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December 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Road Trip Rendezvous

By Stephanie Baghai

There’s nothing like hitting the open road with a couple of your best friends, a trunk load full of “just-in-case” items and not a single worry.

Road trips can be a memorable part of any break, if planned correctly. To be certain your next adventure is a success, here are a few handy tips that, coupled with an open attitude, will make your trip unforgettable.

The basics:

Whether you’re going home for Christmas break or spontaneously living out of your car for the next month, here are some tips t0 save you time, money and a lot of headaches.

  1. Prepare. Before starting your road trip, get your car checked. Passing the only exit for the next 60 miles and having your engine give out can quickly turn any trip into a nightmare.
  2. Get roadside assistance and pack a basic repair kit, first aid kit and map. Purchasing basic kits can go a long way during emergencies where your phone might not have service or someone injures themselves. For ultimate emergency coverage, register your car with the American Automobile Association (commonly known as AAA).  AAA specializes in towing, battery jumps, fuel delivery and vehicle lock-out services.
  3. Avoid junk food. Bring a cooler and every morning, stop by a market and pack some nice snacks for the rest of the day. This will keep your wallet (and body) nice and full for the long stretch of road that lies ahead.
  4. Switch drivers. After eight hours on the road, your reaction time won’t be as sharp as when you first took the wheel. Even professional truck drivers have limits and are only allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours per 14 hour work day, so keep it short and sweet. Swap driving duties and get plenty of rest while you’re enjoying the passenger view.
  5. Don’t be afraid to stop. Being in a car for long periods of time might not bother you, but your body could probably use a good stretch. Stop by rest areas, viewing sites, parks or anywhere you can get a few moments to limber up.
  6. Learn the numbers. Two-digit interstates are usually the most direct ways to cut through cities and states while three-digit interstates go through urban areas. So if you’re trying to cut time, cut digits. Odd-numbered highways run north-to-south; even-numbered ones run east-to-west.

Quick trips:

If it’s a trip back home to a Chicago suburb, a big football game or a quick getaway to a cabin, here are stops to make the most of your short vacation.

  1. Explore quaint towns. Instead of going straight from point A to point B, try stopping in smaller cities along the way. Visit downtown areas in local towns to see what sparks your interest. Maybe there’s an ice rink or a holiday event taking place. Google local events on your smartphone when you see approaching town names.
  2. Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. This road trip icon has its own home in Pontiac, Ill. and holds thousands of artifacts and memorabilia that date back to the start of the famous road.
  3. Hamtramck Disneyland is Michigan’s own fantasy land. Dmytro Szylak’s 13-year project is filled with creative artworks with wind-powered ducks, wooden marines and lawn ornaments to transport visitors to another world.
  4. FAST: Fiberglass Statute Mold Yard in Spartan, Wis. is stocked heavily with animal shaped fiberglass. The recycled molds create pieces that are never thrown away and are available for everyone to appreciate.
  5. Munising Tourist Park Campground in Michigan welcomes trailers and tents for beachfront camping. Instead of trying to race the clock to get to your campsite, you can stop and park next to Lake Superior for a gorgeous sunset or sunrise view. Reserve a spot before you leave so you don’t have to worry about where to stay while you’re nodding off in the back seat.
  6. Brown County, Ind. has been an artist hot spot for centuries with its vivid trees and natural beauty. Filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques and southern cooking, the area is great for spontaneous adventures.
  7. Itasca State Park, Minnesota is great for warm-weather trips with its lakes, trails and water rapids. The park has many outdoor activity options and scenic sights.
  8. If you’re looking for cultural getaway, Galena, Ill. is filled with European style spots, featuring French boutiques, Irish pubs and German-style buildings. The little town is a hidden gem located about 16 miles northwest of Dubuque.
  9. The Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson Kansas is a 275 million-year-old salt deposit that formed as a result of the Permian Sea. With over 300,000 square feet to explore, this minor detour off of US-50 is worth it.

Longer Trips:

Every young adult should go on at least one spontaneous road trip. With little planning, it’s still possible to go, do and see whatever you want, whenever you want. Even with money as a main concern, there are many options.

  1. Carpool. There’s nothing fun about a 2-3 hour drive home alone on a Friday night. If you carpool with some of your friends or new faces, you can have a lot more fun and help out the environment. Have each person pitch in for a tank of gas and you’ve got yourself some extra spending cash for souvenirs along the way!
  2. Pack a tent and sleeping bag. Instead of staying at a motel, hostel or on a stranger’s couch, opt for the outdoors. Once you figure out your final destination, look up national forests, parks and campgrounds to stay at along the way. You can enjoy the outdoors, and meet other road trippers while saving a ton of money.
  3. Network. If it’s the dead of winter and sleeping outside is not an option, tell people where and when you want to go. Marquette has students from all over the country and your friends might know a place you can stay that won’t involve freezing off a few fingers.
  4. Music, music, music. Create your playlists in advance, mark and save your favorite radio stations and pack all your favorite CDs.
  5. Think food. If you’re seriously committed to a road trip, you should pack a hot plate and pan. Living off of fast food while traveling will make you sluggish. Visit local farmer’s markets or super markets in the mornings and buy foods that are easy to prepare. You can set up your to-go kitchen at rest stops or even in your car to enjoy a meal outside while on a hike, picnic or in the backseat.
  6. Avoid traffic. Travel in the opposite direction of rush hour. If you’re passing through larger cities, spend the day exploring and leave while everyone’s at work or home from a day at the office. If you leave a bigger town around 2 or 3 p.m. , you’ll avoid a major traffic headache.
  7. Travel light. Your car isn’t that big. You’re going to be picking up things along the way and doing laundry at laundromats, so don’t bring everything you own. If you do forget something essential, pick it up at a local convenience store. You want to keep your car light and not be squished in the backseat next to a smelly pile of clothes.
  8. Avoid the drama. Don’t be a diva. Know that road trips can be exhausting, dirty and a little crazy. If you know one of your friends can be a little high maintenance, prepare them for the uncertainty. Go into the trip with an open mind and a positive, compromising attitude.
  9. Make friends. If you’re in a new city, the best people to ask for advice are the locals. They can likely point you toward hidden gems that cost a fraction of the price of touristy restaurants. While doing touristy things is fun, it’s the local favorites that hold the true atmosphere and culture of a town. Talk to hotel concierges as well as people in coffee shops and diners.
  10. Memorize phone numbers. People can be incredibly reliant on their phones, but when your phone dies at 11 p.m. in Joe’s Bar in a new city and your friends are nowhere to be found, you’ll have a serious problem. Try to remember the phone numbers of the people on your trip or write them down so that when you  borrow a stranger’s phone, you have it down. If you want to be extra cautious, designate a meeting spot in case anyone gets lost or separated.

Avoid the ZZZs:

Music playlists can start mini karaoke sessions or knock everyone (including yourself) out in a matter of seconds. Staying focused and alert can be incredibly difficult when you’re listening to soft tunes, so keep these music tips in mind.

  1. Change your playlist. Genres can get repetitive and dull, so change it up. Play some old school hip-hop songs, remixes or a guilty pleasure jam. That way you don’t get bored and annoyed with the same beats over and over again.
  2. Keep it upbeat. It’s no secret that music affects your energy level and mood. Keeping an upbeat sound will keep you moving in your seat.
  3. Avoid sad songs. You’re on a road trip. You’re with your friends. You’re enjoying your vacation. Keep the sad, slow break-up mixes at home. This is a time to enjoy the moment.
  4. Sing and Dance. Play songs that you know the lyrics to so you can sing along. If you keep your mind busy with lyrics, there’s a lesser chance of  drowsiness.
  5. Try audio. Mix it up by steering clear of music altogether. Professional truck drivers listen to comedy shows and gameshows. If you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, turn the station to a comedy show or pop in your favorite book on tape. 
  6. The driver picks the tunes. Whatever music keeps the driver awake, alert and happy is the music that should be playing. When it’s your turn, you can play whatever you like.
  7. That said, don’t keep everyone up. If your driving shift is in the middle of the night and everyone else is crashing, don’t blast your music so loud that your family back home can hear. Be considerate, because everyone needs their rest.