Tips for Planning a Solo Road Trip
Lately, I’ve been doing more and more solo trips. I’ve been venturing outside of my comfort zone and taking longer trips to places I haven’t been to before with others.
In April I did a solo road and backpacking trip to Havasupai and in June I drove from California to Colorado solo for Outdoor Retailer.
It’s always scary pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but I believe that it’s always worth it. It shows me my strengths, makes me into the person I want to be and helps me learn more about myself along the journey. I try to not let fear hold me back.
Here are my tips for planning and going on solo road trips. For tips for hiking solo, read my blog post.
Create a plan
When you’re solo, it’s easier to adjust your plans as needed. But for me, it’s been helpful to create at least a loose plan beforehand. I tend to be more spontaneous with other people, but when I’m solo it helps me to have some idea of what I want to see, where I want to stop, hike and so forth.
This helps me to plan out my day, timing and motivates me not to just sit in the car and feed into the fear of being alone.
Research where you’re going
Look at the map and know where you’re going.
How far apart are the towns with food and gas stops? Where is the last gas station before you won’t see another one for miles? How many miles can you car drive on a full tank of gas? Do you need to bring extra gas cans?
What kind of weather can you expect? What are the safe areas for me to stop overnight? How far apart (time and distance) are the places that you want to stop?
These are the questions you need to ask yourself so you’re prepared. On a road trip, expect not to have cell reception the whole time so be prepared before you go.
When going solo, safety is also a huge concern. I try to avoid stopping in places where I’ll be worried about my safety. When I was driving to Havasupai and I was looking for somewhere to car camp on the drive over, I got off the freeway at one place that had campgrounds further up the road and the first thing I saw when I got off the freeway was a car with its wheels stolen. I quickly made a 360 and got back on the freeway.
Aside from safety, knowing the lay of the land for where you are going is also very helpful with creating a plan and looking for ideas of things you’d like to do and see.
Also, after you’ve done the research, an area will start to feel familiar even if you haven’t been there before. It helps me notice more on the drive, to be able to better put the location into perspective, and helps me enjoy it more because I feel familiar and more at ease with the location.
Have a cut off driving time
If you’re like me, your mind likes to play games with you at night. My head likes to create the worst possible situations at night and everything seems that much scarier. At night is when fear really gets to me, so I’ll keep driving because I’ll be too scared to stop in an area I don’t know.
What’s helped me is setting a cut off time. My cut off driving time is usually 11pm (give or take 30 min). That means either I need to find a hotel or find a campground to sleep in.
It’s also a safety factor so I’m not falling asleep at the wheel.
Bring extra food and water
Don’t dehydrate or starve yourself!
Sometimes on the road, it’s hard finding food that’s not just fast food and chips and candy from a gas station. So I bring healthy snacks with me such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit, sandwiches, salads, etc.
I also bring extra water and electrolytes with me.
Make sure your car is in good shape
The last thing you want to get stuck somewhere on the side of the road, especially in a place with no cell reception.
If your car is up for an oil change, go take care of it. If it needs it’s 75,000 mile checkup, take care of it. If you’ve been in an accident recently, check with your insurance to make sure you can take your car on the trip if you don’t have time to take it in beforehand.
This happened to me. A woman hit my passenger side back door on the freeway a few miles from home and dented the whole passenger side of my car. I was going to Yosemite in a few days, so I had insurance expedite the process so they can let me know if my car is safe to drive the 600 miles round trip. Thankfully it was and my car got fixed after the trip.
If your car isn’t in good shape, consider renting or borrowing one.
Also, know how many miles you get per tank. If you’re going somewhere like a National Park with no gas stations inside if your car can’t make it the full distance, bring extra gas cans with you.
Playlists, podcasts, e-books, and calling grandma
Driving alone for hours gets lonely. So I have a road trip playlist, I save all my podcasts for long road trips so I’m entertained.
Because of my marketing background, I listen to Social Media Examiner. I love this podcast and I’ve learned so much from it. It keeps me entertained for hours. Each one is about 45 minutes long, and I have quite a few new ones that need to be listened to usually before I go. Now listening to work related podcasts might not be your cup of tea, totally cool. Listen to something you enjoy! An e-book is also a good alternative to podcasts.
And when I have cell reception I make my calling rounds. I call grandma, my parents, a friend… you get the picture. Especially when talking to grandma, that’s about 30-60 minutes of the drive right there!
Safety at night
This goes back to the point about researching the area. Make sure you sleep in a place that makes you feel safe, especially if you’re sleeping in your car.
I feel safest in campsites or recreational areas. My car doesn’t have tinted windows, but if I did, hotel and casino parking lots are also good options.
Always tell someone where you’re going
I leave my rough itinerary with someone. If I’m going into a National Park and know I won’t have cell reception, I call right before I start heading in before I lose reception. I also check in throughout the drive.
Make sure you don’t let your gas get too low
I’ve been there. A couple of years ago, I was driving with my siblings through the Sequoia National Park and on the way down, my car (which gets very good gas mileage), was nearing empty. We were basically cruising down the mountain to get to the nearest gas station in Three Rivers so we didn’t get stuck. This was also before I had a Garmin InReach.
Now with my InReach, I figure worst case, I can active SOS and get help if I’m stuck in a no cell reception area (knock on wood I won’t need to). But either way, I’ve learned to always fill up before you go into a National Park, make sure to keep an eye out on how much gas you have left, and if you need it, bring extra gas with you.
Talk to locals
This is the best way to find out about the cool things to do.
When I first got into backpacking, I walked into a gear store in Mammoth, pulled out a map and asked the shop owner what trails he recommends. He was kind enough to walk through the whole map with me and told me about Rae Lake Loop, Kearsarge Pass, and other awesome trails.
They know the ins and outs of their backyard, so there’s no one better to talk to about what to see, what to do, where to eat, and where to hike than a local.
Get out and sightsee
Drive off the main road and see what cool spots you can find on side streets or dirt roads. Eat at local restaurants, find hole-in-the-wall places. Do the touristy things and then go hang out where the locals do. Go explore the area you’re in.
On my drive from California to Colorado, I wasn’t in a rush, so I got off at every exit on the freeway that looked like it lead somewhere fun, took every dirt road that looked promising, stopped at every turn out and scenic area, drove around in circles, made a couple of loops on accident, but it helped me really see the area and get a better feel for it. Now I know where to go when I come back.