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.