Rules of the Road

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Road life is not for the faint of heart, especially for those flying solo.

Long hours behind the wheel equate to long hours fighting fatigue, listening to the same songs play time and again on the radio (or, if you’re like me, the same iTunes playlist you created in high school that you’re too lazy to update), resisting the urge to give in to caffeine and sugar, and having to sit still.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing quite like the open road. There’s a certain romanticism about having nowhere and everywhere to go at the same time, but the actual act of getting from point A to point B can be, well, sometimes quite painful.

Now that I’m three months into this year-on-the-road, I’ve definitely learned (through some rough patches of trial and error) some of the rules of the road, and whether you’re just out for a Sunday drive or you’re pulling a cross-country haul, you might find these tips helpful for your next road trip.

1. Carry cash.

There are still places in this world where cards are not accepted. Campgrounds, mom-and-pop restaurants, even gas stations. You’d be surprised. I try to have at least $60 cash on me at all times.

2. Know your route.

Those places that don’t accept cards are likely located in towns where your cell carrier doesn’t have service. Don’t depend on your phone to get you to your destination. I’ve almost turned the wrong way down one-way streets, dead-ended on narrow Forest Service roads, and dealt with a horde of other mishaps from relying purely on my Google Maps app. I always carry a multitude of regional maps and atlases with me in addition to planning my route prior to departure. Printed directions are not antiquated. I like the sticky-note-short-hand approach, personally.

3. Have a buffer.

For time, particularly. You’re well aware of my timeliness issue per my last blog post… I’d recommend giving yourself an extra 45-60 minutes, but with my track record, I should really give myself an extra two hours.

4. Pack passenger-seat-essentials.

Snacks, water bottle, headlamp, maps, cash, camera, coffee. Those are my essentials, and they need to be both easy to find and readily accessible when I’m driving. I’m not one for making a lot of pit-stops unless I feel my bladder may explode, so any opportunity to maximize time on the road and minimize digging through my car is good in my book. That being said, always be wary of what you leave in the passenger seat – I’ll move valuables to the back seat if I leave the car unattended. No need to taunt thieves.

5. Take breaks.

I’m the worst at this, but it’s extremely helpful in keeping you awake. If I start to feel tired, I take the next exit, go for a quick walk, do some stretches, maybe some jumping jacks. I once saw a trucker doing squats in the parking lot. Noted. Gym exercises are not just for the gym.

6. Wear sunscreen.

But just on your left arm and ear.

7. Use locals.

Friendly faces, strangers on the streets, gas station owners, waitresses, the mechanic that just changed your oil. Locals know best, and if you’re looking for recommendations on where to sleep, what to eat, things to do, your go-to source should be a total stranger.

8. Compartmentalize.

Consolidate your stuff, then organize it. I have a trifecta of organization going on – by activity (paddling, climbing, camping), by frequency of use (passenger-seat-essentials vs. backup batteries, clothing, etc.), and by situation (office work vs. couch surfing). It takes awhile to get a system dialed in, and it’s always in a constant state of refinement, but it’s worth the extra effort to stay organized.

9. Have extra water.

I always fill up two 1-gallon jugs of water before I hit the road. Staying hydrated helps keep you awake, but the extra water is good for other things too, like if your car starts to overheat and you’re in the middle of nowhere and don’t have any access to antifreeze.

10. Walmarts are friends, not foes.

At least, for now. Walmart is one of the few places where you can get engine oil, floss, camp fuel, and a bag of spinach in one stop and at 1 o’clock in the morning. Since adopting this wayfaring lifestyle, my attitude toward Walmarts has changed from one of disgust to slight appreciation.

Have I missed anything? Any road warriors out there with other helpful tips on road life? Let’s hear ’em!

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