7 Tips for Making Any Road Trip Memorable

    This past summer, I drove over 7,500 miles across the United States. From Indiana, to South Carolina, to California, I’ve been through a lot, and learned even more. For anyone looking to take a road trip now or in the future, I’d like to share a few tips on how to make it the best experience possible:






1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

In 7,500 miles of driving, one can’t expect it to go off without a hitch. There will be car troubles. Here’s a list of some car troubles that occurred while on the road:

  • 1 popped tire
  • 2 brake/rotor replacements
  • 2 chips in the windshield
  • 1 busted radiator

Now, I could have let this get under my skin and ruin my trip, but ya know what? I would have had to pay for it nonetheless. So I kept a positive attitude throughout because, after all, it’s just stuff. And this stuff was enabling me to have so many more incredible experiences.


I encourage you to adopt the same outlook. When things don’t go according to plan, and stuff breaks, don’t sweat it! It will get fixed, you will survive, and at the very least it provides a story.


If you are a big planner, then I recommend setting some money aside in the “Emergency Budget.” If you have to dip into that fund, at least you planned for it. And if not, that’s more money you can spend at the bars, a National Park, or (my personal favorite) Taco Bell.


2. Camp in National Forests

Let’s say you are taking a two-week road trip. And each night, you find the cheapest motel you can (because you’re on a budget) for $50 on average. After 14 nights, you will have spent $700 on lodging alone. Yikes.


Instead, get yourself a tent and a sleeping bag and camp in any one of the 155 National Forests in the United States. I learned a helpful little tidbit from a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park. Here it is: camping in the National Forests is COMPLETELY FREE.


All you have to do is find a nice spot to park, and be respectful of your surroundings. When you pack up the next morning, leave the site looking better than when you found it. But that’s more common courtesy than a rule.


One website that really comes in handy for the best free camping spots is campendium.com. It lists a ton of spots by state on a little map, and makes it easy to find your next place to bed down.


3. Avoid camping on private property

This may sound like a no-brainer, but in those rare cases where you cannot find a suitable spot in a National Forest, DO NOT camp on the side of the highway. Even in the middle of nowhere. 60% of the land in the states is privately owned, and those landowners don’t like it when people camp on it. To be fair, I wouldn’t want some disheveled recent grad posting up in my yard either!


If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, I am. One night, after searching for a spot for 3 hours, my two companions and I could go no further. So, we bedded down on the side of US 287 near Fort Collins, CO. Around 7:30 the next morning as we were packing the tent up, I saw a man approaching us from a house nearby.


He was clearly coming towards us, so I walked up to head him off. He appeared to be around 70 years old, and spoke quietly and respectfully. His name was Tom (woo!), and Tom told us that we had camped on his land. He wasn’t upset, but recommended we not do that again, because many other landowners weren’t nearly as nice as him.

Which was certainly a nice way of saying, “They’ll probably shoot you for trespassing.”


Needless to say, we weren’t going to be camping on private land any time soon. And neither should you.


4. Bring people with you

Driving alone can be great. It gives you plenty of time to think, rock out to music with no threat of judgement, and enjoy the sound of silence. But for long road trips it can get pretty lonely. I drove about 3,500 miles alone; versus 4,000 in the company of others. Let me tell you, I had a hell of a lot more fun with other people. We also rocked out to music, and got through some sticky situations together. At the end of a long driving day, it’s always nice to sit back around a fire with a couple of cold brews, and swap stories.


When you plan your next road trip, I highly recommend you do it with at least one close friend, relative, significant other, or random hitchhiker you pick up along the way! People make life meaningful, and that certainly extends to road trips.


5. Plan ahead and pack right

When you’re driving all day and camping in National Forests at night, you’re going to need a few supplies. Here is a quick and dirty list of some essentials (and non-essentials) that make the trip a little more comfortable:


For the road:

  • Snacks!
  • Spare tire with all the necessary tools for changing a tire
  • Two gallon jugs of water to refill bottles and cook with (fill these up for free at gas station soda fountains)
  • More snacks!
  • A cooler for food and drinks
  • Sunscreen
  • Blankets and pillows for passengers
  • Did I mention snacks? I like snacks


For camping:

  • Tent (I personally prefer sleeping in a hammock)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Headlamp(s)
  • Playing cards
  • Multi-tool knife (beer bottle openers are a plus)
  • Foldable chairs
  • Plenty of grocery, Ziploc, and garbage bags – you will use a surprising amount of these
  • Toilet paper
  • Bug spray
  • Camp stove
  • Utensils, dishware, cooking pot/pan


6. Camp as much as possible

Many nights during my trip, I was graciously taken in by family and friends to rest and recuperate. While it’s great to stay indoors, nothing beats the great outdoors when you’re on a road trip. We all get plenty of sleep indoors when not on vacation, so step outside of your comfort zone and pitch a tent!


We saw some incredible starry nights, and I woke up outside every morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Nature is very restorative, and camping is a great way to push away the stresses of modern life and hit the reset button.


7. Treat yourself!

I won’t lie. Most of my meals consisted of rice, beans, pasta, hot dogs, or some combination thereof for a whopping total of $1.00 per meal. Granted, after hiking 20 miles in one day, rice and beans tastes like the meal of kings, but that’s beside the point.


My travel companions and I were on a budget, as you probably will be, which is why we ate cheap food and found free places to camp. But, it’s important to remember that you’re still on vacation. Buy yourself delicious beignets in New Orleans, eat lunch at a food truck in Portland, or pay to camp overnight in Grand Teton National Park. You’re going on a road trip to explore the world, and you should not sell yourself short of the full experience due to budget concerns.


If you are truly on a tight budget, take a page from my book and find substitutes. Sleep outside instead of at a hotel. Eat oatmeal for breakfast instead of McDonald’s. If you do so, you free up money to spend on amazing experiences like white water rafting down the New River in West Virginia.



I hope you find these tips helpful for your next road trip. If you have any questions, comments, or think I missed an important aspect of driving around the country, please comment below. Thanks for reading!

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