The Three Steps to a Life-Changing Road Trip

Road trips are the fruit of life. Picture any beatnik montage you’d like, with black hair whipping in the wind, dirty hands gripping the wheel, and adventure wearing down the pavement. Yeah yeah, we like to romanticize, whatever. So did the beatniks!

In reality, road tripping can be a lot of work. It entails condensed packing, planning, budgeting, mapping, and stressing. But, if you have a solid strategy to get the most out of your journey, a road trip can be the most inspiring mode of travel… Queue the second montage of Steinbeck and Charley out on the open road, poodle hair whipping in the wind. 

The Plan

Proper planning can make or break your road trip. When Andrew and I took off on our 1,700 mile trip up the West Coast from Huntington Beach, CA to Seattle, WA, we planned a few months in advance to work out every foreseeable kink. We used Roadtrippers to organize our itinerary in a comprehensive way, on top of listing out exactly what we needed to bring, do, and see while we were gone. 

What to bring?

  • The essentials: Clothes, toiletries, electronics, ID & wallet, etc. 
  • Food and water: Road snacks are always key to keeping a safe and happy atmosphere in a cramped car.
  • CD: I may be old fashioned, but Spotify just doesn’t do it for me... Especially not on a road trip! Check out our article on the 10 best road trip songs to get started. Sync those babies up, add your personal favorites, label them poorly with Sharpie saying something along the lines of "___'s EPIK beatz" and you’re good to go.
    • Pro tip: Throw in some George Harrison for good measure. 
  • Pillows and blankets: Who needs road maps when you've got road naps?
  • A spare car key: We all know you're going to lose something along the way. At least if it's the keys, you've got a back up!
  • Emergency supplies: Spare tire, bandages, wet wipes, etc.
  • Car charger: Preferably one with car to wall outlet adapter so you can charge your phone and your laptop or camera on the road.

It’s also helpful to know that your plan isn't an end-all-be-all. Once you learn the rules you can break them! It’s just important to have an outline to keep you on track, so your two-week trip doesn’t turn into a two-month trip… Not that anyone would be complaining. 

I have a good example of why this is a very important step. Andrew and I booked a motel in SeaTac, Washington on impulse without doing any research. We needed a place to sleep after seeing Against Me! in concert, so we chose the cheapest option available. Once we showed up we shuddered in fear, as there were deadbolts on the doors and bright red warning signs littering the lobby. We took a step back to retrospectively check the reviews, only to find that we were definitely not in a friendly part of town. There had actually been a murder in one of the rooms just a few weeks before. After calling around in circles for hours trying to get a refund, we ended up paying double the original price for a room in the La Quinta in a ditch attempt to stay as far away from that motel as possible… How ironic, after my Grandma offered me her La Quinta rewards card and I turned her down, wrongfully thinking we had everything figured out. At least we got a complimentary breakfast.

The Budget

As a frugal woman, this step lays the groundwork for my entire road trip. If you miscalculate your budget, you could end up stranded in some far away land with no gas, food, or bribing money. For that reason alone, it’s always best to over-budget. Whatever you think you need... double it. That doesn't mean you should spend all of that hard-earned money, but it really is better to be safe than sorry. 

When budgeting for a road trip, you definitely want to consider:

  • Gas
  • Food
  • Attractions
  • Lodging

Roadtrippers is still a great tool to gauge the amount of gas that will be used for your car's exact make and model. It was an invaluable addition to our budget, warning us that we should set aside close to three hundred dollars for gas alone. That was certainly a good thing to know before hitting the road. 

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I've found that food is actually the easiest of the four expenses to maintain. It's not difficult to buy simple and healthy groceries to keep around the car/hotel/house. I sustained solely on canned mandarin oranges and tea during our four to six hour drives. These numbers will definitely look different to a foodie. If you're all about the sweet 'n' salty lifestyle, just widen your budget margin for all of those delicious delicacies! We certainly splurged a bit in those areas. (For instance, pan right to see me besides a massive tower of decimated revolving sushi plates.)

All in all, if you do a sufficient amount of research, you will certainly have enough money to cover every attraction, hotel, and souvenir imagiinable. No need to feel guilty! Stick to your reasonable budget, leave room for fun, and come home with some change left in your pockets.

The Mindset

Freedom! For me, road tripping is all about the no-holds-barred attitude. This trip diverted two weeks of my mundane life onto an unstable, unpredictable gravel road. Whenever we saw a sign on the side of the road that interested us, we stopped. We didn’t always take the route we had planned, go to the restaurants we marked on Yelp, nor visit sights we just had to see. We ad-libbed the whole trip once we actually got on the road, and referenced back to our plans once we started to lose track of ourselves. That approach was infinitely more rewarding than sticking to the schedule with no wiggle room.

Road tripping doesn’t require a deadline, a destination, or a goal. That’s why it’s so gosh darn appealing. What else could you possibly ask for but a reliable engine, good company, and the rest of your life? Not much I guess. 

During our two weeks driving up and down the coast, Andrew and I sought to adapt that reckless attitude. We slept in the houses of family members we had barely met, ventured off on foot with no map, and learned to slow down and open our eyes. We ate delicious Dim Sum for breakfast with Andrew’s quirky, lovable Grandparents in San Francisco, lived in the “honeycomb house,” a six-bedroom house backed up by Grandma Kris’ beehive in Eugene, Oregon, and stayed with a good friend, playing music well past the sunset and eating dinner with the whole extended family in Washington. We drove 1,700 miles to see that legendary Against Me! concert, which led us to meet front woman Laura Jane Grace by chance on an adjacent street, who I’ve admired for many, many years. 

We went on long hikes, crossed hundreds of bridges, went to the bathroom in dozens of towns (how exhilarating!), witnessed art, music, delicious pastries, boba drinks, less-than-comfortable mattresses, and family of all shapes and sizes. Heck, we even went to Aberdeen and threw on our hazards on alongside the freeway to replicate a photo. The floodgates of my memory let loose every time I stop to think about it. We did, learned, and grew so much, if only in a few short weeks. 

The best advice I can pass on is to keep an open mind and an open heart. Don't let the little difficulties get to you. Sometimes things just weren't made to work out. And remember, it’s ok to be cheesy when the moment’s right. I’m cheesy all the time. And don’t even get me started about sentiment...

Thank you so much for reading! Let us know in the comments below if you would like any more practical advice about road tripping, as Andrew and I are planning our next big summer road trip right now! Here we come, Mount Rushmore (and literally everywhere inbetween)!