25 Practical Tips for Long Road Trips

Browse through this list of practical tips to make sure you're ready for the next long road trip.

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Written by Jason Barnette
Published on July 7, 2021
Posted in

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

You’re finally ready to embark on that epic road trip that will take you across the country from sea to shining sea. The gas tank is full, you’ve checked off every item on the packing list, and you’re ready to hit the road. But are you actually ready for a long road trip?

The longer a road trip, the more complicated it can get. I didn’t say would get, but it certainly can get complicated. Have you packed enough clothing for the entire trip, or will you need to do laundry along the way? Are you ready for chilly nights, rain, and unexpected adventures? Unfortunately, these are the kinds of questions many people don’t consider until the road trip is underway – and it’s too late to make many changes.

These 25 practical tips for long road trips will help you get prepared long before you leave home, save money along the way, and help you spend more time enjoying the road trip and less time dealing with those pesky complications.

No. 1 | Buy food at grocery stores instead of gas stations

Road trip snacks are almost as necessary as gasoline for the car – they even perform similar functions. But one of the worst things a person can do on a road trip is to buy the snacks spontaneously at random gas stations along the way.

Save money and time with those snacks at grocery stores or bulk purchase stores. Stock up on all the snacks, drinks, and coffee at a fraction of the price of buying it along the way. The more you save, the longer you can drive.

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No. 2 | Get your car inspected

Before leaving home, get your car inspected. Most national chain auto repair shops offer free inspections because they want your business when they find something wrong with the car.

But it’s an excellent way to get all the fluids topped off, tires rotated and balanced, and the hundreds of moving parts of a car inspected before you leave. Spur of the moment auto repairs during a road trip can be prohibitively expensive – not to mention you might have to shack up at a roadside motel for a few days while the work is done.

No. 3 | Keep your car maintained

Did you know properly inflated tires can lead to better gas mileage? Under-inflated tires cause a drop of 0.2% miles per gallon for every 1 PSI of all tires. That may not seem like much, but it can add up on long road trips.

Consider a 5,000-mile road trip in a vehicle that gets 30 miles per gallon. This would require 167 gallons of gas to complete the trip. However, if all four tires are underinflated by an average of 4 PSI, that means the vehicle is only achieving 27.6 miles per gallon. This would require 182 gallons to complete the trip – an increase of 15 gallons.

Beyond tire pressure, be sure to maintain fluids for the radiator, brakes, and engine oil to prevent damage to the engine. Replaced burned out headlights and taillights immediately. Keep up with oil changes and tire rotations for trips longer than 5,000 miles.

READ MORE: 20 Essential Travel Apps for Awesome Road Trips

No. 4 | Set a reasonable daily mileage goal

The point of a road trip is to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Driving 500 miles per day on the interstate highways doesn’t make for a very enjoyable road trip adventure. Driving that far on two-lane roads is incredibly tedious and exhausting.

By the time you stop at a couple roadside attractions, go for a hike in a state park, sit down for lunch, and take a short detour, the number of miles you’ll be able to cover in a single day will be limited at best. But that’s the point of the road trip! Set a limited number of miles to drive each day, giving yourself plenty of time to enjoy everything you’ll discover along the way.

No. 5 | Avoid rush hour traffic and peak dinner times

Sitting in congested traffic and waiting for food are two of the biggest examples of losing time on a long road trip. In fact, those are the biggest time wasters for just about any kind of travel. But there is a simple way to avoid losing time: avoid rush hour and peak dinner times.

Eat breakfast after 9 a.m., get lunch around 2 p.m., and consider dinner either early at 4 p.m. or wait until 7 p.m. During those time frames, you’ll get seated faster, and food served quicker. Also, when driving around town or between destinations, avoid the rush hours of 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

As an added bonus, use a navigation app or dedicated GPS device in your car that includes traffic information – this information will help you spot potential traffic jams from congestion, construction, or accidents and usually includes optional detours. Using an app like OpenTable (iOs | Android) will allow you to make reservations at many restaurants – cutting down the time spent waiting for a table to open.

READ MORE: Road Trip to the 8 Presidential Sites Throughout Northern Ohio

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No. 6 | Avoid Small Town Travel on Sundays and Mondays

Roll into almost any small town with a population of less than 20,000 on a Sunday or Monday, and you’re likely to find every restaurant, museum, and attraction closed. It’s not from the owners’ lack of business sense but rather because the owners often work in their businesses, and they want a couple of days off each week.

Sundays and Mondays tend to be the most common days these local businesses are closed. However, it may also include mid-weekdays like Tuesday and Wednesday. Instead of visiting the small towns, consider spending the night in state or national parks, driving scenic routes, or just taking a couple of days to relax.

No. 7 | Pack everything – including the kitchen sink

I own six rain jackets, four sets of trekking poles, and two pairs of Crocs Swiftwater shoes. It’s not because I want a particular color combination for each day of the week, but instead because I kept leaving the items behind, thinking I wouldn’t need them.

Pack everything you can possibly fit into your vehicle for a long road trip. Go beyond your tentative itinerary and think about things you enjoy doing that you might want to do along the way. Take those golf clubs or stunt kites, pack the fleece hoodie, and bring more than two pairs of shoes. Although it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality, every little bit helps save money in the budget.

No. 8 | Fill the gas tank on Monday

GasBuddy (iOS | Android) conducted a survey a few years ago to determine the best and worst times for gas prices. Interestingly, Mondays were the cheapest day of the week to get gas on average, with the best time coming around 10 a.m.

Also, interesting – though not surprising – was that the worst day to get gas was Friday or the day before a major holiday. During those days, gas prices tended to spike first thing in the morning.

READ MORE: 18 Essential Items That Belong on Every Road Trip Packing List

No. 9 | Don’t rely on cellular service

One universal constant of any long road trip is the eventuality of running into a cellular dead zone. Rural areas in the Midwest, rugged terrain in the Rockies, and sporadically throughout the Southeastern United States are areas in between cellular towers that will leave your cellphone or tablet as useful as screen doors for submarines.

Be prepared to eventually lose cellular service during your long road trip. Download Google Maps (iOS | Android) for offline use, make sure all your apps are up to date, and download movies for entertainment. Doing as much of this as possible while connected to WIFI will prevent you from breaching a monthly data limit.

No. 10 | Plan to do laundry on the road

Depending on the length of the road trip, the activities you plan to enjoy along the way, and your fashion style, it just might not be possible to pack a new outfit for every single day. So rather than pack five suitcases stuffed with every stitch of clothing you own, consider doing laundry somewhere along the way.

As a rule of thumb, pack at least five of each type of clothing. Shorts, pants, tees, polos or blouses, underwear, and socks. On top of that, pack something for chilly nights and rain. This will give you about a week of clothing – but you’ll need to get used to wearing those shorts and that shirt more than once in between washing.

Buy a laundry bag and take it with you on the road trip. However, do not buy laundry detergent ahead of time. The heat and humidity will ruin most detergents and leave your car with an overwhelming smell. When you finally decide to do laundry, be sure to take enough quarters to complete your load, never leave your laundry unattended, and always use a laundromat during daylight hours.

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No. 11 | Get organized

Organizing all your clothing, gear, food, and accessories is a crucial and often overlooked aspect of any long road trip. But, after two, three, or four weeks of restacking bags, hunting for that small item, and shifting cargo around every curve of the road, you’ll be on the edge of losing it.

Buy stuff sacks or use gallon-sized Ziplock bags to organize smaller items. Buy midsized duffel bags or plastic totes for organizing smaller bags. Stackable totes that can lock together are best for keeping the totes from sliding around in the vehicle. Label everything and always leave the most frequently used items on top.

No. 12 | Get plenty of sleep

The first few days of a long road trip, you’ll likely feel energized by the excitement and tempted to stay up 18 hours a day. I can typically keep that level of stamina going for about the first three weeks of constant travel – but eventually, everyone slows down.

Getting plenty of sleep is important to maintaining your mental and physical health, not to mention keeping morale high. Spending too much time traveling and not enough sleeping will eventually lead to exhaustion, depression, and moodiness.

On a long road trip, plan to take one or two days a week off from travel. Find a nice roadside motel, splurge on a super nice hotel with a free hot breakfast, or settle into a campground for two nights. Avoid the temptation to go out and explore the area – just focus on rest and relaxation.

READ MORE: Road Trip Along the Scenic Route from Gatlinburg to Asheville

No. 13 | Keep the car clean (inside and out)

The day before any road trip begins, I always find one of those really nice car washes with the conveyor belt that pulls the vehicle through a wash cycle. Then, after getting the exterior cleaned – included RainX and a tire shine – I visit the vacuum cleaners. There is no greater feeling than starting a long road trip with a squeaky-clean vehicle.

On long road trips, it will probably be necessary to do a little cleaning along the way. Car washes are easy enough. Instead of relying on their vacuum cleaners – or paying for them – consider buying the THISWORX Car Vacuum Cleaner. It uses 12v power with a removable collection bin and comes with a nice travel bag.

For an added touch, the Little Trees Vent Wrap Car Air Freshner’s “new car smell” will make your vehicle smell brand new after getting it clean.

No. 14 | Join a roadside rescue plan

Most auto insurance companies and cellular providers offer some sort of roadside assistance rescue plan. If you don’t have the option for either of those, consider buying a AAA membership to access their roadside rescue plan.

At the very least, roadside rescue plans will unlock a vehicle, tow your vehicle to safety, and provide gas in case you run out. Better plans will include longer towing distances and more gas. It’s the one thing you never think about until you need it – so this time, plan ahead.

READ MORE: Road Trip on the Scenic North Carolina Waterfall Byway

No. 15 | Keep up with monthly bills

Only about 40% of Americans use auto pay for monthly bills like utilities and credit card payments – I’m not one of them. One of the biggest mistakes with long road trips that last more than a month is forgetting to take care of those bills before you hit the road or somewhere during the trip.

It’s easy to pay those bills with the home computer with your login information saved, but could you pay those bills on the road with a cellphone or tablet? Be sure to take your login information with you and keep it in a safe location like a locked glovebox or portable security case. Add the due date for any bills to your travel itinerary – and remember that cellular service is not a guarantee everywhere.

Life Pro Trip: Many credit card companies and certain utilities allow you to choose a due date for your monthly bill. Aligning all these bills for the same due date makes it easier to keep up with – especially while you’re traveling.  

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No. 16 | Leave room for souvenirs

I know I said “pack everything – including the kitchen sink” earlier, but don’t go overboard and fill the entire vehicle before you hit the road. More than likely, you will want to buy some souvenirs along the way.

Smaller souvenirs like clothing, décor, and Christmas ornaments – my favorite type of souvenir to buy – are easy enough to pack into a bag or tote in the vehicle. But if you buy more oversized items like artwork, glassware, or large gift items, ask the retailer if they can ship them to your home or a relative’s home for safekeeping. Often, the shipping is included, especially in areas of high tourism where they expect the buyers to be non-locals.

Insider Tip: An easy way to keep up with souvenirs on a long road trip is to mail them to a friend or relative. The Flat Rate boxes at the United States Postal Service come in several sizes and are indeed a single flat rate – ranging from about $5-$15 per box – no matter where you ship it in the continental U.S.

No. 17 | Bring your favorite ___________

Do you have a favorite coffee mug? Slippers? Or what about a television series you love to watch? Just because you’re going on a road trip doesn’t mean you can’t bring some of those with you.

Bringing your favorite items with you on a long road trip can help you feel more at home and relaxed. Instead of missing that perfect coffee mug or comfortable slippers, you’ll feel much better having them with you.

No. 18 | Have an itinerary but leave room for spontaneity

It’s always good to have a travel itinerary. It’s essential to know the business hours of museums, restaurants, and attractions, so you don’t arrive too late or on a day when they are typically closed. Building an itinerary can help you avoid those frustrations.

However, leave room for spontaneous detours that will inevitably come along during a long road trip. Be prepared for entire destinations to change as your route progresses. Take advice from locals and be willing to give something new a try!

READ MORE: Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway

No. 19 | Fill all prescriptions and bring extra

For three years, I worked as a certified pharmacy technician at CVS/Pharmacy in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. During the hectic – sometimes chaotic – summer months, we would sometimes fill thousands of prescriptions in a single day. The most common type of prescription was for someone who had left the medication at home.

If you have any kind of regular medication, be sure to pack that for your trip. But for long road trips that last more than 30 days, you might run out while on the road. Make sure your prescription has refills on file with your pharmacy or take a new prescription with you – as long as it is not a controlled substance. If your insurance allows, consider getting two or three months’ worth filled at one time for your long road trip.

No. 20 | Watch out for 140-degree heat in the car

On sunny days during the summer months, vehicles’ internal temperatures can rise 30-40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. When I was a kid, I remember going for a walk to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse during a family vacation. When we returned, my mom opened the back of the car to make snacks – only to discover the Cheese Whiz had exploded all over the car!

The high internal temperatures of vehicles can ruin more than just pressurized cans of food. Contact lenses, prescriptions, electronics, and coolers are all susceptible to damage from temperatures over 100 degrees.

You can reduce those internal temperatures by using a windshield sunshade. Close the sunshade on the moonroof. You may even consider buying curtains for the side windows – it’s not as silly as you might think.

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Do you enjoy reading my travel articles? Do you enjoy them without seeing any advertising? Help support me – buy me a coffee. I visit local coffee shops in every destination I visit, so coffee is a big part of my travel budget.

No. 21 | Set a daily and final budget

My first road trip adventure of 2021 was a spontaneous, itinerary-free adventure along the Gulf Coast from Gulf Shores, Alabama, across Florida to Vero Beach. After a week exploring that area of Florida, I was considering heading south to Key West for what would have been my first visit. But when I looked at my bank account, my heart hit the floor when I realized my travel budget was at an end.

I’ve never been good at creating or keeping to a travel budget, and that resulted in a road trip cut short. So the better method is to create a daily budget and stick to it. But also give yourself leeway for those rare opportunities to do something awesome and set a final budget for the entire trip.

The advantage of a long road trip is that if you’re on the road long enough, you might just get an extra paycheck while you’re traveling. So how many vacation days do you have saved up for your long road trip?

No. 22 | Only travel by day

Some people only travel at night to avoid any traffic congestion at all – and that’s a good idea. But driving on unfamiliar roads at night poses some safety issues – not to mention what would happen if your vehicle broke down at 3 a.m.

The safest and surest way is to only travel by day. It will be much easier to keep aware of the unfamiliar road ahead, and you’re certain to get roadside assistance faster during normal business hours.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Road Trip on the Skyline Drive Through Shenandoah National Park

No. 23 | Choose the best road trip route

My #1 Rule for Road Trips is no interstate highways. There is just no reason to take a road trip route onto the interstate – you’ll miss everything along the way.

But what is the best road trip route? National scenic byways are a good start – there are dozens across the country. But sometimes, the most scenic or exciting road trip route is just a simple country road connecting interesting destinations. The best way to find those is to ask the locals – they always know the best route.

No. 24 | Document the trip

After returning home from an epic long road trip, it might be difficult to remember precisely where you found that amazing cheeseburger or savory salted caramel ice cream cone or watched that stunning sunset. It can be downright frustrating when you realize you don’t have a single photo to share or any clue where to find the name of that restaurant.

But what exactly does it mean to document the trip? I am not advocating for ten thousand photos plus an additional five thousand selfies from your long road trip. Don’t become one of those people who jump out of the car on the Blue Ridge Parkway just long enough for a selfie and then leave just as quickly.

It starts with the photos. Capture an exterior photo of every restaurant, museum, and attraction you visit – and be sure to include the name of the business. Capture an interior photo and then one or two photos of every meal or activity.

Take a journal. Jot down notes of the places you visit. Feelings. Smells. Sights. Take note of the business name, details of the food you eat, and reaction to museums. Draw pictures and maps, create word maps, put any word to paper that comes to mind. It will all be wonderful to see all the photos and notes again when your long road trip is finished.

No. 25 | Keep in touch with regular updates

One of the most important safety measures you can take during a long road trip is to let someone know where you are and where you are going by the end of the day. Particularly in places where cellular reception could be spotty, it’s good to tell someone that by nightfall, you should be at a particular destination and able to call them again.

That way, if your vehicle breaks down while in a cellular dead zone with little traffic, at least someone knows the route you were driving to send rescue your direction.

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