The Secret Sauce of a Great Road Trip
I had an amazing final week in Europe. Couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a larger than life traveling-extraveganza. I was with my friend Kristin and our piñata named ‘Seamus the Craic Horse’ (more on that later) as we spent a week driving around the open roads of Ireland checking out small towns, breathtaking views, quaint Irish pubs and every fish and chip joint in between.
Sounds amazing and lovely, right? You bet it was.
Road trips are great because of the freedom and flexibility you get to spontaneously explore along the way. BUT…they can also be a real drag if your romantic visions of a road trip are squashed by flat tires in the middle of no where, hotels that are all booked, restaurants that close early and the moment you realize you have put diesel in your unleaded fuel tank. This is when you wish you would have spent a wee bit more time planning.
Heres my overarching philosophy on road trips: do the necessary amount of pre-planning so that you have flexibility along the way and are prepared to handle the X-factors that come up. I’ve outlined some of the best practices for road trips that I’ve learned along the way (many stemming from my own mistakes)and hope that some of these tips can come in handy for your own great road trip.
1. Bring the right supplies: invest in a good driving map, water and road trip snacks. The snacks are a non-negotiable. Do you remember when you were a kid and you got a free pass to eat whatever you wanted on days when you had a field trip? Road trip snacks work the same way, at least in my book. If you like music consider making a road trip playlist and bring a car adapter for whatever music player you use.
2. Find out what time the sun goes down. If you’re on unfamiliar roads or have adverse driving conditions (i.e. like in Ireland where you drive on the left side of the road from the right side of the car, often on one lane roads with rogue sheep and cows walking about) then you don’t really want to be driving at night. Its by this time you want to be sitting in a cozy pub.
3. On day 1 of a road trip notice how often you see gas stations. While stations are common every few miles in the U.S., especially on main highways, they are not always as frequent in foreign countries. This goes without saying, but you don’t want to run out of gas. Especially at night if you fail to follow point #2 above.
4. Speaking of gasoline, be sure to know what type of gasoline (diesel or unleaded) your rental car takes, and if you’re in a non-English speaking country, how to say said type of fuel in the local language. You can be charged up to $500 to have a gas tank drained if you use the wrong fuel. Oh and one other thing regarding fuel: ask the rental agency where the closest gas station is to your car drop-off point. We all know that frantic drive around the airport to find a gas station when you’re already 15 minutes late to return a rental car.
5. When renting a car ask loads of questions. If you’re going to decline insurance coverage offered by the rental agency because you have your own coverage be sure you know what exactly is included in this alternative coverage. Does it include driving in the country you are in? Will it cover the repair costs of your car in addition to the other car? If you are opting to buy coverage from the rental agency find out what the coverage limits are, if you can pay to lower your deducible, if tolls are automatically billed back to you with a service fee, if there are fees to take the rental across international borders, what the fees are to have a second driver, etc. I also like to ask what items are excluded from coverage. For example, in Ireland you have to pay extra to have your mirrors covered. Probably because they are so often damaged by people who aren’t familiar with driving on the left side of the road. Ask the rental agent to take you through a few worse case scenarios: if you get in an accident (who do you call for repairs/replacement) if you get hurt (what is the local emergency phone number and country code) if someone breaks into your car and steals your bag (who is liable for replacement costs?)
6. Spend a little bit of time planning out each day. Some people like to plan every day of their road trip in advance, but I like a little more flexibility than that. What Kristin and I did was spend about 30 minutes each night planning out the route we would take the next day. We made notes directly on the map of places we might want to stop based on recommendations in our guide book. We would also write down estimated drive times between those locations just in case the day got away from us and we had to cut out a few stops in order to get to our hotel before dark.
7. Some people like to just stop for the night when they are tired or come across a charming town. If this is your approach, go for it. Although I would suggest having the name and phone number of a few places in mind vs. just showing up and knocking on hotel or B&B doors. I’ve met a lot of people that end up spending hours at night walking from hotel to hotel looking for a room, which is not the ideal way to end your day. I’m most comfortable knowing where I’m going to end the day and like to have a hotel room already booked. A few days before I arrive I email the hotel or B&B to get driving directions from the main sign-posted town to their hotel, advice on where to park the car, restaurant recommendations (such as last week when I found out there was only one restaurant in town and their last call for food orders was at 9PM, good to know!) and any suggestions on things to see on our way into their town.
What other tips and tricks do you have for pleasant road trips?
I’d love to hear what has worked (or what you have learned from what hasn’t worked) for my own next road trip!
BONUS: looking for a new road trip car game? Here is my new favorite.
Everyone in the car takes turns sharing a story based on a letter. So if I go first, I’ll share a story about something involving the letter A (i.e. when I was a kid I remember learning to make apple pie from my grandmother…..) Then the next person shares a story about a B topic, and so on. A little dorky? Yes, but its a fun way to learn about your road trip mates.
BONUS #2: oh yes, a little about our road trip mate, ‘Seamus the Craic Horse.’ Kristin brought a piñata with her to Ireland to celebrate my birthday. Amazing, right? We brought ‘Seamus the Craic Horse’ with us on the road trip and photographed him in iconic Irish locations along the way. We stayed at a castle the last night and decided that it was most appropriate for ‘Seamus the Craic Horses’ life to end (i.e. get the candy) at the castle. Our plans for a simple slaying were thwarted when the castle owners got REAL excited about hosting a medieval slaying at the castle that included a sword, bow and arrow, ax and throwing Seamus off the top of the castle. The piñata kept us laughing all week, we made friends with curious strangers along the way and made a ton of great memories. Oh and “craic” is an Irish term that loosely means “fun.” I.E. ‘what’s crackin’?’