16 Brilliant Tips for the Ultimate Summer Road Trip

Summer is almost here and after months of lockdown, we’re all ready to get out and go again. While travel might not be completely back to normal this summer, that doesn’t mean you must continue to stay at home. Maybe you’ve read my post on how to stay inspired about travel from home or things you must do now to prepare for future travel and now you’re itching to just go somewhere already. Don’t worry, you’ve still got some options.

Experts say that road trips are the best and safest way to travel this summer. If you live in the United States, you have practically endless options to create an epic road trip. Check out my post for my favorite road trip destinations in the northeast.

There’s something about road trips that make you feel so free. You’re in complete control of where and when you go. If you feel like taking a quick detour to a small nearby restaurant or scenic overlook, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you. These are the kinds of spontaneous adventures you’ll always remember and you can only have on a road trip.

Road trips are also a much cheaper way to see more things at a time. If you flew somewhere, you’re pretty much stuck in that place unless you rent a car or take a train somewhere else, adding even more to the cost.

It’s undeniable that road trips have their advantages. Whether you’re a road tripping master or have little experience, it’s important to plan well and know some good tips to make your getaway the best road trip ever.

*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

1. Clean and check your car before you go

It might seem obvious to do this but I cannot stress enough how important it really is. Lots of people think that because their car seems to be running fine, they don’t need to have it looked at. Big mistake! You never know what could be just a few moments or a few hundred miles away from breaking. You definitely don’t want to find out in the middle of your trip when you’re 15 hours away from home.

Take your car in for a quick check up and have the oil changed so you can have peace of mind during your trip. Also, make sure you clean out your car first. Being stuck in a car for several hours everyday can take a toll on you. If your car is dirty from the start, it will only get dirtier and eventually you will go crazy. Take the time and make sure everything is clean and ready to go before you leave.

2. Don’t plan too little or too much

It might seem confusing but there is something to be said about planning too little or too much. I am the queen of planning and creating itineraries everywhere I go. I can tell you that if you plan too little, obviously you will run into problems. Make sure you have the basic details all mapped out will a schedule that is attainable and easy to stick to.

On the other hand, if you plan too much, you might not be able to achieve all of the things you want and you also won’t allow yourself free time to wander or be spontaneous. You don’t want to be stressed the entire trip about the strict schedule you set for yourself. Make sure you have a good plan that leaves time for issues that might pop up unexpectedly or random fun things you decide you want to do.

3. Go with the right people

If you plan on road tripping with people other than your family (sorry, we all know we’re stuck with our families), then you might want to consider the people you’re choosing to bring along. Do they have similar interests as you? Are they the type of people you can spend hours with for several days straight and mostly still get along?

If not, think about bringing people who will mostly want to do and see the same things and have the same goals in mind. Make sure you sit down together before you leave and talk through all of your expectations. For example, what time you’d like to be on the road by every morning, the places you definitely must see, what kind of lodging you’re both comfortable with, etc. You definitely don’t want to find out after the first day that you picked the wrong people to take on your country road trip.

4. Have good playlists and podcasts

Everyone knows that the road trip playlist is extremely important. The music for the trip can make or break your whole experience. No one wants to spend 6 hours a day in a car listening to terrible music. Make sure you either find or make good playlists with a variety of music for different moods.

Podcasts are also a great idea for long trips. Again, the idea of who you go with is important here. You want to make sure you can find some podcasts that are interesting to all passengers, so bringing like-minded people is crucial.

5. Download useful apps

When you’re covering lots of ground, it’s important to have the right tools to help you make the most of your experience. It’s impossible to research and know everything you’ll find at each stop on your trip. Luckily, there are some great apps (other than your phone GPS) out there to help make your trip the best it can be.

One app I love is iExit. It can tell you what you’ll find at every exit during your journey. You won’t have to play the guessing game by looking over yonder and trying to tell if it looks like there will be a place with a bathroom or a gas station anymore. Another app you should download is the Roadtrippers app. This one has tons of great resources for you to use on your trip, including a trip planner, useful guides and suggested stops along your route.

6. Pack an essentials kit

There’s nothing worse than driving in your car with some drive-thru food that you spilled on your lap while you frantically search the glove box, hoping you have some left over napkins in there somewhere. Don’t do that to yourself.

Plan ahead and put together a kit of all the things you might need on your road trip. Here are my ideas for your essentials kit:

  • Napkins (obviously)
  • Wet wipes for sticky messes
  • Hand sanitizer or soap
  • Chapstick (an absolute must for me)
  • First aid items (Bandaids, Tylenol etc)
  • Chewing gum
  • Tissues
  • Air freshener or dryer sheets

Think of any small issues you could foresee happening while on the road and pack items that will help you through them. As my mom always says, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

7. Have lots of small bills for tolls

Everyone has been in that dreaded situation while driving when they pull up to a toll booth and realize they have no cash or not enough to pay the toll. You don’t want to be stuck with a huge fine because you didn’t plan enough. Be prepared for inevitable tolls and have a stash of ones and fives to use during these times.

Having small bills will be much easier to pay the tolls that are less than a dollar or only two dollars, for example. Make sure you have all of the cash organized to make it easier to pull out what you need as you are arriving at the toll booth.

There are so many wonderful sights to see on the road. Sunsets like these can make for the best road trip experiences.

8. Pack a cooler with healthy food and snacks

One of the best parts of road trips is that you get to try all kinds of new foods. Typically, if you’re traveling in a certain region and want to eat their local food, you’re not going to order a salad. You’re going to try the most delicious food they have to offer. It’s important to pack healthy snacks and meal options for while you’re on the road and in between meals. Pack some veggies and fruits as well as some different ingredients to make sandwiches for lunches.

If you are in need of a good cooler for road tripping, I recommend *ordering this one from Amazon. It’s a cooler bag that attaches to your head rest. It is not bulky, so it fits nicely and doesn’t take up any room in the back seat. It’s very affordable and the design will be helpful in staying organized.

You don’t want to be constantly eating fatty, unhealthy food the whole trip or you will start to feel sluggish and tired. Also, packing some food can save you valuable time and money as you won’t have to stop and buy food as often. This one’s a double win, guys!

9. Bring a refillable water bottle for each person

It’s important to stay hydrated (but not too hydrated, forcing bathroom stops every 20 minutes) while on a road trip. Make sure every person has their own water bottle to refill at all the stops. This will save you money and create less garbage in the car than if you bought a pack of water bottles from the store.

Traveling is known to cause dehydration, so don’t underestimate how much you should be drinking on the road. You’ll feel better and have more energy if you always have a full water bottle and keep drinking!

10. If you’re traveling with kids, get some games

This tip is not coming from personal experience as I don’t have kids, but I remember how boring road trips were to me when I was young. It’s extremely important to have lots of ways to entertain kids on a long road trip. There’s no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to this.

Bring as many things as you can from games, activities, tablets, coloring books, you name it. Hand them out slowly and one at a time. You don’t want to be an hour into the trip and have used all of your weapons already. Bring pillows and blankets as well, so anytime someone is sleepy, they have everything they need to take a comfy nap (and you get some quiet time).

11. Organization is key

Maybe not everyone is like me, but I thrive on organization. If I were to just throw everything into the car and take off, I would have some serious anxiety. To avoid any of this, be very organized. You can even get organizers for your car like these *back seat mats for all your kids things. Having a system like this can make your life so much easier.

Also, have your essentials kit handy in the glove box or where a passenger can easily grab it. The same goes for the toll money and everything else you will need access to while driving. You don’t want to be digging through the back seat for ten minutes every time you need something. Not only is that annoying, but it’s also dangerous.

12. Avoid highways

I don’t know about you, but I hate driving on highways. They’re boring, sometimes cost money and the most likely place for traffic jams. I say avoid them and try taking back roads when you have the option.

There’s so much more to see and experience when you get off the highway. Ride through the country side and see all the beauty of the ordinary small towns and find cool places to stop and explore. You would otherwise miss so many great opportunities if you stuck to driving only on the highway.

13. Eat local

As I said before, one of the best parts of traveling in general is trying the best authentic food. In order to do that, try to always stop at a local restaurant rather than going for the quick convenience of fast food. When you have the time, sit down at a local joint and ask what menu item they make the best or is the most popular.

If you want to take in as much as possible, it’s so important to indulge in the best food of the region. It may take a bit more searching, but it’ll be worth it.

14. Always get gas

Every time you make a stop for any reason, try to get gas at the same time. Even if you already have over a half a tank, just fill up now. You never know what might happen down the road. Those extra few gallons could make the difference when you’re driving through a rural area and haven’t seen a gas station in a while.

Don’t take any chances of running out of gas. That could turn a great time into a nightmare really quickly.

15. Stick to daylight hours if you can

It’s definitely better to schedule early(ish) mornings and early nights. Driving in the daylight is much easier and more enjoyable than driving a night. Not to mention, it’s a lot safer. Get out on the road by 8:00 or 9:00 every morning and then call it a night while the sun is still up.

You will find more enjoyment in the area that you’ve stopped if you’re not completely exhausted. Then you can get to bed early and be refreshed and ready to go the next morning.

16. Enjoy the ride

Some people don’t like road trips because they think it’s a waste of time to take longer getting to your destination. However, as the world recovers from the coronavirus situation, road trips are going to be the best option for a while.

Besides, it’s crucial to not look at traveling as just getting though the time until you reach your final point. The beauty of road trips is that there’s just as much to experience along the way. The possibilities are endless out on the open road. You have complete freedom to go anywhere and stop at any little old town that you would have flown right by on a plane.

So take your time, relax and enjoy all the little experiences in between. Sometimes, they can be the longest lasting memories.

Where are you road tripping to this summer? Which tips are definitely going on your to-do list?

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I am a 25 year old American girl trying to see the entire world with my travel partner/boyfriend, Jacob. We find beauty in the biggest and smallest places and the journey it takes to get there.

21 thoughts on “16 Brilliant Tips for the Ultimate Summer Road Trip

      1. I would love to make it to the mountains in BC and Alberta a few times this year. I also had a big trip planned from Arizona and Utah then up through Yellowstone and back to Canada. It got cancelled unfortunately!


  1. Great article with really good advice! The next big road trip I plan to take — some day — is Route 66. That one is a long time coming. I hope it will be safe to do soon.


  2. Great tips! A couple of summers ago my boyfriend and I took a road trip all over the Western US and it was a blast. I can’t wait to road trip again this summer!


  3. These are lovely tips! It feels so easy to pack up and go on the spur of the moment, but too much spontaneity can ruin an otherwise great trip. Thanks for sharing!


  4. These are so helpful! My husband and I take a lot of roadtrips. One thing I would love to suggest is a good back support pillow! All the long hours of driving and sitting the car can be painful sometimes! For both the driver and the passenger. hehe


  5. Just before we go on any road trip, I take our car to get checked over and for a regular tune up. Because the last thing I want is to breakdown in the middle of nowhere! I’ve been on a roadtrip from Phoenix to Las Vegas where the engine caught fire because there wasn’t enough oil in the car. Talk about a nightmare!


    1. Oh, no! I had a car break down in the middle of a trip from Florida to New York. It was a long and painful experience to get through and I never want to relive it! Thanks for reading!


  6. We are planning a road trip into the mountains in July, so this is super useful information. It looks like road trippin is where it’s at these days.


  7. You literally covered everything! Well written! I love that you mentioned about planning too much, my husband and I travelled for 4 months before covid, and we loved the freedom with not planning too much. 🙂


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