Five Tips for Your Best Road Trip

You may have noticed that my last post was the day after Election Day. Sometimes when we need our creativity the most is when it’s the hardest to find. Hoping to write more this summer. 

Since the majority of my blog’s readers are either my friends or my mother’s coworkers, most of you probably already know that Steve and I spent March to June traveling across the United States from Vancouver to Philadelphia. Our zigzag route took us about nine thousand miles in a beat up ’03 Ford Windstar (RIP) and to amazing destinations both natural and metropolitan. We went hiking in the Grand Canyon, boozing on Bourbon Street, ate pretty much everything we could possibly eat (plus a lot of soup cooked on our camp stove), and more. 

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At the Tunnel View viewpoint in Yosemite National Park

All along our trip, so many people told us that it was the trip of a lifetime (definitely) and that they would love to do something similar, so I decided to put together my top tips for a cross-country road trip. 

Build a sleeping platform

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Our humble abode

Honestly, sleeping in a van isn’t as rough as it sounds. Sometimes the lack of ventilation makes the night overly hot and humid, but for the most part we were pretty comfortable. However, if you’re traveling for more than a few days and don’t want to spend all your money on motel rooms, a sleeping platform is a must. We took out the back two rows of seats and Steve built ours in an afternoon with a piece of plywood and a bunch of 2x2s. We were able to put almost all of our belongings underneath the platform and a super-cozy piece of foam with bedding on top. At least one road-tripping couple we encountered were sleeping on their seats and so every night they had to shuffle all their luggage around to make room—the last thing you want to do when you’ve been driving for nine hours and you’re completely exhausted.

Truck stops are actually great

This was one of the biggest surprises of the trip for me. For the first half of our journey we were in the west and southwest so when we weren’t staying with friends (thanks, friends!) there were plenty of great options for free camping on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest land. On the eastern side of the country, the free camping options are fewer and so we had to find other places to stay. That’s where truck stops came in.* In my mind, truck stops were seedy spots where truckers stop because they are required to and where shady figures lurk between the shipping containers.  In reality, truck stops are well-lit, generally safe places with plenty of car-side parking and nice older ladies manning the register inside if you need a friendly face. There’s usually a Denny’s or other fast-food restaurant, and the bathrooms are far cleaner than any other rest stop or public toilet. 

* Walmart is generally the first thing that comes to mind, but while Walmart’s corporate policy is that overnight parking is allowed, many Walmarts near cities prohibit it due to city ordinances against sleeping in cars. We stayed at a few Walmarts but mostly stuck to truck stops when we weren’t camping or splurging for a motel. Our favourite truck stops were the Flying Js because of their convenient state-by-state stop guide. 

Eat real food

I’m sure most of us have been on a road trip of some sort when we were kids, whether it was our parents’ taking us to our grandparents’ house or to the beach. Those road trips always tended to involve a lot of snacks, maybe a stop at McDonalds—probably to our parents’ happiness when the treats first shut us up, and then to their regret when the sugar kicked in. While I’m not saying we didn’t consume *mumblemumble* number of cans of pizza Pringles or make a few stops for morning hashbrowns, maintaining some semblance of healthy eating is so important when you’re on the road. Throwing in a couple apples and bananas with your candy bars, cooking eggs with avocado on your camp stove, staying hydrated (!!!)… all these things will keep you from feeling grosser and greasier than you already are from your limited showers.

Keep your schedule flexible…

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The hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

One of the best things about road tripping is that you’re on your own schedule. You don’t have to check in to a flight or a hotel, or rely on a bus, or have anything more than a general idea of where you’re going each day. Whether you’re traveling for months across a huge country or just for a few days from point A to point B, the freedom of driving means that you can spot something that looks interesting on the side of the road and stop to see it. We spent an extra day traveling between the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park (only a few hours apart) because we decided to make a detour for the Wupatki National Monument and ended up seeing the Sunset Crater Volcano, the famous Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, and more. We decided to stop at Bryce Canyon National Park just because it was roughly on the way to Moab from Zion, and it ended up being one of my favourite places due to the incredible rock formations. You can have a general idea of how long you want to spend in each place and how long it will take to travel between each stop, but leave your itinerary open enough that you can spend extra time in someplace you love or explore someplace unexpected.

…but pick your must-sees before you go

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Visiting Chicago was high on my list and the last major city of our trip

While there are a growing number of people who RV full-time, most of us don’t have all the time in the world to traverse the country. In our case, we were limited by the fact that Steve was only allowed 90 days in the USA without a visa, and by the fact that my best friend was getting married in Philadelphia in May, so it was important for us to reach my parents’ house sometime before that. Although as I said above, you don’t want to schedule yourself so tightly that you can’t check out cool things you come across, you also don’t want to spend so much time at the world’s largest ball of yarn that you don’t make it to the Grand Canyon. Make a list of the most important stops on your trip—and any dates that you must be a certain place—and keep them in mind to ensure you’re on the right track.

Look for more posts about our road trip coming soon! And feel free to share your favourite road trip tips and memories in the comments 🙂

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