If you think road tripping is as easy as hopping in the car and driving, you’re right. That’s exactly why we love road trips. They’re the vacation you can take on any budget, in any season, with just about any amount of time.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t level up from road-trip rookie to expert adventurer. We partnered with Chase Auto and Subaru to ask three top-notch road trippers—mom-of-five (yep, five!) Jodi Mockabee, outdoor-obsessed pet owner Alex Borsuk, and globe-trotter Layla Motamedinia—for their best advice for hitting the road with confidence.
1. Take more trips by keeping them short and simple.
Borsuk tries to take 52 mini-vacations per year with her husband, Matt, and their dog, Otto—most of which are road trips. If your head is spinning with envy, it’s probably because words like road trip and vacation come with a lot of baggage (no pun intended). It’s easy to get stressed out thinking about how much planning, time, and money go into vacations. But the great thing about road trips is they can be as long or short as you want, don’t have to be expensive, and don’t require much advance planning.
For example, this summer Borsuk and her husband took a weeknight road trip: They left work at 5 p.m., drove an hour up a mountain, and pitched a tent in time to watch the sunset. They were gone for only one night, but it allowed them to reconnect and recharge before going back to work the next morning.
Mockabee says planning short road trips in between bigger getaways also works well for her family. “This keeps vacation low stress and doable, as all of our energy and funds do not go toward one trip,” she says.
2. Accept that you might forget something.
No matter how organized you are, you’re probably going to forget to pack something (your toothbrush, a phone charger, enough underwear). In fact, Mockabee says they “always forget something,” but she never lets that hold them back from an adventure. “The beauty of a road trip is that there is usually a drugstore or gas station on the way at some point,” she says.
Don’t let the stress of constantly wondering what you left at home get the best of you. As Borsuk says, “there’s always somewhere to stop if you forget something.”
3. Theme your playlist.
Motamedinia’s favorite way to get into the road trip spirit is to coordinate her playlist with her route. “Have a soundtrack to your trip,” she says. “It will bring out your emotions, your daydreaming, and your appreciation of the scenery and moment you’re in.”
4. Bring your own pillows.
Even though we’re advocates of packing light, pillows are a must. Mockabee says she never goes on a road trip without them. “I think it helps [my kids] settle into any new place fairly easily, [and it] provides them with a comfy spot in the car to rest,” she says.
Even if you aren’t traveling with kids, packing pillows—or a favorite blanket or teddy bear (we won’t judge)—can make you feel at home and make it easier to take naps (or sleep overnight) in your car.
5. Think of your car as a transformer.
OK, so your car might not ever be Optimus Prime, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a hotel, a kitchen, and a planetarium all in one. “We not only drive our vehicle to our destination, but we also sleep in it,” Borsuk says. “It allows us to camp in some pretty cool places and helps us afford these mini weekend vacations.”
On their road trip to Crater Lake National Park, Borsuk and her husband threw a mattress in the back of the Subaru Ascent so they could camp out sans tent.
“We parked at a campground at Mt. Hood and watched the stars through the sunroof before we fell asleep,” she says. “We were able to throw our mattress and bikes inside the car and still had plenty more space for extra gear.”
Mockabee and fam eat most of their snacks and meals in the car so they can save money for activities or hotels. “I like making our own type of trail mix with sprouted almonds, cashews, dark chocolate, and dried fruit,” she says.
6. Create your own road trip traditions.
Establishing traditions can generate excitement before the trip even begins and keep everyone entertained during. Mockabee’s family plays I Spy and listens to audio books on every road trip, while Motamedinia always gets breakfast at McDonald’s before she hits the road and belts out “The Sign” by Ace of Base at least once mid-drive.
Whether you prefer singing karaoke (I mean, aren’t we all James Corden and JLo whenever we get into a vehicle?) or stopping at your favorite diner chain, repeating certain activities will help you and your carmates bond and create memories you’ll talk about forever.
7. Plan active pit stops.
You’re going to have to use the bathroom and stretch your legs at some point, so why not make it count? Instead of pulling off at a random gas station or truck stop, Mockabee chooses somewhere scenic where she and her family can take a short hike. For their recent road trip from Sonora, CA, to Truckee, CA, they found kid-friendly hikes, old mining towns, secluded beaches, and secret swimming holes.
Borsuk also tries to fit in some activity during road trips. “We scope local trails to stop at on the way to our final destination, so we can stretch the legs and mind with a short and fun jog,” she says.
8. Don’t limit yourself to the summer.
The phrase “road trip” might give off serious summer vibes, but unlike some vacations, this is the kind you can take any time of year. Road trips are inherently more flexible than other forms of travel, Mockabee says, so there’s no need to limit when and where you go.
“With every season comes a change in natural scenery,” Motamedinia says. “[Think] summer sun against beaches, misty mornings through redwoods, and snowy mountain roads.”