My family doesn't normally do long vacations. We used to be avid cruisers but had to stop when my grandparents got a little older. Don't get me wrong, I love all of our smaller vacations but I was tickled pink when we planned not one but TWO giant trips. One to the west coast where we drove up the California coast and ending in Seattle and a trip from our house in Northern Virginia to Coco Beach, Florida. Along the way, I picked up some frequent traveling tricks.
1. Get a food bag.
Most hotels include free breakfast. Take advantage of the free food by taking travel-friendly snacks like whole fruit, cereal, nuts and dried fruit (look by the oatmeal), granola, and yogurt. Keep all of your snacks in a tote bag. This will help if you end up in a random area with no food.
The best money saving tip is to eat a big breakfast in the morning, eat hotel snacks during the day, and eat out for late lunch or dinner. You will save tons of money and you won't feel hungry throughout the day! Win, Win!
2. Make Ziplocks your travel best friend.
You don't understand how much I love them.
Originally, I believed zip locks to be just a tool for leftovers. Now I know they're an essential travel need.
Need something to carry all your free cereal and nuts?
Dirty shoes or wet bathing suit?
Need help organizing a suitcase?
Need to monitor your liquids before a flight?
Ziplocks are an essential tool for any traveler. Bring a few boxes with or purchase them while on the road and sit back and wonder how you ever lived without them.
3. Sign up for ALL of the rewards programs.
So. much. free. stuff
My mom is a member of three national chains of hotel's rewards programs. Because of this, we get tons of free stuff. We can get everything from snacks and drinks, room upgrades, and heavily discounted prices.
Still not convinced? We got a deluxe room in a major city for $45 instead of $165 because of using our loyalty points.
It's totally worth signing up! You will reap the benefits.
4. Pick your co-pilot wisely.
Your co-pilot is an important tool!
Your front seat passenger isn't there just to pick songs off your bumping playlists. Pick a co-pilot who will stay awake and keep you awake. Make sure they're looking out for people or animals on the road, and make sure they're giving you all of your directions. While road trips and vacations are fun, you need to make sure your co-pilot will help you along the way.
Make sure you can talk to them about possibly taking over driving if you feel tired or exhausted. Safety is key!
5. Make some killer playlists.
Music is essential to any good trip. But I find it not just wanted, but needed when driving through long stretches of winding roads to keep you awake and focused. Create a high tempo playlist for fun or long drives and calm playlists for more serene moments.
Also, keep in mind if you have a music streaming app like Spotify, download your playlists before you go. The playlists can't play if you're offline if you don't download them!
Apps like Amazon prime video and Netflix will let you download movies before you go on a long plane ride, very helpful if you need something to do on a long plane ride.
6. Route your GPS before it's too late.
What do you mean I don't have service?
We learned the hard way by driving through a national park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that T-Mobile doesn't have great service on mountain ranges. That would be fine if we knew where we were going! We eventually found a store with wifi that let us route back into cell reception.
Route your GPS BEFORE you leave the cell reception range. It will continue to route you even if you aren't in range. While it might run your battery down a little, it's better than being full out lost. An even better idea? Print your directions out at your hotel's business center like the good ol' days.
7. Utilize pit stops when you get the chance.
You need to pee now???
It's a classic tale, that of which you don't need to go to the bathroom when there are tons of places to go but feel like you are going to burst when you're in the middle of nowhere.
Take advantage of roadside rest stops where you can also pick up free maps of the state which you will inevitably need when you forget to reroute your GPS before you leave cellphone range. (ALWAYS take the map!)
The same goes for food. When traveling to national parks or other sprawling spaces of land, the number of food options will be slim. You can either eat your free hotel snacks, find food when you can and eat it later, or starve until you finally find someplace. The choice is up to you!
8. If you find reasonable gas prices, fill up there!
Gas is HOW MUCH?
While driving up the west coast, we realized quickly that if you see affordable gas, fill up there. Even if you have half a tank.
Fill up while you have the chance to because chances are it will be .50 cents more just one more town over. If you're in a location that doesn't have a pipeline access, gas is going to be expensive so look for discounts always.
Also just a note, I learned the hard way that a lot of states require pump attendants aka you can't pump your own gas. As a skeptical DIY pumper, I felt weird handing a stranger my card. Apparently, it's the law in some states!
9. Learn how to be flexible...
Flexibility is key.
Sometimes the best parts of your trip are the ones you figured out along the way.
If you have a day that isn't scheduled, check websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or local blogs to find activities, things to do, restaurants, and hotels for you to do. There is nothing worse than cutting a fun activity or trip through an amazing little town short because you already booked your hotel reservations in advance.
Do yourself and your travel partners a favor and play it by ear, some places you'll love more than others and you'll feel less stressed if you don't set a rigid schedule.
10. ...but know what is non-negotiable.
I SAID I WANTED TO GO TO SAN FRANCISCO!
Discuss your non-negotiable stops before you leave on your trip.
My mom really wanted to see all the volcanoes in Washington and I wanted to see Lake Tahoe. Both of us would have been crushed if we made it all the way there and not get to see the spots we really wanted to view.
Balance your must-sees with the "it could go either way" moments, you'll get to visit all of our favorite spots but still get to view some new places too.
Traveling can be overloading if you aren't prepared. Take it from someone who traveled over 5,000 miles this summer all over the country that while being exhausting, traveling is also incredibly rewarding. Follow these tips and enjoy a less stressful trip!