by Kate Convissor
Road trips come in all shapes and sizes. You could drive a red convertible, top down, the length of Route 66. You could ride a motorcycle from Seattle to Panama. Or, you could hitch up a trailer to your SUV for a little cross-country excursion.
I did the latter and I’ve been traveling with my rig throughout the U.S. for more than a year. Except for one unpleasant episode in sand pit, it’s been a fabulous year, and I’m far from ready to hang up my wheels.
Here are 5 tips for a successful road trip that have made my travels relatively hassle-free and they can do the same for you.
Know your vehicle. Whether you’re driving that red convertible or a 30-foot motorhome, you need to know how to maintain it. You don’t have to become a grease monkey, but the more you know about your wheels, the better off you’ll be. You should know:
- – How to check fluid levels (oil, transmission, power steering, window washer, coolant)
– How to check tire pressure and the recommended level of inflation. For example, the tires on my SUV should be at 35 psi, but my trailer tires should be at 50. I carry a small compressor that plugs into my cigarette lighter – and I used it often.
– What kind of engine oil your vehicle requires. Oil is the lifeblood of a vehicle. Engines last longer and run smoother with good quality oil that’s the right weight for your vehicle. The engine oil should carry the API starburst. Check it regularly and make sure the reservoir is full but not overfull. I always carry a quart of oil, windshield washer fluid, and a gallon of coolant.
– The height and width of your vehicle. You’ll encounter construction, narrow lanes, low bridges, stiff grades, and hairpin switchbacks. If you’re familiar with the size of your vehicle, you can navigate these challenges without a knot in the pit of your stomach.
– How to turn, back up, hitch, and unhitch a trailer or motorhome. You can’t rely on some nice guy in the campground to guide you into a site or onto your hitch. My backing ability is still primitive, but I’ve managed to back into some pretty tight places – and I’ve improved with practice. I also have a simple, magnetic tool that helps me hitch up my trailer by myself.
The final requirement is to have good car insurance – the kind with roadside assistance and a generous towing package – because you just never know…
Plan, but allow for serendipity. The beauty of a road trip lies in exploring the unexpected – finding the best barbecue in Texas, enjoying the village festival, wandering through the weird ghost town. You can’t do that on an agenda. Give yourself time and lots of it. Plan a general route, but throw the agenda out the window.
Get off the interstate and take the slow roads. That’s the only way to do a road trip. You simply cannot see anything screaming along with hundreds of vehicles at 75 mph. It’s easier on your blood pressure and the environment to slow down and smell something beside diesel fumes.
Take common sense precautions, but don’t be afraid. When landing in a new place, a road-tripping couple I know would alight from their vehicle, look around, and say to each other cheerily, “Well, what can kill us here?”
Morbid, but not unreasonable. Scope out the lay of the land in a new place before rambling merrily through city streets or into desert terrain. Are there poisonous snakes (I’ve encountered them) or neighborhoods a solo female would do well to avoid? (I’m in New York City now and have been told to not walk in the nearby park at night.)
On the other hand, nothing takes the fizz out of an adventure like fear. General alertness is a whole lot more helpful. Pay attention to the weather (I have a handy NOAA weather radio). Ask about road conditions (I’d often walk down a questionable two-track before committing myself with the trailer). Stay on the trails; always carry water; wear a hat and sunscreen; don’t get cozy with strangers too quickly. Simple stuff.
Don’t push your limits. You don’t need to be afraid of the boogeyman, but you do need to listen to your body and your instincts. What’s the point in driving for eight hours every day if you end up more exhausted than when you began? Stop before dark, and don’t put off eating until you’re shaky and headachy. Leave the gonzo moves to someone else. I eventually decided that I had fully demonstrated how gutsy I am by leaving a secure life to travel full-time. I don’t need to tempt the fates with any further craziness. So I’m careful about where and how I drive, and I try to maintain good health habits.
Kate Convissor is a writer and teacher who sold her house and plans to travel full-time until, well, she can’t anymore. She blogs about her experience at Wandering Not Lost.