Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How To Road Trip Solo



From February 15th to March 18th, I put almost 4,000 miles on my little Ford Focus, roadtripping from St. Paul, Minnesota to Lafayette, Louisiana to Crested Butte, Colorado and then all the way back home.   I listened to a million podcasts, ate a million bags of Combos and stopped at a million McDonald's to use wifi.  And I did all that roadtripping by myself.

If you want to roadtrip all by your lonesome (or even with friends!) here are a few tips.

1.  Be safe

Whenever people hear that a woman wants to travel by herself, their first instinct is to tell you about their cousin's neighbor whose car broke down in Alabama and was never heard from again.  Thank those people kindly and then ignore them.  You can ignore them because you've done the following:
* bought a cigarette USB charger for you phone and computer.
* bought a Roadside Emergency Kit
* put together a list of the numbers in your phone (because if something happens to your phone, you know you won't remember anybody's numbers)
* given someone your itinerary and the contact numbers of the people you'll be staying with
* packed some bottled water and granola bars in the trunk (so you won't be tempted to eat them all)

2. Have the vaguest outline of a planHalf the fun of roadtripping is embracing all the funny/weird things that come your way.  Precious Moments chapel?  Sure!  Fried okra and pecan pie for lunch?  Okay!  Visiting a huge lake in Nebraska with 100 miles of white sand beaches?  Dontmindifido.

You should have enough of a plan that you can tell your hosts which day you'll arrive on their doorstep or make hotel reservations, but don't schedule yourself too tightly.  I like to limit driving to six hours a day and stop about every two hours to stretch and explore.

3. Stay healthy
If you're road tripping for multiple days (or weeks!), it's really easy to rely exclusively on gas station and fast food.  Shockingly enough, sitting for six hours a day and only eating Combos and coffee will make you feel gross.  Make an effort to stop at state parks and do some wee hikes, walk around new towns, buy your lunches from the grocery store's produce section or just buy one of those salads from a fast food restaurant.  You'll feel way, way better.

4. Stay entertained

You can only talk to yourself for so long.  I amuse myself by trying to find the local station of any city I'm passing through and listening to one million podcasts (here are some of my favorites).   Long trips are also a good time to put your phone on speaker and have deep and meaningfuls with far flung friends.

5. Stay comfortable
Under the heading of 'obvious,'  a long trip in the car is not the time to wear your super cute, super tight vintage dress.  If you're going to be sitting for 6+ hours, wear comfy layers.  When you're driving through different climates you can put on/take off clothes as needed and you won't get an angry stomach from that tight waistband.  I swore by yoga pants, ballet flats, a t-shirt, cardigan, and scarf.

6. Don't get (totally) lost
I'm terrible with maps which is why I'm going to marry my Garmin.  If you've got a smart phone, there are literally hundreds of navigation apps you can download. Before I got my Garmin, I thought it would be "a good personal challenge" to rely on actual paper maps and the directions of locals.  You guys, you'd be amazed how many gas stations don't sell maps for their state, don't sell maps for neighboring states, and how many people are unaware that Louisiana is south of Missouri.  Be ye not so stupid as me.  Use an effing GPS system.

Have you ever road tripped alone?  Or with friends?  What advice would you share?


photo for sale here

35 comments

  1. I like this, so you go for your life... Greetings from the penguins near the South Pole (New Zealand!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Even though I won't be travelling solo when I'm in America later this year, I'll definitely keep this sound advice in mind. Yoga pants ftw for travel!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I did this fall - best weekend ever. Took a short roadtrip (to clear my head) to the Smoky Mountains. Cranked up Amy Winehouse and Willie Nelson all the way! Hiked the Chimneys (a killer) and 8 miles of the Appalachian Trail. All.by.myself. - except for the million other people sitting in cars to see the fall foliage. I ran into several bears and the smell of pine trees along the ridge was one of the most magical memories of my life. I say go for it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I travelled from Toronto, ON to Vancouver, BC - which took about 5 days going through Canada.

    I think my only advice is take your time. Soak everything up. My only regret is that I felt so rushed to get where I was going that I didn't enjoy the "journey" as much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This post makes me really, really, REALLY happy. I've been wanting to take a solo trip for some time, but the thought makes me a little nervous. I had plans for awhile to make a trip to Europe, but let it fall by the wayside when none of my friends or family members could go with me. The thought of traveling solo overseas still concerns me, but I'd love a weekend alone somewhere just to clear my head. Thanks for writing this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that money asides, this resonates more than we (extremely curious beings) like to admit it does, hearing that from friends "I had plans for awhile to make a trip to Europe, but let it fall by the wayside when none of my friends or family members could go with me." sounds just like me, talking to myself when I cant sleep at night... ugh. thanks! we wanderlusting minds are not alone -- even if we will go solo, off we go! :)

      Delete
  6. the last point "Stay on Track" I'm not so sure! My best roadtripping adventures occurred off the track. I met someone, something came up, a new opportunity presented itself. It was fun and that is the adventure!

    I just got back from a three week roadtrip across Canada and four months in Asia. Traveling is by far the best thing that you can do for yourself, I hope your posts encourages others to get out there!! :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. this is such perfect timing! i'm going on a road trip from boston to orlando next month! thanks, dear. xo

    ReplyDelete
  8. My problem: now I have a hard time traveling with people, as I'm so used to traveling alone! Independent women, unite!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I made many solo trips in my younger days. Long before GPS or cell phones. I continued to do so after my daughter was born. Just the two of us, with a lot of warnings and stories of doom from my family. But I always loved it and so did she! The best way to find fun and adventure, is to be lost.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm dying to take a road trip across rural Arkansas (where I live) along all the backroads. Arkansas has more state highways than California but most of them are hilly two-lane old trails riddled with potholes. This summer I plan on taking a number of extended drives!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great post! During my last job I spent two months out of the year traveling solo on a nonprofit budget. I usually spent 4-10 hours driving each day, 5-7 days a week, and basically covered the Midwest! I can relate to the importance of not relying on fast food and working in some occasional activity...otherwise you'll turn into a slug!

    One piece of advice I would add is to make new friends! Find places where you can meet other solo travelers and chat with them. Be safe of course, but I met some great friends and learned great travel tips from people I met on the road.

    ReplyDelete
  12. took a road trip from boston to houma, louisiana with...wait for it...my dad. pretty awesome/a little weird. but def my favorite part was both of us seeing new orleans for the first time together and standing by the all-mighty river while the french quarter bustle hummed behind us. po' boys for all!

    ReplyDelete
  13. These are definitely tips for all road trippers. The beauty of technology makes it so you can use your phone for a lot of navigation and sights/restaurants/attractions-finding.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ooh, thanks for the tips! I'm making the move from Los Angeles to Austin this summer, so I have a long solo drive ahead of me. I'll have to steal some of your ideas, especially the one about stopping to hike every so often!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love this post so much! So many women are scared to road trip alone, but it's great fun, and totally freeing. You never know what you might find! I have some suggestions, because I'm a road trip junkie.

    If you're in the US, I cannot recommend AAA enough. You get all the free maps you want, and nice people will come change your flat, get your keys out of your car, or tow you to a reputable repair shop. It's cheap and totally worth it.

    A GPS is nice, but you always want paper maps for emergencies. Like if a huge solar flare wipes out the satellites. Or something pedantic, like your GPS being stolen.

    Writing down important phone numbers is a great suggestion! I once found myself with a broken transmission in a little Nevada town, running down the car battery calling my parents, while inside the building next door was a landline. Stupid!

    Oh, and carry cash! Many small attractions (like historic gold mines in the mountains) don't take debit cards.

    Also, it is nice to bring a nicer set of clothes - you never know when you'll end up drinking white wine at a free symphony in a ritzy celebrity summer hometown.

    Also: visit your national parks! In addition to outdoorsy ones with hikes of varying lengths, there are also interesting historic sites! Where else can you get gorgeous views, nice hikes, and free educational entertainment (read: ranger programs) for under $20?

    And my last suggestion: listen to your gut. Your intuition - about people, situations, or what would make you most happy - is usually right.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Helena!

    So helpful! I'm going to copy and paste your comment onto the Yes and Yes facebook page!

    ReplyDelete
  17. My favorite part of this post? That you ate Combos. Those are my favorite road trip snack!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I went on road trips with my mother - our biggest excursion being a three week journey across America with just her, myself and my cat. We stopped twice to visit friends but otherwise it was just us 3 and the open road. I never embraced driving but it was fun being an 11 year old navigator. I think the best advice I can give is to always have music you can sing loudly to. And for kids to do as they are told - especially when it concerns safety and not straying. Nothing put the fear of kidnapping in me more than seeing all of those "MISSING" flyers posted across every road stop we came to =/ I never strayed from my mom.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I did a lot of solo cross-country drives over breaks from college and grad school. This was just before the age of the cell phone, so I wasn't contactable on the road--instead, I had good emergency supplies, road flares, first aid kit, tire jack, etc.

    I should have gotten the car checked out before traveling, but I was poor & therefore rarely did. This resulted in a fan belt disintegrating mid-drive one Christmas Eve morning. Fortunately, the auto mechanics in the tiny Ohio town I was nearest to ("birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes!") were willing to take ten minutes out of their holiday party to fix it, so I could finish the remaining ten hours of drive instead of holing up in a motel for Christmas. Don't let this be you!

    Other good ideas:
    - Get a car cooler & fill it with sandwiches and apples. Maybe locate a couple grocery stores on your route before leaving.
    - BRING WATER. Lots of it.
    - You need a box of tissue and a couple rolls of toilet paper in the car.
    - Yes, paper maps! Get them at state welcome centers for free.
    - Music will help you stay awake on long stints. So will opening the windows or venting to the outside if it's cold out. (Smoking lots of cigarettes also kept me awake--but you all know better than to try this one, right?)
    - Speaking of music, make sure you have lots of it in an easily charged non-radio-based format, since rural and mountainous driving often means no radio signal.

    ReplyDelete
  20. My road trips, solo or otherwise, usually end up as a "What Not To Do" list. However, they are also memorable. I took a solo road trip when I first moved to California to see the blooms of Death Valley in the spring. I overestimated the number of campgrounds in the area (2?!?) and ended up sleeping in my car in the middle of Death Valley. It was a little weird, but I woke up to the most beautiful sunrise and hiked around all day without seeing another soul. It was beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds amazing!

      Delete
  21. My advice on a solo road trip...bring your dog! There will never be a better traveling companion. They love the open road & are always up for a spontaneous adventure. Dogs are the best listeners. They love to rock out & do that funky chicken dance right along beside you. They warn you when you are getting into a strange situation, and alert you to approaching strangers at the gas station or convenience store. They insist that you get out to stretch your legs at every opportunity. They invite conversation with the friendly locals.

    I used to take my dog & go car camping at the beach that was 5-hours from my home.

    Nothing will soothe my soul like a peaceful trip to the beach--walking, tossing sticks, and listening to the waves crash--complete with sandy footprints on my jeans from my best little buddy!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Aw I went to the Precious Moments chapel when I was a little girl, and I decided I wanted to get married there. Luckily, when i got older I decided it was too cutesy! But what a fun little side trip for a road trip!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Great tips, I'm want to travel and surprise surprise my friends aren't always keen on my destinations. I'll get up the chutzpah soon enough and head out on my own.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants, friend!

    ReplyDelete
  24. These are all good reminders when you're looking for a fun time with road trips. First priority among all these is the security. Security involves factors like safety, food and plans so make sure you plan out the trip ahead so there won't be any regrets on the way. Also, remember to have fun while doing it coz that's the main reason why you engage in these recreational activities.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I loved this. I can't believe how many women would never consider a solo road trip but I love them! I have On-star, GPS, IPAD, IPOD and road maps. I use them all, but not at the same time. lol! I am directionally impaired, but I'm smart and savvy with my I-tools. My tip is have your phone or your ipad connected with a spouse or close friend that has a locater app., that way they can tell when you get to your destination safely and don't worry for you.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I've only been on one solo road trip so far - I drove from Arizona to San Diego and stayed for two nights in a town where I didn't know a soul. I only have a few tips to add:

    - Check your car and learn about it! Before I left, I had no idea where my oil or jack was. So I had some father-daughter bonding time while he showed me how to check my oil and other fluids, change a flat and we checked the air pressure in my tires and my spare. I'd also had a 5000 mile maintenance done just a month or two before. This gave me a stronger feeling of safety and security - so even if something did happen, I would know where to start.

    - Don't let your tank go below a quarter full. I don't have a good sense of miles and time, so when this happened I panicked until I found a gas station.

    - Don't be afraid to wander! On my way back, I headed for the ocean and just drove in a general southern direction. I ended up on the Pacific Coast Highway, enjoyed some beautiful views, and stopped at La Jolla Cove to take some gorgeous photographs. If you give yourself enough time, then it's okay if you lose your way; it might just give you the chance to experience something amazing that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

    - Do whatever YOU feel like. It was so freeing to do exactly what I wanted without worrying about other people's wants, needs, or finances. I wanted to go to the children's aquarium next to Legoland, so I did; I wanted to spend hours at the Flower Fields, so I did; I wanted to find the first Rubio's and eat a fish taco, so I did and I damn well enjoyed all of it because I was able to fulfill all of my self-centered desires.

    Man, now I want to go on another solo road trip. I don't dislike traveling with friends or family, but it is so freeing and so empowering to do it on your own.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Staying above a 1/4 tank is an excellent suggestion! Be aware of how closely spaced the gas stations are, also - in less populated areas, you'll want to fill up whenever you can.

    Sarah, I didn't even realize there was a facebook group! I'll have to go join it :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. High gas prices be damned, I am taking a road trip this summer!

    ReplyDelete
  29. that is so awesome you road tripped all on your own!
    I'd like to do that, but i'll have to work up to it, i still get nervous driving around my own state on my own.

    Chic on the Cheap

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great post. I'd also put a vote in for not letting the gas tank get too low. I've had a few close shaves and it's terrifying.

    ReplyDelete
  31. What a great post for inspiration. I am a teacher, single guy and just retired; perfect opportunity for getting out of Dodge. (the swamp in S.W. Florida) . I'm more cautious now unlike the many other cross country road trips I have taken alone and with my kids because I am 72. I'm fit however but am balking because of that. I have 71,000 miles on my 6 year old Beemer which gives me pause, yet there's nothing to stop me. Thanks for your inspiring story. I'm ready to head west.
    Dan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so great, Dan! You're going to have soooo much fun!

      And you've updated you AAA membership, right? That business is REQUIRED. ;)

      Delete
  32. This is really helpful, thank you!! :)

    ReplyDelete