Keep Calm & Drive On: Minimizing Conflict on Your Road Trip

Picking the ideal copilots for an extended road trip is important. Whether it’s your partner or your BFFs, you want people with whom you can spend hours in a car without wanting to kill them. Choose the perfect travel companions and your trip will be an incredible bonding experience, full of amazing adventures and special time spent together. Well, 95% of the time it will be. The other 5% of the time you’ll be tired and hangry and whoever’s driving will have just made the fourth wrong turn of the day and you’ll be all-out shouting at each other over the hellfire-and-brimstone religious radio station you’re being forced to listen to because someone forgot to charge the phone with the music. That’s just how it is. But there are some important steps you can take to ensure that percentage stays at 5% and that you still all love each other when you reach your destination.

Get out of the car

On our road trip, we tried to limit our driving time each day to five or six hours, but some days we had to spend nine or more hours in the car and on those days we definitely got more antsy and more argumentative. Obviously the conditions of your road trip may dictate how long you have to drive each day—if you’re trying to make it across the country in a week as opposed to our 2+ months you’re going to be forced to have much longer days on the road—but even if you know you’re going to be driving 12 hours don’t be tempted to try to push through without pitstops. Even 15 minutes’ break outside the car to stretch and get some fresh air and explore a town or a nature area makes such a difference in everyone’s temperaments.

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We stopped at this beach for lunch on our way through California, a nice and relaxing break

Eat

As I mentioned in a previous post, eating somewhat healthy when you’re on the road is important. However, sometimes you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a McDonalds for miles around and nothing in the car but a bag of tortilla chips. If you’re like me, hunger can quickly transition into hanger (hunger + anger), and in that case eating something, anything can keep things pleasant. Sort of like that Snickers commercial, but in real life and with a hashbrown and a milkshake. Healthy snacks are even better if you can manage it, because avoiding the just-ate-greasy-fast-food feeling can also keep your mood from dropping further, but one thing at a time if necessary.

Enjoy your “alone time”

True alone time is hard to come by when you’re living on the road. I can count on one hand the number of instances when Steve and I were apart on our trip for reasons other than showering/bathroom breaks (he spent two nights in Las Vegas while I flew to my best friend’s bachelorette party in Orlando, I chose to walk around Fisherman’s Warf rather than visiting a WWII submarine in San Francisco, he went out one day in L.A. when I wasn’t feeling well… I think that’s it?). But even in close quarters and without the option to wander off too far on your own, you can still get a bit of “me time” on the road. If your companion is sleeping, let them sleep (unless they’re the driver!). Read a book. Put on headphones for a bit. You’ll feel more comfortable if you’re not trying to be each others’ only source of entertainment.

Remember that shit happens

Things will go wrong. Some will be completely out of your control—bad weather, road detours—and some will be yours or your travel buddies’ faults—missed exits, late starts… there’s always something that can go wrong and, especially on a longer trip, it probably will. And the aforementioned lack of alone time means that things can get tense if you’re feeling frustrated with your companions. At some point, everyone in your car will probably have at least a little fight. It happens. But make your trip as painless and positive as possible. Breathe deeply, look out at the road ahead, and know that shit happens but it’s still gonna be okay. When you’re standing at the top of Yosemite Falls, you’re not going to remember that you told the driver three times that a turn was coming up and they still went right past it. I promise.

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Seriously, there’s no room for drama in your mind when you’re looking at this view
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