One of the things that makes road trips exciting is how unpredictable they are. You’re heading off into the great unknown. Setting off on an adventure. But unpredictability comes with both benefits and drawbacks.
My boyfriend and I recently went on a week-long road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada (read more about the road trip here). Here are some do’s and don’ts I learned first hand during our trip. I hope these tips will help you avoid any potential pitfalls and make the most of your next road trip.
1. Do an equal mix of driving and sightseeing
When you decide how many hours to drive each day, take into account how far you’re going and how much time you have. In addition to that, consider the possible stops you want to make along the way. Plan time to grab a bite to eat, fill up your tank, take pictures, or visit unexpected sights. I recommend driving no more than 3 or 4 hours a day; while it is called a road trip for a reason, you don’t want to feel like all you’re doing is driving.
Depending on your itinerary, you may plan to drive in the morning and sightsee in the afternoon, or vice versa, When you plan your trip, identify the ideal time of day to visit the sights you want to see. When I researched Lower Antelope Canyon, I read the best time of day to visit is noon because the sun beams are straight above the slots in the canyon, which makes for the best views and photos. For this reason, we chose to drive the 2 hours from Monument Valley in the morning, so we could make it there by lunchtime.
Another advantage of planning an even mix of driving and sightseeing is if something unexpected happens (for example: you get sick or injured, your car breaks down, etc.) and you need to cancel a day of your trip, you can make up for it the next day. If you had plans to drive 10 hours each day, and something comes up, your entire itinerary will have to be adjusted.
2. Don’t try to see everything
Unless you have unlimited time and money, you’ll never be able to see everything in a given region. Consider how much time you have and how long it takes to visit each site on your list. If you’re not sure how long to allow, do a quick online search and you’ll see what other travellers recommend.
Armed with that information, think about what you’re most excited about seeing, and cross the rest off the list. Trust me, you’ll be glad you spent the right amount of time visiting the top sites on your list, instead of rushing around trying to see everything.
3. Do plan for multiple drivers (if possible)
If you’re renting a car it can be tempting to avoid paying for 2 drivers because of the daily surcharge, but you never know when it might come in handy.
What if the driver isn’t feeling well or sprains an ankle? Would you rather sit around until they feel better, or have the ability to take the wheel?
Sickness and injury aside, it’s also nice to be able to take turns at the wheel. Driving for days on end can get old, and when you’re the driver, you don’t really get to take in the scenery like the passenger does.
If you’re the only one with a driver’s license, or if you’re travelling solo, you don’t have much of choice. But if it’s an option, it’s better to be than safe than sorry. Give yourself a break and pay the extra money for multiple drivers.
4. Don’t go off road
This is one of those lessons you learn from experience. Because seriously, who reads all the fine print when you rent a car? While we were driving through Arizona to Horseshoe Bend, the rental car GPS told us to take a dirt road. If you know anything about Arizona, you know it’s not actually dirt it’s sand. Long story short, our little Prius was no match for the dunes and we ended up spending the next 3 hours trying to get it unstuck.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the car rental company refused to pay for the tow truck that pulled us out (even though we paid extra for roadside assistance!), because we were “off road.” Apparently any unpaved roads are considered “off road” and aren’t covered by roadside assistance.
Moral of the story? Don’t blindly trust your GPS. If you’re feeling unsure about the safety of the route you’re taking because it includes unpaved or dirt roads, double-check the route on Google maps (or a real map, if you don’t have service. Yes, they still exist.) or ask a local to help you out.
5. Do book hotels with a flexible cancellation policy
Do you see a theme in my tips? You never know what will happen on the road, and you want to be able to adjust plans, if need be. What if your car breaks down after sunset and your hotel is still hours away? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could cancel the reservation and get another room, instead of having to eat your loss?
Many hotels offer a 24-hour cancellation policy, and while that’s not always enough, it’s better than nothing. If something happens and your plans are delayed by a day, a 24-hour cancellation policy should be is enough to recover some of your money.
Road trips are great! The open road. The scenery. Blasting the music with the windows down –or up with the AC cranked if you’re in Arizona in July. But without the proper planning, your plans can easily be foiled. I hope my do’s and don’ts will help you avoid the bumps in the road and keep the smile on your face.