Sue is a solo traveler and amateur photographer from Australia who has been taking solo road trips across her home country for the past 4 years, towing her trusty camper-trailer “Mumble”! Just back from her most recent trip in the United States, Sue offers us these great tips, culled from her years of experience.
I recently completed a month-long solo road trip touring the United States Western National Parks by car and campervan. The following list contains my best tips and advice for those venturing out on the road on their own.
- Love driving. I love long distance driving because it allows me to experience the true scale of a destination. Seeing (and photographing) interesting and unique landscapes in the open country between locations can profoundly enhance your enjoyment and memories of the chosen destination. It is important to be comfortable with driving long distances on your own, especially through sparsely populated areas where it may take a few hours of driving before you encounter another town or gas station.
- Get organised before you leave home. A well planned and detailed driving itinerary is essential so that you can realistically assess the feasibility of your trip in terms of both timing and budget. I used Google Maps to plan out my driving route from start to finish and to calculate distances/driving times between locations. I also printed out detailed driving directions for each leg of the trip to take with me as a back-up. This came in handy when I found myself without a working GPS unit for a few days on my trip and had to navigate into Las Vegas with only the printed directions as a guide! As a safety measure, give a copy of your detailed itinerary to at least one family member or friend before you leave home so that they know where you are going to be on any given day. If someone knows where you are supposed to be on each day of your trip, it can help facilitate getting assistance to you if required.
- Pick a theme for your road trip. I combined two passions on my USA road trip – visiting National Parks and Photography. Planning your road trip around your passions (or to a specific theme) adds purpose to your journey and will result in a greater sense of achievement and personal satisfaction when you have finished your trip.
- Buy a good road atlas and use a GPS. A good local road atlas is essential if you are doing a lot of long distance open-country driving. GPS units are available for hire with most rental vehicles and are invaluable for navigating into, through and out of unfamiliar towns and cities. I also made it a policy on my trip not to drive long distances at night, mainly because I did not want to miss seeing any interesting landscapes, but also as a safety precaution. If your vehicle breaks down during a long distance leg of your journey, dealing with the situation will be more practical (and safer) if it is in daylight hours when assistance will be easier to access.
- Get roadside assistance. If you have AAA or CAA you’re fine in North America. If you don’t you can buy short or long-term roadside assistance from Allstate.
- Listen to local radio stations. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture on a road trip is to listen to local radio stations as you drive. They can provide hours of entertainment and interesting information – I sang along to lots of classic rock stations as I drove through incredible scenery. Using the car radio’s “seek” button was an integral part of my driving experience!
- Be flexible. Changing weather conditions can necessitate finding an alternative route or changing your itinerary. Having good tools with you (road atlas, GPS, laptop and internet access) provides the flexibility to re-plan at short notice. Remember that YOU are your BEST and PRIMARY resource on your solo road trip. Making just one small decision can change everything in an instant, so be prepared – travel with back-up plans and tools to help you deal with any sudden or unplanned situations that may arise on your journey.
- Stay in contact. If feasible, buy a cheap, local pre-paid mobile phone to use for the duration of your trip so that you can keep in regular contact with family and friends back home. Send them a daily text message letting them know where you are driving to/from each day. This was an invaluable back-up plan for my USA road trip, as I did not always have access to Wi-Fi. When Wi-Fi is available, use Skype to video call people back home. It is free and a good way of letting people know you are okay, as well as to occasionally see a familiar face! The mobile phone is also invaluable in case of emergencies and for contacting people locally as you travel if it is necessary to amend reservations or make bookings etc.
- Write a travel blog or online diary. Writing a travel blog as you explore your chosen destination is a wonderful way of keeping friends and family back home updated with your daily progress and photos. It is also an invaluable tool for recording a detailed account of your experiences for yourself while they are still fresh in your mind. Travel with a laptop and use Wi-Fi if/when it is available for updating your blog.
- Make driving videos. I set up my compact digital camera on the dashboard of my vehicle so that I could record parts of my road trip “in-situ” as I was driving between locations. Turn up the car radio as you record to add a “live” soundtrack to your videos. These videos are great for reliving your driving experiences later and also as a way to share your “on the road” experience with others.
- Travel light. Road trips involve getting your gear into and out of vehicles on a regular basis and you are the one who has to lift it. A heavy suitcase is not practical in these circumstances. Pack less than half of the clothes and gear that you think you will need, as you will still end up having too many! Use local commercial laundries, or “in-house” laundries/services provided by your accommodation facility, as you travel to refresh your wardrobe.
My solo road trip was an exhilarating experience as it was my “dream trip” and had been on my must-do list for a very long time. Achieving such an epic journey on my own was personally liberating and has inspired me to visit other wild and beautiful destinations that I have dreamt of touring and photographing – Norway, Iceland and ultimately Antarctica. Now that I have completed this solo road trip and gained invaluable experience, I know that I can achieve these future goals as a solo traveler with confidence.