12 Road Trip Tips for a Safe & Memorable Journey

A winding road on a mountain range in Vietnam right before sunset
My 12 Best Road Trip Tips

Throughout my years of road-tripping, I’ve experienced scary accidents, frustrating breakdowns, moments of exhilaration, seemingly endless boredom, and everything in between. I’ve driven to nearly every corner of the country I call home and set off on weekslong adventures in foreign lands in cars, camper vans, and on motorbikes.

From these experiences, I’ve learned plenty of valuable tips that I’d like to share before you pack up your rig and start your adventure. I’m a bit of a grizzled road trip veteran, and I think you could learn a thing or two from my sage advice.

Buckle up and tune in: here are my 12 best tips to consider before taking your next road trip.

Get Your Vehicle Tuned Up Before You Leave

If you’re road-tripping with your vehicle (and not renting one), ensure it’s in tip-top shape before you hit the road. Drop it off at a trusted mechanic or inspect it yourself to see if there are any issues that could turn into more significant problems. Top off and/or change your fluids, check the oil, put some air in your tires, and do whatever else it takes to get your rig road-ready.

The ultimate goal is to prevent breakdowns, avoid tow trucks, and keep the wheels turning toward your destination.

Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

Spontaneity is excellent (and there should be plenty of room for it on your trip), but do yourself a favor and plan the route you want to take before you hit the road. A little research ahead of time could mean the difference between setting out on a snoozefest and soaking in tasty sights.

Certain routes may seem less direct or put more miles on your car, but they also might take you down more scenic roads and treat you to more rewarding stops on the way to your destination. Just because Google Maps doesn’t recommend a particular route doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it anyway.

…But Also Be Willing to Ditch Your Itinerary

Seasoned road trippers know that even the best-planned itineraries can transform drastically from start to finish. Exciting opportunities may arise on your trip, and it’d be foolish to say no because of an inflexible list of obligations you created beforehand. Be open to changing plans at a moment’s notice.

Allow yourself and your fellow travelers to be free and spontaneous because that’s what cruising the open road is all about.

Pack the Right Repair Accessories

Even if you have roadside emergency service, don’t forget to bring the necessary tools to get you back on the road if your vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, AAA won’t be able to reach you for hours, so it’s best to be prepared for a breakdown with the proper gear.

Don’t know which accessories to bring? Check out some of my top safety, security, and repair accessories, and learn how to change a tire if you don’t know how to already.

Download Google’s Offline Maps

Driving around in unfamiliar lands can bring spotty cell service and render your phone’s navigation useless unless you are savvy enough to download offline maps ahead of time. Access to these maps means you can navigate anywhere, even when you enter a zone with zero cell service.

To create an offline map on your phone, open your Google Maps app, click your initials in the top right corner of the screen, press ‘Offline maps,’ and select a custom map to download.

Bring Your Camping Gear

Staying in hotels every night is tedious and expensive, so pack your camping gear to add excitement, flexibility, and potential savings to your trip. Being prepared to set up camp will allow you to be more spontaneous with lodging and sleep under the stars at a moment’s notice.

Some of my best road trip experiences have occurred when I’ve parked in a campground, pitched my tent, and set up shop in the great outdoors. Sure, hotels are comfortable and have cushy amenities, but breathing fresh air, becoming one with nature, and saving money are pretty tempting alternatives.

Use a Phone Mount

Even though we might not like to admit it, cell phones are our most crucial tool for navigation, entertainment, and logistics on a road trip. Enhance your safety and convenience by installing a phone mount onto your dashboard for easy, hands-free access. Not only will this make your navigation easier, but it’s also a much safer way to access your maps, music, and podcasts.

I use this magnetic phone mount for my iPhone 13 Pro, and it has served me well on many a journey.

Listen to Some Audiobooks

I enjoy funky middle-of-nowhere radio stations as much as the next guy, but they tend to lose their appeal as the miles pile up and the hours drag on. The same can be said for playing the same old Spotify playlists over and over (and over) on a road trip. Sometimes, you’ll need more than just music to keep yourself entertained.

Instead of listening to crackly AM talk shows from 200 miles away or skipping through the same list of tired tunes, put on an audiobook to help keep your mind engaged. You’d be surprised how much faster the time flies when you become enthralled by a good audiobook (or podcast, for that matter).

Pack a 12-Volt Cooler

By no means is a 12-volt electric cooler necessary for your next road trip, but it sure will take your drink and snack game to the next level. Instead of battling melting ice and retrieving soggy snacks from the bottom of a slushy abyss, you can keep your refreshments dry and at the perfect temperature by simply plugging a 12-volt cooler into your cigarette lighter.

Here’s the exact cooler I use for all of my van life and road trip adventures. It has served me well for four years and thousands of miles.

Avoid Driving at Night or When You’re Tired

Driving during the daytime is far safer than at night, so do your best to get where you’re going while it’s still light outside. There are fewer drivers at night, but they’re statistically more likely to be tired or intoxicated after the sun goes down. Lower visibility is also a significant contributor to nighttime accidents as well.

Driving while drowsy is known to be as dangerous (and, in some cases, more dangerous) as driving while intoxicated. If you feel sleepy behind the wheel, pull over somewhere safe and mull over your options going forward. Consider doing one of the following:

  • Finding a nearby hotel or campsite to get some rest
  • Drinking caffeine for a quick energy boost
  • Taking a short car nap in a safe place
  • Switching drivers to someone who is more awake and alert

Stop & Smell the Rest Stops

If you find yourself getting burnt out and achy from long hours behind the wheel, give your mind and body a break and pull off at a rest stop. I understand that rest stops aren’t very fascinating, but they can be great places for recharging, stretching out, putting together lunch, or catching a quick nap.

And please don’t actually smell the rest stops. That was just a play on words that won’t end up well if taken literally—unless you’re into that kind of thing. In which case, you do you.

Final Tip: Leave Some Adventures for Next Time

As much fun as you’ll have, you might have to pass on a few must-see destinations on your next road trip. It’s okay, though, because what’s most important is that you enjoy your journey as it happens and don’t dwell on the experiences you missed. They’ll be there waiting for you next time, after all.

My best tip to keep that FOMO at bay is to start brainstorming your next road trip. What remains on your bucket list of road trip destinations? Who do you want as your next copilot? Have you ever considered an international road trip? What about van life?

As you prepare for your next adventure on four wheels, I wish you all the luck, excitement, and rewarding experiences you can handle.

Drive safe out there!

Last Updated on March 18, 2024

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Noel Krasomil

Hey, I'm Noel Krasomil, the founder of The Packable Life. I pack light and explore the globe searching for awe-inspiring hiking trails, rich cultural experiences, and ways to continue traveling indefinitely.

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