There's a sense of true freedom out on the road that's unlike any other mode of travel. You're in the driver's seat of your own adventure. Literally. Nothing stands between you and the great escape but sheer volition and the amount of gas in your tank.
On my past road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I spoke with a recently retired couple that sold their home, their belongings, and set off in their camper with their dogs across the United States. (Goals, right? If you need to find me in 40 years, that's what I'll be up to.) Even if a country-wide drive isn't in the cards for you, there are plenty of ways to get out and explore the open road.
To round off this little ode, I've included my top five essentials to make your next road trip the best one ever.
a Solid road trip buddy (or buddies)
First and foremost, pick your travel partner wisely. You know how they say, "you don't know someone until you travel with them?" Road trips take that sentiment to the next level when you're in confined space with someone for 8+ hours. Pick someone who has the same sense of adventure and travel interests as you. Equally as important, be the best road trip buddy you can be. Communicate, compromise, have a sense of humor, and have fun.
a realistic route
The biggest lesson in road tripping is to always budget for more time than you think you'll need. I tend to err on the side of throwing caution to the wind and "just winging it" when traveling. As it turns out, this travel style doesn't work well on road trips. I've learned that the best way to relax and enjoy the ride is to plan well and build in a "time buffer" for the trip. You don't need to set a grueling, cross country pace to get the most out of your travels. Besides, sometimes the best road trips are the ones that are only a few hours away from home. (Take last summer's road trip from Portland, OR to Crater Lake National Park for example.)
An actual map and written down addresses
In the age of smart phones and Google Maps— it may seem unnecessary to have a physically carry a map. But here's the thing about traveling, if you're well organized and well prepared, you can be the ultimate wayfarer your heart desires. Nothing will ruin your road trip like having your phone die and then finding yourself stranded at a fork in the road in the middle of nowhere. Reading maps is not only a resourceful skill to have, it's also pretty fun.
Additional reading: MASTERING THE ART OF UNPLUGGED TRAVEL
More snacks the better. (Given.)
the Rally song
Honestly, a rally song is the most important item on this list. There will come a time when you've been on the road almost fifteen hours and you need a morale pick me up. On the Pacific Coast Highway, the rally song was "Tiny Dancer". I still laugh whenever I hear the song and remember my brother and I belting the chorus out of the windows at 2 a.m. Don't stress if you can't find the perfect rally song. It will present itself in your hour of need. And you'll know it when you hear it— it's all a part of the magic of the road trip.