How to Survive a Long-Distance Road Trip

Spending several days in a car traveling across uncharted territory can be one of the greatest or one of the scariest experiences of your life. A long-distance road trip can significantly boost mental health by offering a break from routine, reducing stress, and enhancing creativity. The exposure to new environments stimulates the brain, fostering a sense of adventure and freedom. It also provides valuable alone time or bonding moments, improving overall emotional well-being. Follow these tips to ensure you can survive a long-distance road trip with nothing but smooth sailing.

Pack Plenty of Snacks and Drinks

You aren’t going to have the time to stop and eat for every meal on your journey, as there are sights you’ll want to see and certain deadlines you’ll want to meet. The easiest way to cut out unnecessary stops is to have some food you can eat on the go.

Some basics should include:

  • A small cooler stocked with ice or ice packs
  • Water, juice, iced tea, or soda
  • A loaf of bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Plastic utensils
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • Snack foods like crackers, sandwich cracker snack packs, chips
  • Protein rich snacks like beef jerky or various kinds of nuts
  • Fresh fruit and/or dried fruit

This way, you’ll be able to eat some semi-nutritious foods and stay hydrated along the way without having to make so many convenience store, diner, or fast food stops.

Rent a Car

This is one of the tips I can’t stress enough. If you’re looking for any kind of insurance that your car won’t fall apart while you’re stranded in the middle of the desert, a rental car is your best option.

Not only do you not have to bog down your own vehicle with strenuous excess miles, but you also have the safety of a replacement car being available should anything happen, as most car rental services will bring you a new car if your current rental fails out in the wild.

I am very much a “planner” type of person and always looking to prepare for the worst case scenario. Renting a car instead of driving my own is one of the best ways to ease the friction and stress of making sure I have a method of transport.

Also, you’ll have the benefit of a somewhat newer car to drive. Depending on who you’re renting from, your choice of vehicles could extend to luxury cars that are more comfortable for long-term rides or heavy duty SUVs for inclement weather situations.

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 AAA is Your Best Friend

AAA or the American Automobile Association is a non-profit member service organization throughout North America. Its most notable program is its 24/7 roadside assistance that is invaluable on any driving excursion.

Some of its roadside assistance benefits include (depending on your membership level):

  • Battery Boost
  • Emergency Repair
  • Extrication and Winching
  • Fuel Delivery Service
  • Minor Mechanical First Aid
  • One Day Free Car Rental
  • Tire Service
  • Towing
  • Vehicle Lock-Out Services

It’s well worth the price if your oil is low and you’re nowhere near a gas station or your car dies and you need to be towed to the nearest garage. I’ve had Triple A since I started driving and it has saved me more times than I can count. Don’t travel without it. It alleviates a ton of worries.

Stockpile Plenty of Music, Audio Books, and Podcasts

There’s nothing worse than being completely bored on a long trip. In this age of streaming media, a Spotify subscription, Audible audio books, and enough Podcasts to last a lifetime should be more than enough to satiate your thirst for media while you’re in the car.

It’s a great idea to have a mix of media, as you’ll get sick of listening to music or talk radio and you’ll want to switch back and forth often. Luckily, the car I rented on my cross-country road trip came equipped with Sirius/XM radio that allowed me the freedom to switch between news, talk radio, music, and comedy anytime I needed a change.

Use the Bathroom Every Time You Stop

This may seem like a silly suggestion, but always make sure to use the bathroom every time you stop for gas or food. You never know when you’re going to go a long time between exits or rest stops and there’s no worse feeling than being stuck without a bathroom in sight.

Bring Extra Phone Chargers

No matter how diligent you are, there’s always a chance that you’re going to forget your phone charger at a hotel along the way. Make up for this by stashing a few extra chargers in your glove box and in your luggage. It’s always better to be safe when it comes to your phone. It’s your link to help and the outside world, should anything go wrong.

Bring Essential Safety Supplies

Aside from the aforementioned food, you’ll want a bunch of “just in case” items to accompany you on the road:

  • A few flashlights
  • Any and all daily prescribed or OTC medications
  • Lots of extra batteries of varying sizes
  • A basic first aid kit
  • Basic tools like a screwdriver, box cutter or knife, hammer, rope, etc.
  • Extra engine oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid
  • A pair of gloves
  • A raincoat or poncho
  • Boots
  • A tarp or blanket, in case you need to get under the car
  • An extra pair of warm clothes or, depending on weather, light clothes
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Plan a General Route, But Don’t Stress It

It’s important to remember that your trip and the time it takes you on the trip will vary depending on weather, traffic, and your personal mood.

You can plan a generalized route with some estimated stops along the way, but don’t be afraid to add to or alter your plans. You may pass a landmark you’d like to stop and see or you may not feel like driving as much one day. Another day you may not want to stop driving.

Allowing yourself the freedom to be creative with your stops makes for a more memorable trip and you may come across hidden gems that you didn’t even know where available in cities or towns you’re passing through. Don’t miss out on one-of-a-kind experiences. 

The best idea is to go off of your personal comfort level. Never drive tired. If you feel your eyes getting heavy, look for a hotel.

Eat Unique Food in Every State

Every state has its own unique culinary fare that’s only available in that region, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to try new things. Check out the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives website for some ideas when you’re in an area you’d like to explore or poke around Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the like for more suggestions. There’s no shortage of eateries out there and you want to make sure you have some great memories (and food pics) to share on social media.

Some of the food types I’ve hit:

Albuquerque: Green chile cheese burgers

Charleston: Any good southern fare like pimento cheese shrimp and grits

Los Angeles: Al Pastor Tacos, In ‘N’ Out, better-than-average sushi, KBBQ, ramen

Memphis: Dry rub ribs, spicy fried chicken

New Orleans: Wood fired oysters, po’ boys, crawfish, beignets, muffaletta

Texas: Steak, brisket, anything beef BBQ

Make Your Stops Count

Every state has something to see, so don’t miss your chance to explore while you’re cruising through.

One of the best experiences of my own adventure was seeing the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. It was built in the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and it was converted into a very modern, extremely eye-opening museum about the history of civil rights.

It didn’t just apply to African Americans, but also to other races, women, LGBTQ and any group that has been marginalized and unfairly treated. It was a beautiful, however somber museum and I was really thankful that I got the opportunity to experience it.

Take the Wheel and Steer

The whole point of a long road trip is to see new things and experience new places while forming lifelong memories. You can’t do that if you’re just passing everything by. Take the time to stop and admire the details.

Surviving a long-distance road trip is about more than just enduring long hours on the road. It’s about embracing the adventure, preparing for the unexpected, and making the most of every moment. By following these tips, you’re well on your way to creating a road trip that’s both enjoyable and memorable.