Do Plan Ahead
Vacation is great, but it takes place in the middle of real life. Start researching destinations, transportation and who you’re going with at least a few months in advance. Things like this can get complicated fast, especially when multiple opinions get involved, and you’ll want to have it figured out by the time you leave.
Do you have a jam-packed itinerary in front of you? Cut it by a third. Having to stick to a timetable is sometimes necessary, but the best parts of road trips happen when you least expect them. Make sure to leave time for exploring, getting lost and driving aimlessly. The five-week trip I took should’ve taken three months. I had fun, but in retrospect I wish I’d slowed down a bit.
Do Bring What You Need
You will get hungry and tired. Stock up on prepackaged snacks that aren’t too terrible for you. Not only will you feel better eating granola bars and beef jerky than truck stop nachos and candy bars, but you’ll save money by buying in bulk (Pro Tip: stash ‘em in the trunk, that way they don’t vanish before you cross the state line). Trying to sleep in cramped positions and bright lights isn’t fun, so bring pillows, a bunch of light blankets and even eyeshades to make sure you can rest.
Seriously reconsider bringing any large item if you don’t plan on using it every single day. You want to be comfortable, but cars fill up fast. If you need an everyday item while on the road, chances are that you’ll be able to pick it up for about the same price as you’d be able to get it at home. Any specialty items can be borrowed or rented temporarily. Trust me — you don’t have to cart around the boogie board because you might use it that one time you go to the beach.
Do Make a Budget
Know how much you have to spend before you leave, and get a ledger book to record every expense while on the road so you can watch where your money is going. If bills like gas and hotels are being split with friends, this is also a good way to maintain transparency so nobody feels cheated.
I scored huge discounts on an all-day whitewater rafting trip in Colorado and a local delicacy in California by signing up for daily deals emails for the cities I knew I’d be visiting. Sites like Groupon, Living Social (soon to be a part of Groupon), Scoutmob and AmazonLocal also offer coupons for practical things like hotels and restaurants, so a bit of planning in advance can save a lot in the long run.
Do Scrutinize Your Travel Buddies
There’s a big difference between a good friend and a good driving partner. Close quarters, long hours and short tempers can leave you wanting to push your closest friend out of the moving van. But on the other hand, late night talks that start as a way to stay awake can turn into deep, meaningful conversations that catch you by surprise. Put a group together carefully so you can minimize the former and maximize the latter.
Don’t Get Cliquey
If you’re traveling with more than three people, make sure that everyone gets along with each other and that you can mix and match. It’s nice to be able to spend time with each member of the group, and make sure you get some alone time.
Most importantly, remember that this is a vacation! Try new things, eat local food, take lots of pictures and do something reckless every now and then. Some of the best stories end with “I can’t believe I did that,” so make sure to step outside your comfort zone. Trips like this can be once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so take advantage.