How to road trip like a champ

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

It may be time to buckle down for a new semester yet again, but Spring Break 2011 is less than two months away. Not everyone can make it to sunny Cancun for the famed and highly-televised MTV Spring Break Experience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope for a classic, memorable vacation. The only things that are really needed to create your own truly awesome trip are four wheels, a budget and a friend – but before hitting the road there are a few things that must be considered to avoid screwing up your plans.

 

Courtesy redcanyon.net

Funds

The budget for any vacation will be the deciding factor on every single thing that happens during the trip. It’s important to set a budget before leaving to avoid over-drafting and winding up stuck in the middle of nowhere. Set a budget for gas to determine exactly how far away you can go, and be sure to account for food and lodgings if you don’t have anyone to crash with along the way. A useful website to use for budgeting a trip (and for choosing a destination based on distance) is tripbase.com, which allows you to plug in the number of travelers you have, each person’s budget, and even how many hours you wish to drive. It gives you a list of potential destinations based on what you have to work with and even gives suggestions for things to do in each location.

Weather

Spring Break is roughly one week long. Most weather reporting websites offer a 10-day forecast which should be looked at for each destination along the way. The month of March typically shows a temperature increase, but it also maintains the potential for winter storms. Should a storm be approaching, it may be a good idea to choose a different place to visit.

Packing

Packing light is a crucial move, especially with a crowded car. Forcing everything but the kitchen sink into the trunk is not only frivolous and stupid – it also weighs down the car, which actually affects its gas mileage. Aside from the standard carry-ons, pack a camera of some sort. Photojojo.com sells a number of affordable, pocket-sized cameras in both film and digital models, including a digital camera in the form of a keychain. A good road trip begs for evidence that it ever happened and a lot of the cameras for sale at Photojojo add an optional nostalgic tinge to their photos.

In addition to regular toiletries, a box of baby wipes can be extremely useful to freshen up with, especially after a day behind the wheel with no shower in sight.

Lodgings

Unless you have family or friends willing to offer up their sofa for a night or two during your trip, it’s crucial to find a place to stay. Perhaps the easiest way to find cheap hotels is to do a Google search of the word “hotels” and the zip code of the place you’re visiting. If the trip includes a visit to a major city, a hotel just outside its perimeter will typically be much cheaper than one within city limits.

Transportation

Because car repairs are always pricey, it’s imperative that your vehicle doesn’t break down in the middle of the trip. Prior to departure, bring it to a trustworthy garage for a check-up. Key word: Trustworthy. Ask your parents or a friend so you don’t get overcharged or ripped off for any work needed. If it’s been a while, an oil change may be a good idea. Anything can go wrong with a car on a long trip, but the chances are much slimmer if you take good care of it. A mechanic will know better than you if it will survive a long drive. If the car isn’t exactly new or is in questionable shape, don’t be afraid to be straightforward with the mechanic: “Will this car be able to make it this far and then back again?” After dealing with the logistics of planning a trip, it’s time to have some fun.

Along the Way

A lot of the fun of a road trip lies in the process of getting to the final destination. Unplanned stops can be made along the way, playlists can be created on an iPod to enhance the driving experience and there is always even the chance of stumbling upon an obscure roadside attraction. It is possible to plan these little stops, though, using websites such as roadsideamerica.com. Search for the towns and cities along the route you’re taking and it will provide side trips to take within a certain mile-wide radius.

Food

The famed experiences of Adam Richman on the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” have given travelers a whole new reason to hit the road. Some plan entire trips around the destinations on the show. While it is not necessary to see every restaurant Richman has devoured copious amounts of calories at, good food has the ability to make a road trip perfect (whether it means stopping at a random diner on the highway and stumbling upon the greatest cheese fries on the planet, or splurging at a high-end place).

With a few simple pointers in mind, having the perfect, most memorable road trip is a breeze. Buckle up, drive safe and get going.

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]