Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

Road Trip Tips

I’ve taken a lot of road trips. I’m not talking about driving to simply get from A to B, but to see some things on the way. Last month we took one on a route we’ve taken many times in the South Island, though in more recent years, we’ve more frequently taken trips north, but usually only with one or at most two days driving each way. Driving is the way to see New Zealand though. If anyone talks about visiting our country, my first recommendation is that they do it via car or campervan. We’re a small country, with varied scenery, easily navigated – made for road trips!

We almost always end up renting a car overseas too, and we’ve had some fabulous road trips, with only one which we’d categorise as largely boring. Our first ever trip to Europe involved a three-week road trip from Paris, then through Switzerland, Austria, and west Germany. We discovered the delights of road trips when we were forced to take a detour in Switzerland, and discovered one of the most beautiful valleys I’d ever seen. A few years ago we explored Italy by car for two months, though basing ourselves just in a few towns, but we did take a three-day road trip from the north of the country down to the heel. Jordan was one of our favourite road trips, and I’ve written about it here. We spent four-five weeks driving through France in 2002, and about the same time in Spain in 2007. The US and Canada are great locations for road trips – we’ve driven through PEI and Nova Scotia (though didn’t have time to do Cape Breton Island), from San Francisco to LA, and from Washington DC out to the Blue Ridge Mountains and western Virginia, east and across to Delaware and New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I call these a tempting start, and hope to do many more road trips in North America … and Europe and Africa and Asia … and New Zealand, too, of course.

Along the way, though, I’ve learned to follow a few tips:

  1. Distances: Don’t try to do too much in one day. If you have no time restrictions, don’t rush. Getting tired means getting irritable (not to mention the increased risk of accident), and doesn’t contribute to an enjoyable road trip. Besides, you’ll miss things, and having the flexibility to stop or detour to see whatever you want is the whole point of a road trip, isn’t it?
  2. If you’re driving internationally, be vigilant about which side of the road you should be driving on. Constantly check and re-check. On our first road trip, we pulled out of a hotel on a quiet Sunday morning in Europe, and driven down the empty street, only to suddenly realise we were on the wrong side of the road. That doesn’t happent to us these days, but it is easy to do. There are far too many accidents in New Zealand caused by foreign tourists crossing into on-coming traffic, because they’ve forgotten to stay on the right correct (left) side of the road, despite the signs in the rental cars, and the arrows that are now frequently painted on our main roads directing you left.
  3. Also for international road-trips, check road-rules before you go. There will be small differences in road rules that will either make you very unpopular with other drivers or put you or them at risk if you break them.
  4. Navigation: GPS is wonderful, but I don’t rely on it 100%. I always like having a map that confirms where we are. Also, GPS can occasionally take you on a ridiculous detour – this has happened to us in large cities (Milan), and on major highways (Spain, Italy) – or it will attempt to take you up a one-way street the wrong way (Lake Lugano, Italy) or into a pedestrian only area (Granada, Spain). Sometimes, having a map will allow you to overrule the GPS and avoid time-consuming delays or stressful detours. Don’t, however, overrule it just on a whim, as my husband did in South Africa and then got us caught in major morning traffic jams we would have otherwise avoided, just as we were trying to get to the airport.
  5. Pick up and drop off rental cars at the airport. Spend time in a major city relying on public transport or taxis, and collect or drop off the rental car from the airport, which is usually well-signposted with good access to main highways, where there is 24-hour rental car pick-up. We have done this in many cities, visiting places like San Francisco, Madrid, Florence, Sydney, Amman, Washington DC, and Paris – to name a few – relying on public transport or walking or taxis whilst in the city, and only getting the rental car when we’re leaving on the road trip, or dropping it off at the airport before visiting the city. It’s much less stressful than driving into or out of a major and unfamiliar city, though of course these days with GPS it’s easier than on our first road trip, when we had an inadequate Paris city map and had to drive out of the city rental car office.
  6. Likewise, if you want to stop off at a major city, but the idea of driving in the city or parking there is too daunting, consider staying at an airport hotel with car parking, and use public transport/taxis to get in and out of the city.
  7. Audio: Have lots of things available to listen to when conversation starts to wane, or the scenery gets boring. Good music to sing to, maybe something funny to listen to (we once had to stop listening to a Billy Connolly CD on a rainy road trip because we were laughing so hard it got dangerous!), and something interesting – maybe a podcast. Of course, if you’re both into audiobooks, that would be good too.
  8. Halt! Stop often. To stretch legs and tired backs, to freshen up, and just for a break. It’s important. We never do it quite frequently enough.
  9. Stop for photos, or interesting things you might see, or shops you want to go in. Sometimes they only take a few minutes, or they might end up being a highlight of the trip. Being prepared to stop is important, so see the next point.
  10. Ensure you are both prepared to stop. I remember in the early days of our marriage, I’d shout “Pottery!” when I saw a sign advertising a stall or workshop, and my husband would whizz past saying, “too late.” We had to negotiate an understanding that he was prepared to stop.
  11. Then I had to ensure that I communicated the need to stop. My husband hates it when I say plaintively, “oh, that looked a nice place to stop” as we drive past it! “Stop, photo!” or something definite along those lines is his preferred instruction. We got a photo of camels and a dust devil (whirlwind) from the side of the road in Jordan as a result. I missed a stunning photo opportunity in Lewis Pass recently, with mossy green trees arched over a rocky mountain stream, because I said, “that’s so gorgeous,” instead of “turn around and go back, I want to take that shot!”
  12. Have some bottles of water at least in the car with you. Dehydration exacerbates the effects of fatigue.
  13. We rarely have snacks in the car, other than peppermints – an old habit of my father’s. Generally, we’d rather stop and pick something up, or have specific meal breaks, because … rule #8. But of course, that depends on the availability of stops, and the distances you are travelling between them.
  14. On a longer trip, especially if you’re going to be out in nature, have picnic fixings, a knife, maybe some plastic containers, and a breadboard. Then you can pick up picnic food and stop wherever you like. This was particularly easy in France, of course, where we’d buy a loaf of bread in the morning, along with ripe tomatoes and some fresh brie or camembert. We bought a picnic blanket at a market, which gave us the freedom to be able to stop wherever we wanted – even on a grassy verge on the side of the road – for a wonderful picnic.
  15. If it’s a long road trip (ie several days), then I think it is important to schedule in plenty of non-driving time. It might be taking the time to have a long lunch at a nice restaurant or a picnic at a picturesque spot and a snooze or time to read a book under a tree. It might be arriving early at your accommodation to explore a town, to relax at a lake, to sleep or to get a massage, to swim at the hotel pool, or to take a walk/hike. If you have the time, it might also involve planning days off at particular locations, just to have a break. Breaks are important!

Enjoy! I love road trips. I love seeing the scenery roll by, seeing it change, enjoying being just the two of us in the cocoon of the car, finding unexpected treasures, stopping for a photo on the side of the road, or detouring to see something interesting. I’m planning a couple more road trips for next year. I might be able to add to this then.

In the meantime, do you have any road-tripping tips?



A typical New Zealand roadside scene




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… lazy. But when you’ve been struck by a lurgy, whether the one your husband took up north to visit Charlie and her parents, or whether it was the one that Charlie’s dad was suffering with when we got there, writing isn’t easy.

Fortunately, the seven hour drive home (the husband had flown home earlier to work) occurred before the lurgy struck, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. I stopped frequently, extending my travelling time by an hour or so. There was a minor hiccup when I thought I’d lost my prescription glasses, but after a period of panicking and desperate hunting and retracing my steps – extending my trip for a further hour – some kind shop owner had found them and kept them for me. But otherwise, there was just me, the road, our stunning scenery, and National Radio keeping me company.

A picture might not be worth a thousand words, but it’s #MicroblogMonday, so I don’t need a thousand words anyway. Still, here are some photos:

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