Planning the perfect summer trip on low costs, and having the most fun

By Jeff Mitchell

.aditya/Flickr
.aditya/Flickr

When it comes down to summer trips, many ideas are sparked only to fizzle out in a wave of overwhelming logistical considerations. Planning the ideal trip prompts one to address the plausibility of one’s dreams. Before you pack up your car and cruise off to the Pacific, there are many problems that can turn your California dreams into a nightmare.

Pack food

It might seem like an oasis in a desert to find a McDonalds when you are driving through Nebraska, but eating fast food is like ingesting a time bomb. If saturated goods compose your entire diet then you will become tired, bloated and irritable pretty quick.

A costly and healthy alternative is to pack food. Rice and pasta are cheap and will fill you up without being too unhealthy. These calories can be supplemented with the occasional fruit stand or salad, and then you can save your money for the great greasy diners of America.

Sleep in parks

This is usually the most pressing concern when you sit down to calculate expenses and usually proves to be the nail in the coffin for a potential trip. National parks are a great way to see the beauty of the outdoors while not shelling out for an expensive hotel.

For those who are not outdoor fans, sleeping in your car is also an alternative which can prove fruitful in dire situations. Rather than pulling over on a dirt road, you can sleep in the parking lot of a Walmart or a value hotel to save cash. Be prepared to be shooed away by local law enforcement on occasion. This is not a big worry as long as your car is clear of contraband and corpses. Bring blinds for your window if you are worried about intruders or just want to doze on a hot summer day.

Stick to main highways

This is a pretty basic idea, but while it might not be scenic as country roads, time is of the essence. You can cover major ground going 75 on a highway at midnight which can prove useful if you are trying to get to a main destination and are running low on time. Alternating your sleep schedule with that of your driving partner is also a good idea when you do not care about your current location.

But do not be afraid to take exits if you see something of interest. Main highways can be tempting to use to cover time, but remember the point of your trip – you want to see the country. Get off the main highway when you can, but do not be afraid to use it as a resource when you are stuck in a place that you just want to get out of.

Once your sightseeing odometers are maxed out and want to cleanse your sensory pallet, feel free to put the pedal down and hit the road. There are many valuable resources about cross country trips. Do not use MapQuest because that will only point you in direct routes. Look around and see what the “experts” have to offer, because it could expose you to gems you otherwise might not know about. Check out http://atlasobscura.com/ for a city-by-city compilation of just such gems.

Look to your elders

People have driven cross-country before you, and that is something you should consider. Do not be afraid to consult co-workers, friends or creepy uncles in order to get great tips. They know the common mistakes and misconceptions and can give you a clue on what to do and what to avoid. Bring a pen and paper to jot down the great specific tips, because chances are when you are dehydrated, sweaty and angry at your friends, you will want one tangible list you can count on.

Make friends

Look around you in a large lecture hall with 300 students from around the world; take the opportunity to make contacts. These people can be fabulous resources for places to shower and eat hot food. They are also locals who know what to see in town and can open your eyes to the great experiences that not even the best travel books can encompass.

Timing

There is nothing wrong with a basic timeline, but do not be too stringent with dates and schedules. Unexpected things are going to happen on the road and that is a fate that you will have to accept. General ideas are the best, and high expectations will only lead to disappointment. The trip is supposed to be about freedom and fun, and the last thing you want is to hold yourself back when you are on the open road.

Jeff Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]