Surviving Roadtrips

This summer I made my yearly round-trip drive to Boulder, Colorado, where I play in the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra. From my home in the Washington, DC area it takes about 1,700 miles and 25 hours of driving to reach Boulder. I make the drive in 2 long days.

The Drive
The Annual Drive

I would typically take a flight for such a long distance, but because the festival is 6 weeks long, it’s nice to have a car to have the freedom to go hiking, see family/friends, etc.

If you are interested in a road trip (long or short), I have some tips and suggestions to make your next one great.

Staying Safe

Know Your Limits

After many long road trips, I’ve discovered that my time limit of traveling in one day is about 14 hours. After that I become slaphappy and a danger to myself and others on the road. My wife can go for about 5 hours. Take it easy for your first long drives and see how you’re doing after each hour. Slowly ramp it up over time.

Take Breaks, Often

I try to stop at least every 4 hours, but some people need more frequent breaks. When you stop make sure to walk around and stretch. Staying limber is key to avoiding back pain. I take breaks at rest stops, restaurants, and gas stations. If you need a nap in a gas station parking lot, set an alarm on your phone and take a power nap! Coffee naps are also great.

Stay Hydrated and Well Fed

I keep a water bottle with me while I travel to stay hydrated. It also forces me to stop to use the facilities every few hours. Having air conditioning or the heater blow on your face for an entire day will dry you out, so it’s very important to keep drinking water. Make sure to also eat during your normal meal times. As the day progresses I add iced coffee or iced tea into the mix to stay alert and awake.

Driving Nuts and Bolts

If I’m driving on the highway for an extended period of time and traffic is not heavy, I typically use the cruise control. I’ll set it not more than 5 mph over the speed limit and hang out in the middle or right lane, safely passing those going slower and allowing faster cars to pass me.

Stay Engaged

Call friends/family on speakerphone/bluetooth and catch up with them. Play “radio roulette” and switch between talk and music. Download interesting podcasts (shout out to the Ted Radio Hour and Planet Money).

Have Fun with it

Plan Fun Stops

If I ever see a sign that says “World’s Largest” or “World’s Smallest” Something, I’ll generally try to carve some time out for it.

World's Largest Jackalope in Wall, South Dakota
World’s Largest Jackalope in Wall, South Dakota

One of our best side excursion so far has been Wall Drug in South Dakota, partially because of the anticipation built from 200+ miles of signs for it. They have 5 cent coffee and great fudge. Spoiler alert: there are no real jackalopes, much to my wife’s disappointment. South Dakota also has a place called the Corn Palace. Surprisingly interesting place, South Dakota.

Roadtrippers is a great website that can give you ideas for things to do along the way, too.

Visit Friends Along Your Route

One of the few times I get to see some of my friends in the middle of the country is during these drives. I try to plan a meal or coffee or even stay with them (bring a gift!). It’s really great to catch up and gives you a wonderful thing to look forward to mid-drive.

What are your best road trip tips and hacks?

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