How To Survive A Long Drive

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A highway curving through low mountains
Planning and surviving days in a motor vehicle

How do you plan for or cope with a long drive across country (or countries)? A three, four, or five day drive whose sole purpose is to get from Point A to Point B? I’m reluctant to call it a road trip. My definition of road trip includes stops for sight-seeing. A trip to get from one point to another as expeditiously as possible is just a long drive.

There are different ways to approach what is an ordeal for some and a pleasant way to spend several days for others. For most of us the experience falls somewhere in between these two extremes. There may be a feeling of exhilaration and freedom when first hitting the road. By the third or fourth day, you may feel trapped in the car.


Whatever your approach to a long drive is, ensure your vehicle is tuned up and in good working condition before you set out.

Determine what length of driving day you are most comfortable with. My husband and I like to be on the road between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning and stop for the night somewhere between 4:00 and 7:00, preferably when there is still some daylight left. Others may want to drive longer into the evening to minimize the total days on the road. We sometimes opt for one longer day, usually nearer the beginning of our drive when we don’t yet feel trapped in the car.

Do you like to have your route planned in exact detail or do you prefer to play it by ear? Even when you play it by ear, you likely need to have a route roughly in mind. I usually plan our route in detail, with options should we need to change course along the way. (Planning and risk management skills of the former project manager kick in!)

Do you like to book hotels in advance or look for a place to stay whenever you’re ready to stop for the night? If you have special needs or are tied to specific amenities, booking in advance may be the best option. Our recent long drives have been with dogs. We need pet-friendly hotels. I also like to ensure we have a refrigerator and microwave in the room. Because of the dogs, we tend to eat dinner in the room. And we prepare something for eating on the road the next day. Because of that, I book in advance.

Whether your route is well-planned or more adhoc, get your maps arranged before heading out, in whatever format or combination of formats you prefer: old-fashioned paper, GPS system, online maps, or map pages photographed and saved onto a mobile device. If you are relying on online maps via your phone, check the coverage map of your provider to verify this is a viable option for most of your trip.

Make sure papers are in order for any border crossings.

On The Road

Have water and snacks in the car to ensure you stay hydrated and don’t have a massive hunger attack in the middle of nowhere. (There are many middle of nowheres in Canada and the U.S.)

If you want to minimize stops, eat lunch and other snacks in the car as you drive. Doing this requires a bit of planning – shopping the night before or first thing in the morning.

It is possible to eat relatively healthily on the road. Avoid fast-food places and opt for restaurants with healthier menu choices. With a visit to the local grocery store or Walmart, you can purchase food to eat in your room and on the drive. Roast chicken, prepared salads, healthy microwave frozen dinners, and soups are options for eating in the room. For the drive, sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, vegetables, reduced fat cheese, and nuts. Don’t beat yourself up if every meal isn’t healthy. By the third day on the road, I crave a greasy burger and fries.

If travelling with a dog, take him for short walks when you stop for gas and bathroom breaks. Most rest stops have pet walking areas. Bring a container of water for your dog, but don’t be surprised if he drinks little. Our dogs intuitively knew that increased water intake lead to increased need to pee. They drank next to nothing during the drive but gulped down water when we settled into the hotel room.

If you get bored just watching the scenery pass, listen to a local radio station, your own music, or an audiobook. Note, however, not all audiobooks are appropriate for driving listening. A complex mystery may require more concentration than someone paying attention to the road can give.

If you have more than one driver take turns driving. A short catnap in the passenger seat can be wonderfully refreshing.

When you settle into the hotel room at night, take advantage of any exercise facilities or do yoga or stretches in your room. It will help with the stiffness from sitting in a vehicle for hours. The trips when my husband and I were most diligent about doing Tai Chi foundation exercises were the trips easiest on our bodies.

Please drive carefully. Recognize when you’re too tired to continue – stop and rest for a while or overnight. Getting there safely is more important than getting there fast.

Tips To Survive A Long Drive: how to make a long car trip to get from point a to point b more comfortable

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    1. Music and good scenery do make for a pleasant trip. Although I can usually find something of interest most places, there are times one needs to drive through “plainer” areas and the driving can become tiresome after a while.

  1. Hi Donna, As you know, I too am a snowbird. Your summary of the trip south is bang on. Though we have done the trip several times over the past number of years, it doesn’t get any better for me. I hate the trip to and from the southern USA. My husband likes to get there as quickly as possible, leaving VERY early in the morning and especially on the first day, driving as far as he can – “to get out of the snow belt”. All of your suggestions to make the trip more bearable are valid, but upon arrival at our destination I still fly out of the car (as my husband says) like the Tasmanian Devil. None-the-less I am looking forward to getting away again this year. Wishing you safe travels.

    1. Hi Eva. If you are going to do one longer day, there are a couple of reasons to make it your first one. Getting out of the snow belt is a good one. The other is that you aren’t yet tired of being in the car. Wishing you safe travels too.

  2. UGH! I dread them Donna and mostly because I am alone and one demon driver:) I just want to get there! I love to get audio books, though. They really do help pass the time. Lots of coffee, and lots of water! I drive as far as I can and then find a reputable national chain type of hotel. It helps if they have some sort of exercise room. I am an early riser and hit the road first thing. But I really do hate it!!!! LOL

    1. Being able to get some kind of exercise helps with the hours sitting in a car. Hopefully, you don’t need to make too many of these type of trips given how much you dread them.

  3. Good suggestions, Donna. Once drove alone from Sweden to Spain and it was great. Stopped at nice places to sleep and have delicious meals. Good music was essential as well. It didn’t take long but then again, I didn’t have the time to take more time than necessary.

  4. I’m good for about one full day on the road and that’s it. After a day’s driving I hope to be somewhere I can entertain myself for a little while before getting back in the car. Personally, I’d rather take a train.

  5. Donna, I have never been on the road for more than one day so can’t really identify. When my parents were still living and lived 4 hours away from us by car, we would go see them but then it was strictly leave home, drive straight through, maybe stop for a quick coffee and that was it. The drive was necessary to get there and that’s all it was. Now the farthest we go is 200km away and even after that, coming home always seems so wonderful.

  6. These days my longest road trip is by myself is about 10 hours. I do it about 4 times a year. I always plan for water and snacks, and take my car to the dealer to check tire pressure, etc if it’s been a while since the last check up. What I don’t plan, and it does work out, is when to stop for those stretch and meal breaks. I wait for my body to say, “please pause.” Love your ideas Donna.

    1. Listening to your body for when to stop is a good idea. So also is paying attention to the signs that tell you how far until the next rest stop. Sometimes you may want to stop at the current one if that distance seems too long.

  7. Luckily, my husband will drive for days and days and I will only have to take the wheel for an hour here and there. I get lots of reading done that way of books and magazines. I like to read interesting snippets to my husband that we’ll talk about. He likes to listen to NPR, but I’m not the biggest fan. Traveling across the country twice with pets was a challenge, especially due to the cats getting really carsick. We got a good pattern down, but when we moved back West, we left NC at 3 pm for our first stop in Nashville. Leaving that late in the day was really hard on the cats. I still have nightmares about the multiple messes that came out of both ends that day πŸ™

  8. I love driving so whether it is a short trip or a multi-state journey I have no problem with it. I plan very little and fly by the seat of my pants. I figure that is the best way to be surprised as you travel around. I have done several long distance drives in the US and they relax me. I can think, sing, and chat…the first two I can do alone, the last one makes me look a little nuts but I am pretty sure I have done that to. I have never traveled with a dog so cannot comment on that but would think I would stop a lot more often.

    1. I think one does stop a little more often when traveling with a dog. It depends a bit on the age ad nature of the dog. I’m a planner by nature but think that even if I wasn’t more planning is necessary when traveling with pets than when not.

  9. Most of my trips these days are about 6 hours long, so quite manageable. And since there is always a good reason for the trip it makes time pass fairly quickly. I drove across country, from Vermont to Los Angeles, when I graduated college… me and a girl friend. My husband (just a boyfriend at the time) did a complete check of a car I had just bought so I had peace of mind. I’d say good company is ket to making the most of such a trip and plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs πŸ™‚

  10. Can especially relate to this post living in Western Australia where we have vast distances to cover. These days I generally like good music or a good audio book. At the moment I’m listening to a Sebastian Faulkes story which is riveting and I can’t wait to get in the car πŸ™‚

  11. I enjoy long drives, I have not done much of road trips lately but then I would think road trips can be more adhoc than long drives. I prefer not to stop too much when I do long drives and try to shorten them as much as possible by reducing lay bys. Good music and good temperature in the car is key, as much as good company to go with it.

  12. One word, “Podcasts!” I don’t know what I’d do without them on long drives. Of course in Los Angeles going anywhere is a long drive. Listening to Audio Books for more than 2 hours puts me in a hypnotic state. Podcasts are great they’re all about one hour long so I get variety and entertainment the time flies. But I’m like Jacqueline I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than take a road trip.

  13. These are great tips Donna. I grew upon cross country road trips. My family lived in California and every summer my dad would take a month off and we’d head east. We went a different route each year, but always ended up in New York where my grandparents and other extended family lived. To this day my very favorite vacation is a road trip, in fact I’m planning a 3 week trip next fall. As far as planning, I think it’s to my parent’s credit that I don’t recall any particular planning routines or unpleasant issues. My dad always made sure we had the opportunity to see important historic sites and we’d stay in out of the way culture-rich type of places rather than the run-of-the-mill camp grounds. Some of my best memories of growing up were from those road trips. πŸ™‚

    1. A cross-county drive is more pleasant when you have time to see historic sites and stay in culture-rich places. You’re lucky to have such good memories from your childhood.

  14. I think the best advice is preparation. Having everything planned out. If you do not have some items pre-done, especially maps and navigation, a pleasant trip can turn into a nightmare real quick. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    1. I agree with you on the planning. I like to be prepared and organized. But I know that approach doesn’t work for everyone – some people are more comfortable with the “seat of the pants” approach. Knowing what works for you and what level of planning you need to be able to relax a bit is the key.

  15. A proper planning can make the trip amazing. I really like each and every advice.
    When ever I have holidays I push my husband for long trips, he do not like much and conscious of many things but I still manage to convince him. I love to enjoy scenery.
    Today I was planning to go on a road trip but cancelled at nth hour as was not feeling 100% fit.
    The best advice for me to do some exercise that I have never thought before. Now I am thinking It can really help to reduce tiredness.

  16. The longest I will take a drive is 3 hours. My husband will take and hour and half and I will drive an hour and a half. My biggest problem is sitting in the car too long as I have back issues. I find getting out walking around after the hour and half really works. We always bring oranges which gives up an extra boost.

  17. To me, a road trip has been 100 to 150 miles in length, and I’ve only had one a few times. Tunes and good company are critical. I’ve flirted with driving to Wine Country.

    1. As I answer this I am at the end of the 3rd day of a 3 and 1/2 day drive. We get to our destination mid-day tomorrow. At this point, 150 miles seems short, but once we arrive we will not want to travel very far for a while.