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20 tips for surviving a summer road trip, courtesy of touring musicians
Road trips are made for summer. Summer is made for road trips. I'm a musician with several tours under my belt so, yeah, you guessed it, I love road trips and summer. But braving the heat while living in an automobile isn't very cool if you aren't prepared. Before you pack your vehicle so tight you can't open the backseat doors without spilling pillows and sun block all over the scorching rest stop parking lot, make sure you have your summer road trip bases covered.
Summer's biggest pitfalls aren't mysterious. Mostly there's the heat and the sun, which can be two separate problems to combat. Precisely how to conquer the road while dodging the wrath of summer is a practice best perfected by experience, so here are some tips birthed from experience, not in any intentional order.
1. Plan your route wisely.
Where you're going matters. As you might suspect, planning a summer road trip that will take you through the South is dangerous territory. With that said, I've done it, plenty of people have, but be mindful of the regional summer climate when planning your summer trip. Give yourself more time for rest than you think you need. The heat has a way of corroding away a traveler's soul. If you think you can manage full-day drives during the summer, that's fine, but make sure your schedule is flexible.
Gallery: My road trip last summer
It's absolutely essential that you make sure your vehicle is adequately prepared for a summer road trip before embarking on one. If your air conditioner is broken, get it fixed. If the car's interior material is the kind that easily gets sticky and hot, bring thin sheets to cover the seats with. And oh yeah, those windshield sun blockers? Definitely a bright idea. Aol Autos has a good round-up detailing how to prepare your car for a summer road trip here.
3. Pack the right stuff.
What you pack will prove to be important during a summer road trip. During any road trip, no matter the season, what you bring along with you more or less accounts for your home for the trip. When road tripping, your vehicle is your home. Remember that. Aside from the regular to-bring items (first aid kit, anyone?) a few essentials to remember when packing for a summer trip are:
But the real question to ask yourself is: what helps you feel comfortable in the summer? If having an on-the-go folding beach chair around has been handy for you in the past, go ahead and slide it into your trunk if there's space.
Dean Herrera, guitarist for metal band, The Human Abstract, is especially behind including a swim suit on the pack list.
"Always have some swim suit ready to go. You never know when you might drive by an unexpected river or lake that would be perfect for a quick dip", said Herrera when I asked him for his own summer road trip tips.
4. Avoid afternoon driving.
Tolerating the heat, especially in the South, can be a challenge. Avoid driving in the height of the afternoon if you have a chance. People siesta for a reason in warm places! You should take this tip via tradition to heart. Drive at night, dawn, or dusk for the most pleasant temperature and traffic-free experience. Not only will you be more comfortable, but you'll probably save a little on gas money while you're at it (it takes less gas to cool your car when the outside temperature drops).
5. Stay clean.
It's easy to become a stinky sweaty mess when traveling during the summer. Deodorant is important, but it won't ward off all of the nasty scents of summer road tripping. I used to always have my shampoo, conditioner, and a jug of water around so I could quickly wash my hair in a parking lot if necessary. But public showers do exist.
"Truck stop showers are typically very clean", says Anthony Shustak. "Don't be afraid to use them if you need... just be sure you've got some sandals". Anthony Shustak is a touring veteran who has traveled with acts like Meg and Dia and LIGHTS as an engineer, tour manager, and general-good-guy-to-have-around.
6. Protect your engine.
"If your van or car is on its way to overheating and you don't want to or can't, stop, blast the heater and open the windows. It helps keep your engine slightly cooler", says Herrera who, at this point, has probably circled around the United States in a van enough times to equally circle to world a few times.
7. Stay rested.
"Sleep!", says Shustak. "Coffee only does so much. So, before you get to the point on that 14 hour drive when you're on your fourth cup of coffee in six hours and your arms are shaking, pull the car over and take a nap! Even if it's just half an hour".
8. Tune in and tune out.
Shustak has some advice on which electronics matter. "Have a fully stocked mp3 player, a camera at the ready, and turn your phone off for a day or two--or at least limit yourself to one or two "message checks" per day. Your e-mails will miraculously still be there when you wake up the next day", he suggests.
9. Embrace the road less taken.
"Make sure to go off the beaten path", advises Shustak. "Don't be scared of the locals. Ask questions... especially when it comes to finding out the best places to eat.
10. Get some alone time.
You're much more likely to want to strangle your travel companion, be it your spouse, colleague, or Craigslist rideshare partner, while crammed up together in a hot car for hours upon hours each day. Make sure to take breaks from your road buddy as frequently as possible, even if just for 15 minutes.
11. Know your territory.
And know what comes with that territory. Read up and know the dangers of the area at hand. If the bear population is high, for instance, be sure to be mindful of where you place your food and trash while parked.
12. Stay hydrated.
Keep yourself hydrated with cold beverages while driving. Think about it this way: every cool drink you down is another step up and toward a cooler temperature--particularly important if your car has an irreparable broken air conditioner (which is incredibly inconvenient if you live in Austin, FIRST HAND KNOWLEDGE).
13. Use an umbrella.
Protect yourself from the sun's rays, especially mid-day. If you hate lathering on sun block and don't see the point in covering your body with it when you'll be in the car most of the day, just use your umbrella when you stop for a walk to stretch your legs. It's much easier than worrying about the lotion.
14. Pack light.
Shustak's packing tip is all about how much you pack.
"Mainly, for me, it comes down to packing lightly and efficiently. If you are on a trip longer than a month in duration, pack for 10-14 days and use your opportunities to do laundry during any downtime", says Shustak, who undoubtedly knows the value of staying with a washer/dryer-owning friend on the road.
15. Eat healthy.
An easy way to make sure you feel like crap while traveling is to eat crap. I realize old habits die hard, but some fresh fruits and vegetables just might be your answer to staying happy and healthy on the road.
16. Entertain yourself.
Cruising across states is fun and the landscape views are great. But you'll eventually get sick of looking out of the window and when you do, you'll need a way to entertain yourself. Be sure there's no shortage on entertainment options. Books, notebooks, sketchbooks, jewelry-making supplies, knitting tools, dvds for your computer, video games, iPod and headphones... you know what you like, so pack accordingly.
17. Bring camping supplies.
Sometimes you need to stop in towns where you don't have any friends you can stay with and your money needs to go toward gas, not hotels. It's no big deal, just camp! If you can squeeze at least a tent and a sleeping bag in your vehicle, do it. Having the ability to sleep comfortably anywhere when you need to stop will enhance your overall road trip experience this summer.
18. Have your contacts saved.
Phones get stolen, broken, and lost. Make sure you have a list of your contacts, especially your emergency contacts, saved elsewhere. I suggest online, on your computer, and in a notebook.
19. Keep someone in the loop.
I was a little annoyed summer of 2007 when the folks who care about me back home called Wyoming hospitals to see if I'd been in an accident after not hearing from me for days. Truth be told, I was just camping in Yellowstone without phone reception and I should have kept someone in the loop. But at least these folks, my parents, were in the loop enough to know which area of the country I was in. Make sure you're keeping someone you trust up to date on where you are and where you plan on going.
20. Bring an actual atlas.
"Have an up-to-date road atlas", says Shustak. "Surprise, surprise... the GPS and/or Google Maps are not always accurate".
Have some tips I missed? Let us all know in the comments.