10 Road Trip Tips: How to Survive & Thrive on the Drive

A successful long-distance road trip calls for careful planning

Staying sane on the road requires preparation.
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. So, a list of 10 Road Trip Tips is in order.

This long-distance road trip 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, my list of 10 Road Trip Tips covers all the bases.

Planning to hit the road soon? Doing the road trip as a couple? 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.

[NOTE: This list was originally posted in June 2019. In light of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, be sure to travel with an abundance of masks, hand sanitizer, common sense and common courtesy for the health safety of yourself, other travelers and hospitality industry staff.]

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, within arms reach, and chill the adult beverage you’re saving for arrival at your destination. Since Ike’s Love & Sandwiches is a fresh option our home, we also pack an Anchor Man (fried chicken and homemade purple slaw) for me and a Winne the Pooh (cucumbers, lettuce and tomato with cream cheese) for Jules.

10-road-trip-tipsMake 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. “Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend” is good for an hour and change, as well as a few laughs.

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.

The Cracker Barrell.

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.

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 in this list of 10 Road Trip Tips: 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 Arizona Green Tea or hand you the second half of your Anchor Man.  J&J