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Road Trip 101: Staying Sane on Summer Road Trips

By F+

Animation by Priyoshi Kapur.

Growing up in Texas, I took my fair share of road trips. As a kid, my parents would pack up the car every summer and hit the road. We drove across the state to Midland, Amarillo, Abilene, and the Gulf Coast and crossed state lines to explore Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana. On long weekends, high school me would haul her little brother three hours away from Houston to get tacos in Austin. This past year, I made two cross-country trips to haul furniture from Houston to Chicago: one in August and another in May. I love being out on the road. Seeing the country outside of my own communities is eye opening and humbling. While I may not be an expert on much, I’ve learned a thing or two about making road trips great. If you are a road trip person, read on to make your trips better. If you’re not a road trip person, read on to make your trips bearable.

The Golden Rules
If you don’t take anything else from this list, take these three rules: bring a friend, make a playlist, pack a snack.

Bad Companions Make Bad Road Trips
While you don’t always get to pick your travel buddies, it’s best to avoid hitting the road with someone you aren’t comfortable being around. The best road trip companions are friends that can handle you at your grumpiest and most high maintenance. Significant others can be great companions, but don’t bite off more than you can chew too early on in a relationship; you don’t want to realize you don’t like someone while you’re trapped with them hours away from home.

Music is Everything
A road trip is unbearable if you’re forced to listen to crappy music. TBH most things are unbearable if you have to listen to crappy music, that’s why we put our Spotify on Tinder. So make a long ass playlist that you and your car mates can enjoy. If you’re starting your trip early, easing into music with news or talk radio like NPR can help wake you up without being overstimulating.

Don’t be Hangry
Packing your own snacks is seriously the best and definitely worth the effort. There is nothing worse than feeling like crap on a road trip because you’ve only eaten crap. Invest in an insulated bag that can hold a few cold drinks and bottled water. If you really miss SAIC, you can throw a La Croix in there too.

Produce sounds like a bad idea, but when you’re on your fourth bag of Chex Mix an apple or orange is your savior. Bring a little fresh food or produce, like fruit that can go unrefrigerated or a sandwich. This is especially important if you or your car mates have dietary restrictions like me, which make fast food a no go.

Function Over Form
Nobody at the gas station cares about your outfit and chances are they wouldn’t get the art and fashion references you make anyways. Cars are hot and can get uncomfortable so pick an outfit that is breathable, nap friendly, and won’t give you weird tan lines if you fall asleep by a sunny window. My go to outfit structure is jean shorts + t-shirt + Birkenstocks, which leaves space to be a little stylish without being impractical.

Boredom is Not an Option
We’re artists living in the age of the iPhone; there’s no reason we should be bored in the passenger seat. Books that aren’t required reading, trashy tabloids, and the New York Times Style Section are my must-haves for road trips of all lengths because they’re the things I give the least amount of time to during the school year.

Narrative and/or comedic podcasts are super fun to listen to while on the road. I highly recommend The Moth, Serial, Sooo Many White Guys, Two Dope Queens, and S Town. S Town is particularly riveting if you plan to drive through rural areas, as these spaces feel eerily close to its setting.

For road trips over two hours, bringing small art works like an embroidery project, or a space to draw like a sketchbook are great ways to keep your hands busy and create a sense of productivity. Be prepared for road bumps and spills by refraining from using too many sharp objects or messy materials.

Enjoy the Ride
Don’t make your road trip shitty by having a shitty attitude. As dumb as it sounds, stay positive. Use your trip as a chance to see places you’ve never seen, enjoy nature, people watch in strange places, or take cool pictures for instagram. Find reasons to be happy and your trip will be exponentially better.

Pro Tips

  • Plan excursions and leave time for roadside attractions. Everyone needs a stretch break when you’re taking a long trip. Take advantage of your unfamiliar surroundings while getting in a stretch break by visiting local roadside attractions along your route.
  • Split the gas tab before you leave. Whether you’re taking turns filling the tank or Venmo-ing your driver, decide who and how you’re splitting your gas tab before you start your trip. You’re less likely to forget about it if you do it before you reach your destination.
  • A can of air freshener, box of bandaids, and sanitizing wipes are really helpful to have on hand for obvious reasons.
  • Get your car washed before you start your trip. Shelling out $20 for a full car wash or spending an hour cleaning it yourself can be hard to justify when you know you’re about to pack it up. However, dirty cars make for dirty and unpleasant drives. Cleaning the interior of your car will make everyone more comfortable and reduce the amount of cleanup you’ll have to do post-trip.
  • Have a hotel on hand. Long trips can be more taxing in practice than they seem on paper. If you’re planning to drive more than 8 hours, find a hotel on your route that you can stop at should you decide that you need to split your trip into two days.

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