“They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn…” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Road trips are the shizzle – especially when it comes to budget travel – and after my last trip across the desert, I decided to add a Part II to Badass on a Budget (BOAB) and dedicate one to helping you take the Epic Road Trip. In addition to road trips being completely badass, when you’re craving an adventure and are tight on money, a road trip is truly in order.
In fact, I like to road trip a LOT, and it is often my first go-to for an adventure – not just a fallback for when I can’t get a plane ticket somewhere (perhaps you – like me- may also have a hard time planning ahead to score those low-priced plane tickets?). Good for last-minute trips. Easy to pack. Freedom galore.
However, with the price of gas these days, road tripping can seem not-so-budget-oriented. Once, I even found a plane ticket from Southern Oregon to San Francisco that was only $25 more than it would have cost me to buy gas to drive there and back (5.5 hours one way). Still, if you do it right, road-tripping is an easy and affordable way to go. And don’t worry – I’ve added lots of gas-saving tips below.Road Trip Essentials
- Pack light and tight. This may seem like common sense (the more your car weighs, the better gas mileage you’ll get). However, it can be easy to say, “Ah, what the hell – there’s room. Toss it in!” I have been guilty of this often. I spent so many years on light alpine climbing trips where I would go so far as to break the handle off my toothbrush to save weight (every ounce counts!). The idea of driving makes me salivate at all the heavy things I could bring: canned goods, a ROLL of toilet paper (including the cardboard center!), beer (lots of it), bottles of wine, coolers full of fresh veggies…Alas, it all adds up, amigo. So, treat yourself well, but don’t go overboard.
In addition, BULK can be a pain in the ass to sift through and it feels crowded, cramping your style. Try to pact compact, taking smaller things than bulkier things when given the choice (like compress your bedding into a compression stuffsack). Also keep things you will need throughout the drive easily accessible right behind the driver and passenger seats (water bottles, snacks, camera, foot massager…)
- Eat well and drink fluids (even if it means you pee more). Riding the shirttails of the previous item, I want to make sure you take care of yourself even though you’re trying to not bring too much. Pack healthy snacks so you can at least feel good about what’s going into your body while you sit on your ass for hours at a time. Have a small cooler easily accessible with fresh snacks, as well as healthy fun drinks like fizzy water (my personal fave). I like fruits (but overly-juicy ones make too much of a mess sometimes), all-natural potato chips which are my weakness so thank god they put all-natural in front so I can forget how bad they are for me (yup, that means ONLY naturally simple carbs fried in healthy FAT and salt, yo ), snap peas, cheese and crackers and olives…
- Try to fill your gas before you try to leave town, like the night before or earlier in the day. Packing up and having to stop after 5 minutes in the car to fill up is such a buzzkill, and drops the momentum.
- Having said THAT, pay attention to the days you fill up if you have a choice: Gas prices don’t just seem to go up around holidays and long weekends – they really DO rise! Sneaky buggers. So don’t wait until Thursday night to fill up for a Memorial or Labor Day weekend trip. Fueling up can also be more expensive on weekends, so load up midweek.
PS: Did I say, “Try not to road trip on long weekends?” When the rest of the freakin’ country is roadtripping? Yeah. Don’t. Bad idea. Unless you like trapping your companion for forced hours of conversation at a standstill. I know some women who use this tactic for “important talks.” Don’t let that be you. On either end.
- Bring good tunes. I cannot emphasize this enough. BRING GOOD TUNES. I also like to bring awesome audiobooks (comedy, spiritual/personal growth, adventure, best-sellers) and podcasts. You can stream Pandora or something similar in places where you get good reception, but on most roads worth tripping on, your cell won’t work. You can also consider a satellite radio subscription, but I’m guessing that if you’re a Baddass on a Budget, that’s probably one you could do without. Also, local radio can be AWESOME! There are often completely whacky characters and songs you haven’t ever heard…or haven’t heard in a long time. On the other hand, local boondock radio is often filled with religious propaganda which is cool if you’re into that.
- Which brings me to my next point: consider having a calling card with you on longer trips for places where your cell won’t work. You may need to make calls in a pinch for breakdowns, money transfers (I hope not!), or to notify your friends of the bootleg Burning Man fest you just found in New Mexico that they MUST come to.
- Stop to stretch once in awhile. If all you’re doing is driving 4-5 hours a day, you can bust it out with one or two pee stops. However, on longer trips, I recommend getting out every 3 hours to stretch and hydrate and feel the air/elements outside. It helps keep you from becoming a zombie. A frisbee is nice for a few minutes too! Having said that, if you stop at all – to get gas, take a picture, etc – pee. Try to pee at every stop or you make need the following:
- Have a pee bottle. I’m serious. I know you think it may be gross, but every serious road-tripper has used one. If you’re in a van (I LOVE vans!) or larger-sized vehicle, us women can use these easily too! I have a large pee bottle with a wide mouth for emergencies, like being stuck in traffic for hours with nowhere private to go, or simply because we are in a flow and it would be a bummer to stop. Once mastered, the pee bottle is not a put-off. Good bottles for women have a low center of gravity and a wide mouth, like pickle jars. LABEL so someone doesn’t think it is pickle juice. For men, well, they just need to be able to insert their thang. I like it to be at least a liter in size. The jar. Not the thang. You’d be amazed at how much pee you can hold.
Go with the flow. Have a general plan for where you’re going, but be open to taking side roads. A road trip on major highways isn’t so romantic or adventurous, so be sure to take backroads when you can (at least once in awhile), and make sure they are pretty/wild in nature. Get a good gazeteer/road atlas that shows “scenic routes.” There are backroads that suck. Badly. If you take a backroad, look ahead on the map for “escape routes” if it isn’t as groovy as you thought it would be.
See something pretty? Stop! See a cool turnoff? Check it out! Did you pull over to pee and decide this was going to be the best sunset ever? Stay! Camp there! Hang out! Allow some cushion days for unexpected adventures, and hell, be ready to toss your plans completely for that bootleg Burning Man fest you found!
- Know the weather. Don’t take a backroad in winter unless you KNOW it is maintained. Many a tragedy has happened from people failing to do this, like the Silicone Valley family who’s father perished in Oregon after they took a side-road in winter (which was closed and unmaintained) and got stuck in a storm.
- Be prepared. Have a roadside assist service. For realz, I am NOT kidding, you MUST have this. I have used this more than any other kind of insurance I buy. It has saved my ass. Mine came with my car insurance. Make sure it has GOOD coverage. AAA is obviously good. I have USAA which has been awesome as well.
Have all your documents in one spot. Make sure you have recent copies of car insurance, registration, driver’s license, and roadside assist numbers. If you’re going to get pulled voer, might as well get it over with quickly and not offer any reasons to shuffle around your car and expose something untoward at a bad time.
Make sure you have: jumper cables, know how to change a tire (on the car you’re using for this trip), carry a plug kit for smaller punctures (I am SOOOO happy I started doing this!), ideally have your spare on rims and be a normal tire size so you can drive farther without damaging your car. Have water, sleeping bags, extra fuel (1-2 gallons depending on your car), a campstove and pot, lighter/matches, and emergency food and warm clothes. Also, beware at pullouts for things that put holes in your tires. Sharp rocks and nails more easily puncture your tires when you rapidly pull into a pullout.
- Clean out your car at every gas stop. And check your oil too. You’ll appreciate having done both.
- Don’t speed. Getting pulled over is such a buzzkill. And speeding uses more gas (55mph is the ideal for gas mileage). I use cruise control set for just a teeny bit above the speed limit because I am just feisty that way. If I don’t use cruise control, I have this leadfoot that has me thinking I am going 70 mph and really it is nearing 90. Yikes! Not even trying to speed!
- Divide and conquer. Have a driver and a navigator. A car chef who is good at making car snacks and feeding everyone, an assigned DJ, etc. I often give the driver the right to choose the music. Use your strengths and your desires. You don’t “have” to equally share the driving if one of you likes it more. My partner often drives and I feed him. It works.
- Choose your sidekick(s) wisely. Complainers suck. People who “should” all over you suck (“You should have turned left; See, I told you that you should have eaten that mystery meat on a stick so you wouldn’t be hungry now; You should have told me you didn’t love me”). Oy vey.
In general, good roadtrip partners are easy-going/go with the flow, are funny, willing to do random things, enjoy challenges and find them stimulating, are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to feeling “comfortable,” and are people you can be comfortable NOT talking to for awhile. People who want to constantly talk on a roadtrip can make the event exhausting. Good roadtrip companions also automatically chip in for gas and toll booths. Sweet etiquette says that the car owner doesn’t have to pay for gas in a party of 4 or more on longer trips because they are “paying” through wear and tear. In any event, a good balance of personalities needs to be there. If you don’t have all the above characteristics, make sure that together, you do;)
If you’re SUPER anal about gas, here are a few more trips I discovered that I thought you’d like:
- Don’t stop and start – accelerating from a standstill requires extra fuel. Try to coast to the light and reach it as it turns green – without coming to a full stop. You’ll get really into this eventually. GasBuddy.com will help you find the best deals for gas while you’re on the road. Do this in advance if you’ll be in areas without cell service. Fuelfrog.com will track your mileage over the long haul.
- Buy higher octane gas, which tends to get better mileage, especially for older vehicles. BTW – higher octane gas tends to be cheaper in larger towns than smaller ones.
- Coast downhill in neutral. I can’t advocate going so far as to turn off your car engine, which would have you lose control of stuff like braking (!!!), but get into neutral and coast, baby. I did it in Hawaii coming down Mauna Kea when we were almost empty. Awesome.
- Don’t overfill the tank, cuz gas can slosh around and escape. Did you know that every year 147 million gallons of fuel vaporize from tanks in the U.S.? Crazy! Click that gas cap – at least three times!
- Bring more people! Split the gas. Balance this with being crowded and having fun being more important than saving a few bucks.
- Drive when it’s cooler outside. Cooler, denser air can increase power and mileage. Hit the road early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature drops, especially in the summer. You’ll save on air-conditioning costs too. Having said that...
- This I didn’t believe, but Travel and Leisure magazine swears it is true: Use the AC. “A few years back the advice was the opposite: turn the air off and open the windows. Because air conditioners are more efficient, they now cause less drag on the engine than driving with the windows down.” Alrighty then!
- Lastly, if you’re super broke, become a billboard. For realz. There are companies like freecarmedia.com and freegashelp.com that hook companies up with drivers that then receive a few hundred dollars a month (in either cash or a gas card). I think its quite epic to pull off, and I rather dislike ads, but hey – sometimes, you gotta do what you gottta do!
I hope that helps, Freedom Junkies! Now get out there and have an adventure!
This list wasn’t exhaustive, so please add your own tips below. I’d also love to hear: What was YOUR favorite road trip adventure? One of my faves was driving through the desert from Oregon to Telluride, Colorado…mmmmmmmm. Please share your juice with us!