Watson: Road trip survival guide

Scott Watson

Whether road tripping across the country with your favorite allies or across the state with the family, summer is all about adventure and good times. What better way to make it the summer you will never forget than to take a good ol’ American road trip. But without proper planning and a few key investments, a heavenly luxurious trip may spoil into a torturous pit of never ending misery and repercussions. With this list of road trip survival musts, any and every trip will make a glorious transformation from ordinary to extraordinary — or maybe hellish to slightly better, but we’ll take what we can get.

After several prolonged hours in a car, conversation becomes stagnant and dull, especially after the excruciatingly redundant haul through the hills of Nebraska. Whether a good book or some magazines, reading is a real fail-safe to boredom. Be wary dear readers, do not let the enticement of boredom appeasement fool you into reading your way into car sickness. Not even relentless corn fields for hours on end can hold a candle to the sheer agony of reading induced sickness.

Bright lights hurt your eyes with extended exposure, especially for the driver. Whether Uni-Bomber/Aviator, bug-eyed/Paris Hilton or Terminator/‘90s baseball player, there is certainly a style to fit your car trip needs.

Frequent stops slow a road trip down to a ridiculous degree. The fewer stops made, the more time made, so bring some snacks, even legitimate food, as it will save time and money. I would suggest anything from salty cracker snacks to sandwiches and fruit (too much crappy food in small spaces is always a terrible combination). Bring beverages, but just as parents say before you leave for college in your junior year, “you need to learn to moderate your drinking.”

My attitude in drink consumption on road trips is a direct reflection of my father’s drink Nazism on vacations. My siblings, even my mother and I, were cut off after one beverage at meals. We would sometimes go days at a time on the fringes of moderate dehydration to prevent the nuisance of a child’s overactive bladder. Was it safe to limit our intake of fluids? Probably not, but damn, were we efficient travelers.

Even if you plan on staying some place fully furnished, having pillows and blankets in the car makes it easier for everyone to be comfortable on a long haul. As a kid, we would often take family vacations cross-country. My sister was forever cold while my brother and I would maintain the car was unbearably hot. We eventually compromised, which meant she had to start bringing a blanket, appeasing our hot blooded nature while simultaneously keeping her from the perils of hypothermia.

Nothing raises spirits like some low-grade amphetamines — especially when the driver insists on singing every song out of tune in a squeaky falsetto. For bad headaches and worse singers, I would be sure to bring along some aspirin. On a more personal note, should the trip become… uncomfortable, some Beano and Pepto Bismol wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Greasy food causes greasy flatulence. That’s just science people, so expect it and prepare for it. You don’t want to get caught out in “no-man’s-land,” South Dakota, miles from a restroom and have to pull over on the side of the interstate to release the spawn of Satan in a ditch (done it).

Maybe it’s only because I love music, but no trip should be taken without a few solid playlists. Try creating several playlists for different moods of the trip. I recommend one for times of excitement, when everyone is pumped and invigorated for the adventure that lies ahead. Make another for the down times, when sleep ensues darkness and the driver is often the only one left awake. Try a slow tempo, easy listening playlist with sweet harmonies or melodic instrumentals, easy to zone out but entertaining if you want it to be. And of course a playlist of new music is a must. After a few hours you grow tired of the same music you’ve heard several times already, go buy a few albums and invest in your future on the road.

While there’s nothing I hate more than working ahead, preparing your vessel for the voyage to come could be the most underrated detail of the trip. I once drove all the way to the southern border of Iowa, got pulled over and issued a $600 fine, all because I was driving 5 mph over and had outdated insurance. Don’t make that mistake, prepare yourself.

There is nothing more depressing than calling a tow truck or getting a fine for failure to prove insurance for that matter. It can eat entire days and double the cost of the trip in mere seconds. Proper preparation includes checking fluids, air pressure in tires, brake pads and license with registration before leaving. Jumper cables are also a good idea; they take little room and can be a real life saver.

Attitudes are extremely important on road trips as well. A light-hearted, fun attitude towards the trip lightens the spirit and nearly forces everyone else into a better mood, radiating rainbows and butterflies through the process of osmosis into even the most pessimistic of travelers. A negative attitude is the same story; no one likes a complainer as it will cause the rest of the crew to dwell on negatives and lower morale.

These days everyone has access to some sort of GPS, so there’s no excuse to not bring one, but make sure it is updated. Still, this is the 21st century: There’s no need to run around the country playing Lewis and Clark when Sacagawea is mounted to your windshield giving directions in a British accent. GPS are also great for trying to find a good restaurant while trekking through a city, finding destinations of interest or to simply take the pressure off navigating.

Road trips often provide life-long memories; make sure they’re remembered for the right reasons.