6. Learn to play license plate poker. Part of the fun of road trips is learning how to entertain yourself. Bring a deck of cards. Play license plate poker, a game where you choose license plates and play your best “poker hand.”

Or play “I Spy,” where you look for items that match a called-out color. You’ll have hours of fun, and the kids will barely notice how the time flies.

7. Leave some free time in your itinerary. The best part about a road trip is having the license to go off the beaten track. For this to work, however, you need some “free time” built into your plans. While there’s nothing wrong with having a set list, make sure you leave some extra time to be spent wherever the wind (or the road) takes you.

8. Get off the freeway. At least part of the time. Some of the most beautiful towns and sights in the country are far off the beaten path. So get off the freeway and see where that path takes you. That’s what road trips are for, right?