Flying is quick and trains are easy, but there’s something deliciously free about taking a driving vacation. From families packed into campervans to students in their very first car, Canadian travellers who prefer to declare their own itineraries for their precious time off love road trips. Whether you’ve got a week, a weekend or a whole month to explore the roads of North America, here are some tips for planning a fun road trip for you and your favorite travelling companions.
Rent a Car
While having your own car is a prime requirement for taking a road trip, it can be smart to rent a car for some parts of your trip, especially if the car you have is two-wheel drive but you have a taste for off-road adventures. For example, when doing a trans-continental trip, consider a car rental for excursions in mountainous or snowy areas. Or, if you drive somewhere sunny in your SUV, park it for a few days while you rent a convertible to get the full effect of that summertime feeling.
Don’t Bring a Crowd
You know the expression about herding cats? Herding friends on a road trip can create the same feelings of frustration. Try to restrict your guest list to one carload of friends. Part of the beauty of a road trip is having the ability to pull over whenever, wherever. If you’ve got one carload cruising along to the beats and another stopping for apple pie at every rest stop, you’ll end up playing phone tag more than you play road warrior.
Plan Your Route Well
While you want the flexibility of being able to say when and where you will stop, you should not leave home without a good idea of where you want to end up and the route that you’ll take to get there. This is important for practical reasons. First of all, you don’t want to pass up the last rest stop for the next 100 kilometres on only a quarter tank of gas. And you need to have an idea of what kind of lodging and environs you can expect, so that you outfit the car accordingly. There’s no point in bringing swimming gear if you’re not driving by a lake.
Prepare Your Entertainment
A good soundtrack can create a musical timeline of your trip, one that you will be able to enjoy with your road trip partners for years. Get everyone to plan some music to play on the trip while you’re driving. A good beat can make a long day of driving feel much shorter. Also, think about what you will do in addition to driving on your trip. What things do you want to stop and do? Do you have friends along the way that you want to visit? Or, are you going to tap into your childhood “I Spy” skills? It’s up to you.
When you know where you’re going, you’ll be able to better plan your trip budget. You’ll know how much to set aside for gas, how many nights in hotels or campgrounds you’ll need to pay for, and how much to allot for snacks and drinks along the way. If you’re taking the trip as a group, it might be helpful for each person to put a set amount into a trip kitty, which you’ll then use for gas, food and lodging without squabbling about who owes what.
Before you take any car out on a trip of more than 150 kilometres, you should be careful to check it for safety. Tire pressure, oil, water and antifreeze levels should all be measured before you go and replenished if necessary. Make sure headlamps and indicator lights are functional. Everyone should have a safety kit in the car, which includes at least flares, a first-aid kit, a blanket, a whistle, and a flashlight. It’s advisable to also have a tow rope, jumper cables, and a fire extinguisher. While getting lost is sometimes part of the fun of a road trip, it might be a good idea to have a GPS on hand, just in case.
About the Author: Barbara Shu grew up in Vancouver but has been exploring the byways and backroads of Canada since she got her license. A dedicated road traveller while on vacation, she’s a web developer for her 9-to-5.