The All-American Road Trip
As Americans, we have a fascination with the road. We love our big cars, we have songs about driving (Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” was my childhood anthem and later Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride” in my teenage years), and even use driving terms in boardroom conversations (ever hear someone say, “whoa, red light!”?) America is the land of freedom and there is nothing that screams freedom louder to me than an open road, gas in my tank and the windows down. Our country has the luxury of having a diverse landscape with numerous ecosystems and national parks in every corner. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, authorized the construction of an interstate highway system to link the states together via roadways and allow for military transport of personnel and supplies similar to the autobahn in Germany that he witnessed during WWII. The interstate highways created during the cold war have allowed this country to flourish commercially and they have facilitated countless Americans to take to the road in search of adventure. Every year since I received my driver’s license, I have made it a point to take at least one epic road trip. Since it’s July, peak travel season, and when many of the readers of this blog are likely contemplating an escape, I thought I would share some of my tips for the road if you fancy a road trip.
A Good Cooler
A good cooler can be a Godsend on a road trip. Hard-sided coolers double as camp chairs and soft coolers are narrow enough to fit between the front and back seat of a car and well within reach of the driver who needs a cold one. I’ve taken my Yeti soft cooler on airlines as a carry on stuffed with other items and used it on vacation once I hit my destination. Whichever style you choose, pack it with frozen water bottles or block ice and organize your food in Zip-Lock bags.
GPS and Backup Maps
Don’t rely on your vehicle’s GPS working perfectly. Don’t rely on your cell-phone navigation program either. With two navigation sources, you are not likely to have a problem but just in case all power goes out, make sure you have good maps with you. Before your trip, mark where you plan to stay, your travel plan and other critical points such as hospitals, Walmarts (you can get everything there) and other resupply points. This map recon will save you a lot of frustration when you get on the road.
Many places you may plan to stop have public grills. You know the type. They are waist high, are either overused or the haven for spiders or chipmunks and always seem like a great idea where they are placed. Even if you don’t have charcoal, you can probably use nearby scavenged hardwood as a fuel source. While you should have no problem lighting a fire, turning your steak or tending to your veggies can be a problem without dedicated utensils. A set of tongs and a spatula both go a long way. They can be packed ahead of time or they can be purchased at a dollar store and discarded when the trip is over. Don’t be “that guy” who uses his knife to flip food and then drops it or damages the edge on the grill grate because the grill is too hot.
I really can’t say enough about having blankets on road trips. They’re great for covering over the contents of the back seat from prying eyes. They can cover that same back seat if you’re transporting something dirty like river waders or a wet dog. Of course, you can use tarp-like blankets to shelter and keep your camping gear dry once you stop or you can use them to wrap up the catch of the day or game you hunted earlier. I have a wool “Technical Picnic Blanket” from Prometheus Design Werx that I’ve used for a ground cloth, a picnic blanket and even on a flight instead of those tiny airline blankets. I took some time to treat it with Permethrin to make it insect free and it’s worth it. Good blankets can be used at public picnic tables as covers and they come in handy on the road. No car should be without, one, two, or even three.
I firmly believe in taking long road trips by yourself. It’s nice to share a road trip with someone but having no one to answer to does something to the psyche. When you don’t have to worry about someone changing the channel on you, you can select what you want to listen to and having good music or an audio book helps pass the time. Before any long trip, I always head to my public library. Yes, I still have a library card and I use it. I check out audiobooks of titles I probably wouldn’t honestly read in paper form but will listen to instead. If you don’t like this option, program your iPod playlists for traffic, long-open stretches, and driving through specific places.
Toilet Paper/Wet Ones/Dude Wipes
Personal hygiene is really important on road trips. After a few days without showering, you forget how you smell but are quickly reminded when you come in contact with the rest of civilization. Earlier this month, I spent 4 days in my hammock in the Poconos and thanks to my Sayoc Kali brothers Dave “Farmer” Phillips and Stephen Grosch, I now know all about Dude Wipes. These are baby wipes on steroids and I can get reasonably clean with just one wipe. They are my new go to when I can’t bird bath in a sink or jump in a creek to get the funk off. For all other cleaning up, Wet-Ones and standard TP in a Zip-Lock bag will get you through. BTW, if you really need a bathroom and are really out in the middle of nowhere, the front and back doors of your vehicle make a great temporary bathroom stall if you still feel kind of shy about dropping your drawers. Yes, you just read that.
If you know me, you know I’m not going to recommend traveling (or leaving your house for that matter) unarmed. If you travel, carry what you determine you need for personal protection. We’re strongest at home and most vulnerable when we are on the move. Don’t rely on someone else to protect you. Just know the laws where you travel and operate well within them.
For the past few years, I’ve taken trips by plane and rented a car at my destination. I’ve learned a lot about the rental process. First and foremost, cover your butt! Take a video of the car’s condition before you leave the lot and get the person checking the car out to you on video verifying it’s condition. This will help you make a defense if there is question about a scratch or dent when you return it. Second, keep it clean and return it that way. Make sure you stop by a place to vacuum it out and get a car wash to avoid any crazy cleaning charges. The water beads on the surface also make it hard to point out any damage FYI. Third, make sure your rental car has a spare tire. During one trip with some of my brothers coming back from a Fiddleback Forge dinner at Fogo de Chao in Atlanta, we hit a large screw in the road and our tire deflated. We ended up in a bad neighborhood (luckily I was there with a DC Metro cop, a modern barbarian, and another armed friend) and had to wait for transportation. Don’t trust your rental company and know before you go. Whatever you do, make sure you bring it back the way to take it.
Your dome light in your car is not your night light. If you are traveling on your own to remote places, you don’t want your car’s battery to die. Make sure you pack a good miniature lantern. My recommendation is the Siege lantern from Streamlight. Not only can you charge it with a USB plug, it will charge your USB devices. It also has enough light to illuminate a wide area on the highest setting and a black-out sleeve to direct light one way at night for reading. A miniature lantern will let you work longer where there are no street lights. Use it instead of your dedicated flashlight.
Camera and Journal
Last but not least is the recommendation to carry a camera. Your cell phone likely has a good camera app but invest in a dedicated quality digital camera to take professional quality photos. Your road trip is all about the experience and you’ll want to document it. Speaking of which, invest in Rite-in-Rain notepads. They’ll hold up to the worst weather. The scribing process will be a lifesaver when you look back on your trips in years to come. It’s said the faintest ink is better than the strongest memory and with a good camera and journal, you’ll never forget what the trip was like. What you record will help you plan your next trip, build your own packing list, and inspire you to set off on the open road again.