Road Trip Readiness

Road Trip Readiness

My first visit to epic New Orleans for the annual Jazz Festival is fast approaching (from a snap decision I made a week ago) and I’m already full steam ahead with having it planned out. Not the time in NOLA itself mind you, I’m not much for planning in that respect and generally prefer to fly by the seat of my pants (there’s nothing I hate more than a guided tour of ANYTHING). But all the prep stuff and the actual travel logistics?? Yeah, I’m all over that.

Here’s the breakdown:

-Departing at 5:00am Monday morning.
-Chicago, IL to Hot Springs, AR --> about 11 hrs, 700 mi., $85 in gas
-Picking up a friend in Hot Springs, switching cars.
-Hot Spring, AR to New Orleans, LA --> about 8 hrs, 470 mi., $80 in gas
-3 nights, 3 days in NOLA
-Depart NOLA Thursday afternoon, back to Hot Springs, SLEEP.
-Friday morning drive back to Chicago.

As I’ve done this road trippin’ stuff more than a few times, I figured I’d share some of my tips.

The Vehicle
If you’re driving your own car, which most of us are, I always like to get an oil change and check up before I head out (although this can depend on trip mileage and when your car is due), and I like to get this done with my car guys here in my hometown who I know and trust. Vehicle failures on the road can mean having to rely on whatever mechanic is nearby when you have a problem, and I can tell you from experience this can mean big bucks for the (sometimes unnecessary) work.

Maps & Route
Yes, I know, GPS!!! But I love paper maps, always have. I have the big unfolding type of maps for the states around IL that I frequent – IN, WI, and MI - plus a few other odds and ends from places where I’ve spent a lot of time or lived. But I also keep an atlas of the US in my car; it’s about the size of a 8.5” x 11” notebook, so it’s not ridiculously huge. And while that also means it’s not excessively detailed, I’ve always gotten by on the highways & roads it covers, which is generally more than enough.

Do yourself a favor, have a map on hand. While GPSs can be great, they still contain an element of unreliability because they are technology – so, if the battery dies, the unit can’t get a signal, etc., and that’s all you’ve got, you’re pretty much screwed. The last thing you want is to take a wrong turn, end up in the backwoods, and have to rely on some Deliverance-style folks for directions. Eeek!

This trip I’m giving AAA TripTik a test run for route planning and directions. This is a great little app I discovered because I despise MapQuest (let’s be honest here, they mess up directions 9 out of 10 times).

You start out on the TripTik website by inputting start/destination and selecting a route to get time & mileage estimates. Once you’ve created a drive you’re happy with, you can save the trip and send it to the matching AAA app on your iPhone or Android device (I still print out a copy of the actual directions, just in case). Once it’s on your phone, you now have your map, directions, AND here’s the bonus, a lovely display along the way of things like gas stations, places to eat, hotels & their ratings, etc. It’s all right there for you. How fantastic right?!? We’ll see if it lives up to expectations…..

Speaking of AAA, I highly recommend using them for some kind of road coverage, even if it’s basic. It’s a small price to pay for large piece of mind, and the AAA guys will come out and help you with anything, anywhere in a reasonable amount of time (I’ve known friends using generic options for a tow and waiting 5+ hours). I’ve used them for about the last 15 years and they’re always super helpful.

Personally I have a fair amount of experience with packing for the road as I used to spend 10-day periods traipsing about the country chasing storms in a van. Road trip packing is, to me, fairly different than packing for a trip involving flights. I mean, you’ve got your whole car instead of an FAA regulated amount of space to pack stuff in!

But this is also your greatest enemy – you’ll find yourself saying “oh I can just toss that extra pair of shoes in the car….,” and suddenly it’s taking you 5 or 6 trips back and forth to load your car. I highly advise still trying to pack as light as possible because ultimately you’re always going to be better off having a minimal amount of stuff to babysit.

Road Trip Stuffed Car

There’s also the subject of packing food for the drive. As a kid, my family took a fair number of little road trips up into MI and WI ranging from 4-6 hours. We always packed our lunches and had a “snack bag” for the trop. Also, figuring I’m going to be eating out for the majority of my time in New Orleans, I’d just assume save the money and postpone the junk food fest, so there will definitely be a cooler and a snack bag to cover at least the first 11 hours to Hot Springs.

Whatever you do, DON’T FORGET THE ENTERTAINMENT! For me, a road trip wouldn’t be any fun whatsoever without a soundtrack. And maybe the occasional audio book, which I highly recommend for long driving trips to break things up a bit.

Since we’re mostly using mp3 players or our phones these days, keep in mind that if you’re using electronics for entertainment to have the chargers handy. Depending on the length of your trip and the battery life of your device, it’s highly unlikely that anything is going to make it through a significant road trip, especially if it is your phone and you’re also using it for calling (remember your Bluetooth or headset!), texting (don’t text and drive!), or maps/GPS (just pull off the road altogether).

Most importantly though, don’t forget your caffeine. When you get hit with one of those little post-lunch slumps or a mid-afternoon sleepy spell, caffeine comes in as a real life saver. Some people like to overload on coffee or energy drinks, but personally I’ll take those little pure caffeine pills over that other stuff any day, simply so I can get the energy boost without all the calories and/or chemicals. And I only take them when I really need them, keeps me from getting antsy & shaky.

The sleepy periods and occasional monotony of long drives are certainly a downside to road trips, but personally I love the adventure and getting to see random bits of America that I would otherwise miss (not to mention the monetary savings and flexibility of driving).

Still, these long drives aren’t always for everyone….I know someone who falls asleep if he’s in the car alone for more than an hour or so. If this is you, probably best to start investing in plane tickets.

Are you a road warrior? Any tips you want to add in the comments section are always welcome!

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