I love self-drive road trips. It's the ultimate in budget and casual travel and there's something about driving along roads I've never driven before and seeing new scenery that works for me. I like the greater spontaneity that allows many side trips and scenic routes. I discover intriguing places I had no idea existed and schedules are much more flexible. I have enjoyed many great road trips with family and friends but a solo road trip is a different experience. There's no need to discuss or compromise but there's also no one to navigate and watch for important road signs. You'll still be thrilled at the beautiful sights, but you will be thrilled alone. The radio plays your choice in music, books, or podcasts, but there's no conversations. You choose how long you want to drive, but there's no one to share the driving (or fuel costs). You choose when you need to eat, but alone, it's very tempting to use drive-throughs too often. It's a great time to reflect upon personal goals and plans in solitude but there's no one to distract you from your internal ponderings.
Along the way, I've picked up a few strategies that make a solo road trip easier and more enjoyable whether you choose to camp, use lodgings, or a combination. Prepare Your Vehicle
Before heading out, it's important to get your vehicle checked and serviced. Make sure your mechanic knows that you will be road-tripping. Prepare a repair and maintenance kit that includes extra belts and hoses. Into the same kit, place window washing fluid (interior and windshield), a can of motor oil, cleaning supplies, rags, and a tool kit. Make sure your insurance is adequate. Consider signing up for a roadside assistance/towing package. If your phone needs propping up for navigation, install a device. Is your driver's seat comfortable? You might want to add an additional cushion.
Part of the joy of a road trip is being able to respond spontaneously. Having everything planned prevents spontaneity. Road trips need a direction otherwise you'll be sitting at an intersection holding up traffic as you decide whether to turn left or right. You need to have a plan but it should allow for flexibility. For some, that may mean having a plan for the week. For others, a shorter timeline works. I usually know where I'm sleeping each night, but that decision isn't made very far in advance, often the same day or the day before. If I know I want to linger in an area, I will find a guesthouse, campsite, or motel a day or two before I will be there. If I'm just passing through, I might take my chances and figure it out when I'm ready to settle for the night. I like to have paper maps as well as my mapping apps. I find it much easier to look for and compare alternative routes using paper maps. I will pull out the maps at night and look at options for the following day. I will also check websites for suggestions of interesting activities, places, or hikes.
Where to Sleep
There are many choices when you're on the road. Depending upon your own comfort and budget requirements, you may choose to stay in hotels, motels, or guesthouses along the way. Motels, of course, are built to accommodate budget travellers. Solo female road trippers report distrust of motels. Unfortunately, many do have a rather run-down exterior with dated room decor which may scream tacky. Some of those motel parking lots fill up with dusty pick up trucks and work vans in the early evening. We have spent our lives being conditioned to be wary of situations that present similarly. I urge you to consider those motels (after checking the cleanliness of the room). There is a large population of workers who travel along the highways picking up construction, highway, and parks work who know the motels along the route. These hard-working men and women are quiet and friendly neighbours who tend to go to bed early and are on the road again before dawn.
Much more budget-friendly is to choose to camp. A simple set pop-up tent, sleeping bag and mattress pad won't take up a lot of room in your trunk. Prior to buying the van, I bought a padded camp cot that made a huge difference to this aging camper with creaky bones. If you want to be able to cook or make a cup of coffee, a simple butane stove is cheap, safe, and works really well.
If a tent is intimidating with its thin walls, there are inflatable mattresses available that fit in your back seat. I have used one that was very comfortable. For privacy, it's easy to rig up a curtain system between the front seat and your sleeping area using an expanding curtain rod or even just a string to drape towels over. There are many inexpensive window shades that can be purchased or crafted.
Road trips often have us travelling in areas with terrible radio connections or stations with unappealing content. Without a companion to chat with, a distraction is always welcome. Luckily, most vehicles have wonderful sound systems that can connect to our devices. Take some time to download some podcasts, audiobooks, or music before hitting the road. I really enjoy language lessons, true crime, and travel series on podcasts.
Road snacks and drinks are vital. You need to be able to have a cold drink or a snack that won't melt, spill, crumble, or get sticky. A cooler (strapped down with the seat belt) is the perfect companion in your passenger seat. I have a Koolatron cooler that plugs into my cigarette lighter and keeps everything refrigerated (or heated, depending on the setting) that I love. Cut any fruit into bite sized chunks so you don't have to mess with peels. Keep some wet wipes and paper towels handy because at least one of those snacks will melt, spill, crumble or get sticky.
In modern times, we spent an awful lot of our time connected. The internet provides information, entertainment, and social connections. For many people, being connected is very important. Others welcome the opportunity to disconnect. I'm in the middle. I want to be able to connect so I can do my travel research, download maps and entertainment, for downloading photos and blogging. Having said that, I'm a bit of a dinosaur in some ways and I don't carry data on my phone and I don't anticipate changing that. If I can connect in the evenings once I've stopped for the night, I'm usually good. If you usually carry data, double check your plan covers the area you are travelling. There are times, however, that WIFI isn't available or is of such poor quality that I want a better option. When I led international student groups, I needed to be constantly available so having a connection became necessary. For many years, Canadians were unable to get unlocked phones and our mobility plans are much more expensive than most other countries. Our roaming costs are still fairly hefty, although new providers entering the market have been offering better packages. I own a SSkyroam hotspot which I have been very happy with. I bought their first model about 10 years ago and updated to a newer device last year. They have changed their passes over the years but the service has never let me down. Those of you with good data plans that cover your roaming or who purchase a local sim card can use your phones as a hotspot.
Take Your Time Road trips are not merely moving from one destination to another, they are all about the journey, so plan to savour it. Break up your drive into smaller segments. Stop at every lookout and viewpoint. Read the signs. Stop and explore a little town, brewery, or local winery for a couple hours. Take a swim in a lake. Check out the treats in a local bakery. Go for a hike. Find a place for viewing the perfect sunset. Take time to photograph flowers and wildlife.
It's important, especially on longer trips, to recognize that there will be some of "those days". Just because we're travelling, it doesn't mean that we should have a busy schedule where we crash upon our return home. There will be low-energy days or poor weather days where the best thing we can do is to allow that to happen. On a crappy weather day, it's tempting to just drive on but this may be the time to find a funky museum, a movie theatre, or go splashing in puddles. Enjoy a respite day. That might mean spending the day watching Netflix, or reading in bed while snacking on crisps. It might mean finding a laundromat and a car wash.
Record Your Journey
As a solo road tripper you will experience all sorts of marvellous adventures and sights, often alone. Record your trip through photos, journals, stories, blogs, or video. It doesn't matter if those photos were taken on your phone or you carry a ton of photo gear, take pictures of things that you want to remember, things you want to share with others, and everything that catches your eye. Record your thoughts in your journal. Create a video. Write a song. Trace your route on a map. Whatever form you choose, record your trip. You are reading this blog because you enjoy following other folk's travel... there are many people who would love to share your trip, plus you will have a fabulous souvenir to help you recall the special moments.
What tips can you add to this? What goes into your snack kit? Share your ideas in the comments.
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