Surviving a Solo Road Trip

 

Over the past few years, I've taken quite a few solo road trips. If you've been around for a while, you'll know that a lot of my friends live in Canada and I like to visit them. Driving is way cheaper than flying, and honestly, the added bonus about not needing to worry about concise packing is a definite bonus. Taking on a solo road trip might feel a little intimidating, but its totally worth it.

Read on for tips and one traumatic, embarrassing anecdote from a time I wasn't prepared.

A few things before your solo road trip:

Make sure you have a reliable car.

I don't have a car. I live in a city and it is an expense I don't feel compelled to take on. For all four trips from Boston to Canada, I've borrowed a fuel-efficient, reliable vehicle from a parent. Having the peace of mind to know that the car you'll be using is solid and reliable is truly vital to a stress-minimal trip. I got really luck that with each trip, my parents took care of this:

Have your mechanic take a peek.

Bring it in for an oil change and let them know you'll be driving  a few hundred (thousand?) miles and to let you know if they notice anything major. They might not run a full diagnostic, but ultimately they want you to be safe so they might double check to make sure fluids are topped and wheels aren't about to fly off.

 

For the ride:

Bring more snacks than you think that you'll need.

I was once stuck at the Canadian border (crossing back into the US)  for nearly two hours - which is well over what I normally encounter. I was SO glad to have that extra bag of potato chips to keep me company. Packing lots of snacks means that you'll have more control over your hunger when you pop into rest stops. The smell of that greasy slice of pizza or McDoom's fries can be too tempting when you're ravenous and in a rush.

A few of my favorite snack ideas can be found here:

Worry a little less about concise packing.

Look, I do carry-on only for just about every trip I go on... so I always take the opportunity to be a total lazy butthead when travelling via car. I can bring the tall boots or the extra hoodie- because I have the entire back seat to fill up with whatever crap I think I might want. As much as I crave the satisfaction of a bag well-packed, sometimes it's freeing to have sloppy packing trips.

Pick your companions wisely

Yes, we're talking about solo road trips, so I don't mean literal companions. I love bringing Chuck and Josh, Nic Silver, Phoebe Judge, Brian and Hailley, Jenna and Julien -- and many more podcaster voices along for the ride. Stay tuned for an upcoming piece on my favorite long-travel podcasts!

Beverages.

Be mindful of the liquids you consume. I'm so guilty of this, but I have zero plans of changing: drinking a lot of anything might be problematic. I hydrate obsessively and I love coffee and I choose to not stifle that love just because I'm going on a road trip. Since I'm aware that I'm going to need to go to the bathroom..... often.... I compensate by:

Map those rest areas.

On my well-trodden Canadian trail, I do have my favorites memorized, so that takes some of the guesswork out of where and when I'll be stopping. Most major highways with rest areas will warn you as you're coming up on a stop that "x-miles until next stop"- so you can make a proper decision to stop or wait another 76 miles until the next one pops up. Be on the safe side and check before you go. The road I take (once I turn from driving west to driving north) up into Canada had very little infrastructure-- but it does have a Walmart. And that Walmart has a bathroom.

More reading:  Searching for the Best Donuts in Boston

Research cool places to stop between destinations.

This is an area where I tend to fail. I'll be cruising at a good pace, ready to make it to my destination on schedule. Then  I see a sign for something I would really love to see. I'm either forced to skip it or fall behind. I usually opt for skipping and have had serious regrets about missing cool stuff because I failed in this aspect of planning.

Cable hookups

I always keep an extra long charging cable and an Aux cable (so I can plug in my phone for the podcasts). 

Keep your license and registration in an obvious spot.

If you get pulled over, you're not going to have a co-pilot to grab stuff out of the glove box for you. Honestly, its a good idea to always keep that stuff handy, but particularly when you're alone and on a remote highway. You want to put yourself in the best possible position to comply with law enforcement should you be pulled over.

Make sure you have your AAA (CAA) card.

Having that card is a huge load off my mind. We were on a family road trip, split into two cars, and the car I was in started making these awful noises. TL;DR: it was super late, we were pulled over in a remote spot in upstate New York, and AAA really came through.

Pay attention to your gas gauge.

Seems logical, right? Yes... but this dodo (points to myself)... this typically highly detail-oriented and conscientious dodo nearly ran our of gas on a toll road 30 miles from the nearest exit. Clearly I lived to tell the tale, so how did I manage to weasel out of it? I panicked, and with the sheer power of my mind, I manifested a rest stop (with a gas station) on the other side of the highway. Miraculously, I also manifested a cop's sand road linking one side to the other- so I took my chances, pulled through and made it to the pump on fumes. Highly illegal, but whatever.

Communicate.

If you're expected to be somewhere at a certain time, make sure that the person who is expecting you gets your updated ETA as you go. Also, being that you're alone in the car, making sure that someone has an awareness of your movements every once in a while is just a smart safety measure to take. You don't need to call your mom at ever town-line crossing, but check in at rest stops or before you loose service at a country border.


  • Have you taken any road trips recently? Or have any on the horizon?
  • What are the items you absolutely can't go without in the car?
  • Please share any terrible road stories so I don't feel so alone in my embarrassment!

 

More reading:  Picking A(nother) Backpack
Posted in Budget Travel, How To, Inspiration, Story, Travel, Trip Planning and tagged , , , , , .

19 Comments

  1. I can definitely relate to the gas thing. Especially when you’ve got a good podcast going! Good for you for taking the time to enjoy the road — I tend to buckle down and try to get it over with!

  2. Yes!! This is such an insightful article. Some of these points may seem obvious or too simple but all of them are so important. Thank you for putting this together 🙂

  3. I take lots of solo road trips and these are really useful tips, thanks for sharing them! As you, l’m so lazy at packing properly and carefully when traveling by car ahaha

  4. This is a great guide! I don’t know how to drive so I can’t go on a solo road trip, but I love them if someone else is driving. I like the suggestion to look for interesting places on the road. And I hear you about mapping rest stops!

    • I’ve had to drive past so many cool and beautiful spots on trips because I didn’t plan (so many missed Instagram opportunities!! lol

  5. I love your tip about podcasts! I’m an avid podcast listener as well — love Josh and Chuck! One of my favorite solo road trip memories was when I was in Iceland and had the Myths and Legends podcast playing. I learned about Vikings and other Icelandic folklore as I drove the Ring Road. The podcast just amplified my experience!

    • Ahh so cool! Do you have any other favorites? I love most of the Stuff podcasts because they’re usually “light learning” opportunities… it almost tricks me to learn something new lol.

  6. When I was still working as a journalist in South Africa, I spent many hours alone on the road. In a country where safety is not always guaranteed, I’m grateful that I only had positive experiences. Having a reliable car and someone who knows when you are expected where helps a great deal to calm any anxiety. Your tips are all spot-on.

    • It’s so fun! You can always start small and see how you like it. I always recommend trying to travel somewhere in your home country first (so at least that way there will be no real language/culture barriers to work through) before going abroad. Travelling solo is so rewarding 😀

  7. .. Oh yes, nothing is more important than picking a good car!
    While I agree with all your points, keeping that aside, your post has actually motivated me to take that solo trip for once!! Thanks 🙂

    • Aw yay!!! I love doing the solo road trips a few times a year… helps clear my head a little to have so much down time. Have fun and let me know if you writ about it!

  8. I never did a solo road trip, maybe because subconsciously I feel it has so much management to do. But thanks to your tips, I have courage now! I love the idea of extra snacks and beverages and yes the freedom to carry all the extra pair of clothes as I like 🙂

  9. This is a great post about preparation of a road trip. I think the gas gauge and communication tips are ones that are so important! I have been solo road tripping for a while and I have a friend that was concerned about taking one on her own. I just sent her your blog and I also shared another good read with her about other considerations of whether solo road tripping was right for her. https://www.thewanderinggigi.com/blog/2018/5/2/is-solo-road-tripping-right-for-you
    Looking forward to reading more from you!

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