As I've candidly admitted in the past, my enthusiasm for road trips is dismal. I'd rather go to a cat fashion show hosted by golf commentators than sit in a car for more than 45 minutes. However, being an avid traveller and professional travel writer means that I have little choice but to submit to long drives on a semi-regular basis, so I was thankful for the opportunity to dig deep, beyond the obvious, for US road tripping tips.
Road trips in the US have a unique set of pros and cons. Distances are staggering/demoralizing, roads are luxuriously wide, turns are lazily subtle, and some straight-aways are so long that you can literally drive for hours with the seat reclined, a pinkie on the steering wheel and both feet out the window. (Editorial note: Do not do this.)
While fighting off Road Hypnosis may be the biggest challenge in these conditions, odour control isn't far behind, particularly on weeks-long road trips. Travel writer and editor Paul Brady and a colleague did a ten-week, 30-state tour around the US in 2011.
'Luckily we were relatively (and perhaps surprisingly) well-showered, so there was no need for a no-shoes-off rule or any similar body odour suppression systems,' Brady reported. As for food, Brady was one of many to sing the praises of quick, easy, inoffensive jerky. Also, 'No chips in the car before lunch,' he added. 'Chips smell terrible.'
On the subject of drinks, Brady stands by the tried and true cooler. 'You'd be surprised how long an ice chest can stay frosty. Bonus: Arriving with a crate of cold beer is a fantastic way to make friends on the road.'
Freelance writer Jenna Schnuer is currently on a six-month US road trip, including a two-month jaunt into Alaska. As a solo female road tripper, Jenna's road tripping rules required slightly elevated safety measures. 'I make a point of talking to people at campsites so people know I'm there. Also just to meet people.' Her biggest rule is if she feels unsafe, even if it means discomfort, even if it means losing money on a paid-for room, she will leave immediately.
Schnuer also divulged her favourite packing hack, giant ziploc bags. You can see at a glance what's inside each bag, they're lighter, easier to get in and out of the car and squishable. The best part is they make the car look like a vagrant's car, thus less likely to be broken into, because Hobo Law clearly states that vagrants cannot steal from other vagrants.
Her best driving advice actually came from a forgiving state trooper after being stopped for accidentally speeding while admiring the view. Use your cruise control, he advised. When you're looking out the window at beautiful things, it's easy to step too hard on the gas.
The six-man music group Rust Belt Lights, from Buffalo, NY, are currently touring the country in a 23-foot RV. Six adult males - musicians no less - in such a confined space could easily devolve into a hazmat situation in a matter of days without a variety of sanity and peace-keeping rules. Some of the most important (printable) items include: 'No excessive song surfing. No going "number 2" in the RV, also no stopping for "number 1s." No feet on pillows. If you are driving at night, wake someone up and ask them to get you a drink. Don't leave the steering wheel to run to the fridge. (This has happened.)'
Finally, since everyone loves a punchy bullet point list, and since so many people were kind enough to answer my social media call for US road trip tips, I've included a few choice comments.
- Tell no locals your nationality, unless you want to hear how their great grandmother once went on holiday there. 'You're Scattish? I'm Scattish too! My uncle owned a Scattish Terrier, so we're basically related, right?'
- If you're driving, no texting or tweeting unless the parking brake is on.
- The success of a road trip is measured by the number of 9/10 empty bottles rolling around on the back seat. Extra points for variety, pungency and unlikeliness of landing position.
- It's not a proper road trip unless you hear REO Speedwagon at least twice a day while tuning the car radio.
- Using an app to log your fuel stops not only helps to calculate miles per gallon, but is also a broad indicator of the car's health.
- If you're over the age of 14 and fart in the car, you're not funny; you're just an a**hole. The fart itself, however, is funny.
- Don't wear a souvenir state t-shirt until you're at least two states away from where it was purchased.
Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and polyglot. He’s visited 48 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.
For more tips and tricks to help the miles sail by, check out our Road Trips page.