Every year, we suffer through winter eagerly waiting for our surroundings to thaw and for nature to bloom into spring.
And with spring comes one of the most wonderful times of the year for millions of Americans—Spring Break. Those two words inspire visions of fun, excitement, and probably more than a little sun for families and young adults.
And while the enjoyment of your Spring Break trip will depend greatly on your destination, you’ll also find that it can be affected by how you reach your destination. Flying might get you there quickly, but it can set you back a pretty penny. You may try to save money by taking a train or a bus, which can be slow and crowded. Or, you could decide to partake in the great American tradition that is the road trip.
Many of the best memories from a vacation can spawn from the shared stories that come from taking your time to drive yourself across the nation to reach your journey’s end. But road trips are not for the faint of heart—a poorly planned trip can lead to arguments, headaches, delays, and hurt feelings.
So if you want to get the most of your Spring Break road trip, follow this handy guide to ensure that your vacation stays safe, relaxing, and fun!
Make Sure Your Car is Ready for the Road
Before you get started, you should make sure that your car is in proper shape to travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles. We get it—there’s something romantic about taking your own car and hitting the open road. And you made the investment of purchasing a car to allow you to have the freedom to go on a trip just like this.
But if your car is on the older side, or hasn’t been properly maintained, you risk finding yourself stranded miles away from home. It’s more than likely that your vehicle will hold up, but to be extra safe, follow the following maintenance steps to make sure everything is up to speed.
- Check your oil. If you’ve driven more than 5,000 miles since your last change, or it’s been six months, you’ll want to make sure your engine doesn’t overheat and damage by changing your oil. It’s relatively easy to change the oil yourself, but if you don’t feel confident feel free to take it into a shop.
- Check your fluid levels. Make sure your oil levels are not too high or too low, then refer to your manual to find out how to check windshield wiper fluid, transmission fluid, coolant in your radiator, and brake fluid.
- Check your tire pressure using the pressure gauge that comes with your car, and make sure your treads aren’t worn. To check this, do the Lincoln penny test. If you can see space above Abraham Lincoln’s head after sticking a penny upside in your tire’s treads, you need new tires before you find yourself on the open road.
- Take care of any warning lights in your car. If you have a check engine light, you better get the engine checked. It’s better to be able to drop your car off at your local mechanic than having to rely on someone in the middle of nowhere when something truly goes wrong with your car’s engine.
This is the least enjoyable step in preparing for a road trip, but one of the most essential. After all, even though your car insurance can help you financially if things go poorly on your trip, you still can’t get back time that was wasted because your car wasn’t up for the drive. So get that taken care of, and then you can get to the fun part of the process.
Pick Your Destination!
Now you get to the enjoyable state of the trip planning. You’ve decided you want to go with your friends or family on a road trip for Spring Break, but where do you want to go? Depending on where you live, your destination could be a full day’s drive away, or it could take multiple days. But the important thing is to choose a destination that will be as fun as it is relaxing.
There are so many places you can go, and where you choose should depend on what kind of vacation you’d like to have.
Feel like relaxing on the beach? Head down to southern Florida, maybe Miami or Fort Lauderdale, or drive along the coast of California.
Prefer a little nature and hiking? Try driving through America’s National Parks on the way to the Grand Canyon. Feel like trying a new city? Head on south to New Orleans, Austin, or one of dozens of flourishing cities that are great for tourists.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one destination, of course. You could decide to hit a handful of different areas before circling back home. Road trips give you far more freedom than any other kind of trip, since you can go anywhere you want at the drop of a hat. Use that to your enjoyment!
Plan Your Route
Once you’ve picked your destination, it’s time to plan your route. If you’re going to a single destination, if the distance is more than 600 miles you should consider breaking up travel into more than one days, as that is the legal limit professional drivers are allowed per day.
In general, we recommend driving less per day than you feel you can drive, since you’ll want to allow yourself a few hours throughout the day to pull over to see any local sites or attractions you stumble across along the way.
Put your destination (or destinations) into Google Maps so you can have an idea of how long you’ll be on the road, and to find the most direct route. That said, while you’ll likely stick to interstate travel, you can try to discover any alternative, scenic routes to your destinations. There are dozens of historic streets and routes across the mainland that could be a trip in and of itself (here’s seven just for starters), so feel free to get creative with your planning.
Find Some Stops Along the Way
What makes road trips so worthwhile? It makes the process of getting to the destination a part of the actual vacation. So you might as well take advantage of all the sites on your path! There are few parts of trip planning more fun than figuring out where you’ll go along the way.
This naturally would depend on what kind of trip you decided to plan. If you’re going to one location, look for interesting destinations on the way. If your trip involves going to multiple cities or sites, each leg of the trip may be its own “stop.”
Either way, remember two things. Give yourself plenty of time to allow you to actually enjoy your time off the road— you might tack on an extra day of driving, but the stops along the way will more than make up for the lost time. And be proactive in looking for hotels along your route, as well as looking for cities, restaurants, and attractions you want to see.
Thankfully, there are multiple free apps out there that can make planning your trip stops a breeze. It just takes a little research on your part, but the experiences you have along the way are what make a road trip a road trip.
Make Reservations (And Give Yourself Time)
In the last point we insisted you give yourself plenty of time, but it’s so important we need to say it again. When you make your hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast reservations for stops during the drive, be conservative with your mileage estimates. While you can drive six hundred miles in a day, you shouldn’t assume you will drive that far.
Try to give yourself somewhere between 400 and 500 miles to travel on days where you don’t have a lot of stops planned, and more like 200 to 300 if you have a few destinations where you may prefer to linger. Nothing is worse than getting into your hotel late after a long day of driving. Give yourself some extra time, so you can relax and not spend the entire journey on the road.
Pack an Emergency Kit
At this point, your car is set to go, you have a destination locked in, and you’ve made reservations, and have some sites and activities planned that you’re excited for. But before you hit the road, you’ll need to expect the unexpected. Which is why you need to pack an emergency kit.
Hopefully nothing will happen to your vehicle during the long trek, but just in case, you’ll need a few essentials. A spare tire, jack and tire iron should come with your car, but you’ll need them in case of a flat. Jumper cables are also a must, as is a flashlight, first aid kit, and some road flairs if you’re able to find them.
If you expect to run into some wintery conditions at any point of your drive, stock some cat litter, and be sure to stock up on blankets, non-perishable food items, and water.
The key is to be prepared. You’ll hope you never have to use any of these items, but if you ever do, you’ll be thankful you have them.
Enjoy Your Trip!
At the end of the day, this is your trip. Make it your own, and enjoy it. There may be bumps along the way, but if you follow this guide, and allow yourself to really enjoy the freedom a road trip can provide, you’ll have a Spring Break to remember forever!