Ever taken a long distance road trip on your on before? I have.
Here is the advice I offer anyone looking to do it:
Route your trip. I've recently discovered Google Maps and love it not only for the directions, but the easy to read maps and ability to find local attractions such as grocery stores, movie theatres and hotels. Make sure your in-car atlas is up to date as well. Nothing worse than making a turn onto a road that no longer exists...
Let your friends and family know where you're going. Send them an itinerary (including phone numbers and addresses of places you're staying) so they can check on your progress, or keep you company on the phone.
Stop in to see a therapist before you go...get all your shit out on the table before turning the key in the ignition. There is no place darker, scarier and more intimidating than your own mind. Be sure to schedule a follow up appointment before you leave so you are guaranteed a “decompression” upon return. You may think I'm kidding with this one. But you'll understand what I'm talking about when you've hit mile marker 1200 and have just spent the past 20-hours listening to yourself think about ALL the things you work very hard to NOT think about in everyday life...
If you are using said trip as a way to escape problems (like I have, to get away from the boyfriend who just dumped me or stress at work), make sure you have LOTS of “anytime” minutes and a car charger on your mobile phone.
Have LOADS of music on hand (an iPod, stacks of CD’s or XM radio work very well).
Check out some books on tape (or CD) from your library. That way you don't have to hand a wad of money over to the chain bookstore in the mall for something you're probablly only going to use once or twice in your lifetime.
Research local NPR radio stations so you know where to go for good talk radio and programs (I am a fan of “This American Life”, “the Car Guys” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”). Thing of it is, no matter how much music you bring, you still get bored of it WAY before it all runs out and I find it incredibly soothing to listen to people talk.
Remind yourself that you are neither mentally unstable nor outright insane for wanting to drive 9+ hours a day alone...you can even do this out loud, since no one is in the car to hear you converse with yourself :)
Don’t be afraid to space out for short periods of time. Sometimes it’s nice to just not think at all...hat’s what cruise control, is for. But always be aware of what's going on around you.
Caffeine is bad. While it does a great job of keeping you awake, it also makes you jittery, messes with your stomach and hyper activates your bladder. For all the time I spent at rest stops relieving myself, I could have taken two 45-minute naps and been much better off.
Fast food is not fast. As much as possible, I recommend stopping in grocery stores for food you can make (sammiches, fresh fruit, pre-made things from the deli). Bring a small cooler for perishables. The amount of colonic distress that is caused by the food flavored salt they hand out at rest stops is not worth it. Again...for the time spent “clearing my system” I could have made a ham sammich at a rest stop, enjoyed the sun and been on my way. Three times over.
Finally. You are never really alone. People at rest stops, roadside towns and attractions are, for the most part, very nice. Talking to strangers is not only good for stretching out your vocal cords, but can also lead to some interesting side trips and long time friends. I once met a woman at a gas station who told me about an isolate hot springs lodged in the crook of two mountains, outside Spanish Forks, UT. Armed with a hand drawn map, a full tank of gas and my hiking boots, I managed to spend one of the most memorable days of my life, with nothing but the hot water and two very naked love-birds to keep me company (to this day remember those two, whoever they are, much more vividly than I would like...but those are the quirky things that make life worth living).
And I think that's about it. Every trip is different for every person, but having expereinced several long distance solo trips, I can safely say that everything on this list would have (and has) helped me.
Bon Voyage, have fun and be safe!
My Solo Road Trip History...
one way: Key West, FL to Madison, WI (1991)
one way: San Francisco, CA to Minneapolis, MN (1993)
round trip: Minneapolis, MN to New York City, NY (1995)
round trip: Madison, WI to San Francisco, CA (1999)
round trip: Milwuakee, WI to Quebec, QC to Philadelphia, PA and back (2005)