How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 5: Tips & Tricks

Ok, so far I’ve covered how to planbudget, recruit good copilots (or fly solo) and pack your car for a sweet all-American road trip. Here are a few miscellaneous tips and tricks I have picked up during the last 6 years living on the road:

1. Cover your clock. Time passes so much more enjoyably when you’re not watching each moment tick by. I apply this rule to my everyday life – I live with no visible clocks or watches – and have found it’s impossible to be bored when you’re not worried about how many minutes you have in the day.

2. Post-it note your route. Each morning consult your Adventure Atlas and write your route down on a post-it note and stick it to your dashboard. This is a lot easier and safer than pulling over all the time to check your map or (danger!) trying to read the map while driving. Post-it noting your route comes in handy especially when you’re taking a lot of backcountry roads, which tend to frequently intersect and change names and route numbers.

Gotta love a crooked road!

3. Don’t drive after dark. The point of a road trip is to see more of the world and you can’t see the world if it’s dark. Ideally, plan to stop late afternoon in time to set up camp, go for a hike, and find a place to watch the sunset.

4. Get up with the Sun. My favorite moments on the road are when I wake up in the grey light before dawn and my first thoughts are where will I get to go today?! That surge of exploratory excitement is usually enough to get me up and out of the tent in time to catch the sunrise, always a great way to start the day.

Dawn over Phillips Lake, Oregon

5. Don’t drive drowsy: take naps and Nodoz when necessary! Sometimes the road just lulls you to sleep and driving drowsy is dangerous. I don’t drink coffee or energy drinks and the costs of both can really add up on a road trip, so I keep a bottle of NoDoz in the car. One pill contains 200 mg of caffeine, about the same as a cup of coffee. Yeah, it’s probably not the best thing in the world for you, but half a pill now and then is better than nodding off and crossing that double yellow line.

6. Turn off the GPS and learn to read a map. Map reading is a learned skill that takes practice. The more you do it the better you’ll get at navigating from here to there. The goal is to eventually be able to grab your atlas and hit the road, confident in your abilities to go anywhere and everywhere you please.

Anybody out there have any other suggestions? Stay tuned for future posts on getting your car road trip ready, road tripping with dogs and how to keep an efficient kitchen in your trunk. Also check out my previous posts on rules of the road trip, planning a route, financing a trip, choosing a copilot and packing your car.

Bicycle Barn Along Virginia's Crooked Road

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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15 Responses to How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 5: Tips & Tricks

  1. Jack Stansbury says:

    Stay off the interstates and big roads as much as possible. There is so much more of America to see on small roads. Plus it can be cheaper by avoiding tolls.

  2. Jack Stansbury says:

    Have plenty of maps. Yes the Adventure Atlas is great, but it usually doesn’t have as much detail as a state, local, or regional map. For example, my wife and I were just camping in the Monongahela National Forest in WV. If we had stuck to weven a WV state map, we wouldn’t have known about some of the small cool roads we traveled up and down. Our MNF map showed a lot of those small roads.

  3. Jack Stansbury says:

    Keep a trip journal. When my wife and I drove around the US back in 2004, we kept a daily log of the mileage, where we stayed each night, and interesting things we saw along the way. The 2004 trip was 10,715 miles through 29 states and took us 71 days. When we got home, I used the journal, a large map of the US, and push pins to show our trip.

  4. for long trips with someone in the car reading books aloud is a great activity. my favorite is herman hesse’s sidhartha. i’ve done that a few times. while nodoz is better then a head on collision i don’t think it should be recommended there’s a lot of room for trouble going down that road. i can say from hard won experience is cigarettes are worse. took me 15 years to shake them after that fateful road trip. great blog, nice post. looking forward to your trunk kitchen post. you seem more organized then i am.

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  8. Leave time for unplanned exclusions..local tips..local fliers not found in advance. Awesome blog!

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  11. kathy says:

    Okay. I’ve ordered some road atlas and the one you recommended. I am going to try learning the map reading thing. Since I have read your post on packing I have scaled down some more. I really need the tips on traveling with a dog. I want to take my luci and be safe for her and me. I have been up early this am and sorting again. I want to take the side roads and see the mountains and trees. I agree driving in the day time for a few hours and then finding a good place to stop is the best way to enjoy and have a safe trip. Those headlights at night are awful plus the deer usually come out on the highways at night. Love your posts. keep em coming.

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