Mom put me in charge of planning the whole drive from Texas to Michigan. Here's my five-point plan.
I am seventeen and in high school, and I’m planning my very first road trip. My mom and I are going on a spring break drive from Texas to Michigan, and I get to do all the planning. I believe the Girl Scout motto, “Be prepared,” is also the rule of the road for long-distance travel, but until now, it has been up to my parents to do the preparing. This time, it's all me! So for my first trip, I broke it down into five planning steps. Of course, this isn't really the first road trip I've been on. I have been on dozens of driving vacations with my family—it is really a sweet way to travel. My mom and dad do all of the planning as well as the driving, and I just show up. As an only child I have the entire back seat of the car to create my cozy lair—pillows, blankets, snacks, movies, books, etc. And the very best part: I can spend the time watching movies until we magically arrive at our destination. My parents are always telling me to look out the window and see America fly by. But this time, I will be watching, since I'm in charge of every step of this trip, and as the navigator I will be responsible for everything except the driving. This is my parents’ sneaky way of preparing me for future road trips without them. Here are the steps I'm following.
1. Make a Budget
You need to think about the big picture—food, gas, a roof over your head, and any expenses for activities along the way. You can easily calculate the gas portion by going to the trip planner at fueleconomy.gov. If you enter your vehicle’s specs and your itinerary, it will give you an estimate of the cost of gas for your trip. The accommodation portion will vary depending on whether you will be couch surfing or staying at a five-star hotel. For our trip we are using Airbnb to book our rooms to try and stay at some unique places. It is also important to have access to a credit card in case you have an emergency. And if you are a shopper, keep in mind you will need a little extra cabbage for mementos.
2. Set Your Route
A huge part of a successful road trip starts with planning the route. Once you pick the destination, you have to decide if you are going directly, or do you have time for some stops along the way. Another big decision is the type of road that you want to drive on—all Interstate or highway, or possibly a combination. There are many apps available to make it easy to plan. I used roadtrippers.com to find and add sightseeing opportunities along the way. Start exploring the route ahead of time so you have an adequate amount of time to explore your options. This advance planning will make the trip run a whole lot smoother, and for first-timers like me, it will help make your parents happy. But be flexible when you are on your trip if for some reason you need to take a detour. Sometimes unplanned adventures can be the best part of a road trip.
3. Prepare Your Car
Give your car a thorough once-over before leaving the driveway so you won't have any nasty surprises on the trip. You need to check the fluid levels, tires, belts, hoses, and wipers. If you have an older car, or if you are a novice like me under the hood, it is a good idea to take it to a mechanic for a once-over.
4. Gather Essential Documents
Before you leave on any extended trip, make sure all of your paperwork is in order. Put your registration and proof of insurance in an envelope inside the glove compartment, and double check that your insurance is up to date. It is a good idea to have an emergency kit in the car, such as this one. Chances are you will never need it, but it may prove to be a lifesaver. If I break down, my first call will be to my roadside assistance, but there are circumstances where you need to be prepared to take care of yourself. It is also helpful to stash a few items to cleanup spills in the car in your emergency kit. After all, if you spill a soda in your lap, that is truly an emergency. We all rely on electronic navigation, but it is a good idea to throw in an old-fashioned map like the one my grandparents use.
5. Stay in Touch
It is a good idea to make sure someone knows your itinerary and timeframe before you leave, and then to plan check-ins along the road. If you tend to the adventurous side and have a misadventure, a well-informed friend can get help to you faster—this is especially true if you are a lone wolf. With today’s social media options it is fun to share your progress with your peeps, but as adults have warned me, hold back before you provide too much detail about your location that can be seen by the general public on the Internet. I'll be checking in from the road next week, so stay tuned! Any last-minute suggestions of things to see between Austin and Detroit will be welcomed!