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Road Trip Tips

Cold water without a cooler - Road trip tip

Sometimes, we travel without a cooler (when we're taking a shorter trip or don't have enough room). But even without the cooler, we always have a way to have ice cold water with us.

To make cold water last the whole day, put a couple bottles of water in the freezer the night before*. Naturally, they'll all turn to bottles of ice. An hour into the day, after the ice melts a little, you have a nice cold drink of water. When you see a water fountain, you can add more water -- or, add water from unfrozen bottles.

In most developed countries, tap water is as good (or better) than bottled. Plus it's cheaper and greener (of course, it's ok to use the same bottles over).

* Be sure NOT to insert FULL bottles into the freezer! They might explode or leak when they melt, if the bottle has cracked from the pressure.

Have a road trip scavenger hunt - Road trip tip

Planning a family road trip? To avoid hours of boredom, plan a "scenic scavenger hunt."

It's easy. Just write down a list of 100 things you might see along the way, like landmarks, buses or bridges. The first person to complete the list wins.

For preschool kids, substitute magazine photos and trim the list to twenty familiar objects. For older kids, include a challenge: require them to provide one additional fact about each item they find.

Have fun. And by the time you reach the end of the road, you won't be at the end of your rope.

Pack toilet paper - Road trip tip

Campers know this rule, but road trippers should follow it, too: always bring a roll of toilet paper.

It's good to have if you need to make an "emergency stop" if the next exit is too far away. It saves you problems at poorly stocked rest stops. Finally, it's great for cleaning up those spills of giant sodas and coffees from a little road turbulence or heavy-duty laughter.

Meet your mom's hairdresser's nephew (or whoever) - Road trip tip

Maybe it's your mom's hairdresser's nephew, and chances are you'll have nothing in common. But you never know...

It's worth grabbing a coffee with an acquaintance (however many times removed), if you don't know a new city or country. It makes a completely different kind of trip when someone takes you to their favorite cafe or recommends an obscure nearby venue when you mention you like folk music.

Bonus: because you'll meet someone a friend or family member knows, you're strengthening your relationships at home!

Bring a CB radio - Road trip tip

CB radios used to be all the rage, and a trip across country would demand one.

While CB radios are no longer en vogue, they are still a heck of a lot of fun -- and a great source of back-up if you're in trouble. Bringing a CB radio can help with many road trip problems: staying awake, fun for the kids, and even getting directions.

The best part is, CB radios are not very expensive and are very easy to install. If you're not sold on them right away, you can choose permanent or temporary installation and see if it suits your needs.

Blog it or Facebook it or Tweet it or ... - Road trip tip

Let friends and family share in your road trip adventure by posting details along the way via your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media site. People at home are curious about your adventures, and seeing your update may trigger a memory or suggestion they have to improve your trip.

With a smartphone such as the Apple iPhone, Motorola Droid or Research in Motion's BlackBerry, it's a snap to post a status update of your trip or take and upload a photo or video of a roadside attraction. Smartphone Facebook apps and apps such as Bloglive make it easy to upload your content.

Of course, don't do any of this while driving. Wait until you're stopped, or have a passenger do the posting.

Stop to read the historical markers - Road trip tip

Every state has them -- those roadside markers provided by the state historical society that highlights some piece of history that took place here, or some otherwise trivial piece of information about the journey through this area made by others.

Sometimes the markers explain a point of geology. Sometimes they provide insight to the name of a highway or region or valley or mountain. We've found the sites of shoot-outs with Bonnie & Clyde, of stage coach routes and of unbelievable natural disasters, and through each one have felt a little more in touch with the journey.

Post-It along the highway - Road trip tip

Memories can be preserved in many ways, and a family road trip is the perfect opportunity to capture those memories... with post-it notes!

Before leaving home, give each passenger a pad of post-its and a few colored pencils. Tell them to draw pictures or write about the things they see during the trip. They could draw a cool bird, a "Welcome to..." sign, or write about something they learned along the way. Encourage everyone to use all of their post-its.

When you return home, put the post-its into a scrapbook or make a colorful collage to display a collective memory of your family road trip.

More road trip apps for your phone - Road trip tip

The iPhone and other smart phone applications are making our lives simpler every day. Road trips are no exception. Before leaving on your next road trip, try these apps, all available on the App Store (warning: links open iTunes):
  1. Free WiFi Finder (free) helps you find strong and free WiFi hotspots on the road;
  2. Where To? ($2.99) helps find places of interest like museums and shopping centers and is great for unfamiliar places; the special 'Surpise Me' feature helps when you're indecisive;
  3. Road Trip ($4.99) allows you to keep records of fuel prices, mileage, and travel expenses so you may graph them and export to a CSV file.
Related: Road trip tip: 6 useful iPhone apps for road trips

Load your car the night before - Road trip tip

How many times have we planned on leaving at 7 in the morning for a road trip only to find that we're running two hours late before it's even started?

With the exception of the cooler and (maybe) the kids, everything that's needed -- from luggage to GPS to toll transponder -- can all be put into the car the night before.

If you cannot do this because you park your car in the street and not the garage, have everything you need right by the door so you can just grab and go the next morning. Remember: the fun part of the road trip start right after all the work finishes.

Laminate maps and printed directions - Road trip tip

Passengers eat, drink, and frequently move in and out of the car during a road trip. A paper map or set of printed directions easily gets shoved into a seat during a stop, or worse yet, ruined if food or drink is spilled on it. Upon arrival, directions and maps are even more likely to get misplaced or damaged. To keep maps and directions safe during the trip, laminate them.

For around $30, a home laminating machine will seal standard letter size pages. Copy and print stores have the capability to laminate larger maps for a minimal fee. Alternatively, you can use contact paper to cover paper maps.

Pro tip: you can draw your route on a laminated map and easily wipe the mark off, if you change your mind.

Bring a dry-erase board - Road trip tip

Road trips are some of the most amazing adventures, but unless you capture the moments with your camera, then all you're left with are mental pictures that are bound to fade over time.

The best aspect about road trips is that you can pull your vehicle over at (almost) any time and capture the amazing scenery, stunning skylines, or bizarre bits of life sprinkled along the highways.

One huge tip is to bring a small dry-erase board along to "caption" the photos so you aren't left wondering, "Where was this photo taken?" or "What in the world is that?"

Bring an extra car key - Road trip tip

Road trips can be some of the best vacations ever. Don't ruin yours by losing your car keys.

When I was an undergrad, one of my most memorable road trips was from Ann Arbor to Chicago. Although we had a blast, our trip took a turn for the worse when our driver lost his car keys. As a result, he had to take a four hour train ride back to campus, pick up his spare key, and return to get the car.

If our driver had an extra car key in his wallet, he would have saved himself a lot of trouble (and time).

Play 'Radio Station Roulette' - Road trip tip

One game my friends and I developed during a few of our epic road trips is something we call "Radio Station Roulette." Here's how to play:

  1. Push the scan button on your car stereo.
  2. Wait until it stops on a station – the first to name the title and artist of the song playing on the station wins a point.
  3. Repeat as many times as you want. The person with the most points at the end is the 'Music Master.'
This game is a great way to boost energy during your road trip (and it might even inspire a little fun competition among music-loving friends!)

Use a junior navigator on road trips - Traveling with kids tip

The front passenger is always the navigator when I'm traveling with my family or a group. However, I discovered that you can turn your children into junior navigators while helping them learn geography at the same time. It helps eliminate them from asking, "Are we there yet?"

Just ask them to look for a specific landmark or road sign. It will keep them interested in the travel and less likely to be bored along the way, because they're actively doing something. In short, it keeps their interest in traveling while having fun -- and learning about the country!

Set small goals - Road trip tip

Driving long distances requires stamina, especially if you're going it solo. Mentally breaking up the trip into three or four "legs" can help you feel accomplished and less despondent along the way.

Whether you stop at the beginning of each leg or push through, the feeling of a "new beginning" is a refreshing way to look at the next 200 miles.

Wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat helps too.

[Image credit: Luke Robinson]

"Frolf" away the fidgets - Road trip tip

Road trips all over America can be made into fun family adventures by simply investing in a few Frisbee golf discs. Disc golf courses can be found all over the country, from urban, technical courses to woodsy, hilly courses that offer beautiful views; the best part about this game is that it is free and fun for all ages!

Before your trip, map out a few Frisbee golf -- or "frolf" courses -- and any time your muscles start aching and you want to get out and stretch, detour a bit to a "frolf" course and start throwing.

Rules of play and a course locator can be found at

Bonus: while frolfing, you may meet some locals who can provide tips for dining out on the road or other fun detours.

Don't let your pet over drink - Road trip tip

Boarding pets while you're on vacation can be costly. So why not take them? After all... they love a change of scenery, too!

If you can take your pet with you, avoid letting him or her "over drink" on the trip, as a result of stress. This can lead to vomit spells. (Of course, be sure to let your pet get enough liquids during the ride!)

One way to prevent your pet from over drinking is to get a kid's sand pail; fill it with ice; and let the ice melt. As it melts, the pet can drink from the pail -- but because the ice melts slowly, your pet can't over drink!

Bring a swimsuit - Road trip tip

When going on a road trip, you often have no idea which stops you'll make along the way. You may have a planned destination, but not every stop will be outlined in advance. When I think of road trips, I think of long distance and this is a reason you should bring a bathing suit: You may decide to stay all night at a hotel -- or you may find a great view by a lake.

Although the ideal decision may be to go skinny dipping in the lake, it may not be legal to do so in some of the states you'll pass through. That's why it's always a great idea to bring a bathing suit -- just in case.

(And who knows? You can always ditch the suit at the shoreline, if you want to!)

Rent an RV - Road trip tip

For a longer road trip, renting an RV can be a great way to make your experience memorable. These homes-on-wheels come in a wide range of sizes and prices, so there's something for just about everyone.

The big advantage of traveling in an RV is the flexibility it offers. With a kitchen, bathroom and beds in the vehicle, you can decide where and when you stop -- which means you won't be tied to an itinerary. And when you're in an RV, the road can be just as fun as the places it takes you.

Bonus: the money you save on lodging and food should cover most or all of the cost of the rental and fuel.

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