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Road Trips For One

Soloing America's Roads: Enjoy the Ride! by Lea Lane


Monument Valley

Photo by Peter Thody

Head for the open road...solo!

Driving solo along the highways and byways of North America has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I've driven to glaciers in the Canadian Rockies and navigated a Mexican mountain pass to find my favorite hacienda - happily on my own.

When you're both driver and navigator, the decisions and labor are yours alone - and so is precious freedom. The following suggestions have helped me make the most of my delightful and sometimes challenging solo sojourns. I've learned that when I plan a bit I can enjoy the wind in my hair, even when it isn't always at my back.

Tune up. Check the air pressure, wipers, oil and tires. At a minimum, go to one of those fast-lube places and get the basics checked before any road trip. I remember a drive in the mountains. It was getting dark and started to rain - and the wipers on my little MGB didn't work. I made it. V-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

Learn about your car. At one point in my life I couldn't even figure out how to adjust my power mirror, but now I can jump-start a battery and change a tire. It's especially important when you're doing all the driving to utilize accessories that make you comfortable, such as cruise control, seat heater and sound systems. Skim your car's instruction manual when you're early for an appointment to familiarize yourself with all the bells and whistles.

Tune up!

iStockphoto\James Knighten

Tune up! It's fine to get help, but wise to learn the basics in case you need to do some troubleshooting yourself.

Learn stick. Ya never know. If you're renting, you may find a deal you can't refuse, or the only car available may be stick. Besides, it will help immensely if you drive outside North America, where stick shifts are more prevalent. I learned in London, on the left side of the road, and it wasn't pretty!

Join a support group. AAA is the most-renowned company, but I also belong to a travel assistance program called On Call International. It will find me a local mechanic and also covers me in any medical emergencies and for other travel problems. I've even called reps when I lost my purse, and they've guided me out of my funk.

Get a GPS, or at least some good maps. Satellite directional systems don't cost much now; many are on smart phones. Some also offer recommendations for lodging, eating, walks and excursions. Having the means to figure out where you're going is especially important when you're solo.

Rough out a schedule. Drive in daylight, if possible. Start out early so you can enjoy the unexpected and still arrive before dark. And bring sunglasses for glare.

Pack well. In the glove compartment, ideally: maps, flashlight, pen and paper, insurance and car registration, coins, a basic first-aid kit, ice scraper, window cleaner, a rag and a spare pair of sunglasses.

In the trunk, at a minimum: a spare tire, jack, jumper cables and tire-pressure gauge. In cold weather: antifreeze, de-icer spray and a bag of sand. Of course you do need to leave room for luggage! Or, as I often do on long trips with many lodgings, I just place things in garbage bags and bring in my overnight materials in a carry-on.

Pack healthy road trip snacks.

Pack a small cooler. Fill it with snacks and drinks to keep you happy. This is a healthy, economical idea for rest stops or when you get the munchies, and it will save you time when the only option is a fast-food restaurant with a line of bus tourists. I like apples, nuts, carrot sticks, 100-calorie snack packs, string cheese, raisins and small bottles of drinks. (Here are some more ideas.)

Keep your cell phone charged. Don't forget the phone's power cord, and bring an extra battery. In fact, for longer trips or when there may be inclement weather, I pack an extra phone.

Stay alert. Before you get drowsy, take frequent breaks and walk around. Drink caffeinated beverages, chew gum, rest often, stay hydrated. Take rest stops often, and walk around. And when you're at the wheel, don't read or text. I like to listen to DVDs, or books on tape, or the radio (satellite offers most choice, and is a great investment for solo road trips). I blast the Stones or whatever appeals. One of the joys of soloing is that if you like rap you can play it loud, and no one will whine, "Turn that x#!%# noise off!" You can even sing for hours without critique.

Make preemptive gas and pit stops. You don't want to be running low, especially on secondary roads. I gas up when I'm down to a quarter of a tank, and I "go" whenever I gas up, whether I "have to" or not. In an emergency, an empty bottle, or an empty roadside may be options for a guy. After all, you're solo - who cares? (I know, gals: Life isn't fair.)

Stay safe. Keep a low profile, lock your doors, don't linger in parking areas or at traffic lights in dark, crime-ridden areas. Don't pull over for unmarked vehicles. Use your head and follow your gut, and you'll be fine.

Independence on the road is challenging and fun! There's nothing better than a road ahead, leading to unknown pleasures. And going solo is the ultimate road experience.

Lea Lane



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