7 Tips for a Road Trip

7 Tips for a Road Trip

estDoes the thought of a Road Trip, across unknown horizons boost your adrenalin and make you feel heady? If so, then you are one of those for whom a Road trip brings an ultimate satisfaction. Yu are one who looks forward to take that road trip. A Road trip is absolute fun and is one of the most convenient mode of travel. AT least, for me !!  🙂 Road trips let you choose, based on your preferences. They spice up your travel plans with the very necessary freedom, freedom from the constant threat of running behind preset time lines. I absolutely love road trips which somehow provides me the satisfaction of being a traveler. It urges me to chart my own destiny, it’s like discovering new places and meeting my own flock of people. You can follow your heart, feel independent, feel unshackled.The liberty of pacing your trip as per your convenience, at your own will, stopping at that nook and freezing that great pic, a pic that brings back happy memories in years to come leaves you satisfied. And in doing so, you are no more a tourist, but instead you have metamorphosed as a traveler !! Does a road trip suit your kind of travel ? Will it be as enriching or satisfying as your past travels have been? Here are 7 Tips for a Road Trip, tips that will help you in planning an ideal Road trip

I have till date taken road trips on three different continents. In the US, we drove our way from San Francisco, through Yosemite to Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It was a distance of about 1100 Kms in about 8 days. In Europe, I undertook a couple of trips. The first was around Slovenia, Austria, Croatia and finally back to Slovenia ( You guessed it !!
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We had to bring the car back to the same country !!). The second was from Bratislava to High Tatras in Slovakia and finally into Budapest, Hungary. Here, in Middle East, it was one arduous journey across desserts from Dubai to Salalah, Oman in the sweltering heat of 46 degrees C during July. A recent one was around Nepal.

7 Tips for a Road Trip

Road trip usually implies a long distance journey with a car or an automobile. Though I guess rail-trips across Europe is also pretty common and has its own advantages, but that would have its own methods of planning. A trip on the road invariably implies  you to plan your route, destinations and stops. It also means planning for some unforeseen exigencies along with constraints, and being aware of the environment around you. Exhilarating as it may seem, a successful road trip needs to go through some elaborate planning and preparing with some logical and methodical precautions, having lots of absolutely binding dos and don’ts to follow all through out your Road trip. I have listed below 7 Tips to Plan for a Road Trip from my own experiences.

Map of Europe Tour Plan - 2 weeks
Europe Tour Plan – 2 weeks : Sep 2015

Know your geography well.
The key to plan a successful Road trip starts with knowing the Geography well. You need to know well about where you are travelling, the country, the state or region and its neighboring states. You need to identify the main spots that you want to visit and then plot a map of the destinations. I guess the biggest question to yourself first should be ‘How favorable is nature’? Will it be rainy weather or is it the desert sun ? Should you expect snow on the road or do you feel you need to cross shallow streams or mud banks? These are some of the big questions. you start making a check-list of. Are you travelling through meandering mountainous roads or are you along a highway, is it an interstate? Would you be travelling across cities or is it a drive in the wilderness of the tundra? Are you planning your trip on a two-wheeler or an automobile ?  The easiest way to know your geography well is to use Google Maps. Here is one of my most planned travel map and you can have a look. 

 

You also need to know more about the roads and infrastructure of the region or the country. Developed countries. as in Europe, usually have asphalt roads well-marked, and driving seems like a cake, whereas a drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara will take you over pot-holed and bumpy roads as soon as you leave Narok and you need to hold on to your seats as the outdated SUV makes its way to the Mara forest..

A break in the wilderness, Masai Mara
A break in the wilderness, Masai Mara

 

Once you have plotted your tentative route in a map, you need  to calculate and understand the distance between your stops and night halts and then estimate the time span involved from commuting from point A to point B. This is very important for your trip, as you should go for an optimum level of balance between travel and sightseeing. During my road trips, while figuring out my plans and stops from one location to another, I use a max distance of 350 kms (four to five hours’ drive time at an average) when I zeroed in on my stops and night halts. Now though this appears be a few hours, it ultimately becomes a  seven to eight hour trip when you accommodate tea/coffee/ meal breaks and roadside interruptions for the special photo. On an average day of local sightseeing I usually drive around 150 to 200 kms max. I prefer to split this into a minimum of two attractions with an hour’s break at each spot. 




 
Give attention to the terrain and the weather.

A lot depends on the terrain and the weather. Certain routes in Yosemite are accessible only during a few months of the year. In some roads you need to use chains in your wheels. Thus your terrain and the season or weather plays a vital role. especially for mountain destinations and wildernesses. Thus you need to adjust for distances, driving speeds and weather when you need to accommodate for snow, hail and ice.  Weather always has a big influence of any trip, and during all your travels it is also one of the first factors to consider.




Iceland, which is situated close to the arctic circle has most of the highlands closed from November through June. They are accessible only during the summer months from June to November. Driving along the golden route in Iceland in summer is entirely different from driving along the same route in winter  Most of the mountainous roads will allow a max driving speed of around 50 kmph, This entirely changes your plans and schedule when compared to driving flat terrain which allows max speeds of 90 kmph and more for interstate highways.. An hours rain in the Masai Mara forest converted a narrow brook into a gushing stream and stopped me entering the inner most core area of the forest for that day. Here is my latest post from Iceland Travelogue

Redraw  your route and book in advance

So now that you have a fair idea of the Geography, distance, weather and the terrain you have zeroed on the locations where you are travelling. You have by now plotted your maps, you need to check if the route planned is the shortest one. This saves your planned leave days and money spent on gas, food, accommodation and car rental. The first check is to look at your map and see if you are travelling to the same location twice? It doesn’t help to travel to and fro from the same location twice and makes it redundant while all the time adding to your route overhead. The ideal is to halt for a couple of days if the location has multiple attractions and deserves the additional number of days. In case of situations where you need to travel back the same route, is better to stay at a different town, which can be close to the other one.

While travelling around Utah and Nevada, we stayed a day each at Lake Powell, North Rim and then drove across south rim to reach Phoenix. This gives you more places to see and a richer experience to treasure. This is also the time that you need to close on your accommodation bookings. Though some travelers opt to arrive without a booking in advance, I prefer to pre-book. The reason is that when I plan to travel foreign shores, I allow myself and family the comfort of knowing the accommodation / place in advance that I’ll be staying, especially since I travel with my wife and now teen daughter. I also prefer to have a kitchenette available, so that I do not need to pay through my nose for some coffee / tea and small snacks during our stay. It also usually gives a better deal if booked ahead and you can make a few reservations which aren’t available on the spot. Example ? I stayed at Hotel Super 8 at Anaheim, Los Angeles  and the beauty of the hotel is that though it is a decent 10 minute walk to Disney land, there are two rooms at the hotel which allows open viewing of the Disneyland fireworks from the hotel. I was provided free by booking ahead and putting in small request. Beat that !! 🙂

Renting your car.

Once the plans are  in place, comes the practical implementation. Now you have purchased your flight tickets and so need to zero in on your next step : that of renting ya car. You have too many choices here but you need to do it right. There are quite a few established car rentals, and the one that I prefer is RentalCars . You can search based on size, technical specs and space. Always remember : add the complete insurance coverage. It adds some dollars to your cost but relieves you from worry, and time spent in pursuing insurance companies, cops, and the effort of documentation. I had bumped the rear of my Chevy at a wood stump bordering a dark narrow lane near Yosemite Park. The bump , a very non-conspicuous mark was a nagging worry during the first phase of my trip across Western US, but then became a complete relief when I was only made to sign a document stating that I was driving when the bump happened and not Uncle Sam. No more questions asked, no credit card charges, no interrogation by the police, no running across from pillar to post! Whew !!

The second consideration while renting your car is the max no of passengers. I always choose a car which seats one more than your party size. It allows for the extra bag and luggage that you may need to keep handy inside. In some routes even an RV or a camper-van may be a good option. Iceland is one, US is another. These countries have lots of  of trailer parks with shower and camping facilities.  Thus renting a camper-van or an RV can be a good option. Whether it suits you or not is again your call.

Selecting your days:

Once you have decided on your route/ car and travel schedule, the next important point to be aware of are about your days of the week. Do not plan to pick up a car on a Sunday or on a national holiday, neither to drop off the car. The reason is that the car rental offices also stay closed mostly, especially for the not-so-big cities, and it becomes problematic unless you are picking and dropping off at an international airport.Once you have rented your car you need to calculate two things in particular. Firstly the Kmpl usage for the car the and have a fair idea of the Plan for your gasoline .

In case you are flying into a busy city as your initial destination, do not pick up a car at once. The reason is that in an unknown large city its a challenge to navigate the busy roads and traffic. Something like a Big Bus tour for the first couple of days helps  I had followed this logic when I landed at San Francisco to begin my West Coast tour. Another tip to remember, a seven day rental usually work out cheaper than a six day one.

 

Maps and Local SIM Card – Essentials

Maps needs to be handy. It can be an official travel map  or it can be the printed Google ma. For me I have found no need to buy maps. Google Maps is one of the best option but to use while on a tour. But here you need to have a data package and so a sim card. Use a local Sim card when you are travelling, especially to US and Europe instead of roaming. It saves money !!! I  use a dual-sim phone. I plug the local sim card into one and use one of my home country sim into the other. Easy eh ?

If you use a local data package and have Google Maps installed in your phone, driving becomes easy. You need to switch on your location. The downside ? Phone are becoming more powerful everyday and you need a Charge Bank to juice you up .

One more thing. There are a few Apps available in the market today which you can use for driving without a sim card , depending only on your GPS location. One of them is HereMaps. Absolutely accurate, it also beeps when you break the speed.

Going Digital.

As most travelers know, travel also includes capturing moments and locales. Travelers live for the experience and the knowledge that it brings and enriches their lives. Traveling opens up a person and makes one tolerant of people and practices of unknown lands and new geographies’ have lived with a witch of Australia, been to spooky meets of wiccans, slept under the sky in a tent with snow peaks around me in the Himalayas, lived negotiating team release with a local mob in Orissa,India, traveled with paramilitary guards in Nepal and smoked weed with a Sadhu at Ukhimath. Some of them were memories of a distant past, some are fresh. Some were from a pre-digital era, some are recent.The ones I miss are the ones which I couldn’t capture.

Now photography going digital, it is almost necessary to have your basic digital kit with you for your vacation. It includes a smart phone with a more than 5 megapixel front camera, a digital SLR if you have one, a phone bank to charge up your phones, a car charger with mini usb or charging cables, a GPS if you need one, a plug socket which works locally, A small netbook/ notebook to transfer your images, a multi-card reader if you need one , and a camera-usb transfer cable, additional memory cards and a rainproof camera bag. A diary or a personal journal is also helpful.

 Jebel Jais : 7 tips for a road trip
Jebel Jais : 7 tips for a road trip