To guarantee memories to last a lifetime, select the most interesting roads possible and skip the big population centers rife with chain restaurants, cookie-cutter hotels, and crowded freeways. In other words, explore the far less traveled—and far more interesting—precincts of our country. Of course, when you've put a little distance between you and crowded civilization, you don't want any surprises. Here are eight tips to follow in the months and weeks leading up to departure that that will increase your odds of coming home happy.
Choose Your Destination
First decide how much time you can invest in your trip. Then determine how many hours you want to drive each day (keeping in mind that your companions might have different endurance limits). Then comes the fun part: choosing your destinations. Keep in mind that if your trip will last more than a few days, you'll likely want to build in a day off or two at particularly interesting stops along the route.
Focus Your Trip
Now that you know where you want to go and what you want to do, make sure those choices agree with the vehicle you plan to take. A sports car with super-sticky tires is perfect for mountain passes but is completely wrong for off-road canyon exploration. Yes, you can cover a wide variety of topography in an SUV or crossover, but such a vehicle is a jack of all trades, master of none. Decide what vehicle you want to use and plan a trip that suits its talents. Or just get a rally Porsche 911 like the one pictured above, although you might need a support vehicle if you're bringing the kids.
Check Your Tires
At this point, you have an estimate of how many miles you'll be traveling. Make sure you have enough tire life to complete the trip. As roads get more interesting, tire stores usually become scarce, especially those that stock the sort of high-performance rubber fitted to sports cars or the huge rollers on today's 20-inch (or larger) SUV wheels. Head off potential tire problems before you get started by making sure they're in top condition, and make sure that your vehicle is shod appropriately for the expected terrain and weather.
Check Your Vehicle
Rural America is not the place to replace your battery, brake pads, or shock absorbers, particularly if you've upgraded your car with non-factory items. Check your consumable components and replace any that are marginal. And don't forget to check your spare tire, or whatever flat-tire sealing/inflation kit your vehicle uses. Flat tires are rare, but they happen—and being stranded is never fun.
Pack an Emergency Kit for You
Accidents can happen, and you never know when you might get stranded by the whims of Mother Nature or your vehicle. Basic first-aid supplies, some warm clothes, a good umbrella, a few quarts of water, and non-perishable snacks will keep you going if you hit some really bad luck. A wise man once suggested to us dog food as emergency rations because it lasts forever, and you won't eat it unless you really have to.
Pack an Emergency Kit for Your Car
When properly maintained, modern cars don't blow radiator hoses or throw accessory drive belts. But when you drive something even as borderline exotic as, say, a BMW M3 or Chevrolet Corvette, you might want to bring along any special fluids it needs. If your trip includes lots of dirt trails, extra air and cabin filters can't hurt.
Although your car or truck has the power to haul a few steamer trunks, you don't want to be packed to the gills. A road trip is so much nicer (and safer) when you can see out of every window and there's nothing hard ricocheting around your trunk when you're challenging the Beartooth Highway.
Make a Checklist of Critical Items
Are you allergic to bee stings? Is anyone on the trip prone to carsickness? Do you have the latest updates for your navigation system's database, or a list of the speed traps on your planned route? National Park passes? Your personal stash of hot sauce? All of us have between one and two dozen items specific to our lives that are critical to a successful trip. Start making a list a couple weeks before you leave to make sure you don't leave anything behind.
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