How To Make A Solo Road Trip Less Stressful, According to Someone Who’s Done It
Road trips have been a pretty big part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents took me and my siblings camping all over the United States. When I was a teenager, I road-tripped with friends to music festivals and various teen competitions every summer. So it wasn't too big of a stretch when I went on a solo cross-country road trip a few weeks ago.
I’d been wanting to test out Los Angeles for awhile, and it just seemed like the right time to do it. But even though I was super excited when I finally decided to brave a solo cross-country road trip, I also knew that driving to California without my pets or my mom wouldn’t be easy. I wanted to stay with some LA friends before 100 percent committing to the move, though; so I figured a solo road trip was my only option. Luckily, years of battling anxiety has taught me a thing or two about being prepared. I’ve also gotten by with a lot of help and great advice from my loved ones.
So while I’m not exactly an expert on on the subject, I've had some solid experience in my solo travels, and I've learned some pretty helpful tips for making solo road trips less stressful. Here are just a few.
Plan For Your GPS To Fail
The night before I left Missouri to drive to Los Angeles, my parents and I sat down to plan out my route on an actual atlas. I knew I was going to use Google Maps as much as possible, but I also knew that Utah is famous for its dead zones. I wanted to be extra prepared, so I essentially planned for Google Maps to fail. Every morning when I was about to start driving for the day, I would take screen shots of Google Map's written directions so I could navigate with or without cell service. I kept my atlas between my passenger seat and my console, too. I was lucky enough to be able to use Google Maps most of the time, but just knowing I had two forms of backup navigation gave me so much peace of mind.
Try To Get Plenty Of Sleep
Getting enough sleep is always important. But when you're on a solo road trip, getting plenty of sleep is crucial. Not only does sleep-deprivation mess with everything from our mental health to our ability to focus, you won't have anyone to share driving duty with. If you get too tired to keep driving, you literally won't have any option but to find somewhere safe to take a nap. This isn't the worst thing that could happen on a solo road trip, but it's just not ideal if you're traveling on a schedule. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you can sleep while you're on the road.
Aim For Five MPH Below The Speed Limit
If you use cruise control, feel free to skip right over this one. If, however, you're not a fan of cruise control, my advice is to aim to be driving about five miles per hour below the speed limit. I use this rule because I know that I have a tendency to speed, but I also know that I don't like using cruse control. So if the speed limit is 65 m.p.h., I shoot for 60. In my case, aiming for five below usually means I'll end up "going over" and driving the actual speed limit.
Plan Your Route Around Visiting Loved Ones
The southern route from my hometown in Missouri to my friends' apartment in Los Angeles is several hours shorter than the northern route, but I'm so glad I took the northern route anyway. Not only did I save money by planning my route around visiting loved ones (and saving on hotels), I got to have fun with friends and family throughout my journey. Knowing that I would be staying with family and friends every night made the whole trip way less lonely and less stressful, so even if it might take longer, I feel like planning your route around visiting loved ones is the best way to go.
Make Sure Your License And Registration Are Easily Accessible
OK, so this is pretty much Driving 101, but I think it's particularly important to have your license and registration easily accessible when you're driving around the country alone. On the chance that you're pulled over, you don't want to be fumbling around in your glove compartment for too long. All that will do is make a stressful situation even more stressful for you, and solo road trips can be pretty stressful as is.
Keep Water And Non-Perishable Snacks In Your Passenger Seat
On my trip from Missouri to California, I filled my passenger seat with a picnic basket containing apples, oranges, Pringles, cheese sticks, water bottles, baby bell peppers, celery, baby carrots, and everything I would need to make a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was awesome because none of it needed to be refrigerated, almost all of it was super easy to eat, and all I had to do was reach over my console to get to my food. I only ended up eating out once during the trip, too, because I had plenty of healthy snacks with me.
Don't Let Your Gas Tank Dip Below Half Full
When I'm on a solo road trip, I don't let my gas tank dip below half full. This is primarily because I don't want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, but that's not the only reason I recommend keeping your gas tank half full. If you're gas tank is never on the verge of empty, then you're never really desperate for gas. Hopefully, this means you'll always have the option to avoid stopping at super high-priced and/or sketchy-looking gas stations. At least, that's how it's always worked out for me.
Avoid Driving At Night If You Can
Some people like driving at night more than others. Personally, though, I drive during the day as much as possible. Driving can be stressful at the best of times, but at least you can literally see better in the daylight. Plus, should you find yourself in need of a tow truck or a taco, most businesses will be open during the day. There's usually more traffic during the day, too, which means there's more people around to help you out in case of an emergency.
Pack Things You Don't Think You'll Actually Need
Normally I'm all about minimalism. I haven't always been this way, but after moving five times in two years, I feel like it's a smart way to live. That said, I think it's perfectly fine to overpack a little bit when you're road-tripping by yourself. You can't always predict what you're going to need on a trip, and I think this is particularly true of solo adventures. More importantly, if you're anything like me, then you probably don't want to end up spending money on something that you inconveniently left sitting at home.
So, even if you don't think you'll need it, pack anything you think you might need during your trip. For me, this meant tossing a flashlight in my bag, throwing a blanket in my trunk, and snagging my passport. So far in my travels I've only needed the flashlight, but it never hurts to be prepared.
Pack Clothes For All Four Seasons
OK, so this one really depends on what kind of road trip you're in for. If you're just driving from NYC to upstate New York, for example, then you're probably not going to need to pack for all four seasons. But if you're driving cross-country like I did, then you need to make sure your wardrobe will work for you no matter what the weather is like.
On my most recent road trip, I had to switch from wearing tiny shorts in my humid home state of Missouri, to full-on flannel shirts and joggers in the Colorado Rockies, then back to tiny shorts in Utah. And because Los Angeles can go from hot to cold-ish pretty quickly, I've had to sport layers everyday since reaching my destination. So even if it's so hot where you are that winter clothes seem like a waste of space, go ahead and toss in a hoodie and some real pants. You might not end up needing them, but you won't regret being prepared either way.
Apply Sunscreen Everyday, Even If You'll Be Driving The Whole Time
I'm sure you know that sunscreen is important, because this is 2017. What you might not know is just how easy it is to get sunburnt while you're driving. It doesn't take long to get sunburned, and being inside a car doesn't change that. So even if you're about to be driving for eight hours, remember to apply sunscreen before you start your day. And keep some in your console for when you need to reapply.
Whether you're road-tripping for a move, or just doing it for the fun of it, being prepared is the best way to minimize the stress of journeying on your own. Hopefully these tips will make it a little bit easier to get in the car and just keep heading west (or east, or wherever).