As the warm weather finally arrives, I’ve got holidays and weekend getaways on my mind.
I don’t know why, but the novelty of being able to just jump in the car and drive away for a few days has just never lost its shine for me.
I am often flying solo on these journeys, and this can have its pros as well as its cons. Although driving alone can be an awesome chance for quality ‘you’ time, I think ultimately I prefer having company to not only make the actual trip itself seem shorter but to help me stay concentrated, alert and safe on the road.
So on the occasions I am not driving with a wingman or as part of an epic 4WD convoy, I am really conscious of making sure the trip is as smooth and as stimulating as possible.
Here are my top 10 tools and tricks I use to get myself from home to my holiday and back in one piece.
Try not to eat so much as to go into a food-induced coma…
1. Pre-Drive Feed
Before I begin any solo road trip, whether it be a short trip down the Great Ocean Road or a bigger adventure up the east coast, I always fill my belly with some good warm food and drink to keep me active during the drive. If I am leaving at around breakfast time, I will opt for a hearty omelette and my morning hot chocolate.
Coffee is also another common morning brain starter, and while it is a great way to start the day, it is important not to overdo it. You may be thinking that you’ll need more than ‘normal amount’ so you are extra alert and awake on the drive. However, once those extra shots have worn off, the mental crash you will get may not be worth it.
I try to avoid starting my road trip before breakfast and simply grabbing some Macca’s on the way. Not only is this more expensive than just getting up 10 minutes early to make your own brekky, but there is very little nutritional value to keep you going until your next meal.
I’ll talk more about eating while on your road trip later on in the article.
2. Route Preparation
After eating your filling breakfast, preparing a map and route for your trip should be your next step. I prefer to keep my paper-usage to a minimum and will build my route based on Google Maps or on my HEMA 4WD GPS if I plan on going off-road. Just remember to bring all the charging accessories you need for these devices.
As a backup, I always try to keep a fairly up-to-date Melways (or your state’s equivalent) if travelling within the state. For out of state adventures, I grab a HEMA Handy Map for that state or area for just in case.
To be honest, I am not great with directions. Therefore, I always keep my route a simple as possible. Many times I have tried to remember that ‘shortcut’ my mate told me the night before I left, only for me to get more lost and lose more time on my trip.
You’ll need to make sure your tyres have enough tread on them to be roadworthy and last the whole trip.
3. Vehicle Checks
When you get in your car for the daily commute to work, the only real check you’ll be doing is making sure it turns on. However, when you're out on the open road, far from your tools at home and favourite mechanic, it is important to ensure your vehicle is up to the challenge.
How to inspect your car before a road trip
Basic checks like making sure your car is filled with oil, coolant and fuel
Checking your tyres for wear and their pressure. Inflate or deflate them as necessary
Cleaning your windscreen, windows, rear vision mirror and side mirrors for clarity
Ensure your spare tyre is in working condition and you have all the appropriate equipment to change it if needed
Make sure your air con and heater work
Check that the battery is in good condition. Make sure you are confident that it won’t need replacing halfway into your trip
Make sure all headlights, indicators, brake lights and any other driving lights you have equipped work
Inspect your emergency first aid kit for any items that need replacing
Check your insurance, registration and roadside assistance membership prior to leaving. If you plan on going through any tolls on your trip, buy a pass in advance or prepare accordingly.
4. Keeping Hydrated
It’s a well-known fact that you should be drinking around eight glasses of water per day (which equates to about two litres). While road tripping, you can easily forget to keep the water intake up while driving. A good way to do this is to remind yourself to take a mouth full of water every 15 to 30 minutes. If you don’t think you will be able to remember that, every time you take a break, take a big long drink before you head out again.
Who doesn’t love lunch with a view!
Nothing says road trip quite like a quality playlist. If you commute with a trusted list of favourite radio stations, be prepared to lose reception to most of them once you get far enough out of town. I like to have some of my ‘greatest hits’ ready to roll the moment I hit the highway, so I can enthusiastically punch out some massive ballads and keep myself well entertained.
That being said, a solo road trip is a good opportunity to educate yourself while you are not distracted. Podcasts, audiobooks, even the odd TED Talk are also a good option if you want to give the singing a break.
6. Drive Time
Picking the right time to drive is a bit of a dilemma. Do you leave early to avoid the morning work and school rush? Do you leave around mid-morning so you get a few extra hours of sleep? Perhaps leaving later in the day and driving during the night is more your style?
Your drive time will often be decided on how long it will take to get to your destination. If you're only driving for a few hours, you may be able to get away with leaving mid-morning. Others who will be driving most of the day will want to make the most time up while the sun is out.
For myself, I try to leave as early as possible and avoid all major roads the closer it gets to peak hour. By doing this, I also will likely arrive at my destination with heaps of time to spare, allowing myself to take longer breaks along the way.
If you are going to be travelling out in the countryside, I would advise not travelling on any rural roads between dusk and dawn, unless your vehicle is sufficiently equipped to handle a potential animal strike.
Bluetooth allows you to make calls, changes songs and sometimes even send text messages all through voice commands!
7. Hands-Free Devices
I am a fan of making hands-free phone calls when I know I have a substantial period of driving ahead of me. It’s a sensational chance to catch up with friends and family. If you’re driving for work, use the time to check up on clients or management.
Keep in mind that using a device not hands-free (aka texting or calling using the handset) is both illegal and dangerous and police have been cracking down on motorists doing this. The last thing you want is getting your adventure cut short because you couldn’t be bothered to pull over to send a text.
8. Choosing The Right Food
It’s easy to stock up on all the chips, lollies, chocolate and soft drink your passenger seat can handle, but is it a good idea to eat all that junk? The heart says yes but the brain says no. Trail mix, nuts, chickpeas, some types of muesli bars and vege crisps are good alternatives to those unhealthy snacks. That being said, it is still good to treat yourself to the odd choccy to keep the cravings away.
When it comes to ‘bigger meals’ on the road (think breakfast, lunch and dinner), you’ll need to resist the temptations of junk food much like you have done with your snacks. Fast food should always be a last resort. If you have planned your trip well, you should have plenty of time to stop in a town on the way and grab something healthier.
I try to find a cafe or pub in town that has a decent menu. If I have a bit of time before I leave the morning, I always try to prepare a bread roll with some salad and steak in it to eat while driving or at a nice spot along the way. If you are heading far off the beaten track, it may be worth bringing a camp stove with you to cook something a bit more substantial along the way.
Keep the clutter out of your cabin for a better driving experience.
9. Creating a Comfy Cabin
The most important thing to consider when road tripping is how comfortable you are while driving. Because you will be sitting in the same place for long periods of time, having your seat properly adjusted, mirrors adjusted, with a drink and snacks within arm’s reach will make your time behind the wheel all the easier.
Other aspects such as cabin temperature, having a vehicle equipped with cruise control and wearing warm, flexible clothes are all things equally important to making the road trip enjoyable.
10. The Right Mindset
You left home later than expected, you just ate a dodgy McMuffin for breakfast and now you're stuck behind a slow driver. You are probably starting to regret ever going on this road trip.
It is important to keep a positive outlook while driving the long-haul. If you let these little grievances get to you, you will be in for a long, miserable drive. An angry or frustrated mindset may lead you to taking unnecessary risks on the road. Try to stay positive and relish the alone time you have.
Got any top tips for solo road-tripping yourself? Share them with us in the comments below!
Discover More: the great Australian road trip