Road trips can be tough, even more so when you’re by yourself. As I am currently taking a two-month long road trip, I figured I would try and offer some ways that I’ve kept myself sane over hundreds of hours of driving.
The items on this list are focused on 1 person road trips. There are infinitely more things to do when you’re traveling with someone else, but all of these tips would be applicable as well if you’re driving with a partner. A lot of the tips are things you can do in your car, but if you’re traveling, you should be enjoying the trip as well as the destination. There’s no reason not to stop and explore what’s around you as well. Many of these tips force you to get out of the car.
For several of these entries, I will recommend specific podcasts, albums, books, etc. that I personally have gravitated to while traveling, all of which are worth checking out. Beyond that, I want to hear what you like. What do you listen to in the car? What do you do to keep yourself entertained?
Of course, you should not be driving while distracted. Don’t be stupid. Make a queue before you start driving, make frequent stops if you need to, and stop if you’re tired. Long drives can be tough and they can be really boring, so hopefully some of these ideas will be able to keep you sane through it all.
I love music as much as the next guy, but I’m not always in the mood for it, especially when I’m driving. Just as frequently as music seems to scratch the itch, podcasts can sometimes be the only thing that work while I’m driving. There is now a massive range of podcasts to listen to, ranging from mystery to comedy to educational. My personal favorite is the classic Stuff You Should Know, which focuses in depth on a specific topic for 45 minutes to an hour. The chemistry between the two hosts is something truly rare and their back catalog can keep you entertained for years of travel.
19 Find New Albums
Every time I travel, I make sure I have a few new albums with me that I’ve never heard before. These handfuls of records always remind me of the time I was in that specific place—Bon Iver always makes me think of Singapore and Arctic Monkeys always makes me think of Ireland. One of my favorite parts of traveling is curating the trip and this is a perfect opportunity to try out things that you may never have considered listening to before.
18 Revisit Old Albums
Going the opposite route, traveling is also the perfect time to revisit records you may not have heard in a long while. The nostalgia of listening to music from your past can definitely augment a traveling experience and will certainly provide more replay value than most other music you can find, on the radio for example. Lately, I’ve revisited Wildlife by La Dispute and have spent hours listening to it, reliving my senior year of high school (in a good way). If I hadn’t taken this trip, I definitely wouldn’t have ever gone back to older records like this that I used to listen to all the time.
17 Find A Better Way (Off The Beaten Path)
The quickest way isn’t always the best. While highways are great and usually the fastest way to get from point A to point B, you could be missing out on some truly beautiful sights while trying to not lose your mind over how slowly the truck in front of you is overtaking the other one. Off the beaten path is often more picturesque, more peaceful, and simply a more enjoyable drive. Even if you’re in a hurry, try and find some time to get off of the highway and look for a more interesting way to get to where you’re going. It’s almost always worth it.
16 Write (Or Record Yourself)
Driving for hours on hours can start to feel like a waste of time. It definitely makes it easy to get behind on work for me, but voice memos are a tool worth using (that I don’t use enough). While I can’t physically write while I’m driving, I’m always thinking of stuff to write and it usually just goes to waste. To prevent that, I use the voice memo app on my phone to record my thoughts and write them down later. This is an easy way to keep you from forgetting while simultaneously killing some of that driving time.
Your body is probably not accustomed to spending several hours a day in a car, but it’s important to keep yourself fed and hydrated—things that are surprisingly easy to forget when you’re in the car for a long time. Make sure you always have something to eat if you’re on a long drive and, most importantly, drink plenty of water! It can be difficult enough to keep hydrated on a normal day, but while driving, you aren’t exerting as much energy so you don’t necessarily feel dehydrated, but it can happen a lot easier than you might think. It’s important to always stay nourished while driving long distances.
This is a popular choice that, to be completely honest, I don’t like. Personally, nothing compares to reading the actual book and I can’t concentrate when hearing a book. However, audiobooks make a lot of sense on paper (pun not intended) and are a very popular alternative to music. I would definitely recommend the classics—if you’ve never read Ulysses, Heart of Darkness, or Paradise Lost than this might be the way to do it. It’s a good way to kill a few hours and not feel guilty about wasting a day in the car instead of doing something productive.
13 Call Your Mom
Call your mom! Or your dad, your friends, significant other, etc. I can virtually guarantee that your mom wants to hear from you, you’re bored driving through the middle of Iowa, so why not talk to her? It would probably make her day, too... Anyways, make sure you have some sort of hands-free set-up since talking on your phone with it in your hand is slightly illegal in some places. Definitely don’t text and drive—that’s a stupid, stupid idea. I can tell you that the long drive is the perfect time to make that call that you may have been putting off.
12 Turn It Off
All of these things are great and can keep you entertained for hours and hours but sometimes, that’s not what you need. Don’t be afraid to turn everything off and just enjoy driving for what it is. If you’re not in the mood for music or podcasts, then try and see what it’s like with nothing on. Especially driving through town (even better, in the rain), the quiet can be peaceful and far more pleasant than having something in the background distracting you. I make sure to take at least an hour of every driving day to turn everything off and just enjoy the act of driving.
11 Make Frequent Stops
Taking frequent stops will keep you going a lot longer than just trying to go 10+ hours straight. Trust me. I’ve done back-to-back 19 hour days. It sucks. It will also do miracles for your back. This works out real well with getting gas, stocking up on snacks, and seeing the sights in the nearby towns. Every hour might be a little too frequent if you’ve got time to make, but otherwise, it’s an enjoyable way to brighten up your long drives. There’s something to see and do nearly everywhere you can go in the world and it’s best to experience these things without the back pain and exhaustion.
10 Make Stops In Town
No matter where you are driving throughout the country, there is an interesting place near you. One of the best ways to deal with a long drive is to break it up. Take the time to stop in a random town. Add some spontaneity to your trip and see what you can find. Try a little restaurant. Stop by some antique shops. Talk to people. Some of my best travel experiences have been these spontaneous stops in random places I had never heard of, talking to people that I wouldn’t have otherwise ever met.
9 See The Sights
Every state in the country has something cool to see. Montana has Yellowstone, Arizona has the Grand Canyon, even Indiana has the Speedway. The world is a beautiful place and no matter where you are, there is bound to be something worth seeing. Even driving through the middle of the United States, there are plenty of beautiful things to see. Even taking a detour and adding maybe an hour or two to a long trip is almost always worth it. Just think, when’s the next time that you’re going to find yourself in the middle of Nebraska? Probably never, so it’s a good time to check out Chimney Rock.
8 Try New Restaurants
Probably the best part of traveling is food. Every single place in the world (except for Ireland) has a unique cuisine and great restaurants that are worth stopping by. So, if you have the money, find a unique restaurant in that place that you could never get at home and enjoy yourself. Take a look before you leave, find a good restaurant in a town in your route, and make a reservation. Again, it’s one of those things where you probably won’t have the chance to ever go to these places, so give it a shot.
The first of four apps that I’ll recommend for road trips is called Waze. This app is great for a directional tool. Not only does it work as a maps app, it also keeps you informed of upcoming crashes, hazards, and police traps. It also measures out gas prices and nearby restaurants. It does cut off at 1,000 miles so if you’re driving from Indy to Portland, you’re going to have to break the trip down or use Google Maps. Waze is a great, free tool for road trips and just keeps getting better and better with more features and improved accuracy.
The second of four recommended apps of this list, Couchsurfing has been a huge embellishment to my traveling experiences. If you don’t know, Couchsurfing is an app that you can use to primarily find lodging with local people wherever you go. Staying with local people in their homes is the best way to experience a new city. I’ve stayed in dorm rooms, small huts, and beautiful homes in the suburbs through my Couchsurfing experiences and these have been some of the best and most immersive experiences in my travels. It’s also free to start with and you are hosted for free as well.
Airbnb is my Couchsurfing backup plan. If I don’t end up finding a host through Couchsurfing (usually when I don’t look until the day of...), Airbnb is a great alternative. While not free, you can easily find great housing for far cheaper than a hotel or even a bad motel. You will frequently also find yourself in a beautiful home, often with plenty of freedom. If you’re willing to spend a little bit of money (sometimes as low as $20-30 a night in U.S. cities), then Airbnb is the best way to travel in comfort without spending $100+ a night.
The last app I’ll recommend for road trips is Hostelworld. This is similar to the previous two and helps you find a place to stay, too. This app locates hostels and hotels across the world that allow you to spend time with other likeminded travelers across the world. Most hostels are cheap (some are even free) and it is best to have the opportunity to experience new places with new people (even though exploring by yourself is one of the best experiences in the world). Hostelworld makes it infinitely easier to find great places to stay where you will likely meet great people.
3 Go For A Walk
Just like the snacks and water thing, it’s very easy to forget that your body needs exercise. If you spend 10+ hours in the car in a day, things are going to start to ache. If you drive a manual car like me, your knees are going to be in intense pain for hours after your done driving. The best way to deal with this is to get a quick walk in wherever you stop. Check out a nearby shop or walk through nature for a little bit. Take a good 5 or 10 minutes and stretch your legs. Trust me. It’s time well spent.
2 Stop For Some Coffee
Driving can get boring. It can get tiring. It’s extremely important to keep your head in a good spot and keep up your energy. When you stop for gas or for a walk or whatever, find a coffee shop or tea shop and grab a treat for yourself. It will keep you energized and help you stay a good driver for far longer. Not to mention that this gives you the opportunity to take your walk and stretch your legs, but you can also get in a little bit of conversation which, when you’re driving by yourself, is another important thing not to forget.
1 Bring A Book
After a long day on the road, there isn’t much better than laying in your hotel room (or Couchsurfing house, Airbnb, or Hostel if you’re listening!) and reading a good book. Naturally, I gravitate towards travel narratives while I’m away. A.A. Gill essays are great, quick reads along with a huge range of other travel literature. There are so many entertaining, informative, interesting options to read in the genre. As someone who’s purchased 13 new books this trip and has, after a month, not finished a single one, this is the one piece of advice here that I wish I followed more.