Road-Trip Travel Tips: How to Survive and Thrive on the Drive

Here's how we planned ahead for 772 round-trip miles from San Diego to Scottsdale

Staying sane on the road requires preparation.
Happy-trails-Ron-Donoho
Happy trails for the author and his wife.

My wife and I don’t often take long drives when we travel. But we decide a road trip is in order for a round-trip visit from downtown San Diego to the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North.

This entails 772 total miles of driving—about 12 hours—from coastal California to the Arizona desert and back. Mindful of surviving any minor annoyances or major perils of the road, I put together a list of 10 Road-Trip Travel Tips.

Planning to hit the road soon? It’s not a bad idea to run through this list of what to do, bring, eat, wear and be aware of when navigating those highways and byways.

Do car maintenance.

Before the trip, I take my Prius in to a mechanic I trust for an oil change. Turns out, the smaller, 12-volt battery (these hybrids have two batteries) is way low. Better to find this out now than after a pit stop somewhere in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

Feed the cat.

Or the dog. Or your pet teacup pig. In general, “feed the cat” means take care of business at home so you can have a clear mind for the trek ahead.

Wear comfy clothes.

Okay, so your destination is a Four Seasons. That doesn’t mean dress in designer resort wear in anticipation of a splashy arrival at the porte cochere. Dress in clothes that will breathe for six hours while your butt is sticking to the driver’s seat.

Pack snacks.

I’m a big proponent of packing “emergency food.” You never know when you’ll be separated for an extended time from a fridge or a 7-Eleven. We stock pretzel sticks and chocolate-almond nut bars. Stay away from messy foods that’ll splay into body parts you won’t be able to de-crumb while driving.

Stock ice in a cooler.

Keep a few bottles of water cold, and chill the adult beverage you’re saving for arrival at your destination. And, since Earl of Sandwich just opened near our home, we also pack a Full Montagu for me and a Caprese sandwich for Jules.

Make a music playlist.

The road takes a toll on your brain. Divert the agony of road boredom with a Spotify music playlist. Mix up The Kooks and Phish you like with the Jimmy Buffet and Zac Brown Band she prefers. Turn up the volume for: “American Pie” by Don McLean and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.”

Also: Include a couple podcasts. “WTF with Marc Maron” is good for an hour and change, and his David Letterman interview is fascinating.

Use your GPS.

Your music playlist and an audio GPS can co-exist. It’s annoying when the GPS interrupts songs 27 times to say “stay east on the 8 East.” But when you’re lost in a reverie in Gila Bend and the GPS reminds you to take the 85 North, it’s a godsend. Note: Google Maps also points out speed traps (with 50/50 accuracy). And chirps, “Welcome to Arizona.”

Bring a phone charger.

It worth noting to bring a phone charger and to plug in your phone for the trip. A dead phone means no playlists, podcasts or GPS.

Plan out a mid-trip stop.

Cracker-Barrell
Only as a last resort.

A one-way San Diego-to-Scottsdale trip is close to six hours. Neither of us can sit still for that long. We pick a mid-drive stop for each way, both near Yuma.

Success: On the way out, we stop at an otherworldly, widely unknown roadside diversion called The Center of the World.

Bad idea: On the way home, we make my first-ever pitstop at a Cracker Barrell. The road teaches all kinds of lessons, and, well, you gotta stretch your legs somewhere.

Stay Zen.

Last but far from least important: Chill. Stay sane. Avoid road raging when slow drivers inhabit the left lane. And be courteous and polite with your passenger. Your co-pilot can brighten the mood with reciprocal conversation and laughter—not to mention open your Red Bull or hand you the second half of your Full Montagu.  J&J