As a veteran of several now, I can categorically say that the road trip is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling ways to explore a country or part of a country. It gives you freedom to stop at the good places, move on through any disappointing ones and more than anything, see the ‘real’ place, not the place that the tourism companies want you to see.
Do your homework.
When it comes to your road trip, there’s no substitute for good planning. Go online and read about the places that can be found along your intended route and find the things that most interest you. Google Maps is a veritable encyclopedia! Just clicking on a town name will bring up a whole host of things to see and do, together with a bit of background and history too.
If you’re not into souvenir shops, then why waste your time browsing through tat that you have no desire for? If you like impressive scenery, then look up any viewpoints or places of interest along the route in advance. Information gathering before you set off can make your life so much better and easier when the time comes.
Shop around for car-hire prices.
If you’re hiring a car for your road trip then don’t just turn up at the local airport Hertz desk with credit card in hand. It’ll cost you a small fortune! Book your car in advance and use several comparison sites to weed out the best deals. Watch out for the hidden costs such as very high one-way fees, compulsory extra insurances and limited mileage deals. There are lots of sites such as netflights.com, holidayautos.com, easycar.com and rentalcars.com that allow you to put your dates in and then choose from a list of options. This really can save you hundreds of pounds on a longer trip.
On the subject of insurance, every car rental desk will try to sell you a policy to cover your insurance excess fee. Excess fees tend to be very high nowadays, so it’s wise to cover that amount with a separate policy. Don’t buy it at the rental desk though. By that stage they’ve got you by the …. and will charge you an arm and a leg. Look online in advance for similar policies that will cover you for any potential excesses. The best value can be found on annual cover, where you pay for a year and are covered for multiple rentals. One such cover can be found at carhireexcess.co.uk. A year’s cover can cost you less than a single rental policy at the rental desk!
Be realistic with your timings.
Although in theory it’s possible to drive 500 miles+ in a day, that’s one hell of a drive and it certainly won’t give you any chances to stop and take in some of the things you’re doing the road trip for anyway. Be realistic. When driving coast to coast in the USA recently, we limited our days to a maximum of 3-4 hours driving. That gives you a good half a day to stop, explore and just as importantly, get the odd nap here and there if you’re feeling a bit tired.
If you’ve set your targets too high, you’ll be reluctant to stop at any interesting places along the route because you’ll be constantly under pressure to get to the next place before nightfall. If you do start to feel weary it’ll then take all the enjoyment out of the trip too, and it’ll all become a bit of a chore.
Use technology sensibly.
Many years ago if you wanted a room for the night, you’d have to go door to door to find a hotel or guest house that was able to accommodate you. Nowadays there are so many useful apps on mobile devices that allow you to look for, and book reasonably priced accommodation on the same day as you need to stay. Apps such as Hotels.com, expedia.com and booking.com are tremendously handy apps to have on your mobile device. Another big bonus is that most of them now offer incentives such as one free night for every 10 booked (or similar). If you’re doing a 30-day trip this isn’t something to be sniffed at!
The other Godsend nowadays is AirBnB. With an absolutely huge network of homeowners who offer to let out anything from a room in their own family home to an entire place for your exclusive use, it’s possible to pick up some real bargains in exactly the places you want to be.
Beware of over-using sat nav though. Sat nav is designed to get you from A to B in the minimum possible time, regardless of what’s in between. A good old-fashioned paper map will prove invaluable, especially when following historical routes such as Route 66.
Allow ‘flexi’ time.
When planning your trip, allow a few extra days in your itinerary. You may find somewhere along your route that you absolutely fall in love with. How frustrating would it be to not have any time available because of commitments further along the line? We allowed 5 days ‘flexi time on our USA trip so that we weren’t racing to get to the end of the route for a specific flight or onward journey. It’ll make your whole trip so much more relaxed, even if you do have to stay a couple of days at, or close to, your end point.
Soak it Up!
The whole purpose of your road trip is to see some of the area you’re visiting. Don’t waste that valuable time seeing it all through a camera lens. There are some truly spectacular sights to be found in this world. Why spend your time at them looking at your phone screen? Put it in your pocket, take a deep breath and just soak it up. Your memories will last a lifetime anyway and does anyone really want to be bored by all those photos? By all means take a few snapshots here and there for the album, but don’t squander the experience for the sake of photos.
Road-trips are great fun, extremely rewarding and very educational. When planned and done properly, I think they’re the best way for getting a feel for the real country and not just the tourist traps. That little bit of extra time spent planning can make them all the more memorable and can save you loads of money – which you can spend on the things you most enjoy both during and after your trip.